Why the Right Answer is Better than a Comforting One
One of the things that bugs me, when I stop to think about it, is the finality of death. I believe that when we die, that’s it. Whoever we were and whatever we did will be remembered for some indeterminate length of time but we won’t know it.
Our consciousness, however we define it, is finite.
While I recognize that when I die, I won’t care that I no longer exist, it bothers me now. As I’m fond of saying – I want to know what happens next. It frustrates me and, yes, angers me that I get such a limited time to observe this universe and the people who inhabit it. I don’t want 100 years or less. I want an eternity.
A lot of atheists I know honestly don’t want to live forever. They don’t like the idea of an eternal consiousness. Maybe they figure eventually they would get tired of it all. I wish I felt that way because there would at least be comfort in their view of life and death where there is no comfort in mine.
Thing is, when I look at the “comfort” religion offers us in the face of death, I find it no more appealing than my own view. I don’t think it comforts the dying and I don’t think it really comforts those who are left behind.
Hearing phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “god called him/her home” are said to comfort the living.
I wonder why I should be comforted that everything happens for a reason when I don’t know what that reason is. I lost my dad when I was 19. Why? Believing there was a reason he died didn’t make it any easier for me to reconcile his death. If god had “called him home,” I couldn’t begin to understand why god needed him more than I did. What special set of skills did he posses that were required in heaven just then?
Or was it supposed to be some sort of lesson in loss that I hadn’t learned when my grandmother died? Or a friend from High School? Or my cat?
I don’t find the vision of heaven that I hear most frequently comforting – I find it horrifying. Spending eternity admiring god or buring in hell? If I’m going to forget all the people I care about, how is being in heaven any better than being nothing at all? I’ve ceased to be myself and become little more than a mindless slave whose sole purpose is to remind god how awesome he is.
If I do remember the people in my life, won’t I be pretty upset if any of them are in hell? The sheer fantasticness of heaven would be pretty unattractive if I knew my dad was in hell. Or my mom. Or my wife. Or my kids.
I know that there are other ways of interpreting heaven but they are all predicated on being the right kind of person. They all exist as the alternative to hell – which is what is in store for most of us.
Hell is always more vividly described anyway. We have a really good idea what would make an eternity suck. We are less capable of figuring out what would make eternity perfect.
Think about this – if heaven existed and if I went there in spite of the fact I don’t believe in god Uwe Boll would probably end up there too. I’m guessing that heaven, for him, would involve being able to make movies.
In my heaven, those movies would not exist.
Or are we to assume that once he gets to heaven, Uwe Boll would be able to make good movies all of a sudden like?
Would gay people be able to live together in heaven or would they suddenly become straight? If they’d been partners with someone for years, would one of them change sexes so it’d be OK.
Or are all the gay people going to hell?
Reincarnation sounds a little better until you remember that you could come back as an ant. Given the sheer number of ants on earth, that seems pretty damned likely, doesn’t it? And how do you live a good life as an ant so the next time you can be something a little more badass? Like a slug.
All these ideas that are meant to comfort provide none for me. If I’m going to be immortal, I want it to be on my own terms. Not someone else’s.
Death is frightening but it is a sign of one very important fact. I did live. I find, at least, a little comfort in that.
The longer you live the more of your words and thoughts may live forever in a virtual way, such as this post. This makes me want to more closely edit anything I have ever posted to sound less like me and/or dumb
Wonderful post, Tim. Coincidentally, I lost my dad at age 19 as well, but he filled my 19 years with wonder and taught me how to “take no prisoners.” As a Jew, I’ve always been taught to live every day as though I was about to be hit by a beer truck (not exactly verbatim), because that was that. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes – nothing after death – absolutely nothing. That is why Jews are not embalmed, nor are they clothed when buried – just wrapped in a shroud. You’ve known me for a long time, so you know that’s how I live my life. Judaism is a very simiple religion when it comes to death. Thanks again for the post.
I hate the phrase “God has a plan.” If I’m hurting, and someone comes up to me and says “God has a plan” I’m likely to punch them in the face. God might have a plan, but that doesn’t /shouldn’t invalidate the pain *I’m* in now. People who say that to people in pain are, at best, well intentioned people lacking in empathy, and at worst, oblivious people trying to make themselves feel better
Obviously, you and I have very different ideas on the afterlife. I don’t really believe in Hell, but the idea of Heaven for me has been more of moving on to the next state of existence. The idea of ceasing to exist actually kind of appeals to me… That I’ve put in my time, and now I’m done.
I’ve never really used either thought as a comfort thing, though. There is nothing comforting about losing a loved one, no matter which way you look at it. To pretend otherwise is false and gross.
I remember the loss of eternity was a huge obstacle to my deconversion. I really wanted to believe I could live forever, and I remember feeling terrible about that loss for years after I gave up the gods. Somehow, it stopped being an issue for me. I don’t really care one way or another. Temporary is what fits into my world and so it seems fine to be here for an finite stretch of time.
I’ve often wondered about this question too, why does religion’s idea of an afterlife hold so much attraction for believers? I think the idea of ‘something!’ is better than one of nothing after death. It’s scary to think of death, even scarier to think of your last moments, if you’re conscious, before you die. The concept of afterlife offers some succor to this. It may not be a perfect afterworld, though some religions like Hinduism or Buddhism which have no concept of heaven or hell as defined in the Abrahamic religions would beg to differ, but it would be something to look forward to. The ideas you talk about, that your loved ones might be in hell for eg. doesn’t arise in most minds since they believe they’ll all go to heaven anyway. No one wants to put too much thought into it, in a way.They just imagine it’ll be a perfect world one way or the other, and leave it at that. Leaving your security blanket can be very terrifying!