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Perplextus
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Why I Became an Atheist pt. 1: The Afterlife Question
« on: 2007-01-12 13:22:46 »
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This is in response to a challenge issued by Kenneth in the "Enlighttenment Fundamentalists" thread over in "Evolution and Memetics".  It is my story of how Christian theodicy failed me in a time of grief, and how I came to value the explanations offered by Atheism as superior.

When I was seven, my mother died of lung cancer.  Shortly thereafter I "enjoyed" a brief period of Christian Theism (Episcopal, to be exact), lasting approximately until I discovered psychedelic drugs at the age of 15. 

I initially gained a little comfort from Christianity, thinking "Mommy's in heaven now with God and Jesus and if I'm a good boy I'll get to heaven too some day and I'll get to see her again!"  A satisfactory fairy-tale for consoling a child, on the same level as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  But one that wore thin as my rational mind developed.  The first thing I began to wonder is "Why?"  Why did Mommy die?  It must have been God's will.  Why was it God's will?  Why would God take away a 7 year-old boy's mother whom he dearly and deeply loved and needed?  I figured it must have been a good reason, but I couldn't figure out what it could've been. 

Then I began to wonder: why should I go on living?  Why shouldn't I hope for death so I could be in that beautiful paradise of heaven with Mommy again?  In fact, I began to dream of death very positively.  How I longed to die and go to heaven!  I knew however that suicide is a sin (which, given the concept of heaven, would be a logically-necessary scriptural provision to keep everyone from "seeking paradise" and shuffling off this mortal plane), so the best I could do was pray to God to kill me (and my Dad too, because I didn't want him to be alone on earth without me and Mom).

When I got older, I really began to wonder: what if Mom didn't make it to heaven?  If you don't make it to heaven (and the Bible--which I had read thoroughly by age 13--gives COUNTLESS reasons why she might not have).  What if my beloved mother was suffering eternally in Hell?  What would I do if I got to heaven and she wasn't there?  I began to feel very afraid.  I also began to wonder if I'd be able to "convince God" to change his mind about my mother and let her out of Hell to rejoin me in heaven.

I realized that my argument would be that in spite of the fact that my Mom probably broke a bunch of bible-rules, she was still a good person and didn't deserve eternal suffering.  Which, all of a sudden, meant to me that Bible rules have nothing to do with right and wrong!  I essentially intended to argue with God that HE didn't know right from wrong!

At any rate, when I ingested LSD for the first time and experienced a non-spiritual, non-religious feeling of unity with the physical world--the interconnection of all things within the web of life--I gained a much more powerful and helpful idea of what REALLY became of my Mom when she died: she dissolved, more or less, back into the Universe.  I decided then and there that I don't agree with tombs and coffins; we should be buried naked directly into the earth to give back to it the vital chemical nutrients locked in our bodies.  To this day I am kind of upset that mom was cremated and her ashes inurned rather than scattered, but at least she's not rotting in a coffin.

More importantly, I have discovered that I fear death LESS as an Atheist than I did as a Christian, because I KNOW that there is no eternal suffering waiting for me beyond the grave.  As a Christian, I always worried (because I am very rational) that I was part of the "wrong" sect, or that all those archaic passages in the OT really ARE still relevant and necessary, or that the Bible was translated wrong and we've been following the wrong commandments, or that I was baptised improperly, or that I'd be away from a priest to read me my last rites before I died.  God stopped seeming like a loving and all-embracing deity and more like a selfish and jealous monster confusing humanity with a bunch of arbitrary, contradictory rules.

Now, I know that after death will be just like before birth: I will have no appreciable consciousness.  And I'm quite glad of that; eternal life would be utterly meaningless, in the face of infinity how could I possibly find desire to act?  What value could knowledge have for me, what beauty could there be?  It is precisely our frailty, our limited duration here on Earth that gives life meaning.  I used to imagine life in Heaven as a Paradise...but I could never figure out what people would DO in Heaven!  Especially after the Rapture.  All action would probably be directed at praising God, which might be fun for awhile but FOREVER?!  An eternity of finding new ways to tell God how awesome He is?  An eternity of any form of consciousness might as well be Hell, so far as I can imagine.  I'll gladly take an eternity of consciousnessless.

In "part two" of this post, I'll go back to the question of "Why did Mommy die?" and explain the failing of Christian theodicies and the Atheist alternatives.
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Re:Why I Became an Atheist pt. 1: The Afterlife Question
« Reply #1 on: 2007-01-13 13:44:07 »
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I appreciate you sharing that. My question concerns your statement "It is precisely our frailty, our limited duration here on Earth that gives life meaning." What is the relation between mortality and meaning in your view? Do longer lives have less meaning? Is there an optimal lifespan to maximize meaning? I ask because it seems to contradict my own view that the longer you live the more meaning you can experience and create.
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Re:Why I Became an Atheist pt. 1: The Afterlife Question
« Reply #2 on: 2007-01-13 14:37:22 »
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(Lucifer: I revised and changed my response to your question about four times while writing this.  Bravo for making me have to really think it out!)

I don't weyken there is any necessary fixed correspondence between length and meaning-capacity.  There might frequently seem to be such a correspondence, but I weyken this has more to do with the conditions people attach to meaningfulness--"My life will have meaning if I complete such and such tasks".  The longer the time-frame necessary to complete one's goals, the more the length of one's life will correspond to one's ability to feel meaningful. 

However, there would be quite a difference between an arbitrarily-long finite life and an infinite life.  No matter how long a finite life is, it is an infinitessimal fraction of eternity.  Finitude is, I weyken, a necessary condition for meaning to exist, given that most methods of attaching meaning to life are teleological.  Eternal life means no end--no telos.  Even an infinite series of finite goals would be useless, because one would recognize that the meta-goal of satisfying all the finite-duration sub-goals would be impossible. 

Furthermore, how could we even attach meaning to any of those finite sub-goals?  If we could be assured of eternal life, that would render many of our survival- and reproduction-related drives irrelevant.  Imagine knowing that you would continue to exist, be conscious, and function unrestrictedly regardless of your failure to pursue any tasks normally essential to survival.  In the absence of our biological drives, what could the mind find to occupy itself?  Would not the only drive left be a sort of idle curiousity?  What tasks could be undertaken that, given an infinite amount of time, would not ultimately become boring?  One's only hope would be some kind of artificial psychological construct, perhaps an illusion of an infinite series of finite lives--perhaps simply erasing one's sense of identity and psychological continuity every so often to "start over".  Which would be functionally indistinguishable from a finite life, and if anything reinforces my claim that finitude is a necessary condition for meaning.

I think I over-shot your question a bit, but I hope not by too much.
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Re:Why I Became an Atheist pt. 1: The Afterlife Question
« Reply #3 on: 2011-04-13 06:48:53 »
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Why bad things happen to 'good' people. There are alot of bad things in this world. It would be inevitable to not have something bad to you, even if you are 'good'. Athiests seem to do anything to find out if God doesn't exist. There is no way of knowing if 'God' does exist or not but people should not condemen those who do or do not believe in something without proof of it existing or not.
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