This item in the NY Times caught my attention yesterday because I am writing a story in which a religious woman is dying. According to the study quoted, very devout people request more heroic measures to extend life than those who are not religious. One would have thought otherwise, given that the afterlife should be no great mystery for believers. The study's authors say that the devout believe life is sacred and that they have a duty to extend it. I have another theory: the devout are more frightened of death than non-believers because they fear damnation. At least among the Christians I knew growing up, one's salvation was never quite assured. This of course keeps people in a state of exquisite fear and trepedation throughout their lives, as they build ever more elaborate visions of paradise to distract themselves from their obsessive fear of eternal punishment. Or if they don't fear damnation, perhaps they fear nothingness, which would give the lie to their lives as believers. This is the sort of belief system that eats away at life by inducing continual anxiety, then in a final irony desperately clings to life in the face of death. This is the way my mother lived and died and I find it profoundly depressing.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.