Sunday, 15 April 2012

#100th blog: On the afterlife

Death is inevitable. All creatures evolve in such a way that survival is one of their main instincts: death is a pretty crappy thing, therefore, by the standards of any animal. It's hardly illogical, then, that we should fear death. But then, in attempting to find ways around it, of making the idea of death seem easier, we do something utterly unique to humans: we imagine an existence after death, an end to the end, an eternity of glorious paradise in which to live as one with the creator of the world.

My issue is not with death, but with this afterlife.

Death is very final. There's no two ways about it, when you die, you die. Resurrections are spurious, but generally we don't think that people can completely die and then come back to life again and tell us what it's like out in the darkness. The one "exception" to this, of course, would be Jesus and all the other variations of Jesus throughout various world religions, but I won't get into that here. The point is that there's no way past the barrier that is death, or at least, no way back. We just don't have the means to go out and discover what lies beyond death.

That's my issue with the afterlife: we simply don't know. We want to survive, we fear death, so we make up comforting stories of heaven to ease us into the idea of dying, to make the pain less bearable for everyone involved. But I can't bring myself to believe in this afterlife just to make dying easier.

Here's the truth: I do fear death. I don't want to die, there are many things I want to do and learn and be in this world and I don't want to miss out on those opportunities. I want to learn new languages, study linguistics and philosophy, write a book, have a proper, happy relationship, have sex, try new foods, new countries, new places, get a job, get a better job, write another book, introspect society, debate the merits of anarchy, learn how to add using a soroban, teach myself how to count in base-12... I want to be happy. I don't want some asshole called death to come and take away my chance to do all those things. I don't think that it's weak to fear death, I think that it's human.

Some don't. Some proudly tell others that they don't need the comfort of heaven, of life after death, to make them feel any better. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's perfectly true that the permanent end of death gives life more meaning, because you cherish the moments you have knowing you won't have any more when you die. But at the same time, I don't judge people who think otherwise. Like I said, the fear of death is human. The fact is: death is crappy. Ever so crappy. A part of me thinks that it truly does suck that there isn't anything after death, that it would be nice knowing that I'll see all the people in my lifetime who've ever died (don't worry, there aren't any yet,) once more, and get to spend an eternity with them. I think it's a lovely idea, and I can very much understand why we made it.

But I don't think there's anything more to it. I believe that the afterlife is artifice. Fantasy. A creation intended to soothe one of our oldest fears, to shine a light into what would otherwise be a darkness. Because the problem is, darkness is all there is. As I've said twice already, death is the end, there's no way to know what lies past it. We can't know if there really is anything out there, and this unknowability is the biggest problem with life after death. It doesn't mean that there is, without a single trace of doubt, no heaven, nor hell or purgatory or any place of eternal existence when one dies. But it means: why are you even talking about it? Sure, there could be an invisible little man living in the impenetrable bowels of I-don't-know-say-some-distant-moon, and we wouldn't know about it, but the problem is, we don't, so to say anything meaningful about it is folly.

Maybe there is an afterlife. I don't deny the possibility. But what value do you get from spending your life waiting for it to happen? There's certainly nothing wrong with keeping a good soul, living a well-rounded and moral lifestyle, but if you forget to savour the pleasures of life in pursuit of the pleasures after life... is that really what you want to get out of it? Is that really worth it?

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