Scared of Death
What happens when we die? Well I’ve thought over this one a few times and the conclusion is always the same. I am not afraid of the conclusion I reach.
Don’t worry, I’m not dying any time soon. What made me want to write about this was a FaceBook comment left for me today:
“UNLIKE you Marty I KNOW BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT WHERE I AM GOING…”
Yes this came from a religious person, angrily (and in quite an aggressive way) saying that she know she’s going to heaven, and that I am ignorant of what happens after death.
OK. Fine. I’m not going to argue with that. Especially in not ALL-CAPS.
So anyway this got me thinking about what I know, only my knowing comes from evidence, not a promise.
I know that I come from the universe, I am a part of the universe and will return to the earth, decomposing to become nothing more than the chemicals and compounds of which my body consists. My brain will cease to function as the electrical impulses that make me “tick” slow down and stop, and I will only live on in the memories of other people and any legacy I may leave behind. All this is documented, and repeatable. In fact it repeats often and daily, and once for every person (and animal) who has ever lived before. All the matter from which we are composed has been spewed out of great stars, and recycled over and over again over billions of years. Why would this this be different for a human over an ant, or an asteroid, or a star?
I wonder if it makes a difference to a person’s perception of the inevitability of death and the knowledge that there is nothing afterwards, or the anxiety of not knowing and actually caring? Do religious people actually suffer more or less stress? If you believe in the afterlife, does it make you slightly removed from the physical world in such a way that you renege on your earthly duties?
The way some fundamentalist speak and act, one could easily assume this. And staking all your hopes on the possibility there may be a heaven, with its extreme unlikelihood seems like it may cause a bit more stress than simply admitting that there is nothing afterward. If you put all your eggs in the “afterlife” basket seems like a waste of effort to me, really.
I’ve wondered also whether the stories of an afterlife were originally told as a way to remind people to remember the dead, with the shaman or mystic saying words like “you will live on forever in the memories of your families, and in the genetic legacy you leave behind you,” and somehow got shortened to “you will live forever”.
I think this quote attributed to Isaac Asimov pretty much sums up my views on death:
“Although the time of death is approaching me, I am not afraid of dying and going to Hell or (what would be considerably worse) going to the popularized version of Heaven. I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death, I am thankful to atheism.”
I think this acceptance of “nothingness” has something to do with some understanding of scale of the universe, and the knowing that this planet floats alone in this immensity of deep space. We already walk this life alone. Why should death be any different?
I don’t want to die, and I am most certainly not welcoming the end of my life, but it seems to me that given that death is inevitable for ALL of us that obsessing about it and what happens afterward is counterproductive, and frankly a waste of my time. Life is too short to worry about its end! And I certainly don’t intend on dying any time soon!
So I guess my message is, “Don’t procrastinate, you only get one ride in life, make it the best ride you possibly can. Oh, and there is no afterlife.”
Further Reading (in light of the comments below)
Is the Bible True of False?