I just read a fascinating article on teenageatheist.com.  She talks about dying and there being "nothing".  Even though zillions of years passed before her 16 years on earth, she now exists and doesn't want it to end.

I believe my life will end and I will go to the same place I was in 10 million BC or 1940.  Nowhere.  

As an atheist, do you believe there is life after death?  Or do you think there's just nothing; that you cease to exist and that's the end?

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To "beg" for the end implies the presence of unmitigated suffering, which, I would argue, is always due to circumstances beyond ones control. Those who long for death are the old who cannot regain the energy and possibility of youth, or the long sick who find neither Gilead nor its balm, or the deepest of the depressed who cannot imagine that change will or even can find them in the midst of their despair. The young, especially when not absorbed in this pitiful rat-race that has yet to run its final lap, do not look toward fulfillment so much as the act of fulfilling. They live in a constant state of wonder and exploration.

The technology to achieve immortality would bring with it eternal youth and vigor – not to mention the ability to survive comfortably in environments far harsher than those to which most of us are accustomed. Imagine the possibilities! It is a big universe out there, with lots to do and see. If the infinite exists, there may well be an infinite amount of things to discover. The artistically inclined or scientifically minded live to discover, do they not? It is their very raison d'etre!

Fulfillment, like the life in which it happens, is what you make it. While there may yet come a day when the vastness of the world will no longer entice me, that day is not today. And knowing of all that I have yet to know and experience, I cannot begin to guess how old I would have to be for my wonder to cease. Instinct tells me never, but I am always glad to bend my ear to reason; it has not once failed me.
Hey Buck,

Although I might disagree with you, I'd like you to know I'm a big fan of your writing; especially your poetry. For those members who haven't read Buck's poetry, he has some posted in the Think Poetry group, as well as on his Wordpress blog.

No explanation is necessary. Disagreement is an essential part of the process of learning and discussing these ideas with intelligent and reasonable people, such as yourself, is the best method I know for testing the limits and validity of what I know. I seek only to better my knowledge and better myself. I am also ever on guard, lest I should cross the line from debate into rude insistence; I am content to leave proselytizing to the insecure.

Rest assured, I enjoy our conversations and look forward to many more.

And thank you very much for recommending my poetry to the community. That is very gracious of you. Everyone should take a gander at your posts as well – and hopefully contribute.
Whats to fear? I wont be aware that I am dead. I am unaware when I enter deep sleep, I'm guessing it will be similar but I wont be breathing. The last moments of my life.. well thats a little scary.
I don't fear nothingness, since when it happens I won't know. I fear my life coming to an end, since I still have things to look forward to (and if my species hadn't evolved to resist death to our utmost then we wouldn't still be around), but maybe I'd feel differently if I had gotten to the point, say, due to illness, where I could no longer do the things I enjoy. What most disturbs me about death is that I won't get a chance to see how it turns out for the human race and what advances in science we'll achieve.
Life is precious precisely because it is so fleeting. If you had an eternity to work out who you are and what you want, there would be no sense of urgency; no meaning to the present.

As atheists, we live for THIS life . . . not some imaginary afterlife. Which do you think will result in depth of experience? Which will lead to greater contributions to humanity?

The supernatural has its charms. Who wouldn't want to live forever? But we can't subordinate our lives to fear. That's not life. That's death in waiting.
If life is precious because of mortality, then why do children, who have no sense of death, have no trouble enjoying life? Or consider cats and dogs, who have no sense of mortality yet are connoisseurs of idle pleasure. If I had my druthers, I would revert to age five or seven or even ten and play forever in the fields of my dreams.
Yes, Buck, life before reason is a playground. Ignorance is bliss: to a child (or cat), not knowing about mortality is subjectively equivalent to being immortal.
When I say life is precious, I don't mean that it is enjoyable. I mean it is exceedingly valuable - because of it's rarity and fragility. It's often not enjoyable to me, and it is often enjoyable to beings with no thoughts of mortality. But knowledge of mortality, while not necessarily affecting the joy of life for good or ill, absolutely increases it's value.

Imagining an afterlife decreases the value of life. It is a lot easier to sacrifice oneself or others when imagining that death is not the destruction of an individual.

I personally don't fear the nothingness, though. Having been depressed and suicidal in the past, nothingness has a certain appeal. The finality of death, though, was enough for me to hold off until absolutely sure about things (religion, afterlife, morality, the meaning of this life). In fact, Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" deals with the question of, "even if life is meaningless and full of suffering, and God/afterlife does not exist, is life still worth living?" Camus comes to the conclusion "yes". I've come to the same conclusion. One of my important reasons is the value of life.

But if life is very enjoyable, valuable, and full of meaning for a person, then the concept of nothingness could understandably be fearsome. Quite understandable for a teenager...

The only concession I'll make to an afterlife is the effect a person can have on the world around him - his works, his friends' and relatives' memories of him, etc. I think I would still in a different, limited sense "exist" - but I would not be conscious or alive.
But do we not subordinate our lives to fear in nearly every aspect? Certainly, life has its sheer joys – for instance, curiosity leading to discovery, for which reason is a fine tool. But consider these things:

Why do we strive for success? Perhaps fear of being ostracized by society for not meeting its expectations or of having simply wasted our lives.

Why do we seek out food? Fear of starvation.

Why do we fight crime? Fear of death and fear of injustices going unanswered.

Why do we reproduce? Again, societal pressures or the fear of being forgotten which is just another kind of death. After all, what are children but an illusory means toward immortality?

We all want immortality. If we can not have it in a literal sense, we are content to seek it in the figurative sense. We seek continuation through the raising of nations and the raising of children. So I ask you, why is true immortality not a worthwhile goal?

I can think of no reasonable argument as to why such a thing should not be possible. There exist, right now, trees whose lifespans measure in millennia. Indeed, if you consider life on Earth as a single complex process, it has gone on for roughly 3.5 billion years, having survived countless cataclysms along the way. And since we are each a part of that process, life in toto is a far more complex system than a single human being. To be sure, there are other related problems, such as aging, overpopulation, or resource management, but I see no reason why we cannot solve these as well. And since when has humanity ever let the difficulty of a problem outweigh the necessity of its solution?

I suspect we believe that death is inevitable simply because we have always been taught that it is so. But as atheists, we all know the folly of believing without question. We all hate death and, when given the choice, choose life - so long as it is a reasonably enjoyable one. Why, then, do we not do something about this common problem which dwarfs all others? Why not put our reason and imagination to work? Why not answer the existential question of death with unquenchable determination of life?

As H.P. Lovecraft once wrote, "with strange eons even death may die."
Hi Buck,

I think we MIGHT subordinate our lives to fear in any number of ways but (strive to) overcome many of not most of them. I can't second-guess others, so I will only speak for myself.

It seems to me you're positing fear where it need not exist. I think the poet in you is waxing too philosophic.

"Why do we strive for success?" You could say that ambition is fear-based -- but why would you? Material gain, pride in achievement, helping your children, the good life . . . these are worthy goals in their own right. They might be selfish goals but that's only human. If you want success so you can give away what you've earned, that's even better. But even then, one could philosophize that charity is not truly altruistic because it's driven by the fear of being selfish.

In my own case, I enjoyed the good life. I gave my children college educations and eased them into independence by buying them modest homes (they make the mortgage payments). Then I retired early (at the age of 52) and moved to the Philippines. Do I fear my plans coming undone? On some level, I suppose . . . but I don't subordinate my life to those fears. I pursue my plans anyway.

"Why do we seek out food?" Why assert fear of starvation? What's wrong with simply satisfying our hunger?

"Why do we fight crime?" We entrust crime fighting to our governments. Protecting our lives and property is easily linked to fear, I must admit, but the point is that by fighting crime we are not surrendering to it: we are not subordinating our lives to fear of crime (unless we lock ourselves away, afraid to go outside).

"Why do we reproduce?" Why can't we simply want children or unexpectedly find ourselves having them anyway? Why can't it simply be a potential consequence of sex?

"We all want immortality." Immortality has its allure: who hasn't fantasized about it? But as atheists, which one of us have not realized how boring heaven must be? If I must be immortal, I'd want to be immortally at the prime of life: somewhere between 18 and 28. But even this would have its drawbacks as we watch our loved-ones, generation after generation, age and die. If we were immortal but continued to age, that would really suck. And if EVERYBODY was immortal, then that could turn out to be hell on Earth. Family would lose its meaning, as would just about any form of serving others. Life would be unrelentingly self-serving if everybody was immortal. Purpose and meaning would slip through our fingers.

Mortality is built into every living thing. It's natural. Therefor, immortality is unnatural. It might be that if you live a long life and are ready to die, that's how you'll know you've done it right.

I do not think it is possible to be too philosophic, so long as reason is underpins the process.

Also, it was not my intention to state such definitiveness in the answers I provided for the questions I raised. The "perhaps" in my first answer should be applied to them all. The fears and desires we weigh at every turn of our lives are not so cut and dry as either/or. Forgive me for implying otherwise.

With that in mind, I will address your comments, but I understand fully if you would have answered differently had I been clearer on my stance.

"Material gain, pride in achievement, helping your children, the good life . . . these are worthy goals in their own right. They might be selfish goals but that's only human." Whence come these goals and what makes them worthy? Caring for your children is worthy, certainly, but that hardly applies for the childless. Is this not simply an instance of caring for the needy? And material gain at the expense of so many poor is no gain at all. Where is the pride in such an achievement unless it is merely the means to a nobler end of economic equality? We can fear for our own well-being or that of our family. But what constitutes family? It is different for every society. Furthermore, going by the most basic definition of relation, our family is exactly as large as the number of individuals compromising the biosphere. This astronomically large number can be reasonably whittled down, but only so far before questions of sentience and capacities for suffering come into play.

"Why assert fear of starvation? What's wrong with simply satisfying our hunger?"
In a society of plenty, hunger is a minor annoyance. For many - perhaps most in this world - it is still a sign that starvation is a very real threat. Most, if not all, who read our exchange will, at their next onset of hunger, ask merely, "What will I eat?" There are still so many deprived the luxury of the "what" in that question.

"We entrust crime fighting to our governments. Protecting our lives and property is easily linked to fear, I must admit, but the point is that by fighting crime we are not surrendering to it."
Entrusted or not, governments are merely bodies of people who are, hopefully, assigned their task by some form of electoral system. Should the government itself become corrupt, i.e. the people it embodies commit some of the injustices they are sworn to address, then the electorate must take up the banner. And we can prize universal justice more than we fear for loss of our own property or even our lives, but in the end, we must choose. We do not have to surrender, but we must acknowledge one fear or the other, perhaps even both.

"Why can't we simply want children or unexpectedly find ourselves having them anyway? Why can't it simply be a potential consequence of sex?"
Though pregnancy leads to children, they are not remotely the same thing. Between sex and birth lie a complex spectrum of fears and desires which must be navigated before a choice is made. For instance, should a woman find herself unintentionally pregnant, she must weigh the options of abortion and adoption against external pressures, such as the views of her society. Such considerations change form as the parent/child relationship changes, but their force is never fully diminished. Unlike you, I am not a parent, but I am, like everyone, the child of parents. Knowing the struggles they faced every step of the way, I am content in saying that when a parent holds their child's hand, they hold fear with the other.

As for your thoughts on immortality, I agree wholeheartedly that an eternity of old age or seeing my loved ones die would be unsatisfactory. I wish immortality as an option for all or else none. Anything else would be an injustice. To be sure, there would be issues to address, such as overpopulation, and our current social concepts would change, but why would family lose its meaning?

I feel an odd sense of connection to someone who even shares my last name, much less someone whose relation to me is clear, but I need no sense of relation to want to help someone; suffering is reason enough. Yet, I find no meaning or purpose in reducing the suffering of another. Indeed, I hope for the elimination of suffering altogether. To take pride in the alleviation of individual suffering requires the continuance of suffering. Instead, let the soldier seek peace. Let the doctor find a panacea. Let the ruler promote reason. We should serve others because it fulfills their need, not our own.

I will conclude by further clarifying my last post: In saying that we subordinate our lives to fear, I did not mean to imply that we are mere slaves. Though we cannot escape the impetus of fear – for much of desire is born from it – fear can be good, so long as it is the right fear. The right fear keeps us honest and, to be fair, guides our actions toward a better world from which we too might benefit. Do we choose fear of being shunned by society over fear for our fellow humans quality of life? Do we choose fear of failure or the loss of our own life over fear of wrongs gone unredressed?

I choose to fear death and to try doing something about it.


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