A recent study noted something that seems rather counterintuitive -- that, at least in the USA, people who considered themselves to be people of faith nevertheless tend to opt for the more aggressive medical treatments for life-threatening illnesses. One might think that believers in the afterlife would do just the opposite and would welcome the chance to pass without delay through the heavenly gates.
I can see several reasons why it doesn't work out this way.
One may be that the average believer fears God's judgment more than he or she anticipates heavenly bliss. Unfortunately, this may more often be the case than not, as believing does not always translate into good conduct.
Another reason may be that, instructed to care for the future of their souls, believers also tend to care a great deal for the future of their bodies as well -- in fact, for many Americans, the obsession with health and fitness has become a substitute for religion. On the other hand, this linkage between physical and spiritual health may be especially true for Catholics whose church has emphasized "right-to-life" issues, not just for the beginnings of life but also, especially as of late, for the end.
However, another explanation has also occurred to me. Years ago, while attending a convention of theologians and religious scholars, I heard a keynote address by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, the famed psychological researcher and author on issues of death and dying. After her speech, she took questions from the audience, one of them being "In your experience, what kind of patient faces death most calmly?" Her answer was "On the one hand, the simple believer, and on the other hand, the unbeliever or those of no faith at all."
At that point, I think you could have heard a pin drop, and I suspect that most of us there were stealing a glance at those sitting next to us to discern their reaction to her words. Theologians, you must understand, are not generally people of simple faith. Nowadays, their profession demands that they subject religious beliefs to the power of reason and wrestle to find logical reasons or explanations for the hopes that religion entertains. This requires the theologian to ruthlessly separate real faith in God from pious superstitions and mere wishful thinking. Yet being human as we are, I suspect that even though we yearn for the intellectual certainty faith might seem to promise, we are not particularly anxious to find out the only way we can for sure.
R W Kropf 9/11/09 Postponement.doc 09-09-11.html