“I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” ~Issac Asimov
The prospect of death doesn’t worry me. But the prospect of physical suffering and pain certainly does. When I die, I just hope it’s as painless as possible. The brevity of life doesn’t bother me either. It’s nature’s way of telling me to enjoy myself or achieve something or help somebody in need. If death is the end of everything, then living is everything.
The way I see it, it took hundreds of millions of years before the first stars died; coughing up elements, like carbon, that would later make life possible. The lifetimes of stars — which might last for billions of years — are just blips in time when compared to eternity. Even the universe will eventually fade away while eternity continues, unobserved. Everything dies. The brevity of human life is relative and irrelevant: the glorious point of life is that we exist at all. We’re here. Now. That’s all the reason we need to make the most of the time we have.
Although it’s nice to be remembered, that’s not why most of us are here. Unless you achieve rare fame or notoriety, you will be forgotten in a generation or two. No, we don’t live to be remembered. We live to experience: to learn and satisfy our curiosity. We plumb the depths of experience while we’re alive because that’s the only time we can. A truism if ever there was one — but one we need to be reminded of. We are intelligent human beings with an unbridled capacity for learning . . . and we only have one shot at it.
I don’t know if experience is the purpose of life but I do know it’s the reason for getting up in the morning. Curiosity. What’s going to happen today? How will the depth and breadth of my experience be expanded? The more curious we are; the more we experience and learn; the more alive we are.
Human life takes place in a social context: we are all part of the body politic. Equally inescapable is nature’s prime directive: “survive”. But these are not constraints or limits on our experience. They’re the impetus for our quest. We have only one life: one quest for experience. A quest driven by curiosity. Along the way, we love, learn and (hopefully) understand.
But people of faith — people who seriously pin their hopes on a highly conditional and dubious promise of an afterlife — are led by an ancient authority, not by their own personal quest. Nothing about our experience of reality needs or requires faith. The only reason anybody needs faith is to accept unreality. Things not known to exist. Impossible things. Faith isn’t about the truth: it’s about denying the truth. Staking one’s life on faith is surrendering one’s quest for understanding. Faith and truth are incompatible. If you have faith, you don’t want the truth.
Faith is the death of curiosity. Curiosity is about experience and learning: faith is about the afterlife and death. By denying the finality of death, faith prevents us from accepting it. It must be terribly frightening to face death knowing that your faith in a baseless promise of immortality will be put to the final test. And even then, your immortal soul could be destined for hell if you don’t measure up to God’s standards. Was your faith pure enough? Did you make God proud?
Curiosity is far better than faith; especially if it leads you to accept life for what it is. Coming to terms with death, means coming to terms with life. And vice versa. Besides . . . would a Creator of the universe really be so petty and vindictive that he would punish you forever? If you really thought about it, you’d have no fear of hell . . . but the idea of heaven should really creep you out.
“It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” ~William K. Clifford
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