Afterlife


If you spent a lovely day at the beach, and
then returned the following weekend knowing that it had one fewer grain of sand, would
it seem like a different beach? So, too, would the universe continue in its ways if humanity
weren’t here to witness it. The universe is absolutely massive, and we are virtually
insignificant in it. I’ve seen no evidence that the rest of the universe cares we exist
or is even capable of caring. But I don’t really need validation from the rest of the
universe to find my own life important? Why were you, and why was I, willing to sacrifice
my humanity, sacrifice the sum total of human experience and interaction, the sum total
of human knowledge, on the altar of a dream? I have on occasion had people tell me that
my life must be so depressing because I’m an atheist. It’s doom and gloom and once
you die, it’s all over. And it’s just absurd to me how many people live for dying
in this weird way. I think fragile, fearful humans were terrified of death, and so they
wrote their own ending to the story. This happy fantasy. A place where they’ll be
reunited with people they’ve lost. They’ll experience constant joy. And of course, they’ll
never, ever die. To me, living for the afterlife, thoughtlessly following a set of “what not
to do” rules which you cannot question, that’s basically devaluing life in favor
of worshipping death. And apart from the lack of evidence of a Heaven or Hell, there is
another problem that the concept of an afterlife has. It is to diminish the value that we place
on our lives in the here and now. An unlimited supply of anything, including life, means
that its existence cannot be appreciated. If life is eternal, then there should be no
sense of urgency. The worst aspect of western monotheism is their system of judgment, wherein
it doesn’t matter how good or bad you were in life. You won’t be judged according to
your deeds the way you should be. It doesn’t matter what an evil, selfish, sadistic, bigoted
victimizer you were in life. All sins can be forgiven if you but believe. I do not fear
being dead, but the concept of the alternatives offered by the religious do trouble me. Consider
the more palatable alternative of the two, Heaven as opposed to Hell. Whilst descriptions
of Heaven are as diverse as those who believe in Heaven, there does appear to be one constant.
It will last for eternity. Imagine that. Imagine eternity. Given eternity, everything that
can be accomplished will be accomplished. Beyond all achievements, there will be only
limitless, pointless existence. The first 100 years may be passable. The first 1,000
more painful. The first 10,000 insufferable. But this is just the start. An eternity in
Heaven would be Hell for me. When I think about my own death, I used to feel scared,
but I don’t think I do anymore. I’m not afraid of being dead. After we die, we will
not know the truth at that point. We will not know, wish, think, remember, dream anything.
When we look at what a human being is, what their identity is, that I am this collection
of my memories, my hopes, my dreams, my desires, my consciousness exists as a product of the
brain that is in this body. That ends at death. I don’t find this sad or tragic, either.
I don’t really welcome death, but I don’t live in fear of The End, and I’ve come to
see it as just another part of the natural world. And to borrow from Mark Twain, I had
been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and not suffered the slightest
inconvenience from it. In some respects, we never die. Our lives are entangled with those
who come after us just as our lives are entangled with those who came before us. I mean, there
is scarcely a living soul on this planet that doesn’t go to bed at night without their
lives in some way being affected by the work of the hands and minds of folks like Faraday,
Newton and Pasteur. But these entanglements go way beyond the vulgarly obvious main roots.
For similarly, almost everyone’s life is intertwined with the people who grew the grain
and made the bread that these men ate. So it becomes clear that death is not the end.
We are intertwined with lesser and greater things. Just because there is no Grand Scheme
that it plays into doesn’t mean that there’s not something beautiful about what’s going
on here. Ironically enough, the only part of me that is for all intents and purposes
immortal is my material body, because after I die and after our sun dies, and after the
planetary nebulae it leaves behind fades away, every atom of me will be recycled into the
universe, ultimately becoming part of other planets and stars. We are all originally stardust,
literally, and we will be stardust again and forever. Even though a cell might not last
forever, the role it played in the life of the larger organism was important, and that
is how I see myself, as a part of something bigger. I have everything to live for. I don’t
want people to mourn over my death. If anything, I want them to celebrate my life, what I have
accomplished. I, for one, think that your life becomes more meaningful when your beliefs
are based in reality. Knowing that this life is the only one I have makes me a lot more
conscious of my actions. Makes me want to do something with this short life I have.
Make some improvement in the world, however small it may be. There’s too much to learn.
There’s too much to see. There’s too much to know. There’s too much to experience.
I’m not just going to exist. I’m going to live. For the beauty that cannot be seen.
For the honor of those whose shoulders we stand on. For the hope of those we aspire
to become. And for the inspiration of those who will surpass our achievements. Life is
a precious, brief, fragile, amazing thing. And instead of being so fixated on living
after death, I want to truly live before it. And be thankful that, against incredible odds,
I was able to witness this particular part of the universe, with my own eyes, firsthand.

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About the Author: Emmet Marks

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