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!
Even without a deity involved, I can't fully make sense of mortality. I am quite intrigued by a discussion that Peter Russell gave called "The Primacy of Consciousness" at http://youtu.be/M8AXmJdmzfM -- I find I have a lot of resistance to his conclusions, however, because we are prone to want to escape mortality. I've never studied Buddhism directly, so I don't know if he's saying something similar to what a Buddhist would say or if he's saying something entirely different. Perhaps you would know.
I'm considering whether awareness itself might be the foundation of all reality. If it is, then awareness can never be fully extinguished, only muted or changed into another form, as with matter and energy. It is impossible to experience nothingness, because there is no experience in nothingness, not even "darkness," since darkness is an experience. How then can awareness ever be fully extinguished?
There is no need to worry about dealing with mortality. It will deal with you.
More seriously, I like a quote attributed to Mark Twain; "I was dead for billions of years before I was born and it didn't inconvenience me in the least". Or, maybe Kurt Vonnegut; "So it goes". Or, Douglas Adams; "So long and thanks for all the fish".
I'm conforted by the very thing that fills me with dread; anhilihation. This will ensure that I will not be morose upon passing away. It also gives value to my life in knowing that I won't have an eternity to spend time with and love my daughter or my father. There is urgency to love them now and do it fervently.
My philosophy is to enjoy your time alive and don't dwell on something you can do nothing about.
First, welcome from another fairly new member!
Second - great topic!
I was raised a catholic and did buy into the whole "eternal paradise after death" nonsense for quite some time.
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.
As far as the helpless feelings about leaving family behind: in a way, you really aren't. We have a three-year-old as well, and it pleases me to no end to know that a part of me will live on with him after I'm gone, even if that part resides in his unconscious. By "part of me", I'm referring to memories of time spent together, lessons taught to and learned from each other, wisdom and knowledge exchanged with each other. This goes for spouse, extended family, friends, etc. I believe we all leave an imprint on the people we interact with, and the closer the relationship the more profound the imprint.
Somebody once said that "having children is the best way to achieve immortality". Can't argue with that.
On a side note, I'm curious about your dissatisfaction with Buddhism. I am a Buddhist in the sense that I adhere (or try my best to, anyway) to the ideas expressed in the Four Noble Truths and practiced via the Eightfold Path. I view Buddhism as a philosophy and path toward clearmindedness, not a religion centered around an imaginary, invisible, all-powerful deity. There are numerous branches of Buddhism, and I suppose elements of some of the traditions could be viewed as supernatural claptrap, especially the concept of "nirvana" and the idea that we somehow exist as pure thought after our demise. I certainly don't practice it as such, but I know a fair amount of people do.
Hi Tim, Thanks for your comments. This was VERY helpful, let me tell you. I do get satisfaction knowing that my children will live on long after I am gone, and will carry with them my thoughts, knowledge, training, etc. I am also writing a journal for my children which I began shortly after my 3 y/o daughter was born in 2008. I plan on writing in it for as long as I draw breath.
As for Buddhism, yes, I do very much agree with the wisdom contained in the 4 Noble Truths. Learning about Buddhism let me shed much of the guilt of "sin" that my Catholic upbringing provided. I did have some issues as you suggest with the concept of nirvana, and some type of ongoing consciousness after mortal death. Also have some real problems with reincarnation-while I know it is not accepted by all Buddhists. I should have added that Taoism and Confucianism I have found, along with the 8 fold path/4 noble truths, to be a MUCH better guide for moral and ethical living that the bible ever was/is.