It always confused me that christians seemed to fear not living forever, but were blase' about not having already lived forever.
I understand where you are coming from, but my 'deconversion' has in fact made it all easier to deal with. Before, I was distracted and consumed with trying to figure out what would come next, and analyzing the bible and what it meant for my life and my future. Religion in this way forced me to worry about the afterlife much more than I naturally would want to. Once I because atheist, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had this unknown future waiting for me, but instead had just my life; and that was tangible, right in front of me, easy to understand, and beautiful. Being atheist allows me to focus on living my life instead of keeping me so distracted by what will come next that I forget to do so.
Now what I see as a little harder to deal with, and a much more compelling reason to believe in heaven, is losing loved ones. I have personally never lost anyone close to me, so I'm not sure how i'll deal with it, but many people can't deal with the fact that their loved one is gone forever, and like the idea of their spirit living on either in a religious heaven or as a spirit in some form. I guess I'll most likely deal with it by holding on to their memory, and keeping them alive in my thoughts and by honoring and respecting their life after they are gone through a funeral, acting out one of their wishes, etc. Knowing that their life touched and changed mine would be my way of keeping them alive. But like I said, I've been very fortunate in that I've never lost anyone i'm very close with, so I don't know what would help me most in the end.
When my teenage girls' father died young and unexpectedly, I found myself struggling with something comforting and believable to say to them. I ended up saying something like, "He will live on in your blood, in your DNA, in his influence over who you have become. The cold fact is, though, that he is no more as he was. There are chemical and behavioral remnants of him. and memories.
The way I deal with this is something called 'radical acceptance." It is just how it is, period. Right now, this life, this hug, this act of kindness, this mountain to climb, is the only thing that matters.
There is a nice quote expressing that sentiment that's attributed to the the Roman warrior-philisopher Marcus Aurelius, but not sourced. In fact Aurelius was somewhat devout, so its unlikely to be his. But I still like it:
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
There are at least a couple people here who take reincarnation seriously, but to believe in the classic theory of reincarnation you have to believe in souls and a spiritual reality, which I don't. I suppose the infinite universes school of Multiverse University would say you're being born an infinite number of times every instant, if you find that comforting. Personally, I don't.
Diane, I see your solution as the only solution. I too like the OP, have difficulties with adjusting to the reality of my mortality. As a Christian I was so eternally minded, I wanted life to hurry up and get over with. I saw great beauty in the afterlife, and looked forward to the better existence it would be. Earthly life seemed largely meaningless in the scheme of eternity. It was obvious to me that my focus should be on the afterlife, because a fraction could not even be made for comparison of this life and an eternal afterlife. It seemed unreasonable to prioritize this life at the time when it was a flash in a pan. I also focused on how much better the next one would be in comparison.
As an atheist now, it has been incredibly difficult. Existential arguments about living on or making meaning just don't cut it for me. Even the most well respected historical figures do not live on through their work. Their work continues to make a difference, but that isn't really living on. I never knew my grandfather, but I am told he was a lot like me. Although his is a part of me by DNA, I still don't feel a strong connection to him as I had have known him. In a few generations we all are completely forgotten, or we are just names. Even the most famous eventually just become one of the many famous dead people.
But it is the way it is, and like others have said it is like finding out you have a terminal illness. I am not sure if we can rationally come to terms with death, and it is horrible. Dealing with the idea that someone you love was just alive and is now completely gone, not a trace of consciousness left is radically upsetting. I think many that feel if doesn't bother them have just not faced it dead on. I think it is similar to that mentality teens have about their invincibility. "I know I am going to die, but that is a long way off, so it's inconsequential".
The arguments about not wanting to live forever due to boredom I can relate to. However, you can always find out something new. Everlasting life would only be as mundane as you allow it to be. Plus boredom is a finite motivational tool. If you practice some good old buddhist style self-discipline, you can stop letting things like that bother you so much. But really the unsatisfying part about the boredom argument, is that we die far too soon. We live really short lives. It would be nice to at least live about 200 years or so.
In the end I find little consolation for death. It just sucks. And I have had to deal with the death of my father as I was in the deepest state of distress after a transition from an eternally focused devoutly religious existence, to coming to grips with my own mortality. It was its own hell.
Don't think about death. Evey time you do you're wasting life!
I see what you are saying, but if we don't come to better terms with death and death is not sudden, we will spend the most precious moments, the moments when we know our death is imminent having to come to those better terms.
Personaly i find it hard to understand how anyone could wish to be a concious being that would exist for all eternity, even if that existence is in the most wondourous of conditions. Now dont get me wrong, to be young and healthy for a few hundred extra years would be appealing. but to exist for an eternity is a concept i find utterly horrifying. i actually find it quite comforting knowing one day i will die and it will be the end
I was scouring this post to see if anyone held the same view I do, and you said it quite beautifully. Death scares me less than it ever did. I once feared judgment and the chance for eternal damnation. After all, who was I to know where I was going and how I would be judged when I left this life? The more I thought about eternity, the more I abhorred the concept. Could you imagine doing anything awesome for eternity? It would really suck. And to live in eternal bliss - what does that mean? If you have to suffering or pain to contrast with bliss, the happiness is meaningless. Finally, the Christian idea of heaven is a bunch of souls hanging around glorifying God. Makes no sense to me.
This is why I hate white lies. I was told any number of things when I was young that turned out to be, if not outright shit, then at least far more nuanced than I thought. Most of my young life was wracked with cynicism and self hate because of shitty white lies. Always consider the set-up you are dealing someone when you use them.
How to deal with them is another issue. I have the benefit of having been trained to accept the universe at face value from that young age. To me, there was nothing to deal with. This was the fact. The end. Not the happiest way to go through life, but permanent happiness is another little misapprehension I have learned to deal without. All I can say is none of us are owed anything, but we all strive for something regardless. The feeling of doing good things and living good moments as their own rewards, and not worrying or even thinking about oblivion, is enough for me. I have never been disappointed that I took a class, helped a friend, had a child or pushed myself a little further, even though I will not leave a lasting mark. That lasting mark is all in your mind anyway, even if you did live forever, because it depends entirely on someone else giving an eternal fuck. And that, whatever else you may think, is certainly absurd.
Not terribly encouraging. But then, not a lie, either.