If we’re thinking about mortality and death with no belief in an afterlife — how does evolution play into it?
PZ Myers has written a really nice, thoughtful review of my new book, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. But it’s more than a review. He uses the book as a jumping-off point to talk about death and mortality from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Here’s what he says about the book:
I finally got around to finishing Greta Christina’s Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. It’s good! This book is the sort of thing atheism needs more of: an acknowledgment that the phenomena most important to human beings can be addressed effectively without imagining fantastic supernatural creatures. Atheists have this reputation of being nerds all wrapped up in abstract concepts and making arguments against the superstitious props that people claim to find useful in day-to-day life, and it’s good that some of us make the effort to show that no, we do deal with real-world concerns, and no, your myth is actually a terribly ineffective way of handling that problem.
He then goes on to talk about how he views death as an evolutionary biologist — and why, exactly, we die. The whole piece is well worth reading: the tl;dr is that dying is, quite literally, a necessary and inevitable consequence of being alive and multi-cellular. If you want to not die, and you want the people in your life to not die, the only option is for us to not be born. I really wish I’d read this before I wrote the book: if I ever do a revised and expanded edition, I’ll definitely be citing this piece and using some of the ideas in it.
Here is the description of the book:
If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife — how do you cope with death?
Accepting death is never easy. But we don’t need religion to find peace, comfort, and solace in the face of death. In this mini-book collection of essays, prominent atheist author Greta Christina offers secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love.
Blending intensely personal experience with compassionate, down-to-earth wisdom, Christina (“Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) explores a variety of natural philosophies of death. She shows how reality can be more comforting than illusion, shatters the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes — and tells how humanism got her through one of the grimmest times of her life.
“In this book Greta Christina tackles the subject of death with the insight of a philosopher and the relaxed candor of a friend — that really cool, intelligent friend who understands and cares.”
-David Niose, author of Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason
“This is a book about the philosophy of death that actually confronts the practical reality of it, and helps you come to practical terms with it… The best book on the atheist philosophy of death you are likely ever to read.”
-Richard Carrier, author of On the Historicity of Jesus and Sense and Goodness without God
“When I was very young, I lost someone close to me in a car accident. Almost more painful than the loss was the way by which those around me attempted to find meaning in the senseless death of a young person. This is the book that seven-year-old me needed instead of the endless religious tracts that assured me that everything happens for a reason.”
-Heina Dadabhoy, Heinous Dealings blog
“The question of god is a nattering bit of trivia compared to Death. For mortals who look their mortality in the eye, it’s Death that deserves the capital. Greta Christina brings depth and intelligence to the consideration of this biggest reality of all, and she does it with honesty and care. I’m still not giddy about the fact that we die, and neither is she. But there are ways to feel better about the terminal hand we’ve been dealt, and Greta shares them all in this remarkable book.”
-Dale McGowan, author of In Faith and In Doubt, Parenting Beyond Belief, and Atheism For Dummies
“Reading this book felt like one of those moments, standing in a dark and silent room, when glass powder strikes red phosphorous and turns a little of it into white phosphorous, which causes a match to light up in a warming flame. I want to show it (the book, not the match) to all my friends who are dealing with death, which is of course all of my friends. Thank you for writing it!”
-Greg M. Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University
“Cheeky, smart, unflinchingly honest, and deeply personal (as always) — Greta Christina is a perfect guide for nontheists who are looking for clear-eyed conversation about death and grief. The comforts she offers are powerful because they require no denial or self-delusion and instead are rooted in gratitude and wonder at the gift of life — and the precious opportunities made all the more acute by their transience.”
-Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., psychologist, author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light
“Bravo, Greta Christina. Your book is a feat of logic, wisdom, compassion, insight, humor, and lived experience presented in the most accessible way. Your ideas are compelling and I wish your words could be made available in hotel rooms everywhere, tucked into the drawer of the nightstand, in addition to hospital waiting rooms, train and bus stations, airports and classrooms. Death is certainly a Big Deal but humanism and non-belief have plenty of comfort to offer, as you so eloquently have put forth. In short, ‘What she said.'”
-Nina Hartley, author of Nina Hartley’s Guide to Total Sex
“Greta Christina’s book is blunt, honest and doesn’t shy away from hard truths. Yet it is also gentle, compassionate and reassuring. It is as much a guide to how to face death as it is a guide to finding meaning in life. In it, she makes the argument that atheists and other non-believers are more prepared to understand and accept the practical realities and emotions that come with death than their religious counterparts, and she makes it convincingly. And they almost certainly will be even more prepared after reading this book.”
-Kayley Whalen, Digital Strategies and Social Media Manager, National LGBTQ Task Force.
“Required reading for anyone alive. Greta Christina’s clear, bold, gentle and endlessly thought-provoking writing style constantly reminds me why I love her. She provides elegant proof that the even the hardest truths can be as beautiful, wonderful and uplifting as any other facet of our existence.”
-David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed and The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion
“Greta Christina continues to provide unique advice and information to the growing community of seculars. We all need to consider our mortality and learn positive and productive ways to deal with our inevitable deadline. Thanks for this little book of wisdom. Christina has written a handbook we can all use. But it should be in the hands of every hospital and military chaplain, every hospice care giver,even ministers, etc. No secular person should be subjected to supernatural ideas and wishful thinking when they are dealing with death, dying and grief.”
-Darrel Ray, founder, Recovering from Religion
“Greta Christina’s new book transcends merely ‘enjoyable.’ Joy, tranquility, truth — I feel these while reading it.”
-Brianne Bilyeu, Biodork
“It’s not often that two of my favorite subjects — atheism and death — get written about in one book. Greta’s done a fantastic job of combining them. Death happens folks. It behooves us to ponder the matter and Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God is a great way to do that.”
-Simon Davis, “Post Mortem” columnist, VICE Magazine
“Atheism frees us to craft our own meaning for life, but we must still confront the specter of death. In this brief-yet-essential volume, Greta Christina presents an array of humanist perspectives that provide very real comfort and meaning in the face of death.”
-Neil Wehneman, Development Director, Secular Student Alliance