Monday, October 1, 2012

Mortality Week: Afterdeath

Welcome to Mortality Week! (not to be confused with my past theme of Morality Week) Everyday this week I'll be posting articles relating to what it means to be mortal. Mostly it means we're gonna die. Death is certain. The afterlife? Less so.

Grundy on the Christian Afterlife

I was a Christian for twenty years and I still don’t have a clear picture of heaven. The bible is somewhat contradictory and somewhat vague on the topic. The church has done it’s best to fill in the blanks, but “the” church is really just “a” church and every denomination is a bit different. If I had to cobble together a consensus, all I can say about heaven is that “it’s nice.”

A believer would probably say that it’s perfect, but my perfect might not be your perfect--but we are probably going by God’s perfect which likely isn’t either of ours perfect. Last time the Almighty made paradise it had an evil, talking snake in it, so I’m not making any assumptions.

Then we have the problem of eternity. I call it omni-bordeom, because you can, and will, have too much of a good thing. The are only two ways around this. One is a divine-lobotomy that takes away your ability to become bored, but once we get into God fundamentally changing who you are, can we say that it is really you that lives past this mortal coil. The other option is continuing the human tradition of shitty memories. I might live forever, but I’ll only remember the past fifty years or so. This undermines the idea of both eternity and perfection, but it’s better than getting sick of your favorite movie.

Grundy on the Muslim Afterlife

72 virgins, right? Better comedians than I have written every joke that can be written about the Muslim afterlife. Honestly, I have a feeling there is more to it than non-Muslims think. I’m not saying that it isn’t a stupid and misogynistic view of the hereafter, but it could very well be not stupid and misogynistic in quite the way I imagine. Until I’m more educated, no comment, but I’m pretty sure they suffer from the same downsides of eternal life.

Grundy on the Hindu Afterlife

Like Islam, my understanding of Hinduism is that of an American outsider. At first glance, I kinda wish it was true. The idea of Karma is the fairest motivator to be moral in all the religious traditions. Instead of our acts for the span of 0 to 100 years being the subject of judgment to determine our next infinity of years, we have a system of judging one life to determine the starting point of our next life. We trade the two extreme options of heaven and hell, to a sliding scale. If an afterlife exists, I’d like it to be this one...but I’m not holding my breath.

Via Flea Snobbery
Grundy on the Atheist Afterlife Death

When I tell people that I believe that nothing happens to us when we die, it is usually met with some variation of “that’s depressing.” (This is often coming from people who think everlasting punishment is an option.) Depressing or not, we have no reason to believe that we have a soul or spirit or anything more than what our living brain provides. Wishful thinking does not dictate reality. Even if you find some argument for God convincing, which you shouldn’t, that doesn’t mean an afterlife is a given. Just because something is eternal, doesn’t mean that we are. The only reason almost every religion connects an appealing afterlife with their God, is because we wouldn’t worship the God or obey the religious leaders otherwise.

Am I glad that there probably is no afterlife? Not particularly. I’d rather have reincarnation or some reunion with lost friends, but not at the expense of knowing that others could be unjustly suffering. Hell is universally unjust.

Hitler doesn’t deserve eternal torment. There, I said it. I’m not sure what he deserves. Maybe an ass full of red hot coals. Maybe a painful death and rebirth for every Jew who died in the Holocaust and every soldier who died in World War II. That would be an “eye for an eye” revenge that only a supernatural deity could exact. This would be overkill, pardon the pun, but it would still be infinitely more just and humane then eternal torture. I don’t think believers ever quite wrap their brains around “forever,” if they did I’d expect a lot more objections.

No afterlife is at once more depressing and more comforting than most religious alternatives, but not by design. Atheists hold certain beliefs because there is no evidence to believe otherwise. The afterlife will forever be beyond our knowledge. It is up to you to either believe your preference, or to go with the most educated guess.


  1. I think you and I think a lot alike, only your thoughts seem funnier.

  2. good stuff, although I do have an objection to the eventual boredom of heaven. I wrote about this a while ago, basically I argued that there are creative people who can only be happy if they are creating stuff, so there should be new stuff all the time for me to do.

    But actually, now that I think about it, why not just have there be an infinite amount of things to do in the first place. If there's an infinite amount of time and also an infinite number of activities, we can't run out right?

  3. Are there an infinite number of activities? Interesting ones at least? You may be right, but I'm not sure. By the time I got to under water basket weaving I'd be ready for hell.

  4. I don't know, maybe. There are certain activities I like to do over and over again, and not only because my memory sucks, but because they are fun to do, and repeated events don't get boring. Sex is the obvious example.

    What about something like hiking? Hiking is fun, getting to the top of a mountain and seeing a cool view is great. Why can't there be an infinite variety views and things to see and variants on the hike and what not?

    What about sports? If you are a baseball fan you have probably seen countless games. They are all the same in a way, but also different. People are fans of a sport their whole lives, why not forever? Maybe it would eventually get boring, maybe not. Maybe if it gets stale we can change the rules a bit, eventually we can get to blurnsball even!

    Imagine you had a holodeck, how long could you entertain yourself? Heaven should be at least as good as that.

    After all of that rambling, infinity is still pretty hard to comprehend. Maybe we would get bored eventually, but I don't think it is inevitable.

  5. Sports already bore me. :-) Hiking? Meh. Poker's my thing, but I wouldn't play it if I had no need for my winnings.

    The holodeck, there you may have a point...but still, my imagination has limits. I'd need some else programming it sometimes, which I suppose is doable.

    Then there is the problem of some activities being off limits. Anything sinful is out...which is a lot of fun stuff.

  6. Yeah, sports don't do it for me either, but it seemed like a good example for those people. For my holodeck, I think at some point I would definitely want to talk to someone else to get fresh ideas, which as you said, I'm sure would be doable. You are right, the fact that we can't do anything sinful would cut down a lot of possibilities.

    You are right, having no need for your winning takes the incentive out of poker, and if you know you will win every hand it will get boring real fast. I like video games, but if they are too easy it is boring. The games that make me shout in frustration are also the ones that are the most satisfying to overcome. If everything is perfect it seems like that whole side of things falls apart. Is it possible for me to lose? Is it possible for me to ragequit a game in heaven?

  7. The Hindu afterlife is actually the greatest device ever invented for justifying huge social inequalities such as exist in the caste system. Whether you're born a king or a shit-shoveler, you deserve it, because it's a reward or punishment for what you did in a previous life. I'm surprised the Republicans haven't adopted it.

    Death is certain.

    Not really. The mechanisms of the aging process are well understood and there's no fundamental reason why it can't be cured just like any other degenerative disease. People think death is some great profound philosophical inevitability. Actually it's just another biological-engineering problem to be worked out, like eradicating smallpox.

  8. I never really thought about the hindu afterlife in that way, thanks for pointing it out.

    Also, your comment about death not being certain made me think of a movie called "the man from earth". Really enjoyable flick, worth checking out.

  9. The traditional version of the Hindu afterlife is actually even worse than this: because "karma" points are accrued not by being "good" or "bad" according to universal morals, but by fulfilling your "dharma" -- which is to say performing the role which you were shoved into. Be a obedient, well-behaved caste member or we'll give you a WORSE caste in the next life!

    Buddhism saw this entire grind as being a bad trip -- while still believing in it! -- and came up with a "way out" which actually has something to it, psychologically. But one variety became super-rigid and intolerant, and another started introducing "boddhisattvas" (gods by any other name). It seems there's human desires to turn philosophical ideas into what we think of as religions, complete with all the bad bits, and Buddhism's a nice exmple for figuring out the underlying motivations going on, due to being able to trace the divergence from origins to some extent. (The divergence from origins in Christianity is so large that it's hard to trace.)