Atheists & Death

While watching The Monuments Men the other day I entered a morbid stream of thought. Matt Damon’s character accidentally stepped onto a land mine. His comrades then tried to rig a system that would (hopefully) let him step off of it without causing an explosion. But just in case they were all about to be blown to smithereens, he wanted to make sure he told them what an honor it had been serving alongside them. And that got me thinking on a slightly off-topic tangent: What compels us to give the imminently dying (new) information? What about atheists? Do they think there’s anything a person facing death needs to know?

How is mortality viewed through the lens of atheism? (And not being one myself, I claim no authority of knowledge on the subject.) What do atheists think about when they think about the aftermath of death? If you believe nothing (literally) follows life, does it matter to you how you die? Does it matter if someone passes away alone or surrounded by loved ones? Does it matter if it’s painless or if it hurts? Is it important for dying people to know that they’re loved, that you’re sorry, or that “it” wasn’t their fault? And if yes, why so?

If you completely cease to be (think, feel, sense, remember) with your dying breath and final heartbeat, why should it matter if your last living moments are harrowing or pleasant? You can’t take it with you—not the sight of your loved ones gathered by your bed, not their professions of love, not your physical anguish, not even the fact that you’re still mad at whomever. If atheists believe death leads to absolutely nothing, does that differently color their view of living and dying? Is it hard to place value on something that will one day completely cease to be—even if that something is a human being?

Even as a Christian I sometimes wonder why I exist. I’m not sure I’d see my value as an atheist. Where would I find the meaning—the imperative—of life? I can think of only two main options. I could choose to live for myself and seek out all the world’s pleasures, but the minute I died it would all cease to be relevant. If I instead chose the altruistic route, I’d being doing good for people who were all going to die and become nothings too.

I’m not saying God and Heaven must be real because I find the alternative too bleak. (Although, if I do turn out to be wrong, I don’t see how it hurts me.) I simply believe. Sometimes I know God is real without being certain. Occasionally He feels like an imaginary friend that a bunch of us have in common. But even when I doubt, I find myself asking Him to help me believe. Even if my faith is sometimes shaky, its roots run deep.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean I’m completely calm about the hereafter. Sometimes the idea of eternity is enough to give me a panic attack—both the idea of an eternity of nothing and one spent in Heaven. If I sit with the idea of forever for too long, the air’s texture starts to change and I begin to wish I could momentarily turn my brain off.

Eternity is simply too big for me to comprehend—whether thinking about time going forwards or backwards. Sometimes when I’m half awake in the middle of the night the idea of forever fills my whole being with dread. I can only imagine what’s milling about in an atheist’s head—if I’m expecting an eternity in paradise and the idea of forever is still sometimes frightening to me.

My fears and doubts also make me wonder if atheists hope they’re wrong or want to be right. Because if all existence ends in a void—if death is to life what a black hole is to light, knowing that ahead of time doesn’t earn anyone a prize.

I can’t prove that God is real. I admit I even have my doubts. But I also can’t erase my belief—even if my faith is flawed. Sometimes I find myself hoping in more than believing in God. But my uncertainty doesn’t deplete my faith; it makes me pray for more.

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One thought on “Atheists & Death

  1. Hi Aabye!

    So this is great that you posted this. One thing that many people do not know about me, is that I’ve been an atheist for the past 2 years, so perhaps I can lend some insight into your questions.

    First is that I very often had that EXACT feeling you did, dreading the entire concept of eternity. I did not want to live forever, because forever is…just..never ending, and that terrified me.

    2 years ago I read that not believing in God doesn’t make you a bad person. I think that really allowed myself to think for myself, and live the way I truly believed instead of forcing myself to believe. I couldn’t tell you what makes someone good or bad, but I think that being good is passed down through our genes, because being good would be a handy evolutionary trait. If you start hanging out with groups of atheists you will probably find that the vast majority are just good people. We want to enjoy life because it’s the only one we have, and its in our nature to be good to each other.

    I know a lot of atheists don’t understand why Christians are so afraid of death, since they believe in a life afterwards. They should be joyous and excited, but often are not. And Christians often feel like atheists have nothing to live for, when actually the exact opposite is true. We have everything to live for, because we believe this is our only chance at it. There is nothing afterward so we have to take advantage of every moment, and that includes spending time with the ones we love. When I die I hope to have those people with me, because I believe thats literally the last time I will be able to see them.

    As far as death is concerned, I know that it will be just like it was before I was born. I don’t know anything of that time and I won’t know anything about what happens after I die.

    I hope I haven’t rambled too much, and hopefully I’ve answered some of your questions. Feel free to ask any more, either on here or you can private message me on FB! (ps my beliefs are somewhat on the DL because if my family found out it would be..agonizing to say the least. lol)

    -Jeremy

    Like

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