When I first accepted atheism as my own personal philosophy, I could feel the excitement of rebellion as well as a comforting relief "knowing" that God wasn't real, and neither was Hell. I've found some wonderful people with very diverse views and comprehensive, intelligent understanding of the universe and our place in it. It's been a grand, exciting time for me.
And yet I can't shake that one unending, horrifying sensation that's been at the back of my mind the whole time: abject terror of death.
I suppose it's one thing to say that spiritually that our bodies pass on and some part of us lingers to do something else. Maybe have grand adventures within the greatness of our galaxy or develop into something grander than just entities in hollow human shells. But as an atheist, I cannot accept this. I'm forced, by virtue of scientific progress and personal comprehension, that once I kick the bucket, I'm gone. All I'll be is wormfood and happy memories to a mournful group of friends and family.
I have a very dear friend who is losing someone very close and dear to him to cancer. He's told me (and I'm sharing his feelings) that the biggest reason he can't accept atheism is because he doesn't want to imagine his sister as wormfood. He wants to imagine that he can see his sister again happily on the "other side". And in grief, he's demanded that I keep myself open for that possibility, and I've agreed. How could I not, when I feel the same fear he's going through?
In all the beauty, grandeur, and glory of the natural universe and the fantastic amazement one can have for its processes, there's one undying fact that won't be ignored: we are all tiny and meaningless to this universe in which we live. We exist for not even the tiniest fraction of existence and pass on without a single thought. Now, instead of saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's something in the afterlife?" I'm saying, "What's the point of doing anything now when there's no point except to get up, live, then die?"
I've heard the argument that it's a cold, frustrated, bitter imagination that refuses to accept this world for what it is and demand that something must be behind it or must have created it. But it feels even more inhumane to say that we are tiny, insignificant dots in the grandeur of the universe.
And some atheists wonder why the religious hold onto their "bullshit dogma". Sometimes it seems like there's greater peace in ignorance than coming to terms with your own meaninglessness.
I think everyone is a little shocked when death first stops being an idea and becomes that gut feeling... I can't get it out of me some days and it scares the bleeping bejeezus out of me, personally. I've watched family die slowly, pets die quickly, and it always leaves me feeling sick in my heart for a bit.
The only thing that helps me get beyond that is to do something very alive. I take a bike ride to a natural area or watch the sun come up from on top of a hill or call my mom and tell her I love her. I look at what I really care about and I push for it (even if only a little at a time). I make sure I hug my husband every single day. Because I know they won't last forever and what I have now is infinitely precious. The beauty of a single flower in the sunshine, so complicated on so many levels, and yet so brief... amazing. Nothing is more heartrendingly glorious and terrifying than the mortality of our world. Let that feeling fill you up.
As for our own unimportance, I try to remember that while the universe was NOT created for humans, we do still effect it in every single way, every single day. Everything you do and say will change someone or something. You can make things better. You can make things worse. And someday those little things you have done could be amplified a thousand times over. Think of the philosophers and scientists and authors and leaders who are remembered thousands of years after their death. It could be you. And who knows how the ideas and actions we take here will flow across space and time? No one does, but think about the first human to make a simple stone tool. Look at what that simple action did for us all. Again, glorious.
the universe shows neither meaning nor purpose
Neither physical nature nor human nature demonstrate anything about a superordinate, supernatural realm populated by creators or law givers. Nature is silent. There is no concept of truth in nature. There is no concept of morality in nature. There are no concepts whatsoever in nature. Nature knows nothing.
Nature is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Neither a source of comfort (natural theology) nor a source of despair (existentialism). Both are rooted in the same mistaken presupposition that supernatural meaning can be found by searching the heavens for gods or quarrying human inwardness for moral laws.
• Instead, religions belong to cultures embedded in nature. And cultures are our distinctive human-all-too-human handiwork. Religions are obsolete, unnecessary cultural artifacts.
• updating an ancient rational and pleasurable alternative way of life
Xianity has hated rational thought (especially in Greek and Roman philosophy) ever since Stoics and Epicureans laughed at “saint” P/Saul of Tarsus (fl 50-65 CE). While preaching to Athenian philosophers about a minor jewish doctrine of bodily resurrection turned into insane mythology (Acts17:18 NIV), he had to stop and retreat from the the Agora, traditional space for free and open exercises of reason giving.
The demands of faith -- obedience, submission to authority, violation of rationality -- are inconsistent with ancient and modern democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience.
• Whatever xians hate deserves a closer look as something likely to be good.
Three hundred years before the earliest xian cults, the Greek philosopher Epicurus (340-270 BCE) devised and openly shared a philosophy of nature based on atomism and a philosophy of life (an ethic) based on a rational pleasure principle.
•...live like a god among ordinary people.
Epicurus' conclusions drawn from his atomism and hedonist ethic are distilled into four statements. The tetrapharmakos = 4-fold cure for anxiety: what about gods, suffering, death?
Don`t fear god,
Don`t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure.
-- Philodemus from a Herculaneum scroll (100 BCE)
• What is the best life to lead according to Epicurus?
Epicurus' own advice to a follower:
"Think about these things [in my texts]...yourself, and with a companion like yourself, and you will never be disturbed while awake or asleep. But you will live like a god among ordinary people. For those who live among immortal blessings are not like mortal beings."
The modern French philosopher Michel Onfray presents an a-theology worthy of intellectual respect which updates Epicurus given 200 years of textual scrutiny of xian texts, of middle-eastern history, of modern psychology and sociology. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. While no one can find "meaning". They can find joy.
It is really quite beautiful when you think about it. One day out of the blue from your perspective you appear out of nowhere and exist. Death will be the same but in reverse you just end, there will be nothing else. That to me is awesome.
"Death is exactly like never having existed at all."
Read this from Tom Clark if you like.
I have the same fears, but i refuse to give up my philosophy just because the answers are uncomfortable. and when you realize that you're trying to rationalize something that you simply cannot know anything about, it becomes allot easier to handle.
Besides, do you really believe that a religious person doesn't think about death just as much as we do? I think everybody fears death. Not just atheists.
As an atheist and being more than a bit nihilist, I can fully relate to your dilemma. I suffer frequent depression because I feel my life has no passion, meaning or purpose. But I am still here.
If you want to find meaning and purpose, try raising a family. To live for the well-being of a child is, no doubt, a great way to find joy and meaning in your life. I can't speak from personal experience, but that is just one idea.
You can also create a bucket list. This world is an amazing place and full of potential adventures and experiences waiting to be had. Granted it might be a bit macabre, I delight in new experiences, whether good or bad. I don't pursue them, but when in a rather serious car accident, I was strangely all smiles, because it was an awesome experience I had never had before. When I was younger I actually wanted to kill myself just to see what happened after we died, but I realized that if I did that, then I wouldn't be around to experience everything else life has to offer.
Another thing I do is involve myself in charity work. Helping others is very rewarding!
I personally try to live every day as it is my last (with some consideration for the fact that it probably won't be, so I do recommend keeping your day job). I live without regret. If I died tomorrow I would not have any regrets for how I have lived my life. (of course if i did die, i wouldn't be around to have any regrets anyway).
I hope this is helpful to you!
If you knew you were going to live forever how would you live differently than you do now?
Live like you have an eternity or live like there is no tomorrow?
Cherish the moment, live in the now. When I'm OLD, worn out and used up I hope to look back and say "Damn, that was a fun ride!"
Why would one need an afterlife? Existence with all of its joy and pain is pretty fucking awesome.
"Life, put simply, is the space between nonexistence."