The idea of afterlife always made death a little less scary for me as a Christian. The thought of some awesome after party in the sky with my main man JC and all of my best family and friends just sounded awesome. It didn’t make the idea of death welcoming; it just kept the fear of death on the back burner.
Converting to atheism pulled some of those thoughts of death to the forefront of my mind. Having suffered from a disorder that causes a myriad of problems in my body, including depression and anxiety, I was nervous about my current mental state. At first I was sure that I would not be able to push off those thoughts of suicide any longer. I mean, if it’s not a sin, because I won’t burn in hell, because I don’t believe in hell, than what’s stopping me from trying it now?
Then I realized that “Heaven” was just another word for immortality.
Immortality in a literal sense means living forever. As of right now, that is just not possible to do. Eventually everyone will die. The idea of an eternal meeting ground where we “float on our cloud puffs and talk to Jesus about our lives” (as one of my friends so eloquently put it) is comforting. Let’s face it- none of us want to die, and all of us want to be remembered positively.
Heaven takes the guess work out of it. First, we assume our beloved relatives are up there, just hanging out, waiting for us like some divine taxi cab drivers with eternity to spare. Then we imagine that we will be there, and we are taught that the sins of our earthly life don’t matter anymore. That’s a great way to live forever. No worries that our life’s works will be forgotten or that our social debts will be unpaid.
Well, I may not believe in a god, but I still want to live forever. That’s just human nature. The truth is that none of us really know what happens next. A Christian probably believes that we go to heaven or hell. An atheist might believe that our energy leaves our body and our cells die. But in the end, nobody on earth can answer that question. Not a divine book or an anonymous blogger can tell us right now. Everyone on earth should be able to agree that there is no physical evidence of an afterlife. You either believe or you don’t and that’s that.
So how do you live forever? Some people may choose to do that through their career. They may advance their field immeasurably. Some people take on volunteer work and change the lives of others. Many (most?) people have children to leave their genetic code out there- but I can’t have my own kids. I have two step sons though, and I hope to live on through them. Not genetically, but in another way.
Their mom is doing okay financially. Their dad is sending me through college right now. But between both of their parents, my stepsons aren’t inheriting any mansions or secret fortunes. Their parents come from blood lines that are just economically poor. So I plan to break the cycle. I’m going to college to hopefully one day help them pay off their own loans early, or their house, or buy them cars. Maybe they have their own kids and need help with transportation to dance or soccer practice. I don’t really know when I’ll be “called upon” to help them get ahead in life. But it’s my mission to break their personal cycle of poverty in the only way I know how- not spending thousands on IVF and surrogates for the “chance” of motherhood. Maybe between their mom, their dad, and me, we can generate some wealth that they can rely on.
Beyond that, my younger sister got pregnant at 19 and now she has a 2 year old. She’s not ready to be a parent. She prays to her god and then cheats on her husband and abandons her daughter to me or my parents. Some Christian. Anyway, I imagine that one day soon I’ll be of service to my niece. The only thing I can hope to do for my niece is to cultivate a sense of community and love that she is otherwise lacking.
These actions are how I will live forever. I don’t need a promise of a fulfilling afterlife where I can play the harp for Jesus and wash his feet with my hair (ew). I can plan my immortality right here and now. And I urge you to do the same because we really don’t know about heaven or hell, but I wouldn’t put my immortality on it.