death issue

We’re All Going to Die: Free Inquiry Gets Real about Death

How do the nonreligious deal with the concept of death when they hold no illusions about an afterlife? A special issue of Free Inquiry grapples with death from the secular humanist perspective with an exploration of death’s inevitability, its necessity, and how an increasingly secular culture is changing the way all of us think and talk about our ultimate end. “The Death Issue” of Free Inquiry is guest-edited by Simon Davis, author of the “Post-Mortem” column at VICE.

Mortician Caitlin Doughty encourages us to overcome our irrational and superstitious fears about dead bodies and rather let the sight of a corpse be a reminder of our own impermanence and a way to find closure. “Looking at the body you see yourself, and you know that you, too, will die,” writes Doughty. “The visual is a call to self-awareness. It is the beginning of wisdom.”

Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci suggests that the secular take a page from the Romans and look to classical Stoicism as a way to process the fact of life’s eventual end. “The Stoics thought that death is both natural and something not to be afraid of,” says Pigliucci, adding that death can serve as both “a reminder of who we are and an incentive to take advantage of every moment of our lives.”

And from the death of the individual to extinction events, physicist Lawrence Krauss discusses his work on the “Doomsday Clock,” which symbolizes how close humanity might be to wiping itself out. With challenges such as nuclear proliferation and catastrophic climate change, Krauss sees no room left for dogma or science denial. “Not accepting the world for what it is is always a dangerous situation,” says Krauss, “especially when you’re talking about global threats.”

This special feature on death also includes PZ Myers on death’s relentlessness and the inevitability of the accumulation of error at the cellular level, and how life and evolution as we now it could not even exist without death. Plus, there are divergent responses from two nonbelievers on the question of whether it is ethical for atheists to pray with dying loved ones at their request. One sees it as merciful and humane, the other as insultingly deceptive.

Also in this issue: Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn wonders what high altitudes are doing to Pope Francis as the pontiff offers hints at progressivism during his in-flight press conferences—hints that never resolve into real reform; retired Air Force officer Doug Traversa debunks the “no atheists in foxholes” myth with his own experience in war; Ophelia Benson cautions how ideologies of ethnic or nationalistic superiority can lay the seed for genocide; and so much more.

Subscribe to Free Inquiry, in print or on the web, at secularhumanism.org/fi.

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Free Inquiry is a bimonthly magazine, published by the Center for Inquiry, in association with the Council for Secular Humanism, featuring thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Nat Hentoff, and Russell Blackford. Launched in 1980, Free Inquiry has a paid circulation of approximately 34,000 worldwide.

For Immediate Release: May 10, 2016
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.net - 207-358-9785