An Answer


I’ve recently started to shun my religious upbringing and it has already led to some great improvements in my life. I was just wondering how you guys personally deal with the fact that there is no afterlife? Do you just try to live the most out of everyday? How do you console yourself, or do you face the truth head on? Sorry if the questions are stupid, like I said, I’m new. Thanks in advance.

The strange thing is? I never really thought about an afterlife when I became an atheist. It just wasn’t so high on my list of things to worry about. I assume it is because I was young.

Since then I have thought a bit about death and have only this to say. And it echoes Stephen Hawkings. Our brain is hardware. Our minds are software. The notion that the mind can exist without the brain is ridiculous, but that is what a soul is. The notion that should our 2.5 Kg brains stop working, we will somehow continue to live.

Everything you are were, are and will be is encoded in chemistry. You are one continuous and wonderful chemical reaction that stops when you die.

But that has a price. That means every thought and every action is a product of that chemistry. While this is impressive and indeed far more marvellous than simply waving a hand and claiming it occurs by magic or a divine spark, it does mean one thing. That we only live once, and it is just this life that we have. When we die we stop.

There is no heaven for broken computers.

But we cannot change this. We can delay it. We can cheat death. I am a professional death cheater. I do things to ensure people do not die today and instead die at some point in the future. Ultimately it is futile but so is building a sand castle. But you don’t see the value of even a minute of life that a mother gets to share with her child or the years given to others. Time? Is meant to be used as we see fit. You cannot hoard it. And time wasted on pleasure is hardly a waste to me.

We have long claimed that we live in the Kingdom of Gods, that they rule us. Through logic and reason we probably live in the Republic of Men and it is our duty to try and make this world a little bit better for those that follow us. That doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy ourselves, but that we do so responsibly so that all may enjoy the 70 to 90 years we live for.

And when we die? It is sad and it is scary, but it is a fact of life. Prayer to the gods of your choice isn’t going to change that. It is better to have reached that stage with no regrets about how you used your life. Paradise lies at your feet if you have love in your heart. Corny, but true. The things you love make the world a better place to live in. Be it your hobbies, or your actions or the people you choose to live with.

It is our job as humans to try and create heaven where we can and in what capacity we can for us and each other. And that is the sort of world I wish to live in so it dictates the sort of actions I have made. I may not be perfect, I may not be special. I may make mistakes. But the thing here is that we all make them and it is up to us to grow as humans and define ourselves as more than just homo sapiens and to never stop improving.

The world may never be perfect, but what we create endures.

Everyone dies, we all die scared. Some of us are lucky to be unconscious. To say that I do not fear death is a lie, but I accept it exists. What I choose, is how I deal with that fear. I do not let it consume me and leave me a wreck. I fear death but I know I cannot change that. So I aim to enjoy what time I do have and live my life.

And this is heaven and the only heaven we are likely to see. And so we must build heaven at our feet.

The purpose of life is to live.

Comments

  1. NitricAcid says

    But, as Kryten said, “Where would all the calculators go?”

    A while back, I overheard some students discussing the issue outside my office door. One of them insisted that there must be a life after death, because of the Law of Conservation of Energy. It was a stupid statement, and I very nearly asked her where that statement went. Her words were a form of energy, that energy must be conserved, so where is the statement now? It’s gone…although the energy is still there, it’s been rearrange into informationless thermal energy, and the statements lives on in the memories of those of us who experienced it.

    Exactly like I will be when I am dead.

  2. John Horstman says

    Hmm, I look forward to being dead and no longer having to deal with the imposition of existing (and continuously striving to do so in order to continue doing so – work to live and live to work, while being constantly assailed by people who want to exploit your existence: had a choice been possible before I existed, I would have opted out), so I can’t really relate to the concept of “dealing with” the lack of an afterlife. An afterlife – even a supposedly ‘perfect’ one – would be the most horrible thing I can imagine, so I find the actual lack of one incredibly comforting in its own right.

    Still, I might be able to offer a perspective that will be helpful even to those who don’t find existence nearly unbearable: once you’re dead, you’re gone, so there no longer is a you to care about that fact. You didn’t exist for billions of years before you were born, and being dead is exactly like that, so if not having been born right at the start of time doesn’t particularly bother you, there’s little reason that not existing until the end of time must bother you. You create your own meaning and you get the life that you get, so I’d suggest trying to internalize this perspective and just not care about how long that life is, instead focusing on living it in a way you enjoy for however long it happens to last. Obviously, if you’re living a life that you think is worth continuing to live, you can take steps to maximize the length of time it continues, but just keep in mind that when you don’t exist becasue you’re dead, you’re not around to experience non-existence, so it can’t possibly be bad (or good – there simply is no you to make value judgements or even to experience anything that could be judged), and therefore it doesn’t need to be scary.

  3. says

    I was just wondering how you guys personally deal with the fact that there is no afterlife?

    It doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I have no desire to live forever, and even if I did, it wouldn’t change the fact that I’m going to die some day, and there’s no evidence that any afterlife exists. Wishful thinking otherwise is pointless to me.

    That’s how I feel about the general concept of the afterlife. If you get into specifics, I have problems with any afterlife that says I’m supposed to worship god and sing its praises for all eternity (it’s a genocidal monster, why would anyone worship it). Or an afterlife that says “you’re gay, so you pass go and head straight to an eternity of torment and suffering”. The flipside of that is if I go to hell, and others in my family go to heaven, what kind of heaven is it for them if I’m spending all eternity suffering? God could erase their memories, but then, it would be tampering with them, robbing them of free will.

  4. says

    how you guys personally deal with the fact that there is no afterlife

    I am vastly relieved. It means that when I die, my mistakes and fears and flatulence and aches and todo list die with me. Suddenly, I have no more problems. Sure, life is great – but it’s not endless – we’re going to get old and infirm and gravity and time will do their work; death will come along and wipe that away, too. It’s the great equalizer, the great leveller, and the final cure for boredom.

    Since life and the pleasures of life are completely intimately tied to our senses, the idea of an afterlife is bizzare — what would there be to enjoy without sight and sound and taste? Those are all features of life. The idea of “life after death” ought to scare you not attract you. Death is the finish line, and your problem is how to cross it in whatever style suits you – you can crawl across it, or be dragged kicking and screaming, or – perhaps – do a triple-spin on fire and crash and burn. It makes no difference and, if you’re concerned with fairness, it’s the one pure leveller we all encounter.

    Life after death is wish fulfillment and lies invented to keep people comfortable with lives under oppression. Oh, if you’re a good slave and don’t rise up against your master, you’ll die and then you’ll get a rolex and a lexus. Guess who came up with that idea?

  5. says

    BTW, I highly recommend Iain Banks’ “Hydrogen Sonata” for a rather interesting view of life after death. It’s similar in riffage to Charles Stross’ “Glasshouse” (also recommended) — both ask the question: what if uploading into computers was ‘afterlife’ and what if someone made a cyber-hell and put people’s virtual images in it? There’s some fucked up shit in those books, straight out of yahweh’s playbook.

  6. corwyn says

    Start with the idea that I wasn’t entitled to a single life. Be grateful for that life. Think about all the things that die so that I can live. Be happy that I can in some way pay forward, with my life, to the lives of things to come.

    At that point, expecting an eternal afterlife, just seems really greedy to me.

  7. Ysanne says

    I was just wondering how you guys personally deal with the fact that there is no afterlife?

    I don’t particularly mind because that means that after I die I won’t be around to worry about this.
    Having had a “Wow, how the hell didn’t I die in THIS?!” quality car accident with subsequent knee surgery (and therefore total blackout anesthesia for a few hours) was very conducive to
    a) contemplating what difference it makes for whom that I got out of that car alive,
    b) noticing that “not being conscious at all” is kind of like not existing from my point of view, and it wasn’t too bad (or good; in fact it just wasn’t anything)
    c) figuring out that it’s not actually being dead that bothers me about dying, but its effect of causing pain to people I love.
    So, yeah, that boils down to enjoying life while it lasts and prioritising what I saw the “makes a difference” meter find something. To me, that’s my family. To someone else, that might be something completely different. Finding it is probably a good thing.

  8. says

    I was just wondering how you guys personally deal with the fact that there is no afterlife?

    I don’t. There is simply nothing to deal with. I’m not worried about being dead, although dying might suck.

    If the world were different, I might not mind living for an extended span, maybe even spending alternate decades hibernating or something. Because it might be interesting, assuming I’m not in a decrepit, zombie-like condition. The afterlife, on the other hand, sounds to me like the sort of thing I would commit suicide to escape. In fact, there are whole religions devoted to escaping reincarnation and the afterlife.

  9. kraut says

    “How do you console yourself, or do you face the truth head on? ”

    Nothing to fear but the dying itself. I hope I will go fast and as smooth and painless as possible. Never being able despite massive pain to just black out – that is my worry.

    I did not have an existence before birth, I will have none after.
    Imagine an existence for a being that is bound to time in all its aspects and then consciousness goes on and on and on and on…the stars are dying, the Universe is getting dim and gold, stretched to ever unimaginable distances…and you are still conscious. What a frightening aspect.

  10. lochaber says

    Another individual here who found the idea of no afterlife less of a problem and more of a relief.

    I was brought up religious, but I always had trouble understanding the concept of ‘heaven’. Even as a kid, I realized doing fun things got boring after a while, and I couldn’t imagine something that wouldn’t get old and boring after a few centuries, millennia, or.. uh, some other even longer time period.

    However, being miserable seemed pretty easy. So, while I was still religious, I guess I sorta believed in hell, but not heaven, and was certain I was going to hell.

    So, yeah, a simple cessation of existence doesn’t seem too bad in comparison…

  11. smrnda says

    I suspect by the time I’m likely to die (if it is from old age and disease) my quality of life will be slipping quite a bit,which will probably make death much easier to accept.

  12. Holms says

    I don’t want to die, but I will and I accept that. Not all that happily, but perhaps if I reach decrepitude, I will look upon it more favourably. Hopefully, euthanasia will be available by then – I do not relish the idea of being confined to a hospital bed waiting to die.

    Of course in an ideal universe, people would have good health for their entire lives, and said lives would last indefinitely until it was no longer enjoyableit to end. I would make a much better god than that YHWH wanker.

  13. RJW says

    Despite a religious education, I can’t remember, ever, as an adult, being religious, the concept seemed complete nonsense, so there never was any intellectual struggle against religion. My technique was to put the truth aside for the time being and just get on with life after I married, when my wife died, the truth had to be confronted and if not reconciled, at least accommodated.

    The student’s comment @1 is informative-

    “One of them insisted that there must be a life after death, because of the Law of Conservation of Energy.”

    Instead of the consolations of religion we have the consolations of garbled science, it’s still wishful thinking, humans can accept that cockroaches dissolve into nothing after death, but not people.
    As well as the inevitability of personal extinction we’re also faced with the problem of finding meaning in life itself and since there’s no sky fairy ‘with a plan’, that’s not so easy, except perhaps for those people who leave a positive legacy for the rest of us.

    My technique is to keep busy, healthy for my age, and interested, life is short anyway.

    @13

    Agreed, I’ve seen people I loved die slowly and painfully, I wouldn’t wish that for myself—we’re often kinder to our pets.

  14. Numenaster says

    When I hear a question like this, I wonder: “What is it you find consoling about the idea of an afterlife?” The answer to this question changes how I would answer the original question.

    So what’s supposed to be good about the afterlife? Is it getting to see people again that died before you? An end to your striving here on earth? Are you looking forward to meeting god and worshipping at his feet? Perhaps you’re looking forward to seeing bad people finally get what they deserved? Or you want an answer to your question “What was the point of my existence here?” Perhaps you view life as a test and you want to get your grade?

    Here’s my answers to “how do you cope” based on each of the different answers to my follow-up question.
    1) Getting to see people that died before you: Even when you thought you’d get to meet them again, you still had to find a way to get by without them here. You mourned them (probably without taking much comfort from the idea that THEY were happy in heaven), you remember them and cherish the memories. I do this just the same way you do.

    2) End to striving: if your life looks like merely striving and endurance, you are missing a lot of possible joy right here and now. Living in the moment has rewards you haven’t tapped yet–go find them. Don’t waste any of your limited time. Get your depression treated. Live your life in a way that creates good memories when you look back instead of regrets for chances not taken.

    3) You’re looking forward to meeting God and worshipping at his feet: Get involved with helping other people in some way. That’s the closest experience I can think of that you’ll find here.

    4) Finally, justice will be done: It won’t. Nobody will hold bad people to account in the afterlife. So we have to do it here. Work to make the world a kinder and more just place right here, right now. We may not be able to fix it all, but we can always make it better. Plus that way you get to live in a better, kinder world too. Bonus!

    5) Why am I here? The answer for this is not written anywhere, but that’s a GOOD thing! It means you don’t have to knock yourself out trying to figure out God’s Plan For Your Life. You can decide for yourself! I’d suggest you try to make the world a better place–it’s work you’ll never run out of, other people usually appreciate it (if they don’t, you may be doing it wrong), and you’ll feel good for having done it even if nobody notices.

    6) Finding out how well you did: The answer to this won’t be told to you because it’s only assessed after you die yourself (and you already know you won’t exist to hear the answer). But you can get a pretty good idea of it in advance. Consider what other people would write in your obituary. Do you like what you see? If not, start doing the stuff you’d LIKE to be remembered for. Start today.

  15. noxiousnan says

    NitricAcid, when an ex asked me where the energy goes, and knowing none too much about biology, I told him it goes to breaking down the body into its various base chemicals

    To the questioner: Giving up the idea of an afterlife was a lengthy process for me, though I’ve come through it with much the same attitude as John Horstman @ 2. I’d already spent years imagining the various mythological afterlifes and found the idea of an eternity at any of them oppressive and frightening. But even so, the afterlife, was the last myth to go.

    I spent a couple years worrying endlessly about it and making up reasons how there could be one even though all the religions were clearly bunk. And without religion, there was no need for god/s. After all, isn’t religion and faith primarily about promoting a possibility that we don’t have to die completely, about someone being there to manipulate the natural laws for us? A God who can’t cheat death is no god at all. It couldn’t last, and it was utter bullshit, but it was a way for me to ease out of the idea of an afterlife without becoming too overwhelmed about my approaching non-existence.

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