It isn’t necessarily easy being an atheist.
Sure, I don’t have to live in fear of a jealous deity who demands that I worship him (and only him) and abide by a series of completely arbitrary and historically bigoted rules. I also don’t have to attend a weekly service that can bore me to tears while listening to excerpts from a book that might as well be Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. I have the privilege of thinking and saying whatever I want without fear of reprisal in the cosmic waiting room that awaits me after I die, nor do I have to suffer my entire life with a perennial guilt that was attributed to me simply for being.
But while I am free from the manacles of religious life, it doesn’t mean I can live a blissful, libertine life. I am drawn to a quote by comedian and celebrity oaf, Adam Carolla:
“I am not agnostic. I am atheist. I don’t think there is no God; I know there’s no God. I know there’s no God the same way I know many other laws in our universe. I know there’s no God and I know most of the world knows that as well. They just won’t admit it because there’s another thing they know. They know they’re going to die and it freaks them out. So most people don’t have the courage to admit there’s no God and they know it. They feel it. They try to suppress it. And if you bring it up they get angry because it freaks them out.”
The truth is, the idea that absolutely nothing happens when I die freaks me out as well. Granted, I won’t interpret it as “nothing” because I won’t be there to experience what happens after death – I won’t have any faculties of interpretation, so I won’t be able to “live” the moment. Things don’t stop either, because that is also a subjective experience. I will simply cease to be.
While that might sound comforting, it really isn’t. I’ve always thought, and continue to think, that being an atheist makes life much more meaningful. Atheists don’t live for the next life, we don’t suffer through hardship deliberately in order to “earn” a better life afterward. The lyrics of an Abandoned Pools song fit very appropriately with this ethos:
“This is all we have, life seems so much better
Life seems so much deeper and not a chore.”
- “Lethal Killers”
I keep coming back to the idea of heaven, the afterlife, or resurrection. I can see why they are so popular and widespread. Sometimes life just sucks, be it because you had a bad day or were dealt a bad hand. Our desire to hope against all reason and logic that we simply have to bite the bullet to earn a better life later is very attractive. Death isn’t the end, but the start of another cycle.
Without concrete proof of what happens, there’s no reason to assume that there’s anything past the last breath. If you believe this, nay, if you simply don’t buy every single contrived fable, then your life is over when it’s over. That’s it.
For me, it’d be amazing to believe otherwise, that I’ll be treated to a fancy party with all my friends and dead pets, and that I’ll be able to do anything forever, basking in an effulgent paradise. But I can’t. My faculties for reason and logic prevent me from simply buying that. It’s like when I hear someone deny that global climate change is anthropogenic. I would love it if that were true, and would breathe a room-clearing sigh of relief upon hearing that it’s all going to be okay.
But I can’t. As fuzzy as it might make me feel inside, I can’t just abandon everything I’ve learned about the world around me and simply believe in it.
I can’t call belief in heaven “willful ignorance” because it’s not a deliberate lack of knowledge, but rather the total confidence of fabricated knowledge – knowing fully something that you really don’t know and can’t possibly know. I’m inclined to call my position “reluctant acceptance.” Given what we know and what we can know, the most likely scenario is simply that it’s over at the end.
There is such thing as believing for personal assurance that something happens, in order to avoid a panic attack as your 80s approach. After all, when the lights go out, your consciousness won’t be around to be disappointed when heaven or god fail to materialize with that party you’ve always wanted. Why not spend the last days, hours and minutes of your life planning your fashionable entrance? Maybe our brains will slow down time, slower and slower until microseconds feel like eternity. The world will freeze to a catatonic state while we dance in our minds for what will feel like decades.
But there’s no reason to think that will happen.