Life After Death August 3, 2007

Life After Death

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) surveyed seniors about their views on what will happen to them when they die. The results aren’t very surprising:

To begin, we found that people 50 and over tend to be downright conventional in their basic beliefs: nearly three quarters (73 percent) agree with the statement “I believe in life after death.” Women are a lot more likely to believe in an afterlife (80 percent) than men (64 percent).

Two thirds of those who believe also told us that their confidence in a life after death has increased as they’ve gotten older.

And while 88 percent of people believe they’ll be in Heaven after they die, they’re not so sure about the rest of us. Those responding said 64 percent of all people get to Heaven. And many think the percentage will be a lot smaller than that.

More than half of those responding reported a belief in spirits or ghosts—with more women (60 percent) than men (44 percent) agreeing. Boomers are a lot more likely to believe in ghosts (64 percent) when compared with those in their 60s (51 percent) or 70s or older (38 percent). Their belief is not entirely based on hearsay evidence, either. Thirty-eight percent of all those responding to our poll say they have felt a presence, or seen something, that they thought might have been a spirit or a ghost.

The reason I bring all this up is because they did quote one prominent atheist:

The sentiment, I discovered, is echoed across a wide spectrum of belief—and disbelief. “Atheists celebrate life, but we know death is a reality,” says Margaret Downey, president of Atheist Alliance International. “We believe the only afterlife that a person can hope to have is the legacy they leave behind—the memory of the people who have been touched by their lives.”

It’s a good line. It also has more potential to resonate with people than the blunter version American Atheists president Ellen Johnson once told Barbara Walters:

“Heaven doesn’t exist, hell doesn’t exist. We weren’t alive before we were born and we’re not going to exist after we die. I’m not happy about the fact that that’s the end of life, but I can accept that and make my life more fulfilling now, because this is the only chance I have,” she tells Walters.

[tags]atheist, atheism, American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, afterlife, Heaven, death, Margaret Downey, Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, Ellen Johnson, Barbara Walters[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Polly

    Usually, my response to what happens when we die is “worm food.” I should probably work on that.

  • This is the one sticking issue with my mother and grandmother. My mother and grandmother are both so upset with me being an atheist, simply because I won’t go to heaven, therefore, my family won’t be able to see my in the afterlife. I tried to explain to my grandmother, what she was trying to do was the same as me trying to convince her to be a Mormon, because unless she practices Mormon doctrine, she won’t get into the Celestial Kingdom, and, if I were Mormon, I wouldn’t be able to see her when I died. She laughs off Mormon beliefs so easily, but I’m the one hurting my family for my beliefs, because they believe I’ll be in hell.

  • If belief in an afterlife was all believers believed, then I wouldn’t have a problem. Unfortunately, the baggage that comes with the promise of an afterlife, is controlling and often dangerous.


  • Bjorn Watland, atheists go to heaven, they just don’t enjoy it because it means they’re wrong and the idiots they so enjoyed looking down on were right.

    I love how atheists make such definitive statements about things no one knows about. I’ll face whatever comes when it comes.

  • Karen

    Bjorn, were you formerly a Christian, or did you accept Christ at some point in your life?

    If so, it can help to remind them of that. If they are “once-saved, always-saved” Christians (which most fundies are) then that can be very comforting to them. They may be able to find peace in the idea that you’ve “strayed” but you’ll wind up in heaven anyway.

    You may not believe a lick of it, and it’s a lot less desirable than having them just come to accept your choice as an adult and leave it to their god to worry about “saving you” – but it might ease their worries about your eternal “destination.”

  • Maria

    I’ve read that too, that many people get more spiritual near the end of their lives b/c they feel death approaching and they fear it (understandably). As for me, I don’t know. I would like for their to be an afterlife, but I have no proof that there is. Although not if it means an angry god is going to send me to hell. So I guess I hope that there is a benevolent afterlife, but I’m not holding out for it……..

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