I wish I could say, once and for all, that atheists are not afraid of hell. I wish I could put that on a billboard somewhere, maybe I should do a kickstarter to get it put up in Times Square. I have absolutely no fear that when I die, which I will, I will pop up in a flaming realm of sinners, or anything similar. No it doesn’t matter if your idea of hell is different, no I don’t care if you think a person can go to hell if they are good, and it sure as hell doesn’t matter if you think I will come to realize my mistake after I am dead.
I won’t realize anything, I will be dead. In the words of the amazing poet, and mortician, Thomas Lynch, “The dead don’t care.”
Now let me clarify something, I do fear death. I don’t want to die, because I have a whole lot to live for. I have a loving family, friends who I wish to see and support, the woman I love, and a world of beautiful experiences around me. Death would sort of ruin that, and goodness are there a lot of ways to die. Don’t think I don’t ponder on it, I’m a nervous guy, and some who know me are aware that I fret over the smallest stuff, in a neurotic fear that I might be on the edge of doom. I mean like, ‘it sure is bright outside, sure would be a shame if the sun went nova and killed all human life’.
That is me though, not your average atheist thing. Every atheist needs to come to terms with death and the afterlife in their own way, and for many it can be the most difficult part of letting religion go. If there is any comforting part of faith, it is the idea that you will live forever, you will rejoin your loved ones, and this life is only the test for entrance.
To the atheist and the skeptic, that is a fairytale. There is no eternal life, and if there was, it definitely wouldn’t be judged based on morals decided by ancient Jews.
This is a hard conversation to have though, because if there is any illusion you wouldn’t want to steal from your fellow human being, it is the idea of immortality and an afterlife reunion.
Thomas Lynch tells a true story of a man who kept telling him what he wanted done after his death. He wanted to have his ashes spread in the wind, he wanted his ashes thrown out of a balloon, he wanted them turned into something cool that he would have enjoyed in life. More than anything, the man didn’t want to just be buried, static, under the earth.
When he died, his family had him buried, static, under the earth. They said the same old words you would say over anyone, they told stories about his life, and they cried over him.
The funeral is not for the dead, and it is for the survivors. Prayers, singing, food, jokes, none of them reach the dead, because the dead don’t care.
I pondered once what to do when I die. I wanted to write in my will that no one should pray at my funeral, that the bible wouldn’t be opened over me. No one should praise Jesus, and dangit no one should play that baptist church bass in the background. Then I realized, I won’t exactly get to be there to see it all happen, and I really won’t get a chance to be moved one way or the other by what does happen.
So go ahead, have your silly prayers over my corpse, I won’t care by that point. Just for that, I’m going to flip you all off in the present, just to keep the books even.