Death, Atheism, and Taxes


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.


9 thoughts on “Death, Atheism, and Taxes

  1. Isn’t the beautiful world, the loving family, and the good friends, all just sort of a meaningless waste that came about because evolution played a joke? What if your sense for eternity comes not because it’s a fairy tale, but because you were actually made for it, and the resonance that you feel for love and beauty are hallmarks of the fact you were made for something more?

    • That is a sad misunderstanding of evolution. It has no consciousness, it cannot play a joke. Like the universe, it doesn’t care. Things don’t ‘matter’ to the universe, they matter to me. What matters to me, and to others, those are the things that have meaning.

      That is the stance of the atheist, and the humanist.

      We live, and we want to continue living, that is why we believe in the fairy tale of eternity. We don’t want to face the idea of oblivion, so we have gone to great mythological lengths to tell ourselves it is not true, and create bearded excuses to believe our loved ones continue on.

      • By saying it plays a joke, I’m using a hyperbole, not seriously anthropomorphizing evolution. But your use of “meaning” is deceptive. It doesn’t have meaning, at all, not to you or anyone else. It’s a meaningless accident. What you mean is simply that you like them and don’t have enough foresight to realize how sad that is.

    • I would wager that you have very little clue about how the brain works, what hormones do to our thinking, what a thought is, how biology works. our sense of time or eternity comes from thinking and our ability for long term planning.
      Love and beauty trigger chemical changes in us and that gives our brains more which causes more thought which triggers more chemicals and so on. We are this way because this model is successful. Evolution is just the mechanism that life followed to stumble upon this formula/plan. There is no reason to think we are here for some purpose.

      This type of argument that you are making does not stand up to scrutiny. Surely you know this by now. As a pastor you’ve had to defend it many times, surely. It doesn’t work except on the vulnerable and gullible. Is that your target audience?

      • Well, you actually haven’t made a case for any of your assertions, you simply assert them, along with a lot of patronizing condescension that you haven’t earned the right to, since you haven’t actually proven anything. The reductionist model fails to account for a number of things that we are simply hardwired to take for granted, like consciousness, cognition, and object morality. Evolution can’t explain where those came from, and even atheistic materialists admit as much (see Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos).

      • I believe that I do have a right but you have a right to disagree.

        The reductionist model has previously failed to account for a number of things, but science is catching this up.

        Evolution does not attempt to explain where they came from and religion cannot. Religion makes a claim but does not explain – magic is not an explanation.

        I don’t happen to agree with Nagel. He and many other respected thinkers and scientists have failed to consider the situation of thinking about thinking. The recursion makes it skewed and difficult. None have, to my knowledge, defined what a thought is. Without that reduction you cannot get to consciousness from materialism. Every week we see more discoveries about the brain and consciousness. I won’t bombard you with links but trust me that the information is available widely. I don’t have a secret link to special reports.

        The speed of information accrual is so fast now that what you thought last week might have been revised while you slept.

        Philosophy is losing the battle over materialist reductionism and by extension, theology is losing.

        I have attempted to explain this with a series of posts on my blog so I will not try to cram it into a 400 word reply. Our model of thought and cognition has been wrong. There is a way to get to consciousness from reductionist materialism. That is to say it is a wholly natural phenomenon. The Cambridge declaration of 2012 is that humans are not the only conscious beings. It is far more common than previously thought .. including by Nagel.

        So to correct you, “…the reductionist model has previously failed to account for….”

        That brings us back to your target audience, doesn’t it?

  2. It boggles my mind that many people still think we are the only conscious beings. How you can own a pet and think that, or watch an elephant, dolphin etc and not come to the conclusion that they these animals feel. Maybe it scares them, maybe they feel less unique. Or maybe it’s because with this discovery it makes it even harder to distance the human from an animal.

    Probably really terrifies the anti gay Christians. A lot of those conscious mammals practice homosexuality in one form or another.

    Marshall as always you hit the nail on the head. Except I have to disagree. I do care about what happens to my remains after I pass. Only because I don’t want to be another burden upon our earth. I don’t want to put another concrete box in the ground and add to the massive collection. If it were up to me I’d be buried under a tree and let my body become food for the earth.

    Since they don’t let you do that, I’ll choose the Bio-urn. It can be buried where I want, and then my kids could come and visit maybe a park and remember me. As opposed to a graveyard which I just find creepy and depressing. Possibly because I’ve spent too much of my life going to them. And then you know, if the Zombie apocalypse ever does happen, I won’t come back to life and eat my kids. It’s a win-win. 😉

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