I am often asked how I can “live with” believing that there is no heaven or hell awaiting me after my death. Similarly, atheists are often asked why they do not simply kill themselves, as they believe that there is no meaning to their lives and no immortal future toward which they can look. These questions have always baffled me. Yes, I am aware that I will die one day. I am also aware that the sun will burn out, that taxes are due soon, and that the Niners lost. No, the thought doesn’t make me happy, but I’m not going to fall into despair or kill myself. How would that solve anything?
Recently, a man with a large wooden cross helpfully reminded me that I would have to “pay for” my sins after I died. I can imagine that if I was religious, I might fear death and the judgment that I believed would follow.
But do I, an agnostic atheist, fear death? Well, like every normal person, I certainly don’t want to die, but I do not dread it every waking moment. There is nothing inherently desperate or tragic about an atheistic perspective on death. I may fear that I will not be able to accomplish everything I want to do before I die, or I may fear that my death will make others unhappy (or worse, that it will not). But do I fear what will follow? Of course not; how can I fear something for which I will not exist?
Connor Oakes is a fourth-year political science major.
It doesn’t matter what religious worldview you adhere to. As a part of being human, we are all uncomfortable with the fact that, one day, we will not be here. Different people take different steps in coming to terms with that; for example, some completely deny that they truly die. After their physical body is gone, they believe some immaterial part of them continues to exist in a vague, but “better” place. Though this may be an appealing idea, it devalues the time that actually we have to spend here on Earth. If one believes they go to some unbelievably great place after they pass, how can living in our imperfect world even compare to that?
Our life is a journey, and as with all things, it has an end. After we’re gone, we leave this world only with our memories, deeds and legacies, be they good or bad. We constantly make mistakes in our lives, and though there might not be any re-dos, there is always room for improving the future.
Fear of death is fear of the unknown. I can’t say I know with complete certainty I know what happens after I die, but I do know that fear can be overcome. Living for the now, experiencing the world even with all its mistakes makes it worth it. Because I know that eventually I will not be there to experience it makes every second of life infinitely more valuable.
Jay Grafft is a second-year communications major.
Growing up as a Christian, death was more of a transitional phenomenon than it was an absolute end. Loved ones who had died were not truly gone, but were looking down on me from the afterlife. It was admittedly a comforting feeling, one that was difficult to part with as I renounced my faith. As a fledgling atheist, I had a rough time coming to terms with my impermanence. When I realized that the eternity I was promised as a child was not waiting on the other side, I felt quite insignificant. My handful of decades compared to the vastness of cosmic time felt like a pittance. However, over time I began to observe my situation from different perspectives. Putting a limit on my lifespan gave a value to every passing day that I had never observed as a believer. Instead of wasting my time appeasing a god or worrying about hell, I am now able to cherish every day for what it is: another chance to enjoy my improbable existence. Even the nothingness that supersedes death no longer bothers me. Why should our essence continue on after we die? Like all other animals, humans eventually stop living. We are special in that we have the capacity to be afraid of it and to try to invent ways to circumvent it. Fear of the unknown is very powerful, and death is one of the most “unknown” things around. One quote that brought me comfort during my de-conversion was this one by Mark Twain: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” Being not-born wasn’t so bad. Sure beats fire and brimstone.
Mark Belko is a fourth-year film and media studies major.