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.
Doesn't our insignificance and meaningless existence also tell us how we got here? More than likely, we originated from a single celled organism that was carried to a big spinning rock by another rock with Hydrogen and Oxygen aboard. Before that, our atoms and elements were created by nuclear fusion in a dying star. We quite literally came from a supernova. Now we are multi-cellular intelligent beings that consume gaseous compounds to survive. But what's also great, is that we have a mind. We are self-aware. We have a conscious will to survive and understand. We have love and kindness. We have created synthetic life. We are gods.
It might all be meaningless. In the sense that nothing is meaningful. But, how will we find meaning unless we use this intelligence for progress? Unless we understand love and desire meaning? Unless we realize that religion is digressive and shameful. What good can come from living according to the standards of such ignorant and violence ideals?
Ignorance is bliss.
I create meaning in my life with the marks I leave. My body and mind will die eventually but I can leave my marks on the world by either making scientific research, volunteering, interacting with other people, donating, making a kid and so on. Apart from my achievements and the consequences my actions have, I do not get to live by. This way my actions can reverb in the future, thus making my life meaningful.
We are what we do, basically. We just stop doing it when we die. What we have done during our life remains.
Most people want to leave a mark, an impression. Most people want to be noticed. Isn't that why people are fascinated by famous people?
As long as it doesn't become an obsession, don't see anything wrong with it.
"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."
4 years ago as my Mother was dying of cancer, these were my fears for her and myself.
It was during these last few months that I discovered my "hidden atheist" heritage. She convinced me that life is about those memories and those family and friends. The life you live is the reward, after that we just cease to exist. She said she made the most of her life, a lot of it she was secretive about, (Germany during the war), but all she knew was that she had a full life , she helped create 4 people, as a nurse she saved people. SHe said her life was full and now blind and cancer ridden she was worn out, tired and done.
For what it's worth, I've always had a phobia about death.
Actually, phobia is too mild a word. Anytime I allow myself to actually THINK about the subject, I fall into a massive panic attack that spirals downward, worse and worse -- and the only way to stop it is to FORCE myself to think about something else.
It is Very, Very Bad. (Over the years, I've built up a bit of a defense mechanism, such that I can usually manage to avoid thinking about it, even when skirting the topic as I am now doing.)
The crux of the problem is, I can't stand the thought of ENDING -- but I also can't stand the thought of FOREVER. Both thoughts are horrid to me -- so I just avoid the whole thing. No sense ruining our lives NOW, over a problem we can't do anything about. The problem's insoluble; therefore it doesn't exist. QED. :)
And yes, I agree with you that ignorance IS bliss. Going along with the crowd and mindlessly being a Christian would be much more "comfortable" and "peaceful". It's just that some of us place a higher value on TRUTH. Denying reality doesn't CHANGE reality.
(I don't DENY that death is really The End. I know full well it is. I just don't think about it, because it makes living the life I DO have much more unpleasant.)
As to the question of a higher "purpose" or "meaning" to life, THAT is one that doesn't faze me in the least. My life is what I make of it; I feel no need to be important on a cosmic scale.
I make a difference to those around me. I fight on the side of reason and rationality, in a culture that prizes the exact opposite. I help run a local humanist group. I edit a monthly newsletter, read by HANDFULS and HANDFULS of people, that is mainly singing to the choir on the topic of atheism and humanism. The code I write make people's lives easier, at the university where I work. And my wife prefers a world WITH me, to one WITHOUT me.
So, you know, it's all good. :)
There is a lyric from an "English Beat" song that, for me, sums it up nicely:
"being dead don't hurt, no, only dying"
For me I can say I have zero fear of death, of being dead, and what happens to my body, well, whatever.... the worms or the flames can have at it - I care not because "I" will no longer exist to know anything about it or to experience it....but yes, the process of dying scares me no end...the possible physical pain, the emotional pain of knowing that "I" will never see the people and things I love....but it is only the existing "I" that will experience these things, the non-existing"I" (if that concept even makes any sense) could care less
another thing...one (perhaps more, haven't read all comments yet) mentioned technological advances that may allow us to live "forever" and I ask, why, why ever would anyone want to live forever??
and, I do ultimately think that life is meaningless...but so what?
Hi Ronbun, I'm new here so I'll keep it short!
I too think about death sometimes and indeed it scares me, it scares me to imagine no concious thought going through my mind, to not have experience any more and to lose a lifetime of knowledge, the most precious thing, apart from my friends and family, I can think that I have.
But recently I realised that what scares me the most about it is the unknown. I can't imagine what it must be like to be dead, I've never experienced it! But I consider myself lucky to be alive at at all. Richard Dawkins puts it better than I could here.
My advice would be, focus on what you enjoy in life, make that your priority, whether that's making the most of being with your friends and family or learning about the world around you. And I don't mean the things which just make you content, like watching TV or eating pizza, do the things you actively love! After all if there is no meaning, make your own, and what better to make it than things you love!
Hope this helps!
Better that atheists drop it than fall into a theistic trap of thinking about life and death like a religious person.
Its the intent & the context in which the word is used that counts & not the actual expression itself. I don't see anything wrong with using these expressions & terms. They have the advantage of
Many scientists use the term god sometimes. Einstein did. But they don't mean god god, but a metaphorical god. Here god is used as an expression to mean something great, extraordinary, maybe something that they can't explain. Legendary mathematician Paul Erdos spoke of "The Book", an imaginary book in which god had written down the best and most elegant proofs for mathematical theorems. Lecturing in 1985 he said, "You don't have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book." He would refer to god as the Supreme Fascist or SF. He accused the SF of hiding his socks and Hungarian passports, and of keeping the most elegant mathematical proofs to himself. But he himself doubted the existence of god.
I've mentioned in a few other threads, the meaning of words can change over time. Inventing & using new terms can be cumbersome. Its better to change the meaning of words. After all, not too long ago gay didn't mean homosexual. And what better way to beat theists by taking their vocabulary & changing the meaning of those words?
Also, death is a reality. We all know about it & have experienced it in our lives, though not our own death(except a few people who have been brought back from being clinically dead), but the death of a relative or friend or neighbor or colleague or a pet. And that is where most of the regrets & fear about death come from. Wish I had spent more time with..., wish we could have patched things before...., etc etc. And when someone dies unexpectedly, like in an accident, its a chilling reminder of how easily life can end. Its these experiences which color our views about death.
What you are talking about is what happens after death. That is something we can never be certain of, but pretty much like Russel's Tea Pot, there is very little possibility of any kind of life after physical death.
Death is not actually a thing. It's a concept. It's an idea in our heads.
Are you saying you believe in some kind of afterlife? Mind body duality?
Unless you believe in those concepts, then you have to agree that the mind or brain stops functioning when the body ceases to function. And then, living being to whom that body belonged to, is said to have died. Thats death. Is there anything after that? Unless you believe in an afterlife or mind-body duality, then thats the end isn't it?
Death is defined as the permanent cessation of vital bodily functions. Unless you are using your own definition of death, then you're wrong. Death exists. It is a reality. Even if you are using your own personal definition of death, you're wrong, because others here aren't.
I'm inclined to use the word death reluctantly, because it's such an abstract concept philosophically.
Your concept of death seems even weirder
Not sure what you mean by mind body duality.
That mind or the soul can exist independent of the body
My argument is that if death doesn't actually exist for us because we haven't experienced it, then there can be no 'after'.
I don't really know where you're heading with this. People die - i.e their entire body stops functioning & starts decomposing. That is death. We all will eventually experience it. It is a reality. What after that?
I would say I sometimes toy with the idea that consciousness is not wholly located in our own bodies, that our own consciousness may partly reside in the minds of people we know, so when our own bodies cease to function, while that part of our consciousness that depends on our own body disappears, it's as well to consider the extent to which residual consciousness continues in others.
Oh, wow. This is one of the most absurd things I've ever read. Can't wait for you to clarify it. As it stands I think you believe that every time you meet someone new, a consciousness transfer takes place. And that after you die, the people who you've met who are still alive keep your consciousness alive inside them! Are you kidding me?
How would this work? Is your consciousness infinite? It would have to be or the more people you meet, the less your consciousness remains inside of you. Or maybe there is inside consciousness & outside consciousness - that keeps getting distributed among the people you meet. Like when you meet a person, a part of your consciousness residing inside others gets taken out in equal parts & goes into the new person. How would that even work? What if the people you know are spread all over the world. Does this consciousness transfer takes place only for personal meetings or phone conversations & internet meetings, like the ones we have here, in other social networking sites, online games, chat rooms etc trigger this consciousness transfer too. Is there a fixed level of consciousness transfer between two people. Like when you first meet, and then thats it, no more transfer. Or is it a continuous process? That is, the more you interact, the more consciousness you transfer between yourself? So conversely, would not interacting with someone over a long period of time diminish the consciousness that you have of them in your head? Does it completely go away?
How do we store that much consciousness in our heads? The more people you meet the more consciousness you take in.
If there is infinite consciousness and/or spending more time with someone increases consciousness transfer, then are some people more alive than others? Maybe some are more alive when they are dead than many people when they are alive.
Seriously, can't wait for you to clarify here.
Though, there is a slight chance you mean that people live on in the memories of people who they met, but the way you worded your comment, it seems unlikely.
Incidentally if death is permanent cessation of vital bodily functions then these clinical deaths you mention from which people have been resuscitated can't be death, not really, can they?
No, they experience & come back from clinical death :P