Death, Life, and Atheism

Death and Atheism can be . . . difficult to talk about.  For one, there’s never a good time – there’s always someone who will have just lost someone they love.  For another, it can just kind of suck to think about how temporary we are.

But our beliefs about the world affect us in so many ways that I think it’s worth the conversation, for believers and doubters alike.  It’s often the believers who bring it up, sometimes in a sincere way: “Seriously, though, how can you live while believing that you’re just going to die and end?!”

Well that’s what I’d like to talk about over the next week or so.  I’ll be including quotes and poetry from some of the best literature on the subject of all time, as well as a few thoughts of my own, and really hope you’ll join the conversation.

You can come back here for links to the new articles as we go on:

  1. The Death of an Atheist, written by myself in 2011
  2. Aubade, by Phillip Larkin in 1977

Here’s a little about what you can expect:

Difficult honesty

I’ll be talking about things that are deeply personal to myself and you.  You’ll think of your grandparents and your children (in fact some of you may share the same grandparents I’ll speak of).  I’m promising to be honest and open, and I ask you to recognize that you’re getting a glimpse into my real, personal thoughts.  All I’m doing is letting you in so you can see, and, if you’re honest with yourself, you may relate.  Together, if you participate, we may both gain a better understanding.

I’ve always admired writers who talk bluntly about really difficult things, but I have a hard time with it; I’m always considering how my words will affect others.  While preparing for this series I’ve already been hearing my inner voices of “Whew, this . . . could be too specific.”

In this series, I want to lose that responsibility for your reactions and just talk openly.  Most of the thoughts you’ll read here were written down without the intent of anyone else ever seeing them.  I wrote them down for me, to express what I was feeling, and have now trusted you enough to let you read; to let you see how the mind of one atheist deals with the harsh reality of his own brief, temporary, and relatively insignificant existence.

Welcome to my unfiltered mind.

Yes, I’m a somber person sometimes

I’ve done it already – I said something that doesn’t sound very positive or uplifting, that my existence is relatively insignificant.  You may be tempted to believe that I talk this way because of my atheism – because I don’t have the hope that I could have if I believed in God.

Amazingly enough, I’ve talked this way throughout my life.  I’ve always had an appetite for the somber, the serious, the things that get you to think and to feel.  Here’s something I wrote just two months after I left the Church, when I still firmly believed in God:

“I can’t think of many things I would want to put the majority of my professional career into.  So many things just seem so fickle – like just another profession in just another small town filling just another role in the community’s economy . . . . I don’t want to be just another grain of sand blown by the wind over the peak of the sand dune, destined to fill the small part on where I land, unnoticed and unseen, except for the slowly moving mass of the dune pushed along one grain at a time . . . . (in just another dune in just another desert filled with millions of dunes like it).  Like Paul, I realize my life is nothing – I’m just like the morning dew ==> there for a second and then quickly burnt up by the sun.  Then my mortal time is done!”

I’m a somber dude, sometimes, maybe even negative.  Color me morbid, but I enjoy thinking about death every once in awhile, about how my views have changed, about how that shift completely changes the way I see some things and how in other ways it doesn’t change anything at all.

I can’t be anyone but myself

Since there’s no board of atheists that write up our mutual belief about anything, let alone death, us atheists would likely disagree on a few things.  Some might even disagree with a few of the things I want to talk about in this segment.  They’d say that the way I present death and atheism could entrench people further in their desire to believe in religion, because the fear of death is one of the primary reasons people still choose to believe.

That’s fine with me.  I lived long enough in a religion that tries to be attractive so others will join and I’m not interested in that approach.  I’m interested in talking openly, without an agenda.  Talking just to talk.  And the only thing I can talk about with you is the way my change of belief has affected my worldview, and how I think that affects my actions.

Preview

Here are a few of the things I’d like to talk about with you:

  • An article I wrote a couple of years ago called Death of an Atheist
  • Some of the best literature and poetry I’ve found about death, including:
    • Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens
    • The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, by Alain de Botton
    • Aubade, by Philip Larkin
  • Getting old.
  • Mason Jars . . . memories of loved ones and fully grieving their loss.

We’ll start with the Death of an Atheist article and see what kind of a conversation that starts.  I really hope you’ll participate, tell me what you think, ask questions, and that we’ll all learn a little from each other.

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