Peggy fears being dead because she doesn’t know what awaits. I don’t fear being dead because I envision death as an everlasting sleep. There is irony in our divergence. Peggy was never a religious person. True, she was taken to church three times a week as a child, and was sent away to a Baptist College that required chapel and Bible classes; but religion never held any interest for her. She neither embraced nor rejected it—she simply didn’t think about it.
My parents were haphazard church-goes. If my father was in one of his religious phases; my family went. If he was in an atheistic period; we stayed home. Everyone but me, that is. I’ve belonged to four churches, visited scores of other Christian and non-Christian groups, and was even a non-resident editor for American Atheist Magazine. What I’ve never been in regard to religion was uninterested. If I don’t think about it so much anymore, it’s only because I’ve turned over every leaf and run out of leaves.
Yet, of us two, the one who never entertained questions about God fears death, and the one who has been consumed by the search for God has no such fear. Does this mean then that I am so sure that death is a state of non-being that I will admit no doubt? No, I could be wrong, but then I could be wrong about a lot of things that lack evidence. I could be wrong in thinking the earth is older than 6,000 years, or that polar bears and hummingbirds were divinely cursed because of an unfortunate incident involving a snake and a fruit tree. I could even be wrong in denying—as a branch of my early church believed—that an angry god will condemn to everlasting flames anyone who uses more than one cup for the “Lord’s Supper.” By the same logic, I must admit that my garage could be inhabited my invisible space aliens. After all, I can’t prove that it’s not.
I only fear being in pain while I’m still alive. The longer I hurt, and the more death looms as a real possibility, the less I fear it for itself. I would regret leaving Peggy, and I grieve in advance for all the other good things I would lose; yet I know that such grief is for the living, that the house of the dead is empty.