The Religious Fight Death

Here’s a paradox: the “deeply religious” tend to fight death harder and “get aggressive treatment in their final days.”

But don’t the deeply religious believe that a magnificent paradise awaits them after death, an existence far happier and better than this life on earth? Sure, religions typically forbid suicide, but they don’t require aggressive, expensive, and low-success medical treatment, either. So why aren’t the deeply religious more ready, rather than less ready, to meet their deaths?

I think the answer is that some people become deeply religious because of their inordinate fear of death and inability to deal with it. That is, some people seek both religion and aggressive medical treatment for the same basic reason: they are deeply frightened of death.

Here’s what one religious leader said:

The Rev. Percy McCray, director of pastoral care and social services for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, said people of faith and their families “tend to want to extend their treatment and care as long as possible because often they are attempting to give God opportunity to perform a miracle.”

“I have personally seen patients who were given bleak and grim prognoses surpass and survive such outlooks to live many months and years,” he told Reuters in an e-mail.

“The down side can be the mental, emotional, and possible financial drain and anxiety that can build in a prolonged hospital stay,” he said.

Obviously a positive mental attitude can contribute to physical health; this is not primarily a religious phenomenon. Ultimately, though, everybody dies, and the best mental attitude in the world cannot always prolong life.

But what about this point about miracles? Why would the deeply religious depend on aggressive medical treatments in order to “give God an opportunity to perform a miracle?” Wouldn’t the deeply religious be more likely to expect a miracle sans the medicine? If God were truly keen on intervening miraculously, surely he would not need to rely on the latest and greatest medical gadgetry. Again this points to the conclusion that such people are driven to religion for the same reason they are driven to aggressive medicine: a fear of death.