I’m Not Going to Heaven, And I Don’t Care

Shortly after graduation, I went to visit my mother for a week. During this time, we each had a couple beers and discussed religion—I say discussed, but we barely broke the surface out of mutual desire to avoid an argument. At one point, my mother asked me, “If I died right now, you’d be fine with never seeing me again?”graveyard-363394_1920

I was a bit shocked because I hadn’t ever thought about it. I answered honestly: “I don’t know what I would do. There’s no way for me to guess. But wanting there to be an afterlife doesn’t make one exist.”

Being a Hard-A atheist, I don’t believe in the afterlife. To me, this isn’t up for debate. There could possibly be some sort of heaven—or hell for that matter—but it is ultimately irrelevant. We must live as if this is our only life because it is the only one we’re guaranteed.

I’ve often joked that if there is an afterlife, I’d like it to be Islamic heaven or reincarnation. Islamic heaven is much more clearly defined than Christian heaven (which, despite what many people will tell you, there isn’t much scripture about what heaven is like). Muslim heaven is supposed to truly be a paradise: perpetual bliss, every wish coming true, pleasure, and joy beyond compare. Reincarnation personally appeals to me because there are so many lives I’d like to live, and I have such a short amount of time to do it.

Wanting these things doesn’t make them real

I think this is a point of contention for many atheists and religious people. The religious often see our lack of belief as a rejection of belief, which is true, but not in the way they say it. I reject the concept of heaven because I think it’s untrue, not because I know it’s true and I just don’t like it. When I say I don’t believe in heaven or souls or the afterlife, I don’t say that out of anti-religious spite. I don’t believe in it. There’s nothing to believe in. Even when I was a Christian, I wasn’t very concerned with the afterlife; I figured, if God gave us this one life on earth, we ought to make it count as much as possible. This wasn’t exclusively a personal call to martyrdom, although it did have roots in it.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t even entertain the idea of an afterlife. Similarly, my mother told me about a patient she keeps in contact with from a previous job; he’s elderly and he’s dying. She mentioned that he wasn’t a believer and expressed her concern. I told her, “I have words I could say, but none that are comforting to you.”

When he dies, I think he’ll be at peace. Not because he’s in heaven, but because there’s nothing else. He can’t be upset and miserable in nothing; there’s no consciousness driving him anymore. He’s gone. The story is written, the book is closed.

My youth blinds me in a way. I simultaneously think I’m invincible, but do not fear death. I know it could happen at any moment—especially as I binge watch Game of Thrones for the first time—but I’m not too overly concerned.  My life is so much more than its end. That said, I buckle up and avoid obvious danger; that’s human-nature rather than zealous life-clinging precaution.

I don’t fear death because death can’t hurt me. I’ll be a compendium of memories and scattered writings and, ultimately, my existence will have been unimportant. No matter how many Facebook friends tell me I’ll change the world, I’m comfortable with the lack of legacy I’ll leave. Perhaps I’ll create something of note, something that will survive through the ages. Probably not. Either way, it won’t matter, I’ll be dead.

The only time I give the afterlife consideration is when I’m hoping someone receives justice they did not on earth. Far too many awful people die with relatively clean, happy lives. If there is a divine, I’d rather they intervene on earth and stop horrific abuses rather than just punish the abusers, but I suppose I could settle for the latter.  I think I could only be intellectually satisfied with an afterlife where those who deeply wound others are punished, or at least annihilated. The idea of sharing bread with people whose actions have permanently damaged others doesn’t sound like a moment for rejoicing to me.

But, moving on from my short revenge fantasies, I don’t really care. There’s nothing after, there’s no reason to think there’s anything else. Stories about heaven being real don’t compel me anymore than Greek mythologies do. No matter how much I’d like to picture evil people burning for their injustices, they aren’t.

That isn’t how the world works

That’s a harder truth. The world isn’t just. There is no cosmic equilibrium where the good are rewarded and doted upon and the cruel face their sins with great agony. There’s just now; good things happen arbitrarily, tragedy hits tyrants, peasants, good, and awful people randomly.

I guess to answer my mother’s question: no. I wouldn’t be fine with never seeing her again. But reality doesn’t care what I’m okay with. It hasn’t bent to anyone else’s desires, and I doubt it’ll start with me.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “I’m Not Going to Heaven, And I Don’t Care

  1. This is very well said. Thank you. I agree with you that there is more appeal to hell as justice than to heaven as reward. I find myself often wishing there was a hell for that purpose. It must be finite, however. There is no justice in everlasting punishment.

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  2. Great piece. Although it’s interesting to see another of the various tools used (probably unconsciously) by the religious: guilt, in the form of “Don’t you love your mother?”

    You nailed it with the statement (albeit one which has been made by many before), “Wanting it doesn’t make it true or real.”

    I want, more than anything, for inter-galactic space travel to be a real, practical thing, and I want the Force, wookiees and lightsabers to be real, too, but that doesn’t make those things any more real than wanting an afterlife does.

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    1. It’s funny too because the argument that if a desire exists, then fulfillment of that desire must exist somehow and somewhere as well. CS Lewis makes this argument in (I think) Mere Christianity.

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      1. I haven’t read what Lewis has written, but, I can think of something right now that disproves whatever his argument is.

        Homo sapiens surviving exposure to space, in terms of the vacuum, exposure to radiation, cold, and various flying objects, without alteration of any kind (such as genetic or selection through artificial selection, etc., etc….), or without any extra equipment (such as an EVA suit of any kind, breather, etc., etc….), indefinitely. That is to say, naked, as we are right now, for as long as we would like.

        The desire exists, certainly, for the obvious reasons. However, it is completely impossible. Homo sapiens is suited to only a few environments on the very planet on which they originated! If you go a few degrees too far one way or the other, or reduce the available water, or available foodstuffs, and we die, quite rapidly. Too much sunlight? Here’s some skin cancer for you, and the potential for drought. Not enough sunlight? Here’s some crippling depression, and a lack of food for you, and temperatures which will kill you if you stay out in the for too long. Want to live high on a mountain? Well, unless you’re specifically adapted to it, you can’t go too high. And forget about living on a minimum of 2/3 of the entire planet’s surface, because poisonous water.

        Never mind space.

        And if you endeavor to alter humans to make them more suited to living in space, then they’re not homo sapiens anymore, are they? They would be an offshoot species, homo superior, or a sub species, or something. Still human, but not homo sapiens.

        So there’s an airtight counter to Lewis’s “all desires can be satisfied including heaven lol” argument. Off the top of my head, I might add.

        Lewis was a smart man, but he suffers from the same logical fallacy that many others, including no less a genius than the great Isaac Newton himself, have fallen prey to: the Argument from Incredulity.

        Hell, James Watson, half of the team which discovered DNA, is a believer. Born-again, as a matter of fact. His reason? He saw a trio of frozen water cascades from a waterfall and he took that as a sign of the holy trinity.

        Now, James Watson is a smart man. Clearly. But he’s also a total nutter and complete idiot. Lewis is in the same boat.

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  3. Great piece. Although it’s interesting to see another of the various tools used (probably unconsciously) by the religious: guilt, in the form of “Don’t you love your mother?”

    You nailed it with the statement (albeit one which has been made by many before), “Wanting it doesn’t make it true or real.”

    I want, more than anything, for inter-galactic space travel to be a real, practical thing, and I want the Force, wookiees and lightsabers to be real, too, but that doesn’t make those things any more real than wanting an afterlife does.

    Like

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