Hi Everyone, 

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! 

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Discussions by atheists of this nature all seem to assume one thing as given fact: that one's awareness, consciousness, memories or simply the information that comprises them simply disappears after death. You often seem to conflate the likely non-existence of Heaven/Hell with the non-existence of any kind of "afterlife" at all.


You don't know what happens after death. Nobody does. You might reincarnate (and given the cyclic nature of events in the universe this is more likely than some might realize), you might ascend to a higher level of existence which you cannot now perceive, or you might wake up in a virtual reality cubicle having just finished experiencing what you thought until now was your real life. All of these scenarios are equally as possible as simply ceasing to exist.


While I identify as agnostic more than atheist (yes, I've heard all the arguments about knowledge versus belief and all that, but I still don't identify as atheist because I don't make assumptions about the afterlife or the existence or lack thereof of higher beings) I have over the course of my life come to believe that we shape our own reality. As the act of observation influences quantum events, so our minds shape what we experience. I hold that you may create what happens after death. If you believe you will cease to exist, then that is what you will make happen. If you believe you will spend eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp, that is what you will experience.  For my part, I hold that I am most likely to reincarnate, not necessarily on this world, because it ties in with my perceptions of the cyclic nature of events in the universe.


Many of you will disagree with me on this. I would be disappointed in you as critical thinkers if you did not. But when you state that you will cease to exist when you die, remember that you are making a positive claim about something you cannot know - as positive a claim as someone who believes in Heaven or Nirvana or reincarnation. And if you then hold to that belief in the absence of any evidence, remember that at that point you have turned your atheism into a religion, as much as any Christian or Buddhist.


Actually, I believe some people who have posted on this site may have died and been revived. 


An analysis of death-revival experiences would take volumes of books- needless to say, it seems most likely to me that as people are revived or as they are "going out" their brains generate dream like images or experiences that they may or may not remember as the "lights go off and back on again," so to speak.


And the "you mights" could go on endlessly- but is it not more likely than any "mights" proposed that we resume the state we were in before birth?


If we applied evidence based thinking to this topic, I think we would need to investigate the claims of those who have died and been revived as part of exploring this topic.  I have looked briefly into this.  Many people claim to have experienced nothing.  Others make claims about extracorporeal experiences and experiences with divinity (and I have yet to read a story about a divine experience that was cross cultural or not expected based on the person's life experiences and culture- which leads me to believe these were simply dream like states created as their brains were shutting down or being restarted).  But as many have experienced, being knocked out, going under anesthesia, and even dying induces a state of "nothingness." 


But, if it makes you happy to believe you create your own reality after death, go for it.

Thanks for your comments Steve. I have struggled with agnosticism vs. atheism vs "some type of ongoing consciousness" before. The problem I have with your statement is that your statement you partially base your argument on is false

"All of these scenarios are equally as possible as simply ceasing to exist."


What you describe, some type of ongoing consciousness I would be aware of after the death of my human body is infinity more complex, and hence much more unlikely. Much the same way Dawkins, Sagan, and others have stated that the probability of the existence of a deity/deities is limited by the fact of its complexity. It is MORE probable to say that there is no god, and no ongoing consciousness after death, because it is the simpler explanation. I think that Occam's razor gets a little too much use, but I gotta say it really fits for refuting theist/agnostic arguments. You are correct however, humans will likely never be able to rule out the existence of a higher power or consciousness after mortal death-but this does not make what you describe more probable or likely to be the truth. Thanks for joining the discussion! 

Occam's Razor is a tool and like any tool can be misapplied or used improperly.  Many people treat it like a logical truth or something.
Given what we know about physics, biology, neurology, and that the mind is a function of the brain, the logical conclusion is that when we die, we cease to exist. Your argument that all possibilities are equally possible is a fallacy of false equivalence. Part of the problem with wishful thinking about an afterlife is that the nature of “self” is deeply defined by our subjective experiences and poorly understood from an objective standpoint, although that is slowly changing.

You speak of cyclic nature of the universe and that is a compelling point, but you conflate recycling of matter and energy with that of some emergent property like that of “self”. When your body dies, it doesn’t cease to exist. It actually continues to participate in this universe by all the interesting details of decomposition. That thing that makes you “you”, your “self”? THAT ceases to exist. This is consistent with our current knowledge and to suggest that some higher plain or afterlife exists where our “self” will retire to upon our corporal demise is a remarkable claim that has no evidence or justification for. It is an egotistical desire to put such a claim on the same level as the claim that we, as in our “selves”, cease to exist upon death.

And why would you hang such remarkable beliefs on a quantum hook? I don’t think you understand the nature of quantum physics or how it relates to the macro world you exist in. I’ll go on record as admitting that I don’t understand quantum physics, either, despite all the books I have read on the subject. But I know enough to dismiss the idea that we can create our own realities, like some God, and that the universe cares for and nurtures our desires and whims. This is something that is not only without evidence, but the evidence speaks against.
When you are recycled, you will live on as fuel for other organisms. And that doesn’t have an element of agency to it.

Another take on the 10 commandments,  and some morals for you. George Carlin. Genius.


All people have to do is actually read religions has neither ownership or is the origin of morality and meaning. One could easily argue the reason people struggle is because religion leads them to believe life is supposed to have meaning and morality is supposed to have an external source when it doesn't.
I agree that morality isn't derived from an external source, but must disagree with you when you say life has no meaning. Life has whatever meaning that WE choose to give it. Sure, certain individuals may choose to view their lives as having no meaning or purpose. I (and may others, I suspect) find this life to be quite meaningful and imbued with purpose. Even the myth of sysyphus, as expressed in Camus' work of the same name, suggests that it is possible to find meaning and purpose in an absurd universe.
I never really thought about how final this life is until my Grandmother died in August of last year. My entire family is Christian, as was she, so all I heard and saw from them were prayers and joy at her "being in a better place". For me though, I knew that I would never see her again. I knew that the time I spent with her was the only time I will ever have with her. Her death rocked me to my core. I would be randomly doing something (cooking, cleaning, even taking a shower) and memories of my sweet grandmother would cloud my mind and I would cry like a baby who couldn't be calmed.
My husband was a great help during that time. My family was not. Religion has a way of sugar coating death and making it, well likable. As an atheist, I understand that I only get one go around on this earth. Whatever mark I leave will be the only mark I can make. In light of that, I try to make a difference without ruining what we as a species have worked so hard for. When I die, I want to know (or at least feel) as though I have made an imprint here. One that my children, my children's children and so on and so forth will benefit from. 

I live my life learning more about who I am and who I want to be. My goal is not to be "Christ-like" any longer, but just to be _me_. Whoever that may be.

When dealing with death, be it someone who was close to me or with others who have lost someone, I try to be the one who doesn't make false promises. (You know the ones "they're in a better place", "they're looking down on you" etc etc). I try to be understanding of the pain of loss, without being pushy about my position on where we go from here (in the ground).

Morality is something we can not escape. My focus is not on "what next" but on "how can I leave this world in a better place than it was when I got here?" and "what kinds of things can I do to really make a difference to those still here when I die".
Wait, what?
Hey ignacio-not sure if you are kidding or not. But what will happen in several hundred billion years.....the cold, dark end to the universe you mention.....well that still leaves a hell of a lot of time for living by your's truly, my children, grandchildren, etc. Since humanity as we know it now "civilized" humanity is less than 10k years old.....I think that is plenty of time. Doubtful humans would even be "humans" with a few hundred billion years of evolution under our belts. :-)


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