One in five American adults, 20% of the population, are now religiously unaffiliated. Atheists and agnostics make up about 6% of the U.S. population. Furthermore, 46 million Americans who no longer identify with a religion aren’t looking to join one either.
This is consistent with my findings as a Hospice nurse and has me reflecting on how my “non religious patients” confront and deal with death. Is their level of fear, grief and sadness any greater or less than a “true believer?”
My experience is that whether a person “believes” in some sort of afterlife or “not,” their suffering and pain remain similar. I have cared for priests, rabbis, nuns and Buddhists who have cursed God and their religion during their final hours of life and atheists and non believers who have gone to their “eternal sleep” with smiles, love and peace. It appears the anticipated loss of life and loved ones remains equally tragic and painful no matter what one’s belief.
We will continue to explore the relationship between religion and dying in this month’s posts. You will read about Frank and we will get more in depth with another recent scientific survey on Religion’s Impact on End-of-Life Care.
Also, I want to mention Christopher Hitchen’s last book, “Mortality,” which I just finished reading. For those of you who know Christopher’s work you will not be disappointed, or surprised, by his own refusal to use religion as a way to soothe his torments while documenting his own death from esophageal cancer last year. I trust you will find it a very interesting read.
Feliz dia de los muertos!