Obsessed with death
I find it interesting how many times I see people on twitter arguing with Christians about death. It seems to me that the atheists who engage in these conversations are always defending the importance of the actions we make during life, while the Christians are obsessed with what happens afterwards. What’s most interesting about these discussions is the fervour with which the people on the religious side insist that the afterlife is more important than our daily lives.
Sure it’s okay to believe what you want, it’s only you who will be hurt by your ignorance, right? Well, no that’s not right. It’s the implications of living with the “certainty” of an afterlife that is damaging to everyone. Let me explain.
If you live life with the attitude that there is only one shot at life, that the things you do in this life and nothing else is what matters, then the tendency is toward doing good for the sake of the betterment of people, for the sake of society and for the sake of humanity. If however you see life as having a fallback position of afterlife which is eternal, the tendency is to focus your attention on this afterlife, and while you may do good for others it is always in context of this belief.
That may be a bit of a sweeping statement, I’m sure not every believer is obsessed, nor is every atheist good, but I think it’s most likely the case that those who believe in afterlife will focus attention on things other than the world we love in, the problems we all face in the future, the strife of third world countries et cetera. People only have so much focus, so if we use up a lot of our time thinking about being reunited with our dead loved ones in heaven then there is less focus we can have on making sure our real lives are prosperous and worthwhile.
Again, I understand why people feel this way. I too have lost loved ones, and while it would be nice to see them again, I know I won’t, and this is a hurdle we all have to jump before we can see life for the precious, beautifully fragile and unique journey we all have. Once we can come to terms with the one single life we each get, while we may yearn to be reunited with lost loved ones, we can move forward and refocus our attention on those around us now, those who remain important and those who make a difference to our lives.
I often hear the statement “You can deny God and the afterlife, but you will be judged when you die.” This is served up by those obsessed with death, those who hold this “certainty” of afterlife. There are three main things about this attitude that trouble me; firstly this supposes that our temporary state on this planet is a testing ground for the “real show” which happens after we die; secondly it shows just how little the judgement-claiming person thinks about their current life; and thirdly it’s the attitude that, while believers will claim vehemently to the contrary, that human life become significantly less precious when you believe in afterlife.
Let’s look at these three concepts.
The great show in the sky
Use logic. If the life you have now is a testing ground for the afterlife, what incentive is there for being a good person without prejudice? There is none, and the prejudice comes from the doctrines of religion, mainly the Bible and the Quran. These books specifically say that the believers should recruit as many others to their faith, and if unsuccessful, to kill the unbeliever. Christianity in this case has come a long way since it’s dark-ages doctrines, but it’s still not anywhere near being humanistic. Islam is still living in the dark ages in this respect. It’s all about following these doctrines blindly, forsaking all else and focusing on the self. It means that the individual becomes more important than the group, the society or the species. This kind of thinking is dangerous, and so very selfish. Christians will claim that a basic tenet of Christianity is to be good to others. I say that this is a basic tenet of being human, and can easily be done without a book of stories to tell us what is wrong and right.
The afterlife is more important
When we treat our lives as the testing ground for our real purpose, which is to live forever in heaven, we can easily forsake those around us and become so focused on our supposed eternity that those around us suffer. Things like prayer and doting to a “greater power” waste our precious time, time that could be otherwise spent on real pursuits, like ending world poverty or volunteering to work at a charity. While Christianity in particular says that charity is a great virtue, and while I acknowledge that Christin charities have done good worldwide to end this human suffering, they always do it with a price attached. That price is conversion to the religion. As helpful as it can be to have charities like World Vision, and while they do a lot of good for the poor and hungry, whey always have the idea that they are helping others so that they can help themselves get into heaven. Mother Teresa is a prime example of someone exalted by Christianity as a doer of good, however it is becoming more and more clear that she would rather feed the word of god to the poor rather than giving food or basic needs to them. While she claimed to be doing good for the people, her focus was on how many people she could coax into Christianity, thereby saving their souls for the afterlife, and thereby assuring her place in heaven for doing “God’s work”. Hardly what I would call selfless. She is even quoted as saying:
“I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”
Suffering is important
While I agree that those who have suffered and triumphed can become better people for it, the idea that suffering is needed is a sick idea in itself. Those that suffer are vulnerable to the suggestions of religion, because while their lot may not get any better while here in earth, if they believe they will be saved from this tormented world in the afterlife. See how this works?
In the Bible, James 2:14-17 says:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
While this passage claims that praying alone is not good enough, which is a great thing for Christians to remember. If they truly believe, then they must do things to help. But it still leaves a bitter aftertaste. These actions are only to get into heaven, not really for the people they are purportedly helping.
As I have said, Christian charities do a lot of good for the world, and they have raised a lot of money for those living in poverty. I don’t claim that these organisations are bad at all, in fact they are very successfully good. But to bring aid to someone in who is in a vulnerable position, then to back it up with scripture is divisive and prays upon people then they are susceptible to influence.
I think the idea of afterlife also has a negative affect upon our planet. There are those who believe that the world is coming to an end, that Jesus will return to earth on a cloud, and that those who were faithful to God in life will be swept away to heaven, while the unbelievers will face hell on earth in the final days of judgement. This is a convenient way to write off everyone else in the world, everything for that matter. If the Rapture is truly coming, then all we need to do is have faith, and we will be looked after by God. Where then is an incentive to look after the other inhabitants of the earth? What of the environment, the ecosphere, societies and the planet? This is a damning complacency, and I blame religion’s false hopes of an afterlife for a lot of our shortsightedness when it comes to the way we treat this planet and its inhabitants.
This does not mean that I am looking forward to dying, but let’s face it, I am going to die. So are you. What happens afterwards? Who knows? But I can almost certainly tell you that you are not going to heaven, and the only judgement served upon you at your death will be those of your peers, and the weight of your deeds on earth while you were alive. This is your legacy, and this is your destiny. Do you want to be remembered as someone who staked all their bets on an eternal afterlife at the expense of others, or do you want to be remembered as someone who did good because you believe people deserve a quality of life that you enjoy?
Let me get one last thing clear here. It is natural to be afraid of death. Our bodies feel pain so that we can stop from destroying ourselves every time we move. Our brains tell us pain is bad, for the same reason. We see the suffering of dying animals an people, and we react negatively to it, we empathise that we do not want to experience this torment. We have crafted stories to help people get through a torturous or tormented life, but these stories are just stories and should be treated as such. We don’t know what happens after we die, and we fear that uncertainty, but death itself is the only true certainty we have. It is not wrong to rail against death, in fact it is necessary, but don’t forsake your life in the hopes that there is an afterlife, no matter how nice it might sound.
Laughter: A First Step To Non-Belief