“Death is so terribly final , while life is full of possibilities.” – Tyrion Lannister
Often I get asked the terribly cliched question “You don’t believe in heaven so you believe you die and that’s it?” The question is laden in rhetoric as the holder of the question has already decided that no matter my answer I must be incorrect and worse off for being so. I often feel that indeed it’s not a question but rather a statement intended to change my views based on fear of the finality of the end. I subscribe to the simple philosophy that whether you like it or not, whether you ignore it or plead it to not be so, the truth is the truth. You can’t change it so what is the point spending your life opposing it or ignoring it, rather embracing it is much more useful and fulfilling. Now I am not saying I KNOW there is no afterlife (although I think any such afterlife would be radically different to how our human texts describe it), merely I am suggesting that it is my opinion.
I dismiss the afterlife as a possibility because I do not believe in dualism, the separation of body and mind. I believe and many neurologists agree that our consciousness is just the manifestation of millions of electrical impulses firing through the computer organ that is our brain. When you shut down or suppress the consciousness then the infinite blanket of nothingness has you and unless you wake up from it then that is where you remain, no thoughts, no feelings, no experience of time or of anything at that matter. If you have ever went under anaesthetic for surgery then you will have experienced the unrelenting succumbing to the nothingness and if it weren’t for you waking up by coming round then there you would have remained. Do you have any memory, any passing dream or song whilst you were under or did it feel like you closed your eyes then opened them again despite hours passing? No, just beautiful nothingness that you would not have even been aware of if it weren’t for your brain reawakening and making sense of the missed time.
There is a real fear in death and I’m torn between respecting it and fearing it. It is inevitable and comes to all, so in that respect it has to be respected and awed at for its nondiscriminatory swing of the scythe, but it is so final and everything we have come to be will be gone. We spend all our lives developing ourselves mentally and physically and the fear of that progress being halted forever is scary, it scares the living shit out of me and I dare anyone to say different. Even those with solid beliefs in an afterlife fear death, whether it be for its uncertainty or for fear of maybe never seeing their loved ones again, who knows? However coming to terms with my mortality has allowed me to feel more inclined to live life for good, both for myself and on towards others. I often comfort myself with the fact that I have already experienced death, in fact we all have. We are born from death! It was said once “I do not fear death for I was dead a million years before I was ever born.” How true, you do not remember anything before you were born and in essence did not exist, you were dead and born into the world and back towards the void is the road with no exit.
If some sort of deity did exist and my consciousness somehow manifested itself in that dimension, I could not hold any regret for the way I lived. I would have lived to the fullest that luck and choice has afforded me, done good onto others and sought knowledge, meaning and answers – How could any cosmic being find those attributes worthy of punishment? However, assuming there is nothing and indeed we slip back into an ethereal sleep then I find this small window of life between two pillars of nothing to be oh so important. We are all connected, we come in kicking and screaming and I hope by accepting death and living a good life that I will leave this world with more dignity than I entered it, humbly accepting the rules of the Universe and knowing that all that made me will recycle back into something else. My consciousness will be gone but the effect my consciousness had on those you live on will be my only hope of a second life. I and many other atheists hold these values – how could anyone accuse us of having no concept of the meaning of life and morality?