This is my first attempt at a discussion, I am hoping this is a topic others find worthy of discussing.....in my opinion, this is the heart of what it means to be an atheist, and coming to terms with this issue. For theists as well, this is the heart of their delusion.....that this life is not as important as the "next", after their rapture, reincarnation, etc.
I admitted to myself about a year ago, once and for all, that there is no rationale basis for the existence of a god/gods, and trying and failing countless times to "convince" myself to believe in the Christian god....and even tried my hand at Buddhism briefly-to no avail. My rational, scientific mind would reject it every time. Even a confrontation with my father, who is a retired Pentecostal Christian Pastor, just further pushed me toward atheism....not out of spite, but just seeing a prime example of someone who has given their life, their mind, over to the delusion that the Christian god offers.
Since embracing atheism, I have found myself thinking frequently about the finality of this life, that I am truly "mortal". And that whenever the few decades I have left on this planet are over, that will be it. I have found my initial response to this fact to be at times anger....particularly as it pertains to my inability to be there for my 2 children, ages 3 and 13 months, once I pass away from this life. Were I a theist, I could comfort myself with the thought that I would see them again in "heaven" and be with them eternally.
I am curious what atheists, particularly those that have come from a theistic background, have done, or are doing, to address this hole that seems to emerge when a deity is taken out of the equation. Perhaps I am even generalizing too much, and there are those that do not share this feeling.
All comments welcome!
"As far as dying goes, I look at it this way: I have no recollection of not being alive before I was born, and anticipate the same lack of awareness after I'm gone. I know that probably sounds obscenely tautological, but it makes sense to me."
I love it. I have been trying to think of a way to put it and you have hit the nail on the head. Thank you.
Yes, it saddens me to think that when death separates me from someone I love, I may not ever see them again. I think if I were dying, or if someone I loved were dying, this would trouble me greatly.
But..... many things in life trouble me greatly. Just because something troubles me, I can't just pretend or try to convince myself it is not so. I beleive when you start closing parts of your mind off to knowledge, you stop growing, and in a way, stop living also.
Atheism only implies one thing - rejection of theism- after that, it's all up to you.
Forunately, my career is based on science and evidence - and there is more scientific injuiry and evidence out there to fill any "hole" potentially created by leaving religion and a belief in a god.
With respect to death, I see death as nothing more than a transition to the state I was in before I was born.
This post also brings to mind Penn Jillette's piece, "There Is No God" (Portable Atheist):
I believe that there is no God. I’m beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy — you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do. You can’t prove that there isn’t an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word “elephant” includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?
So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The atheism part is easy.
But, this “This I Believe” thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life’s big picture, some rules to live by. So, I’m saying, “This I believe: I believe there is no God.”
Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.
Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
Believing there’s no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I’m wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don’t travel in circles where people say, “I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith.” That’s just a long-winded religious way to say, “shut up,” or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, “How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do.” So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that’s always fun. It means I’m learning something.
Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
With respect to death, I see death as nothing more than a transition to the state I was in before I was born.If you transition back to the state "you" were in before you were born, then what is to preclude that "you" might experience being born again (no, not in the Christian sense) eventually? If you were nothing before, and then you were, then why couldn't that happen again?
First I have to say, isn't it odd that those who believe the whole God/heaven thing are the ones afraid of death? Damn! If I believed there was a cool place to go, I'd jump off a bridge in a heartbeat! I guess I'm more of a pantheist than an atheist. We are made up of energy; part of an energetically connected universe. Our physical bodies turn to compost (unless your pickled and put in an airtight metal box -- how freakin' bizarre!) but our energy?essence just goes elsewhere (other entities, including trees). Reincarnation part of that.
I read a post by someone who I believe puts mortality without belief in a deity quite poetically. Morbid as it may sound, it is something I want to have read at my funeral one day. The last paragraph is very meaningful to me and I think it shows that there is just as much (if not more) poetry in viewing death from a scientific point of view rather than a theist one.
The paragraph is as follows:
Compared to the great vastness of the cosmos, the ocean of deep time, my individual existence is a blip, a bubble in the foam on the surface of a flowing river. I am a momentary arrangement of atoms and molecules - an arrangement that lives and moves, to be sure, an arrangement that thinks, laughs, appreciates beauty, dreams, and loves - but a mere arrangement nonetheless, a transient state, an ephemeral gathering. Soon the blip will go out, the bubble will pop, the arrangement will dissolve, molecular bonds released by entropy. My consciousness will cease. But the molecules that once were me will still exist. The atoms that made up my body - iron, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, all the heavy elements forged in the crucibles of dying stars - will remain. Liberated from their temporary home, they will rejoin the rest of the planet, taking new shapes, finding new arrangements, becoming part of other life. I will become merged with everything.
I will become part of the trees that grow wherever my ashes are scattered, joining the ecosystem of the forest. I will be in the slow green heartwood of the trunks as they patiently tick off the centuries, in the buds that burst forth in spring and in the leaves that explode with color in autumn. I will be the sparkle of sunlight on the surface of a flowing mountain stream. I will sink into the earth and mix with the groundwater, eventually flowing back and rejoining the ocean where all life on this planet ultimately began. I will be in the waves that crash on the shore, in the warm sheltered tidal pools, in the coral reefs that bloom with life, and in the depths that echo with whale songs. I will be subducted into the planet's core and join the three-hundred-million-year cycle of the continental plates. I will rise into the sky and, in the fullness of time, become dispersed throughout the atmosphere, until every breath will contain part of me. And billions of years from now, when our sun swells and blasts the Earth's atmosphere away, I will be there, streaming into space to rejoin the stars that gave my atoms birth. And perhaps some day, billions of years yet beyond that, on some distant planet beneath bright alien skies, an atom that once was part of me will take part in a series of chemical reactions that may ultimately lead to new life - life that will in time leave the sea that gave it birth, crawl up onto the beach, and look up into the cosmos and wonder where it came from.
And the cycle will begin again.
If you are interested in reading the full piece, it can be found at: http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/stardust.html