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The false dichotomy of the afterlife

It’s fairly straightforward to point out that belief in an afterlife can have the effect of devaluing this life, causing various misconceptions about its purpose, and influencing people to act for the sake of an imagined eternity that will never take place. This much is obvious. But not so much thought has been given to the impact that beliefs in an afterlife have had on the views of atheists. All too often, the repudiation of an afterlife is accompanied by various proclamations about how important it is that we live a limited life and experience genuine death. We see it in the shallow aphorisms claiming that “death gives meaning to life”, as though finding a meaning for our lives is only possible if everyone eventually dies. Such a stunning lack of imagination about how to find personal meaning barely deserves the time of day, but it’s interesting to consider where this notion might come from.

In many ways, it seems that the recognition that there is no afterlife can lead people to endorse the negation of numerous aspects of that belief. When religious people claim that the prospect of permanent death is nihilistic and renders life hopeless, many atheists reply that this mortality is precisely what gives their lives value. When religious people proclaim the glory of eternal life, atheists instead fear that this would eventually become boring. When religious people are frightened by the reality of actual death, some atheists reassure them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and it’ll just be like taking a very long rest – as if they’ll even be able to experience a state of restfulness ever again.

But just because an idea is wrong or bad doesn’t mean the reverse of that idea must be right or good. If it were that simple, the most ignorant among us could become a source of unparalleled genius, simply by inverting everything they believe. This is clearly no guarantee of rightness or truth, and common atheistic views on death actually end up sharing certain similarities with their religious counterparts. Both religious followers and many atheists ultimately agree that death, whatever its nature, is a good thing that’s very important to our lives, and nothing should be done about it. And in both cases, their beliefs serve as a way to cope with something frightening, incomprehensible, and unavoidable, and instead spin it as somehow beneficial to us. It’s just another comforting tale to soften the impact of the utter obliteration of human minds.

This is some of the most overlooked damage of belief in an afterlife: simply for the sake of contradicting religion, so many atheists are willing to abandon any desire, let alone effort, toward actual immortality – an immortality born not of supernatural magic, but natural technology. Even after understanding that we exist completely within the natural world, many people still resist any attempt to use that knowledge to do something about the myriad vulnerabilities of our current existence. Sure, science is great for curing diseases and extending lifespans – at a slow enough pace that no one’s too uncomfortable about it – but dethroning death itself and eliminating the universal inevitability of our demise is apparently a step too far.

Here we can see how the rightly despised fantasies of religion have thrown the very idea of life without end into disrepute. These hollow, meaningless, imaginary fates have repulsed so many people that when the real thing is finally within our grasp, it’s treated as no better than the religious delusions that came before. It takes some effort to work past the well-worn tendency to dismiss the possibility of eternal life, and make it clear that this really is something different. The nonexistence of an afterlife is obvious and trivially easy to recognize, but objections to true immortality end up being much more tenuous.

Our present mortality may influence how we live our lives, but that doesn’t mean it must be our only source of purpose. People might say death is what gives meaning to life, but no one is especially eager to optimize for this alleged source of value by seeking to bring about more and earlier death for everyone. After all, if this life is really so important, then why should we have less of it when we could have so much more? Why not seek out the most joy, the most love, and the most discovery we can possibly achieve? Why not enjoy life as much as we can, for as long as we can? And why should this ever have to end? It doesn’t – if you’re ready to do something about it.

Comments

  1. Graham ASH-PORTER says

    Liked this Z, but the only ones who could afford to search for immortality would be the super rich.
    Hey, just thought, the Churches are super rich, perhaps they could do research ;)

  2. Gideon says

    Yes! Excellent post, and I agree 110%. The reality is, though, that it may take much time for this to be realized, and I think it’s important for us to get used to the idea that we will all die eventually, whatever happens. For me it’s just as important, if not more, to minimize suffering of humans and other sentient beings during the time that we’re still alive.

    • KETTER891 says

      Yet again you amaze me with having an ungodly amount of false intelligence and ignorance. EVERYONE GET THIS THROUGH YOUR HEADS! What makes mankind so amazing, so beautiful, and what makes life so precious is that we all know time i running out for us. That knowledge teaches us to take every second of our lives as a gift. Before i go any furthur. I’m not atheist, and I’m not religious, I’m more of a spiritual person, I believe in a higher power. The conflict lies in I don’t think that higher power wants us joining teams like it’s a game. With that being said, I respect and admire athiest scientific view as well as EVERY religious denomination. Let’s look at this “immortality” thing logically. If science finally did break through with some miracle cure that makes us live on for centuries or longer. They obviously couldnt give that to the world. We’d grow over-populated and would have to result to the whole-sale slaughter of billions of people just so the earth itself can sustain the human race. If they chose to only give it to a few “great” minds, thats all well and good but the bad thing about that is then you achieve a type of “god like” attitude in thinking youre immortal. Think about it for a moment. Living on for centuries, all the htings you used to love, now have no meaning, either your loved ones are just as depressing to be around, or they’re dead because they werent given immortality. Fact is the balance of life and death is precious and instead of wasting time trying to convince the world they should want to be immortal you should instead just ENJOY YOUR FUCKING LIFE AND QUIT BEIN A BITCH BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE RELIGIOUS! for the love of christ in case you havent seen ANY of my videos on youtube. I’m going to yet again reiterate that you of all people should be very open minded and welcoming of any kind of person. The lifestyle you chose to live (no im not judging you based off that, if that is what makes you happy then by all means you have that right) I know you must have been the victim of an assload oof hazing and disrescpect from people that would judge you for the way you wanted to live your life. They were wrong for doing that, but when you lash back out on those people by trying to dismantle the very thing that helps them get through life and gives them strength to be good people., aren’t you doing the same thing they did to you? or are you just a crazy bitch who likes to piss people off? im just curious

      • says

        Well then, it’s a good thing we’ve got people like you around who are so knowledgeable about how future events will unfold. Thanks for the warning!

        • KETTER891 says

          Only because I pay attention and have thought about things like this quite a bit. Can’t really say either of the outcomes i mentioned are far from the truth.

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