Death and what's after . . .
So, when thinking about it, i'd say i've been an atheist for a very long time. For the longest time I would say that if god existed that it would just be, what we all call, energy. However, we have a perfectly good use for that word, so why would I continue to use that? I'd been saying things like that, probably, since I was about 18 or 19 which would put me in the pool of agnosticism. Agnosticism, simply put, means "without knowledge". I basically held that since we have no way to know, then we might as well chalk it up with everything that does exist. About a year ago I really started to question certain terms I used in regards to any sort of belief and after breaking it all down . . . I realized I was an atheist, I had just never been presented with the proper terminology and the understanding of said terminology.
I mention this because i've become very comfortable saying it . . . I'm an atheist. Done. It rolls off the tongue as easy as when I once believed in Christ and would call myself a Christian. When I refer to myself as an atheist, I mean it sincerely. I have thought about it and reflected on it and I have studied more than enough to argue my case.
This past friday my father passed away and this makes it the first close death I have had to deal with under the atheist blanket. Now, saying that I am an atheist says nothing on the thoughts of eschatology, so I thought, for myself and whoever else cares, I might expound a bit on this. Atheism simply mean "without belief in god(s)", nothing else. That being said, along with no belief in god(s), I also do not believe in an afterlife or reincarnation of any sort. When I was a Christian it was very comforting to think that people are taken care of after they die . . . who wouldn't want to be with an all loving creator after they have left this painful life. When this thought started to bother me growing up is when people in the church weren't so careful to talk about hell and my childhood lens that had everybody in heaven was false (that was the very early understanding for me; it started to unravel in elementary school). I couldn't believe that this world that existed beyond death was so uneven. What happened to my friends that didn't go to church? What happened to my jewish friends? What happened to my gay friends? What happened to people that had never heard about Christ? I couldn't escape these questions, they kept on fucking with me . . . I was so conflicted. Eventually, I rationalized my way around it and thought that the bible can't possibly be right in regards to all of this, but that god was much greater than the bible. I began to make up my own beliefs skating around what I didn't like in the bible and cherry picking what I did like. I think I was a pantheist for a while. I feel like I had this really long transition to where I am now. I just wasn't exposed to skepticism a lot . . . outside of my own curiosity that is.
Anyways, somewhere along the line I got to where I am now. I find no reason to believe in a creator and I find no reason to believe that anything is there for us after our bodies stop working. If someone can show me proof, then I would gladly reevaluate my position. While my father wasn't as argumentative in regards to religion as I am, he also was a nonbeliever. When I was young I knew he wasn't a believer and it bothered me. I even thought, at one point, that he was going to hell. I don't know how I could have ever willfully believed that because someone didn't subscribe to the same sets of belief that I had held that they would have perished in this tormenting place forever. It seems really fucking ridiculous and cruel when you actually think about it. I was so indoctrinated in my faith that I willfully submitted to the idea that my own father would be tormented, for all eternity, for not conceding faith to the same religion that I had held to be true. When I think about this now . . . I feel really foolish for having ever held such a belief.
In the end (not the eschatological end, but the "right now" sense), I am very comfortable in not needing an explanation other than the fact that it just ends . . . and so was he, at least the last we talked about it. I think it is extremely important to value life above the fear and judgement of life that has been lived.
I would also like to point out that, in regards to what I have stated above, even if someone proved to me that god existed I most certainly wouldn't claim faith in the Christian god. I do not find the god of the bible to be a morally supreme entity. When we were in the hospital the other weekend, there were all of these bible verses proclaiming that we must believe in god and submit to his will, etc. It actually made me sad . . . not that I don't believe, but that god is more important in these institutions than we are to each other. If god was so great and powerful, then why does the hospital even exist (enter many apologetic arguments). I understand what faith is, I understand what faith feels like, I understand all of that as I once held those same beliefs.
A while back I was listening to a podcast and the host read this off:
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly.
That was written by NPR commentator Aaron Freeman and I think it really speaks. My father may not be walking around and talking anymore, but he will forever remain here energetically and I will always have memories of him. While our relationship had a pretty rough start and middle, we had a much better ending and I did find a lot of love in him and with him.
These things will never die, they will never cease to be. I do not need a god or an afterlife to have the most profound comforts in this life.