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Just say NO to an afterlife – The Considerate Atheist
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Just say NO to an afterlife

Most religions are built around the idea of an afterlife.  Some place little emphasis on it, others give you a constant reminder.  Even the so called “atheist religion” of Buddhism still has the concept of reincarnation.  In one sense I can understand why these ideas are so intoxicating, and why every culture seems to invent another version of life beyond the grave.  We enjoy life.  Life is fun.  And who wouldn’t like the idea that we can keep on living someday beyond the grave?  I understand, of course, that for some life is not fun.  For some life is a constant struggle of hardship, poverty, and pain.  For these people the promise of an afterlife can give them hope that their misery will someday end, and that they will eventually experience bliss in a beautiful endless heaven.

So what’s wrong with the idea of an afterlife anyway?  If it can encourage or bring hope to humans, then what’s the harm in it?  Even if we assume it is all wishful thinking, can’t the idea of an afterlife be permitted or even encouraged if it gives cultures or communities a sense of peace as death approaches?  I am going to argue an unequivocal “no.”  Although an afterlife may seem like a harmless idea on the surface, I believe there are plenty reasons why the concept of an afterlife is not helpful, and can actually be downright harmful.

Reason #1An afterlife concept eventually becomes nothing more than a threat. 

Imagine the concept of an afterlife in which everybody makes it.  Everybody’s in!  I could almost get on board with this version of an afterlife.  But almost no religion preaches this type of an afterlife.  In most religions the afterlife has been divided into various types, degrees, or categories.  Heaven, hell, purgatory, celestial, etc.  Even reincarnation argues that some people come back as something great, while others come back as worms.  Once you’ve set up dreadful and wonderful versions of the afterlife, you have everything you need to threaten people with the dreadful version.  Pay your tithe or else…  Accept Jesus or else…  Go to Mecca or else…  Even positive actions come with a threat.  Give to the needy or else…  While most religions may not emphasize such black and white threats (although plenty do), the fear of punishment is often lingering just below the surface of a believer’s psyche, reminding them that each of their everyday actions could have eternal consequences.  Also, once a threat has been properly instilled into the mind of a believer, it becomes way too easy to abuse the power of that threat.  Threats in my mind simply aren’t nice.  So if an afterlife is used to threaten and coerce, it’s a bad idea in the first place.

Reason #2Believing in an afterlife causes us to NOT live in the moment. 

Let me paint two possible scenarios for you about the nature of our existence.

1.  This life on earth is short and temporary.  Upon your death, your eternal life will begin.  Your eternal life will either be wonderful or dreadful depending on how well you followed the tenants of your religion on earth.  In either case, your first life (the life on planet earth) will ultimately be insignificant compared to the eternity you will spend in your afterlife.

2.  This life on earth is short and temporary.  Upon your death, you will be dead.  Gone.  Done.

The belief in which of these two scenarios will ultimately lead you to live a fuller life here on earth?  If one believes that death really means death, that there is no coming back or moving on to an afterlife, I believe there is more motivation to soak up as many beautiful moments as one can while we are still alive.  The knowledge that life is temporary causes us to appreciate every moment. The belief in an eternal afterlife, and that that afterlife must be earned, can cause individuals to put forth unneeded effort into earning their way into that afterlife.  Devout believers often give up the pleasures of this world (as they are often encouraged to do) in order to gain their ticket to eternal life.  This is the opposite of living in the moment.

Reason #3There is no evidence of an afterlife.

This, of course, is the best reason to not believe in an afterlife.  There simply is no evidence of life after death.  Believers often quote near-death experiences or out-of-body experiences as evidence of an afterlife.  While out-of-body experiences (the sensation of being out of your body) certainly do exist, controlled experiments have failed to show that anybody actually leaves their body during these episodes.  Basically they are nothing more hallucinations.  Scientists have, for example, placed a card on top of a bookshelf in the room where someone claims to leave their body.  So far no one has been able to identify the card.  Scientists are also discovering that conscious thought and experience is very much tied to our brain.  If the brain dies, it is very likely that our experiences die with it.  Until evidence is discovered in favor of an afterlife, the basic assumption (null hypothesis) is that no afterlife exists.

What if I’m wrong?

Imagine I’m wrong.  Suppose I wake up after colliding with a Mack truck to find myself in heavenly bliss (no, I don’t assume that atheists will automatically go to hell).  At that point I would accept the existence of an afterlife because I would have good EVIDENCE for it.  Until then, I’m living this life like it’s the only one I have! 

27 Comments

  1. Suz says:

    Good post, but I see points one and two from the opposite perspective, which suggests they are both influenced by human nature.
    To me, the afterlife is nothing more than a promise, an unconditional one no less. Conditions are placed on “heaven” by religion. The afterlife might well exist in a form that no religion gets right.

    And as for not living in the moment, my faith is part of what motivates me to do so. Gratitude? The possibility that miracles might exist? I don’t know. Faith serves the individual. Its results are defined by the character and perspective of the individual.

    Regarding the experiments, that’s a bit of a metaphysical quagmire, isn’t it? Logic dictates that we not believe what hasn’t been proven by the scientific method, but the scientific method relies on the laws of physics as we understand them. The “paranormal,” appears to be governed by the non-physical, or by some aspect of “physical” that we don’t understand. How valid can an experiment be if it relies on physical controls over something that appears to defy the physical? I’m curious about the nature of the controls. Were the experiments conducted in a trauma room of an ER, with genuinely random subjects, or did people volunteer? I guess what I’m saying is that I see it as some evidence, but not as definitive proof.

    I gave up on proof for either/or a long time ago.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Hey Suz, thanks for the comment!

    You make some really good points, and I’ll try muster up a response.

    I see the afterlife as a threat, while you see it as an unconditional promise. If you have a rosy picture of an afterlife that everyone goes to, then that is great. I already said I could almost get on board with that idea. But your support in the very concept of an afterlife only encourages and validates those who ARE using it as a threat. I also know that millions of children have fear stricken into their hearts and lives as they are threatened with hell. This leads them hate themselves when they do anything that even remotely goes against their church (homosexuality?). In order to knock down the threat and fear they are facing, it doesn’t go far enough to say that hell doesn’t exist. We must aim for the very foundation of the threat – the afterlife.

    And as for proof: The person making the incredible claim is responsible for providing evidence. I’m not really claiming there is no afterlife, just that there is not enough evidence to claim that there is one.

    In practice I’m not going after tame liberal Christians such as yourself. I’m after the fundamentalists who are breeding fear and hate into our culture. But your support in Christian ideals does make Christianity seem not so bad, and in that process provides a cover for fundamentalist ideas.

    I wish more Christians were like you!

    [Reply]

    Suz Reply:

    Actually I’m an agnostic Christian, even the liberal Christians think I’m a heathen!

    I don’t think that the concept of an afterlife should be criticized because of how people misuse it. It is the misuse itself that must be controlled, because the “misusers” will simply find some other ideal to pervert. It’s what they do. Our only hope is to break up their political power, again and again, as they regroup.

    It reminds me a little of the endless arguments I have with homophobes who believe that “homosexuality is evil because ‘gay culture’ tends to be promiscuous.”

    Sorry, I got the impression you were claiming there’s no afterlife. It seems we are agreed then.

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    Google Victor Zammit for real proof…….

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I went to Victor’s website. Seems a little cooky to me. I have yet to see him present actual evidence that can be replicated. He seems to just talk using big words to sound reputable.

    Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence for an afterlife. And by scientific, I mean real research that has been published in a scientific journal. If you can find me that, I might consider that evidence. Victor (who is a retired lawyer) is not a scientific researcher in any sense of the word.

    Try this:
    http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/is_there_evidence_for_an_afterlife/

    Good luck to you, and I wish you the best of your search for truth. Skepticism is actually the more humble approach to finding knowledge about the world around us.

    All the best to you,
    -The Considerate Atheist

    [Reply]

  2. Vincent says:

    “There is nothing more important to us as living beings than that we have something we can describe as a soul that continues to exist after physical death and is everlasting. For without this, it is all for naught and there was no point in existing at all for ultimately it does not matter if we live for a year or a trillion years if we do not have immortality.”

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Vince, what you said sounds appealing on the surface. But I find it is the acceptance of my eventuaal innialation that gives my life meaning and purpose. Since I only have a finite number of days, I might as well live each to the fullest, being as kind to as many people as possible, or setting out to achieve my goals while I still can. And even if you or others do need to believe in an afterlife to find purpose (or, as you described it “all [would be ] naught”), that doesn’t make it true. Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true. I could become fixated on the notion that Angelina Jolie will eventually fall in love with me, and want it with all my heart, to the point that saying my life will have no purpose unless it is true. That still doesn’t make it true. I just need to get over the idea and find purpose in something else. And when it comes to an afterlife, many people have gotten over the idea and wonderful, purposeful, fulfilling lives. They live for other things while they still can. Good luck on your quest, and I wish you all the best as you sort these things out.

    [Reply]

  3. Ride_the_Walrus says:

    I also have a special hatred for religions that try to use fear to scare people into obedience. I see such religions as a control system, plain and simple. I do not agree with everything that you wrote though.

    For example I don’t think “Reason #2” is as black and white as you make it out to be. There are many different kinds of people, and many people do benefit psychologically from a belief in an afterlife. For example, if somebody loses a loved one, the belief that their loved one endures can help them get over depression and move on with their life quicker. If somebody has health problems, they might not worry as much if they believe that death is not the end, which helps them live more fully in the moment.

    I also think that “Reason #3” is misleading. There are many NDE researchers who have included astonishing veridical perception accounts into their work, and several who have done studies validating veridical perception. There is also one very large scale experiment going on right now called the awareness during resuscitation study that was made to test the matter.

    You stated that: “controlled experiments have failed to show that anybody actually leaves their body during these episodes.” Can you point me to the peer reviewed studies you’re referring to that scientifically tested the validity of veridical perception during near death experiences and found negative results? If not, then it is not that controlled experiments have failed to show the reality of these experiences, it’s that such experiments have not been done at all! Those are two very different statements.

    [Reply]

  4. Lucas says:

    This is a pretty good article. Most people get brainwashed by their parents, or just can’t handle the fact that we all have an inevitable doom. Besides, YOLO(You only live once)!

    [Reply]

  5. Scoe says:

    I agree there is NO afterlife. What a stupid statement–life after death. There is only death after death and billions of people have done the same. There is no gay Jesus waiting for you with open arms to spend eternity in heaven to envelope you in endless love–that to me would be a hell itself. Would you want to spend forever with this short sighted creature? When the brain dies you are gone forever! However the elements and energy that made up your physical/and energetic self do continue and are re-cycled in the universe. But! quantum physics says that there is a copy of your brain patterns elsewhere in the universe. What the F. does this mean? Perhaps nothing at all. Quantum physics is a religion itself. But science is really the only true religion.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Those are some interesting comments. I would only balk at the idea that science is a religion.

    [Reply]

  6. Brian says:

    I have been thinking a lot about this question lately. I have become more and more atheist as I have gotten older, and I was never really a christian to begin with! But certain things like God and and afterlife are sort of taken for granted when you’re young. Personally, I think the idea that I will eventually completely cease to exist is incomprehensible at best, and downright frightening at worst. I think it makes grieving much more difficult because you actually do have to let go of that person, instead of the standard, “They’re in a better place” response. I am still grappling with finding my own answer that satisfies my desire to want to remain an individual, conscious being, be able to stay with my loved ones, etc., while still recognizing that we are more or less patterns of DNA and electric impulses between nerves that will cease when our bodies stop functioning.

    However, I would like to bring up a point that it seems not a lot of people make. As much as the idea of ceasing to exist scares me, the concept of living forever, for ETERNITY, scares me even more. You could live the length of 1000 human lifetimes, or 1,000,000, and that is still 0% of eternity, mathematically speaking. Even if you are living in eternal bliss and happiness, I imagine at some point you would say “I’m ready for this to end.”

    [Reply]

  7. HANS says:

    I would have no problem living forever with no health problems, aging or death to worry about. Let me work, play, have firends and family forever, no problem.

    With that said it still remains a mystery of why life is here, and the universe exists. Many theories from science try to explain it to us, and of course theists have the God(s) views as we know.

    But despite all this, you still have that wonder that maybe there is more to all this that we simply cannot see, feel or touch at this point while we are alive.

    If there is nothing and nothing somehow formed all this living matter and matter that is not living, nothing is still not fully explained because it itself has to exist to form life and matter etc.

    Maybe our answer is exploration of this “nothing” and see what it itself is made of. Maybe the answer is in nothing itself.

    I just look at the night sky and wonder maybe we will exist again somehow, somewhere. I wonder simply because I have not been able to physically travel into space and I mean deep space to see for myself what is out there. Really we truly do not know at this point.

    I do not disagree with all the views possible as I stay open to them all. But in the end we cannot say with 100% certainty what is the true truth of the matter. Yes, it is true that nothing is provable so far with 100% certainty but when it comes to life after death issues, I feel we do need to be 100% certain in this matter to be sure.

    The Fermi Paradox asks “Where are They?” Which asks the question, if intelligent life exists besides our own in the universe somewhere, why have we not made contact or they with us? Again another question that so far has eluded any answer to settle the matter. Of course if we did hear something from something intelligent out there that would go a long way to settle the matter.

    This is my personal view

    [Reply]

  8. James says:

    I’m going to go ahead and say that a lot of people find it harder to live in the moment with the thought that they will one day cease to exist. Point #2 is quite subjective.

    Many people DO believe in a universal afterlife not dependent on faith or even “goodness”, as well. It’s very common amongst the ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd.

    Point 3 still stands, of course, and that’s the clincher, isn’t it?

    [Reply]

  9. Callum says:

    It’s not for me too say an afterlife doesn’t exist, ask a spider living under a rock wether space exists I’m simply limited as mere ape to understand but having spent hours amongst chimpanzees I certainly believe in free will and that in itself goes against modern neuroscience.. My advice would be to unlearn what you’ve learned and follow your gut instinct like our simian cousins do

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Unlearn what I’ve learned? And what have I learned? And what does follow your instincts mean? Go back to point #3 above. There is no evidence of an afterlife. I have not “learned” that there is no afterlife, I have simply not been convinced of a particular argument (that an afterlife exists). As soon as there is sufficient evidence, by all means I’ll believe. I’m OK being agnostic as the spider, not knowing the mysteries of this universe. And by the way, the spider is correct to not assume that space exists, because it has no way of seeing or knowing about it. I’ll admit there are mysterious things in this universe yet to be discovered. But until they are discovered it is hubris for me to believe one or the other, for they are mere speculations at this point.

    [Reply]

  10. Jesus is real says:

    Hello I am a student in 7th Grade doing a report of my choice. I choose the difference between heaven and hell and how real they are. I want to tell you this: THERE IS SUCH THING AS AN AFTERLIFE. I am a Christian and I strongly believe that God and heaven and hell are real. An argument for Reason 1 is this: Although you are right about the idea that an afterlife is separated into different sections, if you are afraid of going to somewhere where you don’t want to go, then choose the true way; the only way. Which is through Jesus Christ.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Hmmmm….. You said you had an argument for reason 1, but…. telling to me accept Jesus is not an argument. Also, saying you strongly believe is not an argument. Tell me WHY you believe in an afterlife. Use good reasons with evidence.

    [Reply]

    foodlover Reply:

    some would believe in an afterlife to give them a goal in life, so they will be good and help others to try to get into heaven it is not a bad thing that people are being to good to get into what ever place they believe in, in the afterlife. And next time do some reasons why the afterlife does exist i need them for my h.w

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I would argue that people don’t need to believe in an afterlife in order to be good. As ugly as this world is, I believe humans are inherently good. We don’t need carrots at the end of sticks in order to be good. Also, remember point #1 that I stated above. You cannot promise a wonderful afterlife without threatening a horrible one, or none at all. Threatening people into doing good deeds is not necessary. We are better than that.

    And your last comment, you wanted reasons why the afterlife DOES exist? Read point #3. There is no evidence at all. So I can’t give you any good reason whatsoever. Neither have I ever heard or found one. So if you find a good reason, post it here for the rest of us. All best, and good luck with your homework. 🙂

  11. RichT says:

    Hello Admin,

    Thanks for starting this topic.

    Reading through the comments one can “see” the differences in thoughts regarding whether there is an afterlife or not. That is fine.

    Perhaps a bit of an “introduction” is in order. I was born and raised in a Lutheran family. I am still a member of a Lutheran church, but because of health issues do not attend church services. Of course there is more to it than that.

    I’m retired and several years ago I started studying about the universe and life. It has been a good ride and keeps my brain stimulated.

    I do believe there is a Creator and that has more to do with my observations and work as a research chemist than my upbringing as a Lutheran.

    My mind is “programed” in the scientific method. That means work must be done to prove or disprove a “thought”. There are biological, chemical, and physical laws. In other words the laws of nature. Though we humans are still trying to understand the laws of nature we have a long way to go. However, the laws of nature are never broken from my perspective. Oh yes, humans don’t always get our understanding of the laws of nature correctly so we continue our quest.

    To continue – That to me means the biblical miracles are stories or if you prefer myths. These past several years have taken me through this “mental” process. I like what Pope Francis said a few months ago. “God does not do magic.” To me that says no miracles. And the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden does not believe in the stories of Genesis, nor of hell, nor of the Virgin birth of Jesus.

    FINALLY I’m getting to my thoughts regarding “life after death”. Many ancient religions and not so ancient ones have this “thing” about there being life after death. In my view that is strictly a human concept. When we die we die, that is it. That is no different than any other life form on earth. Remember our ancient ancestors 350 million years ago were fish. That is long before there were primates living on earth from which we evolved.

    Some fear death for a variety of reasons. I find that puzzling. There is birth and there is death. Hopefully what each of us has done/accomplished in life will help the ones after us.

    RichT

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Hello RichT,

    Thank you for your insightful and thoughtful comments. You were very articulate, and I appreciate your input. Instead of believing in “Life after Death” I like to believe in “Death after Life.” With this perspective one can really live in the moment, appreciating what one has, realizing it is temporary. It’s nice to see that there are still comments on this post after three years. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  12. RichT says:

    Hello Admin,

    I really like your “Death after Life”. Well stated.

    And thank you for your kind words.

    RichT

    [Reply]

  13. chris says:

    I would like to make a few positive statements about total negation. In my younger years I was enthralled by the idea of eternal existence. Not so much anymore. Now, I know that I am expressing an opinion here and am not arguing for the validity or lack thereof of an afterlife. But I think it is worth noting that complete annihilation of the self may be an end to perpetual suffering. I like to think of death as the end of physical pain, fear, intellectual agony, faulty reasoning, aching lonesomeness, and anxiety. I suspect that if I lived beyond the grave, I would carry with me all of the baggage I have now. So my hope is that death is just what our senses report: complete cessation of consciousness.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Well put…

    [Reply]

  14. RichT says:

    Hello Chris,

    I really liked your thoughts and how you expressed them. Well done.

    RichT

    [Reply]

  15. RichT says:

    Hello Everyone,

    I don’t want to see this conversation die. Pun intended.

    I cannot prove that there is not an afterlife, NOR can anyone prove there is an afterlife.

    HOWEVER, from my research about the beginning of the Universe and life on planet Earth, my mind keeps on coming back to one question regarding the evolution of humans on planet Earth. There have been five massive extinctions of life on this planet. The last one about 65 million years ago. Throughout the history of life on planet Earth billions upon billions of life forms (species) have lived and died on this planet. To my knowledge there is no indication of any of these life forms having an “afterlife”.

    That question which returns to me is “If past life forms and current life forms are born and then die, why would/should humans be any different?” What rational/reason should humans be “more important” than other life forms. To me it seems that we are no different from the fate of other life forms. Therefore, there is no reason to believe we have an “afterlife” and other species do not. Okay, an assumption on my part. However in my view a very reasonable assumption.

    To switch gears so to speak, If we are a “special” species, then at what point in our evolution from a primate line would God have decided “okay, from now on for humans there is a heaven and a hell but not before then. That makes no sense to me at all.

    Therefore, from the above for myself there is NO afterlife, PERIOD!!!!

    Does that bother me? Not in the least. When I go to bed every night, I have no idea if I will awake the next morning. No problem. In fact, accepting that there is no “afterlife” frees me from the “stress” of having to live as though there is an afterlife.

    Okay, enough. Not sure if this makes sense to those who read this post, but hopefully it does.

    RichT

    [Reply]

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