Hi Nate. I have been talking to a lot of people feeling like this lately and many of them are finding others unsympathetic. It seems quite clear to me that if you have been led to believe you are immortal and then realise you are not, this must have the same effects as learning that you have a life limiting illness and can cause great grief. Did you realise you were an atheist quite recently? If so, you may just need to accept that you are grieving and not expect to be OK with it quickly and be good to yourself? From the people I have spoken to (as part of a voluntary mental health advice group) it seems that adjustment to your mortality does follow a similar pattern to bereavement - feelings of anger, loss, denial, grief all coming at you at different times and affecting your overall happiness. It does pass and you will adjust.
I personally had always been far more afraid of Hell than hopeful of Heaven so my disbelief was relief but so many others report feeling just as you do. I am starting to wonder if some kind of support group would be a good idea. Some people find that the loss of a sense of purpose and specialness through religion can be replaced with a sense of wonder at how improbable it is that you are here at all - all your ancestors for billions of years had to be fertile, healthy and strong enough to survive all kinds of threats for you to exist. You are a direct descendent of the first animals to have a spine, warm blood, feet, hands etc. You are a huge success story! Does science interest you? You may get back your sense of purpose and continuity by learning more about our world and evolution - that makes me feel connected to billions of years worth of history both gone and yet to be. If you know a little or a lot, there is always more to learn.
If this does not appeal to you, I suggest you simply try to accept that you may feel bad for a while and treat yourself as if you have suffered a loss - look after your health, try to find things you enjoy doing, exercise and see friends - allow yourself time to adjust.
I really can't fault this reply. My own personal revelation came when Stephen Fry was discussing the big bang with Brian Cox on QI and it totally blew me away.it was about space/time relativity and quantum mechanics. Fry asked Cox where in the sky he should look for the big bang and Cox replied (quite calmly) "it is here" meaning, this is where the big bang has brought you personally. I am not outside of the universe I am merely looking back at it from its beginning. Its mind boggling.
Thank you for your insight. Wow. After four decades of being catholic I realised just how silly the whole concept was and - more or less overnight - became atheist. What pissed me off, though, was that according to my own logic, I no longer had an eternal soul (well, of course, I'd never had one to start with, but you get the idea).
And I read your post and saw that, indeed, I felt bereft of eternal (after-)life. Luckily, I'm a pragmatic type and the anger lasted no more than a couple of days.
Go find Tom Lehrer's "Vatican Rag" for a good laugh at your past self's expense.
What an excellent reply!
The thing you must remember about dealing with the inevitable is that no matter what you do, it will deal with you. The t-shirt version: don't worry, be happy.
Tim Minchin's beat poem "Storm" I think posits a perfectly apt rhetorical question to reply to you disappointed statement that "this is it". The retort is, "Isn't this enough?". Granted, it may be a disappointment to realize that you will not, in fact, live forever. But is that really necessary in order to enjoy life? Richard Dawkins also has some words that I have taken to heart.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
Lol! I was thinking of pasting the last few lines of 'Storm'!
I made sure that got read at my mom's funeral. I don't know if she ever read that paragraph but she was a biochem major and would have appreciated it.
The pastor my dad hired for the occasion (he's otherwise nonreligious) had to choke on it as he read it.
I love you for quoting this man. I am keeping this quote from Tim Minchin forever....
Better to have lived and died and tasted bitter sweet existence than to have never lived.
"Better" ... how?