Wednesday, August 07, 2013

An Atheist Thinks About Death.

I believe that one of the biggest draws religion has is the idea that after you die, you nevertheless live on.  That somewhere, somehow, in some unexplainable place, everybody you ever loved, or knew or even wanted to meet is there, alive and waiting just for you.

Assuming, of course, they pass the entry exam.

Humans are eternally optimists about themselves, they always like to assume they will still be around at any later point you want to talk about.  One of the most difficult thinking processes one can go through is to think about the world you know WITHOUT YOU.

Come one, give it a try.  At some point in there, doesn't your mind just want to slide off into another train of thought?  Doesn't that make you uncomfortable?

So it's no wonder that a belief system that says you won't be separated from the lover that got lost in a car accident forever holds some true attraction.

On the other hand, aren't there some folks you've known that spending an eternity around them just might get a little tiresome after a while?  To some folks, spending eternity around those abusive parents may not be a comforting idea.

Be that as it may, as an atheist, I don't have those problems.  To me, the idea that there is this unseen, undetectable soul thing which somehow survives your bodily death is one that makes no sense.  That an eternal deity would divide humans according to their credulity while on earth and would torture those who chose wrong for an ETERNITY sounds way beyond cruelty, it sounds positively medieval - which, of course, is when this particular belief was developed.  Interesting coincidence, isn't it?

So, Christians ask, how do you console yourself after a loved one dies?  How do you deal with difficulties in this life?  What comfort do you derive from not having heaven to look forward to?

To know, not to suspect, but to know that when a loved one dies you will never see them again, will never hold them again and will never hear their voice again is never an easy thing.  Heck, for many Americans who DO believe in heaven, it is a hard thing!  For a people who are supposedly informed about a future paradise after death, Americans sure do deal badly with it.  Our funerals are often dark, sorrowful things, which have always seemed to me to invoke a lack of real belief in an after life.  Even with the rituals that invoke the Christian beliefs, people don't ACT that way.

But as hard as it is, death is a fact of life, it is a part of life.  The life cycle includes it and one needs to learn to deal with it.  You move on, pick yourself up and learn to get along.  You speak with friends and family, you reflect on and remember the lost friend or family member and how much you enjoyed each others company. You try to keep the best of those memories for future remembrances and then you move on.  There isn't much else you can do!  How can treating it like a temporary absence help?  It just prevents you from being able to get over it.  Puts it in suspended animation so you don't have to deal with it.

It's the lazy way of dealing with death.

To me, the knowledge that the end of my life is THE END just makes what is left of my life more precious.  It makes ALL life precious, irreplaceable.  You realize that every time someone dies, their life, their talents, their point of view is lost - forever.  A point lost to the Christian view is that even if heaven IS real, that persons life, talents and everything are lost to this world anyway.  Never to be seen again.

This pragmatic point of view is actually pretty simple.  Life is what it is.  No mysteries, no hidden agendas, no invisible eye looking over your shoulder.  That puts the onus on being good on YOU.  You have no excuses that you didn't read something right, or that a lack of consequences for bad behavior is somehow proof that your sky daddy might approve of your actions, no matter how reprehensible.  What you do is on you.  Period, end of story.

Integrity was once described to me as being. Something you've got that makes you stop at a stop light or sign, even if the cross roads is in the middle of a desert and you can see for miles that there's nobody around.  Integrity makes you stop anyway, because you agree with the social contract that says you should.

That's how I think of being an atheist and believing that there's no god.  Morality is something I believe in FOR ITS OWN SAKE, and not because I might get punished or rewarded according to my behavior here on earth.

Not believing in heaven and hell is actually EASIER, because there is less stress.  It is also HARDER, because there's nobody to take the hard part off of your back.  YOU have to do the hard work of developing your morals and deciding what is right or wrong - because YOU have to live with the consequences of being wrong, and those consequences are often immediate and sometimes severe.  You don't have to wait for death to find out you were wrong.

Death is actually a release.  End of the run, nothing else to worry about.  I don't have to worry about some future judgement day, or something.

I find that to be a tremendously freeing thought.  It puts ME in charge.

And I like it that way.

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