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.
Interesting post! A while ago I wrote a similar post dealing with how religion relies on our fear to push its agenda.
Looking forward to your next post!
Do you see the belief in radical life extension and transhumanism as being upheld by the same things as after life in Christianity? After reading a great deal about it, I'm still on the fence as to weather or not radical life extension is in my own lifetime is a realistic goal, but one thing to keep in mind is that while eternal youth has always been a fantasy of people and has always been an unrealistic goal, the time that we live in is a time completely unique to the entire history of the universe.
Which brings me to the same response I've always had to people suggesting that the lack of a god detracts from the importance of humanity. Humans decide what is important, and no matter how "dot" sized we may be in context of the universe, our unique nature(life) to the universe makes us anything but insignificant. In fact I have always thought of us as quite special. We are sentient. We are the first to apply long term pattern recognition into our habits of modifying the universe around us. I take comfort in knowing that god almost certainly does not exist, because it defends the idea that the future of humanity is something completely new. Throughout life I have been perpetually taken aback by the nature of nature itself, and what seems to me as a self evident "meaning" behind life, as well as reassurance that meaning is a personal pursuit, independent of manipulation from control of other sentient beings. If you do need a psychological anchor that is at least more believable than theism, I would strongly advise you to become familiar with Transhumanism.
I hope that things go well for you and your friends, and that however long your existence is, that it's a good one.
The Worms Go In
When we are dead, we’ll feed the worms
And other stuff that writhes and squirms
And if you cannot come to terms
With that—well, use your head!
There are no ifs nor ands nor buts:
Bacteria within our guts
Will start to eat us; that is what’s
In store, once we are dead.
Yes, life is short and full of toil,
And when we’ve shuffled off this coil
Our carcasses will start to spoil—
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Our share of fish or pigs or cows,
And all the chicken time allows,
Is done. It’s only fair that now’s
The worms’ turn to get fat.
Should we die young, or old and gray,
The laws of nature we’ll obey
And spend our heat in mere decay,
Replenishing the Earth;
“Three score and twelve” may be our years
For love and laughter, hope and fears
And then—mere smoke—life disappears;
No heaven, no rebirth.
And with no heaven up above
Nor hell we ought be frightened of
It’s best we fill our lives with love,
With learning, and with fun!
Don’t waste a lifetime while you wait
For halo, wings, and pearly gate—
This is your life, so get it straight:
You only get the one!
I’ll have no moment lost to prayer,
To cleanse my soul and thus prepare
For passage to… THERE’S NOTHING THERE!
Those moments, all, are wasted!
I’m only here a little time
Before it’s bugs and worms and slime;
I’ll eat and drink my life so I’m
Delicious when I’m tasted!
* * *
It's not death I fear but pain. I just hope that, when my time comes, I can go peacefully in my sleep, like my old granddad. Not screaming and soiling myself and begging for mercy like his passengers.
I don't understand all the hand-wringing over whether our lives have purpose or meaning or how significant or insignificant we are in the cosmos. Why is it so hard to accept that we are not special in the cosmic scope of things? As Carl Sagan said: "The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition." And more to the point: "If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?"
Why the big hangups over meaning and purpose? So some grown-ups led you to believe you/we were special and it turns out that doesn't seem to be the case - get over it. You got over Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, didn't you? Anyway, just what exactly was the special purpose or meaning of your life? As far as I can tell the answer seems to be "to glorify/love/adore God" or to trick... sorry, encourage others to do so. Hey, I'm damn relieved to find out that was a crock!
The concept of being created by a master planner or grand architect with expectations of carrying out a purpose seem onerous and oppressive to me. Like living in a big mansion where you not only have to be respectful and kind to your fellow occupants but you also have to be careful not to upset the Lord of the Manor who is a totally irrational, unreasonable, narcissistic, cruel and spiteful old ogre. Everybody who lives in the mansion is scared to break any of the rules and they all have different ideas of exactly what the rules are and have no idea why his lordship likes or dislikes any particular thing. When we find out the old ogre was nothing but an invention to scare and control the gullible we should rejoice like Pinnochio!
I don't really understand the wish to be mourned or missed, either. I know how terribly sad and depressing one can feel after the loss of a loved one. It can take a long time to get over the palpable heartbreak that hits you every time you think of them. I don't wish that on anybody. I know, to some extent, it may be unavoidable but I would rather they have a laugh or think fondly of some happy occasion or pleasurable event than be upset. That's why I've told my kids I hope they save their money and don't give me a funeral.
Funerals are for the living so I'm not going to try to tell my family what to do - they'll do what ever they want. I have told them that I have no expectations. If they want to have a service I won't be around to stop them but I sure hope they don't waste any money on expensive arrangements. I've signed my donor card so the hospitals can do what ever they want with my remains under one condition - they have to promise not to laugh. Hopefully, that'll get a laugh.
I couldn't agree more. Thanks for sharing your views, which I can relate to 100%.
I have softened my stance on this subject. I used to say that I really didn't want any kind of funeral or service - that if they really wanted to respect my wishes they would do as little as possible in that regard. However, about five years ago (and I know this will probably sound a little weird), my beloved canine buddy, Toby, had to be put down due to cancer. The vet asked me how I wanted the remains disposed of and I opted for the cheap burial-in-somebody's-back-forty option. After the deed was done and we had returned home to gloomily contemplate our Tobyless abode I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of his body being in some unknown, strange place. I knew perfectly well that it made no difference to him but it just didn't feel right and I wanted him to be close. I phoned the vet and told them I had changed my mind about the disposal of our dog's remains. I went back and picked him up and we buried him in the bush at the back of our property. I can't explain why I felt so much better about being able to "say goodbye" to him in this way - it seems quite irrational even to me, now.
Anyway, I realized that I had no authority to tell anybody how or when they should handle their grief.