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The fear of death is a primal and natural fear. Intellectually, I understand this as being the natural inclination of self-aware agents in a survival-of-the-fittest environment. This primal fear is not necessarily a conscious one. I’m talking about the reflexive behavior that we engage in when faced with danger. Reflexive behavior such as fight or flight.

Even religious people, those who believe in an afterlife for their personal essence, have this primal fear. Animals also have this primal tendency to avoid death. Without this inclination, life wouldn’t have survived in this hostile universe.

There is, however, a second fear of death that afflicts certain animals with high-functioning self-awareness. I’m talking about the existential angst that follows the realization that that which is I will at some point cease to exist. Many religions suppress this fear with the idea of an afterlife in which the essence of a person will never cease to exist. For the agnostic or atheist who has just left religion, this fear of death may have something to do with why life suddenly seems more pointless.

What exactly causes this existential angst, this second fear of death, and how might we suppress it as individuals without deluding ourselves with religion?