The other night some friends and I went out and watched Titanic 3D. My girlfriend loves the movie. I thought the movie was well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and totally depressing.
It was depressing to watch all those people dying toward the end of the movie and it really made me wonder what I would be feeling if I was in their situation. I mean think about it. What would be going through your mind if you knew death was imminent? Would you pray to whatever God you believe in? Would that provide peace for you? Would you be able to die without that mental anguish that I envision?
In one scene, there is a minister praying and the people around him are reaching out to him, touching him, and holding onto him as the Titanic sinks. In that moment I felt the comfort those people were getting from that. If I was in that situation I might even be reaching out to the minister, despite my lack of belief in God.
Death is feared. I think that when a person contemplates imminent death, the emotional response is so powerful that it can completely overwhelm any rational output of the mind. A powerfully emotional movie like the Titanic allows some of us to experience in a small way what imminent death might feel like. After watching the movie I realized that even a rational mind like my own could be overwhelmed by the emotions and trigger a deathbed conversion.
I remember hearing, as an argument against atheism, the stories of atheists that suddenly convert to Christianity on their death beds. As the stories go, the atheists mock God until almost the very end when they suddenly start praying to him and begging for forgiveness.
Those stories are at most anecdotes, and many are no more than myths (particularly the one about Darwin). It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if that kind of thing actually happened on a regular basis. I imagine myself on my deathbed and I think there’s a chance that even I might do something like that. I think it will take a lot of courage to face death without falling into the wishful thinking of Christianity.
However, I disagree that this is evidence for the existence of God, as many Christians would like to claim, or proof that all atheists know deep down that there really is a God. Quite the contrary. The only thing that deathbed conversions are evidence for, is fear of death.
Religion provides an answer for one very powerful metaphysical question – what happens when we die? Christianity, for one, gives you the belief that you’re immortal in a sense. Being an atheist, I believe technology is our only hope for immortality.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the the deathbed conversion was found to be more likely among atheists that left religion than among atheists that have never been religious. The claim that deathbed conversions are caused by ‘all atheists know deep down that there really is a God’ could be tested statistically. If those atheists that left religion had deathbed conversions at a rate significantly higher than those atheists that were never religious, it could be evidence that deathbed conversions are caused in part by a person’s previous religious experiences rather than something that all atheists know deep down.
To end this post on a lighter note I will close with a deathbed story about Voltaire – the famous philosopher. When asked by a priest to renounce Satan and turn to God, Voltaire allegedly said, “Now is no time to be making new enemies.“