It's natural to wonder what happens after death, says Pacific University's Rev. Chuck Currie.

FILE PHOTO - The Rev. Chuck Currie Halloween traditionally focuses on the fear of dying, especially by unpleasant means. That's why the new sequel to the original slasher movie — both titled "Halloween" — is a box office hit right now.

But a new poll by DHM Research shows that most Oregonians aren't actually all that afraid of dying. Contrary to the scary costumes donned by treat-or-treaters, most state residents say they are prepared to meet their maker.

"We've long prided our state as being home to people who aren't afraid of big issues or existential questions. Understanding death helps us to better understand life, and here the character of Oregonians shines through. In these results, we see their ceaseless curiosity, willingness to communicate about hard topics, and compassion for friends, family, and neighbors," says DHM founding principal Adam Davis.

And, although Oregon is frequently portrayed as the most un-churched state in the country, almost half the residents believe in sort form of afterlife. They describe a wide range of beliefs, with "Heaven" and "God" were among the most common words used, and many hold beliefs about the afterlife consistent with Christianity. Some noted other religious practices, including Buddhism, Bahaism, and Paganism. Others believe in life after death in a less determined way, with more curiosity than conviction.

Those responses answer do not surprise the Rev. Chuck Currie, director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University.

"My experience is that while many Oregonians do not identify with a particular faith tradition, a great many view themselves as spiritual. It is natural for spiritual people to wrestle with theological questions about what occurs after death," Currie says.

Welcome to the real world, where even life and death issues are not as cut-and-dried (no pun intended) as frequently portrayed. Instead of fearing death, 73 percent of Oregonians are not too or at all afraid of death. And an even larger 86 percent are very or somewhat comfortable talking about it.

Oregonians also have thought about how long they might live, and decided they don't want to know. Sixty-two percent prefer not to know when they are going to die. Almost the same amount — 59 percent — prefer not to determine the length of their life. Only 15 percent want to live forever.

When it comes to dying, 71 percent want to be as comfortable as possible and only 3 percent want their lives extended as long as possible, although 23 percent want something in-between. A full 85 percent either strongly or somewhat support Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, far more than the 59 percent who support capital punishment.

The poll also found Oregonians have thought about what they want done with their remains. Most — 65 percent — want to be cremated. Fifty-four percent want their ashes spread in a particular place or natural setting, while 11 percent want their ashes interred. Thirty-six percent want to be buried, with most — 24 percent — preferring a natural burial with no embalming in a biodegradable casket or shroud. Slightly more than a third want their body donated to medical research. Only 8 percent don't know.

But that doesn't mean they've taken all the steps necessary to ensure their wishes are followed. Although 84 percent say they've discussed their preferences with someone, only 44 percent have a will or other written document describing them.

The statewide survey of 642 Oregonians ages 18 and over was conducted Oct. 5-15.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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