“Facing Death Without Religion”

An excerpt from Christel Manning’s excellent essay for the Harvard Divinity Bulletin on how nontheists/atheists, freethinkers et al face their own mortality:

We often think of science as cold and hard and value neutral. Max Weber famously wrote of how the ascendancy of science over religion in the modern world has led to “disenchantment.” Yet I found that science-based narratives can evoke a sense of awe and wonder, a perception that we are part of a meaningful universe that gives order to our past and offers insight for the future.

Although there were many variations, the basic arc of this narrative is that humans are part of nature; we have a place in evolution and a role in the ecosystem, and our role continues to develop and change. What happens to us has material causes that can be explained by science. And though there is no inherent purpose in the universe, we can create meaning for ourselves. Life is reciprocal and interdependent; our actions ripple out into all aspects of nature. Death is part of life and should remind us of our kinship to other animals. Yet our intelligence also imposes a moral obligation to seek understanding (through science) and to preserve the planet for future generations.

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