Death comes to us all in some form or another. The differences among humans in how we view this unfortunate circumstance is interesting. Religious people welcome death; it is their journey to the afterlife, their face-to-face meeting with God. They look forward to the end of this life, pray for the next life, and live so that they may receive the maximum benefit in God's kingdom. Oppositely, naturalists like myself see death as nothing more than the unconscious state we all experienced before our birth; it is the end of existence, the returning of our atoms into the purposeless vastness of the universe. So where does meaning come from?
The religious mind has no problem finding meaning; holy texts provide direction, guidance, and assurance that everything is under control. I must admit, it is a tempting proposition to feel as if the afterlife is certain; that our "soul" will continue on after physical death. Our consciousness as animals cannot contemplate non-existence once we have tasted life. The very idea of complete and total nothingness upon our death is foreign and disconcerting. But it does not make it any less true.
Since I cannot bring myself to believe in any afterlife, I am stuck with this life and this life only. The perspective that it gives me is one that I proudly and perhaps arrogantly prize above that of the religious... my thoughts are on making this life as good as I can, while a believer in the afterlife ultimately cares about his or her rewards in heaven. The view of the naturalist is to take action, while the view of the religious is to pray for action to be taken. This is a sour and reprehensible approach to consciousness, and one I abhor greatly.
While this view is not consistent in all religious minds (especially in those of moderate religious belief) it is common enough, at least in my upbringing, to warrant serious discussion and criticism, as I believe it leads to dangerous practices in our society that only serve to breed intolerance, hate, and division among our species. I have seen this view at work even in my own parents.
When I told my Christian parents I was an atheist, they hurt for my soul. They didn't hesitate to relate to me their extreme disappointment in my "decision" to live a godless, moral-less (according to their horrific Christian understanding) life, and they grieved for the loss of closeness that was bound to take place during this life. To me, this is an unbelievable and unacceptable conclusion. Simply because I believe differently than they do, they now view me as a lost cause and by default claim that I will not be able to relate to the innermost parts of themselves. Bull Fucking Shit. This is the problem of religion and belief. It segregates relationships through claims that have zero proof while arguing moral superiority and understanding of "truth". Since my parents are so focused on the afterlife, they are devastated that I will potentially not be there to share it with them. In turn, they think our relationship in this life must suffer since my worldview is diametrically opposed to theirs, and that is an utter shame, one that keeps me up at night in fact.
And to them, this ultimate conclusion is unavoidable; regardless of how much I choose to invest into a relationship with them, they won't be able to "connect" with me on a "godly" level where I will ask for heavenly advice and wisdom. They think our relationship is doomed to talks concerning the weather, sports, and whatever other small-talk takes place in day-to-day conversations. The funny thing is, I knew this would happen upon my unveiling of my atheism. I knew the religious mind extremely well, seeing that it was my own mindset up until age 23. I longed for Jesus' return and prayed for those going to hell. I kept Christian friends close and thought my secular friends just didn't understand the greater truth of this world. How badly I was mistaken.
To think religion can claim absolute truth, a life beyond this one, and a condemnation of all who dissent is complete madness. I see no way that this worldview can inspire peace and love. And although my parents say they will love me unconditionally no matter what I believe (and I really do believe them), their belief ultimately is causing division, awkwardness, and disappointment between us, to an irreconcilable extent. And that is bull shit, my friends. Arrogant, presumptuous, ignorant bull shit.
It saddens me deeply, especially since this life is probably all we have. We must live life with this perspective if we are to find meaning and purpose, and to concentrate so wholeheartedly on the afterlife is to lose contact with everything and everyone we hold dear. We might not want to follow Death and all of his friends, but it is unavoidable. Why not love each other as much as we can while we are here, casting aside our superstition and condemnation so that we may find true, close, and loving relationships in this life? Please consider this.