Death From Another Perspective

September 8, 2006

Death and dying. Everyone’s interested in them. In fact, some anthropologists see all of human culture as an attempt to run from death. Don’t want to face your mortality? Create a god. Don’t believe in gods? Create a science that offers the possiblity of allowing humans to transcend their present condition.

But this post has little or nothing to do with any of that. :) Well, it does have to do with death, but from a new perspective. For me at least. Let’s look at death like an atheists.

Now, when I say this is a new perspective for me, I’m not being completely honest. I can remember laying awake at night when I was seven or eight, usually after watching an interesting show on the Discovery Channel on the paranormal (remember when the DC had good shows on it?), thinking, ‘If there isn’t a heaven, what’s life like after this?’ My mind would inevitable shift to images of astronauts. I guess I associated death with empty space, therefore the spacemen. So, I thought, life would just like being an astronaut forever. I guess.

Not quite. When you consider a real atheist view of life (in this case I mean atheist to mean a purely physicalist view of the universe, meaning a belief that only matter really exists), this belief looks just as fallacious as a belief in some bright, shiny heaven somewhere “up there.”

You can read the article that originally gave me the inspiration for this post here. Basically, the author of the argument claims that death isn’t a vast nothingness in the way I thought of it as a child, or in much the same way I still thought about it while wearing my “atheist” cap. As the author put it, most believe that, “what’s next is nothing; death is an abyss, a black hole, the end of experience…” But, in fact, that’s not it at all. To realize what death is like, take this thought experiment:

What was your experience like before you were born?

That’s it. That’s what death will be like. ‘But I can’t remember what my experience was like before I was born… I feel like I’ve always been here.” Well, then, what do you have to worry about death? For me, any fear of death from an atheist perspective has little to do with all the lost opportunities that I’ll never get to experience (though, yes, that does bother me… I don’t “seize the day” as much as I should). No, I’m afraid of life after death. Or rather, the lack thereof. I’m afraid of the great void. The great abyss.

But there is no great abyss. When you’re dead, you’re dead. Nothing much more special than that. So, unless you fear what your life was like before you were born, you have no reason to fear your life after your death. If you didn’t fear life when you didn’t have it in the beginning, why fear it when you don’t have it at the end.

Maybe this is something to do with the Zen Koan, “Show me your face before your parents were born and I’ll show you your true self.” That face was pure consciousness. As long as people exist, consciousness will exist. And in reality, “you” are just a bubble of consciousness. The only difference between the eyes that helped write these words and the eyes that read these words now is a few smudges on pure consciousness. A scar on the original face. A scar we call “you” and “me.”

That all said, I still fear death. Less than I did before, maybe. But the thought of losing this life still scares me. I have a few more years to get over this fear. Hopefully.

I hope this helped you consider your life and death.



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