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Atheism and the gift of death


Richard Beardsmore once argued that, although it is possible for atheists and religious believers alike to regard life as a gift, the regarding of one's own death as a gift is open only to the (Christian) believer. I discuss this interesting contention, and argue that, notwithstanding some important differences between the attitudinal possibilities available to atheists and believers in God, there are at least three senses in which an atheist could regard death as a gift. Two of these involve death's being conceived as serving some particular purpose, whereas the third derives from a more pervasive affirmatory attitude to life as a whole.

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R. W. Beardsmore (1996) ‘Atheism and morality’, in D. Z. Phillips (ed.) Religion and Morality (New York: St Martin's Press), 235249.

Cora Diamond (1966–1967) ‘Secondary sense’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 67, 189208. Reprinted in Cora Diamond, The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1991), 225241.

Will Dudley (2002) Hegel, Nietzsche, and Philosophy: Thinking Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Fred Feldman (1991) ‘Some puzzles about the evil of death’, Philosophical Review, 100, 205207.

Grace M. Jantzen (1984) ‘Do we need immortality?’, Modern Theology, 1, 3344.

Nicholas Lash (1978) ‘Eternal life: Life “after” death?’, The Heythrop Journal, 19, 271284.

Irena S. M. Makarushka (1994) Religious Imagination and Language in Emerson and Nietzsche (New York: St Martin's Press).

Thomas Nagel (1970) ‘Death’, Noûs, 4, 7380. Reprinted in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 110.

D. Z. Phillips (1970) Death and Immortality (London: Macmillan).

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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