Non-Theism is Hard
Not sure if you've ever heard of Anne Rice before, but she's written a number
of novels, one of which is Interview with a Vampire. Well, in a recent interview,
she has described how after leaving Catholicism and became an
atheist, she is now returning to her childhood religion. She explained it this
It's [atheism] a more strenuous path than the religious path, because
you're then going to say that there is no God, there is no reason (for
anything), that people on Earth are the only (way) to provide any meaning.
That's a rough road to travel.
When you lose a child, you're telling yourself as an atheist, "I'm never
going to see that child again in any form." That's a hell of a lot harder than
a religion, which gives you the consolation that you will see that child again
in heaven. It's hard being an atheist. It's tough.
I agree. When it comes to death, theists have an easy answer to sooth a
grief-stricken heart. However, the non-theist has an advantage when it comes
In an old episode of Politically Incorrect, Victoria Jackson (a
fundamentalist Christian) asks Julia Sweeney (raised Catholic, but now an
atheist) if she prayed during her bout with cancer. They are old friends and
they know a lot about each other, but she seemed stunned when Julia said no.
Why wouldn't you? While the non-theist obviously would feel a bit strange in
pleading with the ceiling, they at least don't have the stress of searching
for meaning for the suffering.
When tragedy strikes, the theist has to answer why. Some theists say it is
because they didn't have the faith or "God is testing us." However, that answer
seems remarkably callous and shallow when a 6 month-old girl finally succumbs
to her frail heart, and death becomes the first moment without pain in her
From a non-theistic stand-point, life is full of random events and a collection
of genes-- essentially a hand of cards to play. Some people get better cards
than others, and it is easier to accept this world view than to constantly
questioning whether God is on your side or is punishing you.
But theists have an easier time making sense of the world, since meaning is
explicitly given once your drink from the fount of religion. If "God is Dead"
then life has no absolute, external meaning. A desire for an after-life
and an ultimate meaning is why people are religious.
So let's be honest about it. I've spent most of my life listening to people try
to prove the existence of God or their favorite religion, but there is no
evidence… only desire. We so desperately want there to be an after-life, that
we believe there is.
Is that bad?
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This is a very well thought out essay. And truly, I don't think you need to go
anywhere with it. It feels as complete as I can see. Because there is no answer,
there is no complete package when it comes to this. There are only questions to
ask and unlimited possibilities to consider. And I agree, that atheism is the
hardest to be. Because, first it admits that you don't have the answers and
second, that no one else has the answers either, and third that you have to
constantly defend yourself to others (or not). But you rarely have to defend
being religious, people pretty much accept that.
Speaking of when we die, I have been considering something lately, and that is
of our energy. That perhaps when we die our energy is released into the
universe. Only because there is something about seeing a dead body and realizing
that it really is just a shell. I have no idea what that energy looks like-- if
it would remain in a mass, or if each particle would dissipate into the universe
separately. I also have no idea what happens to that energy. Would it travel
through the universe looking for another thing to inhabit? Would it be absorbed
into the earth or the atmosphere? Would it be absorbed into those around the
person who died? There are a lot of questions, but something about it rings true
to me. I wonder what your thoughts on this would be. Care to kick it around with
I've heard and thought about this idea before, but I need to know what we mean
by "energy" in this case.
Turn over the soil in my garden, and there are large globs of bacteria, slim
molds, and other microbes. These little guys will soon be eaten by this
earthworm and he swallows the dirt and digests the microbes. The worm, in turn,
is eaten by a robin, which is eaten by a cat. The cat eventually dies of old
age, and is buried in the backyard to be feasted by these colonies of bacteria
and whatnot. So, if we define "energy" as protein molecules and the rest of the
stuff that we are composed, then yeah, when we die, we de-compose back to the
universe to make the next generations of life.
If we define this "energy" to mean some psychological force, I would also think
that we persist. A lifetime of interaction of a parent to a child will pass, not
only the genes, but also the personality, preferences, thoughts and attitudes to
those children and every other people. And when we die, this energy continues to
live on in the memories of those left behind until those memories fade away.
Some of us become lucky to be converted into myths and legends and live on in
stories.. but even those stories will fade as the cultures that perpetuate them
However, if we define "energy" as some metaphysical substance, then I would
have to say that it is probably nothing more than hopeful desires fueled by our
genetic tendency toward self-preservation made manifest in an ego who has
accepted the reality that there is no soul, but still wants it. [Longest sentence EVAR]
My definition of "soul" is similar to computer software… nothing more than a
configuration of cranial hardware. As such, it should be possible for a
super-sophisticated alien race or a god or two to "download" that configuration
and reboot it on a newer, better-looking human model… but I don't think so.
You see, software only works on the same hardware. Change the CPU of your
hardware, and the software won't work. Each person's brain is configured
differently and your "software" couldn't map directly to another "hardware"
unless it was nearly identical. I would think that if we took Person A and
transplanted his brain into Person B, it wouldn't be long before the new
creature was a synthesis of the two people before eventually becoming
indistinguishable from the original Person B.
But I have not traveled the length and breadth of this universes and all the
other universes in other dimensions to see if such aliens or gods exist. So
while an agnostical approach is probably the only justified position to take,
the evidence suggests that when you're dead… you're dead.
And I think that it is good to meditate on this idea and to come to terms with
Our bodies are built to die. True, there are some organisms that are not
programmed to age and die, but that is certainly a minority opinion. Most life
has organized each individual to die as the best approach to continue the entire
species… human's included.
Clearly we wouldn't want it any other way. I mean, we want things to change. We
want our children to stop being babies and grow up and make babies of their own.
We want to grow and experience things, and you can't do any of this if we were
living in the stasis of an unchangeable universe.
I think that if we look death squarely in its empty eye sockets, we really are
nothing more than gnats flying around a single sunbeam before death that
evening. How amazing it is to be alive and able to contemplate any individual
meaning! And what an imperative to grab life and wring out every last drop of
living and not waste a single precious second.