The lie of the joyful atheist

This post was prompted by an essay on athiesm. Please read or listen to “There Is No God” by Penn Jillette, before continuing.

What I want to draw attention to is the joyful manner in which he describes the most spiritually empty and depressing belief. He argues that it is unnecessary for the athiest to disprove the existence of God, and his logic is sound, but once he grasps this belief in nothingness and hangs on to it, he then gives the impression that it is the most joyful and liberating philosophy of life. This simply is not true.

I can’t quote you the findings of research, but what I can do is speak from experience. My initial experience of athiesm (or to be fair, athiesm’s close cousin agnosticism, which, for all practical purposes is the same thing) was one of liberation. I was escaping the clutches of a form of Christianity that didn’t work for me, a legalistic way of living that twisted my mind and consumed me with guilt. Naturally, I felt liberated. But the feeling was shortlived. I had to face the reality that death was the end, that every experience I ever had was insignificant, every achievement meaningless, and that after my death it would be as if I had never been born. This, folks, is seriously depressing news.

I’ve heard athiests try to wrangle their way out of this reality; I’ve even tried to wrangle my way out of it myself. I defined the meaning in my life from the good I was able to do for others, my loving deeds touching lives in ways that would remain, even after my own death. This is a wonderful way to live, no doubt, but still reality comes crashing in, as you face the fact that even the lives you have touched are doomed to non-existence. Jump billions of years into the future and the human race is gone due to the death of our planet’s sun. The sum total of mankind’s knowledge, and our every achievement since the dawn of human history, is obliterated. It will be as if the human race never existed. Not even the memory of it will remain, because there isn’t a mind left to house it.

This is the athiest’s reality. Face it. But someone will say something like (and I’ve said it to myself), “It doesn’t matter. We humans have an inflated view of our own importance in the universe. Mortal is what we are, what we’re supposed to be, and all we’ll ever be. And mortality is enough.” But is it enough? Why then do I find my most pleasurable experiences tainted with sorrow. When I go out on my bicycle and enjoy the beauty of the Irish countryside, why is there always a feeling of emptiness nagging at me? It’s because I’ve faced reality. None of my experiences means a damn thing; all of life is just an expression of futility.

I’ve heard it argued that it’s our very mortality that gives meaning to our actions. I’ve tried to see some kind of sense in that idea, but I can’t. If someone can explain it to me, please do, because it just reads like a pretentious, vacuuous notion to me. What I know is that I possess a hunger for significance. It is not enough to die and cease to exist. There must be something more. This life has to matter, and to matter it has to go on. Athiesm does not lead to joy. It is the philosophy of no hope. It says that human life means nothing, degrading what it means to be human (ever wonder why the general consensus of athiests are for abortion while Christians are against?). It promotes feelings of worthlessness (because you are ultimately without value). Who knows how many people have spiralled down the road to suicide because they held this belief. Oh, I’m not talking about some intellectual athiest who’s got it all worked out. I’m talking about the average joe who has unwittingly imbibed the athiest way of thinking through culture and media and education. I would even dare to say that an athiest who commits suicide is making a perfectly reasonable choice, in light of his own view of his place in the universe.

Am I allowing my heart to rule my head here? Well, here’s some food for thought. Let’s assume that athiesm truly is the enlightened view. By implication, then, the enlightened man is the depressed man. Does it seem rational that man, in his most enlightened state, should be depressed by his own existence? Is it not more likely that these feelings of depression are pointing to the notion: “Hey, maybe we’re thinking about this all wrong!” In this vibrant world (and universe) teeming with life and vitality, were we really supposed to spend our days battling sorrow over our mortality? I think not.

I have great respect for science, but what I just can’t stand is the way we’ve all been conditioned to disbelieve in anything that cannot be measured and quantified, no matter what the cost to ourselves. Travel back in time and talk to a fifteenth century scientist about radio waves beaming messages across the planet, and he won’t believe you, nor can he create and measure such things with his primitive equipment. That doesn’t mean that radio waves don’t exist.

It alarms me the amount of my life I wasted with an agnostic mindset, never at peace with myself, and unable to see the preconceptions that held me to such an irrational and depressing belief. But that’s the conditioning of this messed up society at work. It can be very hard to see the claws that are embedded in your mind.

The particular claw I’m talking about here is the scientific idea that you must have proof before you allow yourself to believe a thing. How on earth did science ever lose its imagination in this way? And how did we end up giving it permission to define our entire sense of ourselves, without regard for what it may not be able to detect about reality?

Bottom line: Don’t confuse what doesn’t exist with what is merely undiscovered. I expect to discover plenty right after I die, and I’m living my life now with that anticipation.

(And the simple pleasure of riding my bike through the countryside is now a truly joyful experience.)

37 thoughts on “The lie of the joyful atheist

  1. Chris

    Great post, Darryl! Best reading I’ve done in the blogosphere in quite a while.

    Reading the reference article, a number of things are apparent.

    “Not believing in God is easy — you can’t prove a negative, so there’s no work to do. You can’t prove that there isn’t an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word “elephant” includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?”

    This is rather typical muddled thinking that one cannot prove a negative. Of course a negative assertion can be proven. I’m really quite convinced that there isn’t an elephant sitting inconveniently between me and the keyboard on which I’m typing right now. However, Mr. Jillette thinks it’s reasonable to distort the meaning of the word “elephant” in order to prove his point. To any right-thinking person, such an argument is prima facie absurd, and it portrays a certain intellectual laziness – instead of considering the point in question honestly, objectively, and clear-mindedly, the point is decreed subjective and insignificant by a bunch of silly, childish, pseudo-philosophical hand waving. This is exceedingly dubious and not very credible reasoning.

    Mr. Jillette continues:

    “So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power.”

    I am not sure what, exactly, constitutes “objective evidence” for Mr. Jillette. More to the point, if his definition of the word “elephant” can be so easily distorted to prove his position, then I really must consider under what definition of the word “proof” he operates.

    There is plenty of objective evidence to prove the existence of God (no less the fact that this God has interacted with mankind at various points in history, instituting two organizations of men that are with us to this day – the Jews, and the Catholic Church). But, Mr. Jillette seems to want something above and beyond what has been given.

    Does he believe, I wonder, in his great-great-great-great-grand father, even though the “objective evidence” for his existence is more than likely much, much less than what is offered as proof of God’s existence? Would Mr. Jillette be correct if he expressed a disbelief in my great-great-great-great-grand father, simply because I lack any “objective evidence” with which I could convince Mr. Jillette? Of course he wouldn’t be correct. Simple, deductive reasoning is sufficient to prove the existence of my great-great-great-great-grand father, predicated on the fact of my own existence. The fact can be established by convincing argument. What’s needed is not further “objective evidence”, nor a dishonest and childish redefinition of terms, but, rather, a clear-thinking and honest mind, will to accept a convincing argument, and, most of all, the will to change one’s very life and beliefs based on the conclusions of the argument.

    Mr. Jillette is obviously neither clear-thinking or intellectually honest. Unfortunately, I’ve found these to be characteristic traits of atheists as a whole, and, indeed, wonder if they are a direct consequence of atheism itself. Applying the old adage of judging a tree by its fruit, the logical incoherence and inconsistency of the atheist belief system is sufficient to dismiss it completely on its own merits (or should that be demerits). In other words, a good dose of plain old common sense is an effective antidote to atheism (assuming one’s mind has not atrophied beyond hope).

    In my intellectual journeys, Christianity – to be precise, the Catholic Church – remains vastly superior to any other belief system and worldview in every way that matters: honesty, clarity, consistency, logically, philosophically, historicity, credibility, believability. But that’s just my opinion…

  2. mike q`

    I guess I had always been an agnostic, I believed in something but just didn’t want to believe in anything that was blatantly manmade. Most of the popular religions seem to follow the same paterns, subjegation of women, putting fear into it’s followers of what will happen if you don’t obey.

    I was reminded of an episode of red dwarf. where listers cat has evolved over millions of years into a humanoid. And they had raised lister to the level of a God. And they had been at war with eachother over a certain point that lister had left behind in his great plan. The plan involved oppening a resteraunt , and the cat men were arguing over what colour hat they should wear, one side thought green, the other blue,. This was a full scale war that lasted centuries and destroyed the feline race. But the funny part was that lister then revealed that the hats should have been red. And this for me sums up religion, all the different factions arguing over the details instead of just getting on with being good.

    Anyway the thing that turned me from agnostic to atheist was reading the god delusion. I read it, like I said, as an agnostic who believed in something out there, all powerfull, all knowing watching us and hopefully with a plan for after we died. I just couldn’t believe in “religions” that preached goodness but did so many wicked things in the name of their religion.

    Anyway the god delusion brought me out of my childish daze. I used to look at the world, and think that there had to be something more, but just because I want more, or can’t comprehend this all being for nothing, that doesn’t make it so.

    And here’s a couple of points regarding how deppressing it is to think from an athiest point of view.
    Firstly, before I became an athiest I used to be nice to people, even if they were unkind to me ( especially at school where I was bullied verbally but did not retort, thinking I was doing the right thing, and that this would stand me in good stead with a God, and that if I responded in anger I may be punished for hurting others.) So now I “CHOOSE” not to say anything unkind to people, or not to hurt people’s feelings, and I’m freed from the FEAR of something there to punish me if I didn’t.

    And now when I look at the world I am filled with much more motivation, because if I believe that this life is it, no second chance no afterlife, then I am going to make it the best one that I can.

    And why is it that when we “chose a religion” it is always the one we were brought up with, or our parents taught us. Why is it that every civilisation has it’s own god, or gods. Even down to the imature tribes living the same way they have for years. How is christianity more likely to be true than the religion of those tribes worshipping the sun and hiding from eclipses.

  3. Hi, Mike. Thanks for your very detailed points. One of the things I did deliberately in my essay was to avoid any mention of Christianity (except a passing negative reference to it!), and little mention even of God. Because neither of those things is what I’m debating right now.

    What I’m really putting under strutiny is the belief that man is mortal, that he has no spiritual aspect to him that continues after death – something that is a core athiest belief. And what I’m asserting is the failure of this athiestic belief to address the human need for significance. And I’m suggesting that this failure is a strong pointer to it being the wrong belief.

    The things you say about athiesm are valid. It frees you to make responsible decisions, without fear of punishment or hope of reward. There is a purity about that that is wonderful. Remember, I’ve been there! Athiesm isn’t all bad, and when you embrace it after a painful religious experience, it’s almost euphoric. But given time, I came to see athiesm as an unsatisfying and depressing belief.

    Don’t view the debate as athiesm versus religion. It’s life after death versus no life after death. And when you come to see the necessity of life after death, it becomes impossible to remain an athiest.

    Beyond that, of course, I could believe in heaven or reincarnation. I could reject the idea that there is a personal God who answers prayer in favour of the more esoteric idea that we are all aspects of some kind of universal consciousness on a journey. There are many things I could believe. But right at the bottom of the list, for the reason I discussed (and several other reasons), is athiesm.

    You stated: “I used to look at the world, and think that there had to be something more, but just because I want more, or can’t comprehend this all being for nothing, that doesn’t make it so.”

    This is the perfect example of the kind of “conditioning” I spoke of. You refuse to entertain the possibility that there may be something more to reality than what current science is able to detect. What if that something is so important that it shapes our entire view of how we see ourselves? Is it right to ignore such a possibility, because we lack the equipment to see it and measure it? Why do we demand “empirical evidence” in place of “common sense” when we use common sense to believe a great many other things in life, such as our trust in people who are close to us?

    We are so entrenched in this conditioning that we will believe the crazy idea that the entire past and future of humanity is utterly meaningless, all because we lack “empirical evidence” for the alternative.

    I’m not saying science should embrace these ideas. Science is science, and empirical evidence is how it operates. That’s great, and just as it should be. What I’m saying is that you need to break out of the prison cell in your mind that has been telling you that science is the only thing you’re allowed to use to determine what to believe in.

  4. mike q

    Regarding me refusing to entertain the possibility that the may be something more, it’s true there could be something after we die. I don’t refute that, but there is no evidence what so ever for it to be true, apart form a notion that all our efforts are for nothing. If there is something else, who’s to say it wouldn’t be a hell we go to. It could be another planet. it could be straight into a re-encarnation. And it could be a limitless number of other alternates, but there still lies the lack of any proof for any of these, each one as likely as the next

    Regarding the human need for significance, that is the problem, we feel the need to find a reason for everything, what’s the point if we just die. But there doesn’t have to be a point. At the end of the day we’re just animals with an inflated opinion about ourselves and our place in the world.

    It comes down to humans needing answers to everything. Which is why so many gods have emerged over the years to provide answers for things that science now easily understands.

    And regarding life after death, we have heaven, hell, reincarnation, flying away in a flying saucer for the scientoligsts. We need a reason for everything so make up soemthing to fit. Tribal religion has them turning into animals of the forest after death, why isn’t that the most likely path for us to take when we die, the truth is it’s just as likely as a heaven.

  5. Your list of things that might happen after we die can can be shortened, for the purpose of this debate, to two things:
    – There is something after death
    – There is nothing after death

    Or it could be expressed this way:
    – The human race is has meaning
    – The human race has no meaning

    If I allow myself to forget everything else I’ve come to believe (all the baggage I carry about God, heaven, hell, Christianity, etc.), and if I simply contemplate the enevitability of my own death, as an honest seeker after truth, I am faced with the choice to believe one option or the other. What I choose will have a deep effect on my outlook on life. One the one hand, I will see death as an exciting and terrifying mystery. On the other hand, death’s approach will be like hammer falling on me in slow motion, rendering my whole life meaningless.

    There is no “evidence” for either. But you are faced with weighing the validity of each option in the absense of any evidence for or against. And your answer is, “I believe nothing without evidence.”

    In my last comment, I raised the point that this attiude – this demand for verifiable evidence – is a form of conditioning. And you’ve responded again by simply demanding evidence again.

    We’ve been conditioned to think that the alternative to believing something without evidence is believing the likes of an elephant in the boot of Mr. Jillette’s car. Rubbish.

    What we’re really in here is a situation where there are two distinct possibilities, only one of which is true. I’ve chosen the one that allows me to make sense of my existence, and the existence of the whole human race. And you’ve chosen the one that turns the whole human race into nothing more than a bug squashed under a foot.

    What I’m really trying to do here is to get you to challenge the ingrained idea, “I believe nothing without evidence.” Alas, I don’t appear to be succeeding.

    Mr. Jillette expressed exactly the same conditioned thinking in this way: “So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power.”

    There is more (or rather, there ought to be more) to making rational decisions than the quest for evidence. Sensible thoughts like “Is the human race likely or unlikely to have meaning?” should be allowed to come under consideration, but your way of thinking won’t permit them. You’re boxed in, your mind enslaved by a principle that has no business being there.

  6. Phil Henry

    The one over-riding sense I got from reading your essay was fear, Darryl. It seems as if you’re more scared of dying than any atheist I’ve ever met. This fixation you have that your life has no meaning if it only lasts three score and ten is bizarre to me. In fact, I would go so far as to say you are contemptuous of the life ‘God’ has given you. The nightclub has closed, everyone’s getting their coats, but you want to stay for afters, and if you don’t get to stay for afters, the night was a bust. Some might say it’s a very selfish attitude.

    This is the whole problem I have with religion: it’s the carrot before the donkey. People chase that carrot their whole lives, with little regard for anyone or anything else, because it’s the carrot that matters. To paraphrase John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens while you’re chasing that carrot.’ I feel atheism is a much less selfish way to live because we’re not doing it to impress anyone or for any reward. Speaking for myself, I try to live in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone or exclude anyone because of their beliefs (unless they’re based in hate) because I feel it makes me a better person and maybe my example will encourage someone else to do the same. It’s the ripple effect, and for me, it’s quite enough of an impact to leave behind and consider myself to have lived a worthy life.

    You say your atheist alter-ego can’t derive pleasure from a bike ride in the countryside, well, sorry, but this has nothing to do with atheism. Personally, I can park beside the sea and watch it for hours and come away with a complete sense of serenity. Your comments that atheism does not lead to joy and promotes feelings of worthlessness are specific to you, not atheists in general. And the atheist who commits suicide? Yeah, like no religious person ever committed suicide to jump the queue to the pearly gates.

    I’m not arguing science vs. religion. I spent a lot of years wondering about the existence of God and in the end I didn’t come up with conclusive proof either way, I came to understand what I believed. Sure, I’d like to believe we all go to heaven and live forever, who wouldn’t? But I don’t believe that. And if I say out loud that I do, there’s a little voice inside me that says ‘no, you don’t.’ That’s what I mean when I say, I realised what I believe.

    I don’t know what happens when we die and I think anyone who says they do know is full of **it. I don’t believe in heaven and hell, but then again, I believe I have seen a ghost, so maybe there is something after. If there is, it’s a bonus, but I won’t treat my mortal life with disdain because of it.

  7. mike q

    when you say your challenging me about believing nothing without evidence, then that would open up the possibility of anything. The scientoligist with their crazy notions would become plausable, bigfoot is real, people really do get abducted by aliens, fairies at the bottom of my garden, elvis is alive. I don’t believe in life after death because I recognise the fact that I am no different from any other animal on this planet, apart from a deppressing self awareness about my own mortality,

    And it does seem rather greedy, to not be satisfied with our life and want someting extra. It’s wishfull thinking at best. And living in fear of death at worst.

    And its very self centred to think that this whole planet, this whole universe in fact has been put in place just for us, with our best interest at heart. Why are we so special and different from any other creature on this planet.

  8. Hi, Phil. I hardly know what to say about your comments. I feel as if I’ve been completely misunderstood. The “carrot and donkey” scenario is totally irrelevant to the present debate. Religion, and even Christianity, is totally irrelevant to the debate.

    The belief in an afterlife, once you’re able to see the overwhelming likelihood of it being true, injects joy and meaning back into life. Even if I had no religion, I would still have that joy and meaning – born of the idea that everything is going somewhere, and I’m a part of it. The last thing I’m looking for, or expecting, is a pot of gold for my good works, and that is certainly not something that motivates the choices I make in life. You’re quoting a hideously deformed version of Christianity that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. If there’s one thing I’m very aware of as a Christian, it’s how far I fall short of the good I’m capable of.

    What I was attempting to do in my essay was lay some back-to-basics groundwork on making an intelligent, informed decision about whether we live on after death, in the absense of direct evidence.

    What can I say? My agnostic/atheist experiences were what they were: depressing. I believe I’ve captured the essence of why they were depressing, and I stand by my remarks. If you don’t share that depression, perhaps it’s because you’re not as convinced about oblivion after death as I was – as indicated by your remark about the ghost. But I’m merely guessing.

    You said: “Your comments that atheism does not lead to joy and promotes feelings of worthlessness are specific to you, not atheists in general.”

    You can make that counter-claim, but it’s just a claim. You haven’t qualified it with anything. I explained at length the utter futility of the athiest reality and the mockery it makes of the entire length of human history and its future. If humanity has worth, explain it. All I see is Earth as a dark ball spinning around a dead sun. I need my existence, and the existence of us all, to amount to more than that.

    Someone’s going to accuse me of being too philosophical, I can see it coming – that I deliberately depressed myself by thinking so far into the future; that only somebody with a screw loose would think like that. How about the idea that I’m one of the few people willing to sweep every delusion out of my way, seeking to find out what is truly real, what lies behind everything? And what lies behind athiesm is, as I have said, a mockery of the human race.

  9. Hi, Mike. I’m getting at something different here. I’m suggesting that we allow ourselves to make sensible deductions about things, based on careful reasoning, when actual evidence is not observable. After all, this is how we come to many other beliefs in life. To illustrate:

    Let’s say someone comes into your life and becomes a close friend. Your experiences with that person lead you to trust him. But how can you really know that he’s not some closet sociopath putting on an act, waiting for the right moment to stick a knife in you? You can’t. There’s no evidence. Oh, don’t be silly, Darryl! But really, can you say there has never been a person in the world who has been deceived in this way? Of course there has. But still, you believe in your friend. You do it by weighing up likelihoods, and it’s not very likely at all that he’s a fake. You didn’t demand to see “evidence” to come to your conclusions about him. This is the type of thinking I’m talking about, not the fairies/Bigfoot/Elvis type thinking.

    It’s kind of like you’re saying, “I refuse to use anything but the scientific method to determine what I believe.” But you’re not consistent. You pick and choose when to be scientific and when to use other criteria. I’m saying you should allow those other criteria into every compartment of what you believe. Let science be science, and use every part of your rationality at your disposal (which includes the scientific), to determine your beliefs.

    Essentially, I’m allowing myself to say, “Life meaningless? The human race meaningless? Depression the foremost emotion of enlightened man? Surely this can’t be right!”

    You also said: “And its very self centred to think that this whole planet, this whole universe in fact has been put in place just for us, with our best interest at heart. Why are we so special and different from any other creature on this planet?”

    But we are special. That much is clear by simply looking at the wonder-of-wonders that is planet Earth, in comparison to the vast array of lifeless planets out there. This world and everything in it is literally screaming “You’re special!” in our faces every moment of every day. (Incidentally, I’m not saying there’s no other life out there. With billions of galaxies containing billions of stars, I would be crazy to deny it, but that’s another story.) And I wouldn’t presume to say that the consciousness of animals has no place after death. I simply don’t know, and I’m open to the possibility of it.

    If ultimate meaning in the universe does not centre around the intelligent life in it, what does it centre on? The spinning of unconscious planets around stars, and stars around galaxies? I think not. We’re what it’s all about. Again, you have to allow yourself to make informed decisions about these things in the absense of evidence. When “evidence” (or its lack) is allowed to be the only decider of what constitutes reality, you can end up believing in absurdity – which is what athiesm reveals itself to be, when its implications are probed, as I have done.

  10. Phil Henry

    The carrot and the donkey seems perfectly relevant to me. I’ve been misunderstood if that isn’t clear. Your whole arguement seems to hinge on the fact that if there isn’t an afterlife, what’s the point of anything? I’m saying life is for living, not waiting.

    I don’t think there are degrees of oblivion, I think when we die, that’s it — lights out. I’ve come to terms with that. I don’t share your depression because I don’t think mortality is anything to be depressed about. I think wishing eternal life is unnatural and greedy. The fact that I’ve seen a ghost doesn’t contradict that belief, but merely leaves me open to the possibility that there are things yet to be discovered. But I think anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen after death will soon be asking for your credit card number.

    You say you’ve explained the futility of being an atheist, but when I read it I just heard someone too scared to admit that reality is true. I’m sure you’ll disagree, but I didn’t find any of your points credible so there’s little point in me giving you examples you wouldn’t agree with either. You can’t ask me to explain the worth of humanity like it’s an equation to be solved. We’re as random and unpredictable as the choices made by blonde women. It’s the religious lot who believe every famine, flood, earthquake, rape and murder is necessary in the grand scheme of things. Atheists believe: Shit happens, if you’re lucky it won’t happen to you.

  11. Hi, Phil. You’re seeing fear in my post. I don’t think that’s correct. I lived the agnostic life several times, and for long periods – years at one point. The foremost emotion is gloom, not fear.

    Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m seeing an undercurrent of anger in your comments, and I’m baffled about where it’s coming from, especially since I’ve taken great pains to keep religion out of the post. You keep bringing religious issues into it, and voicing criticism of religious people, which is totally irrelevant to the issue under discussion, the very non-threatening question: Does our consciousness survive death, or does it snuff out? And what are the implications of both?

    If I’m following a carrot, what is that carrot? Because I’m blind to it. I’m just a guy who’s rejoicing about the fact that he’s finally managed to see through the fog and come to the understanding that he (and everyone else) matters.

    You said: “You can’t ask me to explain the worth of humanity like it’s an equation to be solved.”

    Why not? I did. I took athiesm to its logical conclusion: oblivion for the human race. Ergo, we have no meaning.

    I’m actually fascinated by why you’re so anti-life-after-death. Is it perhaps because you see it inextricably linked to Christianity, something that I know from our previous chats that you had some serious problems with in the past, due to some “Christians” who were very bad examples? Bear in mind, it is possible to believe in life after death without embracing Christianity.

    I doubt I could ever believe in athiesm, but in the absense of Christianity, I would have to believe in the idea that there is some force behind the universe to which we are connected – something that infuses the universe and everything in it with an ultimate purpose, something that embraces our consciousness. It sounds a little wacky, but if you look closely, I’m just characterising the main ideas that need to be present for the human race to have meaning.

  12. Hi, Phil. I was re-reading your comment, and a light just went on in my brain. I finally get what you mean by “carrot and donkey.” You’re saying that an unhealthy fixation with the future is what causes the depression I spoke of. I should be thinking only about the here and now, and living for the here and now, instead of letting life pass me by.

    Essentially, you’re saying that a man should not contemplate his ultimate fate. And that this contemplation actually prevents him from taking each day as it comes and living in the moment. But is that really true? I feel very connected to my present experience.

    People who are donkeys following carrots are those who are constantly planning for the future and never taking time to enjoy the present that is given to them. What they’re looking for is always future, and since the future is always future, they never actually get there. But that isn’t me.

    What you read in my original post was a man struggling to enjoy a ride in the countryside (living in the present), but being prevented from doing so by the knowledge he possesses, unable to return to a childlike view of the world because he’s already crossed the bridge in his understanding.

    You’re suggesting that I’m wrong to contemplate these things. An attitude of “Don’t think about it, because the future reality is too terrible to contemplate. Stay with the now.” It sounds to me like you’re using that excuse to quell the depression that comes with the athiest reality. The fear that you accuse me of is exactly what I’m seeing behind your comments.

    You wouldn’t, after all, accuse me of following a carrot if sacrificed the present for a while by writing a novel, always looking forward to the future day when I release it to the public.

    But if there’s something horrible in the future, like death, and I want to invest some time understanding it – oh, suddenly I’m a donkey following a carrot.

  13. Earl

    In this debate, it has been suggested that religious people only behave in a particular way because they are motivated by a reward (carrot), but surely there are other reasons, too, such as doing what is right because one concurs that this action is right. In such cases, one does something not for a reward in the hereafter, but because they deem the behaviour to be right in the here and now.

  14. Interesting debate here.

    My own personal opinion on the “life after death” question is that there is life after death, but it’s not ours – it’s our children’s. The meaning of life? More life. We’re here in order to make more of us, so that our DNA can carry on in other people – small parts of us that will go on for as long as our descendants continue to reproduce… I don’t think I personally will exist after my death – but my children will, and that’s great. Certainly not depressing or gloomy, not to me, anyway. I love life, and I’m enjoying every minute of it; I’m sure my children and their descendants will enjoy it for me when I’m gone.

    To those who believe they will live on after their physical body dies – which part of you will continue? We change continually through our lives, and small changes in the brain (strokes, disease etc) can cause radical personality shifts. So if it’s some part that’s entirely separate from your body, can it really said to be “you” that’s carrying on? If it is your “soul”, your “spirit”, well could that not be said to be living on in your children anyway? Why look for something else..?

  15. Hi, Henry.

    There are aspects of what you say that are true and profound. I saw the same thing on my mother’s face when she was dying on cancer – the satisfaction that she had because she knew she had set me up for life with a house of my own to live in. I wrote about this kind of thing in Chion – the idea that our love for another person can be so strong that they become all that matters, not ourselves, and in grasping that love you let go of your need to live forever.

    But let me take the reasoning a little further. If you cannot find genuine worth in and of yourself, how can you say that worth exist in another? After all, they’re also going to die … just later. It’s the same problem of human life having no significance, except you’ve placed a filter in front of it, a filter that works to dispell the depressing reality underneath.

    In the last months of my mother’s life, as well as seeing that satisfaction, there were times when she was overwhelmed and had to cry – cracks in the filter, if you like.

    All I’m hearing from the athiest/agnostic responses here is that mortality is enough, but what I’m getting from my own experience, and the experience of having watched a person go through the final months of their life, is that mortality is not enough. There’s a flat denial going on here that humans don’t possess a hunger for significance, when I know quite well they do.

  16. Phil Henry

    Mother: He’s stopped doing his homework because of something he read.
    Doctor: What’s that?
    Alvy: The universe is expanding.
    Doctor: That’s right.
    Alvy: Well if the universe is expanding one day it’s just going to rip apart.
    Mother: How is that your business? You have to do your homework!
    Alvy: What’s the point?

    This is a quote from Annie Hall and I think the young depressed Alvy is making the same point you are. The anger you sense is because of a) you’re saying because you were depressed when you were an atheist, everyone must be, and b) your own fear of death has forced you to enter into a belief system that gives you a get out of death free card.

    You’re obsessed with this idea that a life without an afterlife has no meaning. What about Einstein, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Newton, or even Jesus himself, did these peoples’ lives have no meaning? We aren’t privvy to what happened to thier consciousness after they died, all we have to judge them by is their actions while they were alive. Their lives resonate and inspire others. Even if you agree with this, you also seem annoyed that in billions of years time the planet will cease to exist! Don’t you see an absurd arrogance in your bid for eternal life?

    I’m not saying man shouldn’t contemplate his own fate. Sure, contemplate it, and when you realise your time is finite, use it to do what you really want to do (the good job vs. crap job for instance). Another movie quote:

    Harry: Do you think about death?
    Sally: Sure.
    Harry: Yeah, right. a passing thought. I spend days thinking about it, weeks!
    Sally: And you think this makes you a better person?
    Harry: When I start a new book I read the last page first, just in case I die before I finish it.

    This is from When Harry Met Sally… and this scene is meant to show Harry’s depressive and egocentric personality. It doesn’t bring him happiness, he just spends so much time thinking about death, he forgets to live.

    I’m not saying don’t think about the ‘terrible’ reality of death, because it isn’t terrible — it just is what it is. The notion of an all-protecting father figure who will never die and will stop us from ever dying is a lot more childlike than the reality of mortality. In your closing you call death ‘horrible’ like it’s something best avoided. Don’t you see how filled with fear that statement is?

    I’m not anti-afterlife, like I said before I have an open mind about it, but what really annoys me are the people who waste this life because they’re convinced a bigger, shinier life with go-faster stripes awaits them. If there were a God, I don’t think he intended us to treat the Earth as a waiting room.

    I agree with Henry Burrows; what you leave behind is your legacy, whether it be novels, music, children or just a good example of a life well lived. That’s enough for most people, I don’t know why it isn’t for you.

  17. Hi, Phil.

    Time to go on the defensive:

    You accuse me of obsessing …

    I’m not obsessed about anything. I simply will not let go of a conclusion I’ve reached by process of reasoning, when I think the opposing argument is wrong.

    You accuse me of being motivated by fear …

    Again you ignore the fact that I’ve been an agnostic for long periods, living not with fear foremost, but with gloom. My belief in the afterlife is based on the absurdity of life being meaningless, not fear of death. Whether I believe in an afterlife or not, death is pretty scary. As the greatest mystery, it has every right to inspire that feeling. But fear of it is not what changed my mind.

    You accuse me of being arrogant …

    I dare to reflect on humanity’s ultimate destination, and I allow the answer to affect me instead of burying my head in the sand, and that makes me arrogant, apparently.

    You accuse me of waiting instead of living …

    I believe that everything we do in the here and now is important. Our consciousness is on a journey, here and in the next life. Everything matters.

    As for your anger at my insistence that the philosophy of athiesm causes depression, I stand by it. I remember all too well the vague feelings of gloom, the irritating sense of time ticking away, the feelings of urgency that something you want to hold on to very badly is slipping away, the obsession with holding onto as much life as you can for as long as possible, worry that your time may be shortened by accident, illness, or countless other factors determining your longevity. That’s no way to live.

    But you’ll say, “That’s just you, Darryl. Athiests don’t have to view their lives in those same terms.” I say: “Sweep away the delusions and you do.”

  18. Phil Henry

    We’re never going to agree on this.

    What you call reasoning, I think is laughable logic. I think the idea that all the horrible things that happen in the world are necessary in the grand scheme is a lot more absurd than the finality of death.

    You think I’m deluded, and I think you are. I think most religions are based on this reward system (that old carrot again) that takes focus off the here and now.

    Let’s try this hypothetical situation:

    There IS a God.
    He wants you to live by the laws He has laid down in the Bible.
    BUT, there is NO eternal life as a reward. The greatest saint is worm-food at exactly the same time as the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of this world.

    Are you still a Christian? Think about it and be honest.

  19. I don’t believe all the horrible things that happen in the world are necessary, either, and I’m baffled why you automatically think I would believe that.

    Your hypothetical situation: Are you saying, would I follow Christian morality, if there wasn’t a hereafter? Yes, absolutely. Because I care about what’s right, and I’m impressed with Christian morality, God or no God. I’m not following a carrot. Here’s an excerpt from a much earlier post, “What I learned from being an agnostic“:

    “Another thing that would not sit right with me as an agnostic was that popular opinion told me I should side with the pro-choicers and the gay rights people. Looking around me, it seems to be fairly constant that if you’re an atheist you’re pro-choice and if you’re a Christian you’re pro-life. Likewise with homosexuality. It’s beyond the scope of this article for me to go into any kind of debate on those issues. Suffice it to say that here I was as a lonely agnostic, still believing that the Christians had got it right.”

    The fundamental reason I believe in an afterlife is not reward; it’s significance. But no matter what I say, you seem determined to skew my observations into the mould of a carrot-following, reward-seeking religious person.

    Ultimately, you believe it doesn’t matter that the human race is doomed, whereas I believe it does. It’s your right to believe that, but it’s not a belief that I can accept.

  20. Phil Henry

    The grand plan defense is something I’ve heard from ‘Christians’ (those quotation marks are for you) my whole life when something awful happens. “God has a plan”, “God only gives you what He knows you can deal with” and similar platitudes. It’s the usual defense, though if you don’t subscribe to it, then why do all those things happen? Even science has a version of this dogma, when you look at how many technological developments came out of wars, I can see their thinking, even if I think the planet would be a lot better off if we were still using bows and arrows.

    I just can’t wrap my head around your idea of ‘significance’. If the human race doesn’t live forever, then nothing we ever did was significant? That’s a bizarre notion! Life is a journey, not a destination.

    OK, what if we do live forever, what extra signifcance does the accomplishments of man take on? Do we all just sit around talking about how great we were to invent Sky+ or Dyson vacuum cleaners, or mobile phones? Surely in an afterlife none of that stuff is going to matter anyway. All that stuff will be even more insignificant with eternity ahead of us. So if you want to talk about significance, eternity will make the last 100 million years seem as relevant as Betamax tapes.

    The human race is doomed? It may very well be, and my guess is it will be by our own hand. We’ll either blow ourselves up or wreck this planet to the point where it’s uninhabitable. There’s not much I can do about that, but convincing myself I’ve got a magic escape pod isn’t the answer.

    Death is a fact of life. Once accepted, no longer feared.

  21. mike q

    Thanks for this debate Darryl, it’s really opened my eyes about my belief. I’ve finally got what you were saying about the burden of proof, and thus I shall remove it from my thinking from now on.
    So without needing proof, or lack of it to determine what I think i’ve come to this conclusion. On my side, maybe the athiest side, I believe that we are animals, highly evolved and with that deppressing self awareness of our own mortality, but animals non the less. And on your side with the belief that we are here for a purpose, and with a plan set out for us.

    And your basic premise would be how depressing it is to be on my side, now I can agree, that the notion of a life that ends in death and all our past dies with it is quite a depressing thought, but only if you let it be. If that’s how you felt when being an athiest you can’t say all athiests feel that way, because I certanly do not.
    I would say I live my life with as much hope, honesty, love, kindness as you would. In fact maybe more. Because if I believe that this life is it. Then I will make sure I do my best to make it as full a life as possible, where you may live your life to be fullfiling, but maybe not to quite the same extent because you excpect something more aferwards.

  22. My pleasure, Mike. It’s good for me, too. Puts my own assertions under great scrutiny.

    “now I can agree, that the notion of a life that ends in death and all our past dies with it is quite a depressing thought, but only if you let it be.”

    It was always a gnawing thing for me. I would try very hard to enjoy the present, but often feel a creeping sense of emptiness that overshadowed pleasurable experiences. Any untainted joy I felt (and there was some, sure) was only available when I was able to forget the harsh reality or put filters in front of it.

    One interesting experiment might be to imagine a doctor telling you that you’ve got one year to live, and to imagine how that might affect your outlook, whether it would be just the same or whether you might start to feel some of that gloom I’m talking about.

  23. mike q

    I think if it did change my outlook it would be to one of hope, or wishfull thinking. Sure I’d be scared but I’d still be faced with the possibility of death being the end.

    Another thing I thought of regarding being depressed. I think it’s only from your view point can you say that my belief is depressing. In much the same way I could say your view point is deluded, but only from my view or beliefs.

  24. “Another thing I thought of regarding being depressed. I think it’s only from your view point can you say that my belief is depressing. In much the same way I could say your view point is deluded, but only from my view or beliefs.”

    Point of view is one thing, but remember there is ultimately an objective truth to be discovered. One is right and the other wrong. I’m fascinated, though, by why we veer to such opposite stances when faced with the same question.

    I’ve been re-reading the comments, and I think I’m starting to get a picture of why there’s such vast differing opinion about this. I think I have a fundamentally different view of what it means to be human than you, Phil, etc. (Remember what I said about questioning why we believe what we believe? Here I’m doing just that … )

    I get the impression that some of us look at the universe and see the human race as small and insignificant by comparison. This is the typical “science, and science alone, has all the answers” view held today. And those already locked into this view of the insignificance of man (probably most of us who were educated in the western world) look at someone like me who demands significance, and they say, “Such arrogance.”

    But what I suggest is this: Question your pre-supposition about man’s place in the universe, because that is what’s colouring your view of the afterlife question.

    I held the typical scientific view for a long time, and that’s why I lived with so much uncertainly about the God question for most of my life. But eventually that conditioning started to peel away. I believe I’m right to label it conditioning, because it’s something we imbibe without realising it’s there, e.g. “I believe science alone has the answers, but I don’t know why I believe science alone has the answers.” It used to disturb me that I knew I couldn’t prove God’s existence (on science’s terms), and it was a long time before I realised I didn’t have to prove God’s existence.

    We’ve all been educated to be little scientists, and the spiritual is dismissed as hocus pocus without proper consideration. Spiritual truth operates on a different playing field than “empirical evidence.” Notice that science will admit to the existence of the human consciousness, but it can’t explain it. And yet science still has the arrogance to put walls around our rationality and say, “You only get to look at it my way.” We’re not allowed to believe a thing because it “makes sense.” There has to be evidence we can touch and say, “That’s real.”

  25. One aspect of this debate that has been raised several times is the idea of significance through children, the next generation, etc. I truly think this is a smokescreen and I want to explain why.

    First, the belief contains the admission that you need to find meaning for yourself.

    Second, it admits there is no meaning in the value of your own life (because of mortality).

    Third, it discovers meaning through the abandoment of the self, in favour of love towards other people (conveniently ignoring the fact that those other lives have no intrinsic meaning, due to point 2).

    That is the smokescreen. If you don’t possess significance within your own “ego” (for want of a better word), neither does your progeny. But the reality of such a thing only ever hits home when a parent loses a child. Then the crushing reality behind the smokescreen has to be faced.

    We typically don’t dwell on our own death when we’re young. And when we’re old, we don’t have to face the death of our children, because they’re still relatively young. I’m all for peeling away both of those smokescreens and taking a good look at the depressing reality.

    But the alternative is so neat and beautiful, removing the absurdity of clinging to delusional hopes. We do have significance, both us and our children, because we are forever.

    Before I get flamed for all of the above, let me just say that I’ve been there. I’m talking from experience. As an agnostic, I pinned great significance on the privilege of teaching children at Clounagh School. The next generation meant everything to me. Or at least I thought it did. My opinion changed when some bad dentistry intoduced me to an entire year of unwavering toothache. Coping with it, I started to admit to myself how important I still was. The truth is that our progeny, the next generation, the ways we touch the world, and the things we leave behind when we die, all mean something. But no matter how much we think we’ve abolished the “self,” it is still there, crying out to matter. “I” matter, in and of myself. “You” matter, in and of yourself. And I sense that the closer we get to death, the more we will feel that.

  26. Score

    To summarize your main point, You realized you are going to die, you didn’t like it, so you decided not to believe it. That is just wish thinking of course, but wishing it doesn’t make it true.

    You also have ideas about proof that I don’t share. You want to believe in God, but you can’t prove God exists, so you decide that proof isn’t necessary. It is ironic that you talked about how easy atheism can be! The problem is that you are trying to convince others of your beliefs. It is one thing to believe something for yourself without proof, but you are publishing what you hope to be a persuasive argument. I am not persuaded by mere wish-thinking.

    It’s funny that you would go back to the 15th century, tell a scientist about radio waves and then suddenly expect the burden of proof for it to be on him. I think that 15th century scientists with his crude instruments might patiently remind you that you are the one making the claim. This 21st century man will remind you that radio waves can be demonstrated. To answer Chris, it would be an insufficient demonstration that merely involved taking a bunch of DJ’s and radio talk show hosts with you to the 15th century to agree with you when you make your radio wave claims.

  27. Hi, Score.

    “To summarise your main point, You realized you are going to die, you didn’t like it, so you decided not to believe it.”

    Nope. That’s not it at all. I would agree that’s a pretty poor reason for believing in life after death, purely emotional and not rational. Re-read what I’ve been saying more carefully.

    “You can’t prove God exists, so you decide that prove isn’t necessary. It is ironic that you talked about how easy athiesm can be!”

    Your statement reveals that you are yet another person who is detemined to see the debate as proof versus flying pigs. I did my best to describe how this kind of thinking puts your mind in a box. Your insistence on the “burden of proof” as the one and only means of determining what’s true is how you’ve been conditioned to think. So you won’t allow yourself to make deductions based on what you know about the inevitable extinction of the human race, because it’s a step outside the “evidence.”

    “It’s funny that you would go back to the 15th century, tell a scientist about radio waves and then suddenly expect the burden of proof to be on him.”

    Of course the burden of proof is not on him. The point was that the radio waves were real, regardless of his ability to detect them.

    So much of the negativity expressed here towards the idea of an afterlife is centred around this idea of “burden of proof.” When evidence is absent, we’re inclined to think, “That means it isn’t real.” Whereas our response should be, “I can’t tell if it’s real our not. Have I any other means of detemining that besides proof? For instance, what are the implications of it being real? What are the implications of it not being real?”

    Instead, the absense of proof is elevated to the point where we see that literally as evidence against.

    That’s why my illustration about the radio waves was a good one. They were real in spite of the scientist. An afterlife might be real in spite of the boxed-in thinking of athiests who refuse to use all their rationality.

  28. Whew, that was a lot to catch up on! But I’m glad I took the time. It helps to see where others are coming from.

    I think part of the confusion relies on identifying the essence of what makes mankind what it is. What makes something “real”. Science tends to eliminate one of the most essential parts of our being. The spirit. If you can’t see it, if you can’t feel it, if you can’t smell it, then it’s not real. Limiting the vastness of mankind to only the physical senses really robs us of our true potential.

    One might say, “well, I don’t have a spirit, so what you said is outside the picture.” I would argue that there is indeed evidence, and a whole lot of it.

    For example, there was talk about riding a bicycle and partaking of scenery. What part of you in the physical sense can enjoy this? Your eyes would just take in the scene as pigments, as an analytical impute into the brain. But where does that sense of awe and wonder come from? What is moved deep within one’s self when listening to a masterful piece of music? Looking at a painting? What proves love exists? Feelings? Physical actions? Is that all there is too it? Are we just a product of areas of our brain being triggered by remote stimuli? If so, then doesn’t morality have no bearing? Wouldn’t we just do what feels good regardless of what happens to our fellow man?

    Anyway, it seems to me that Darryl is simply challenging the area of exclusion within science. If we limit ourselves to only the physical and intellectual, then the spiritual is neglected. We burry a deep and central part of our existence by reasoning that there is nothing more than this.

    We have cravings for food, and thus we have food to eat. We crave sexual desire, and thus we have relationships. We require oxygen for our lungs, therefore the air is filled with it. We desire to be loved, therefore we have family and friends. So if there is an avenue for all our cravings, then how come there is no fulfillment for those who have spiritual ones? We’ve been trained to cover our spiritual cravings by trying to eliminate them from our diet, but deep down isn’t there a nagging voice saying, “Hey, you were made for something better”?

    Identifying what that “something” is, is a greater debate. But I think Darryl did a good job at proving the point that modernism has done a good job of removing some greater possibilities.

  29. Chris


    “To answer Chris, it would be an insufficient demonstration that merely involved taking a bunch of DJ’s and radio talk show hosts with you to the 15th century to agree with you when you make your radio wave claims.”

    Definitely. And I think a 15th century scientist would certainly reject such a demonstration as not validating my claim, for the minds of old were of better mettle than the mediocrities we have today.

    But I think the point you bring up is interesting, and it seems to lend weight to Darryl’s thesis of conditioning. The minds of men today are fashioned to think in a very limited scope when it comes to reasoning. If someone’s argument cannot be substantiated with rote and mechanical experimentation based on physical evidence, then the argument is invalid. While such a mindset is perfectly valid for advancing the physical sciences, it simply does not carry over into other realms of human endeavor and thought.

    If I understand him correctly, Darryl’s argument is that precisely this is how we have been conditioned to think about everything. The notion of Proof has been dogmatically defined so that physical criteria must be supplied for a mechanistic analysis to be carried out, and the conclusions used to substantiate a claim. What has been the knee-jerk reaction in the comments here with respect to the issue of whether or not there is an after-life? “Oh, well the burden of proof is on the after-life believer to provide evidence to substantiate his claim!”

    This is outright intellectual sloth. In what way is physical evidence to the claim necessary first in order to even consider the claim? Can the claim not be considered on its own merits? What gives you confidence that the insistence on physical evidence and verifiable experimentation is always and everywhere the correct approach?

    The existence of an after-life, of a God, is one to which mankind has devoted thousands of years of thought, yet you just right it all off as mere “wish-thinking”. Don’t you think you’re intellectually resting under the shadow of an idol, that your idea of proof is simply a crutch to help you avoid thinking entirely?

    I think Darryl has really hit the nail on the head with all his recent posts.

  30. Jake

    I watched a movie called Broken Flowers with Bill Murray recently. It had a line of dialogue in it towards the end, something to the effect of: “The past has gone, so there is no point dwelling on it, while the future is completely unknown, so there is no point fretting about what might come. All we really have is now. The moment. That’s all that is tangible.”

    I like this quote from that film. Too many people dwell on the past or fret about the future. Many religions are founded on fear about the afterlife. This is a man-made form of institutional control, used to indoctrinate their followers. You are sinful, guilty, they tell you. So you better start turning up on Sundays. Who are you telling me what I am or what I should do? You don’t speak for God, you’re a man, an institution.

    Existentialist pondering is, naturally, in man’s nature, but it is a pointless parade. What will happen, will happen. All we have is the here and now. Frankly, I don’t buy most religion’s version of God and the afterlife anyway. They say we will be judged on our beliefs, rather than our deeds, giving God human egocentric attributes. The Ancient Greeks did this too, but at least they had a bit of fun with it – Hades, Mount Olympus and all that stuff.

    Nah, if there is a God, and if he does judge, then it will be on our actions, not our beliefs. Many churches breed an insidious form of hate, bred from fear – ranging from homophobia to misogyny to outright violence against anyone different from their indoctrinated notion of what is “right”. They call this faith? Conversely, the atheists embroil themselves in a pointless, nihilistic pursuit, blinded to the miracle of life around them.

    Ultimately, none of us can prove or disprove anything when it comes to the future. Not even Mystic Meg. Let it go. Watch a sunset, spend time with a friend, take a walk in the countryside, rent a great movie, fall in love, do something kind for a stranger, live a good life, don’t succumb to fear. Open your eyes.

    And all the God and all the afterlife you want will be right there in front of you.

  31. “The past has gone, so there is no point dwelling on it, while the future is completely unknown, so there is no point fretting about what might come. All we really have is now. The moment. That’s all that is tangible.”

    I just want to comment on the quote, as this thread is getting away from the original debate.

    No offence intended, but that’s an ignorant statement if you ask me. Forget the past? How can we consider ourselves as a people that has evolved if we ignore what history has taught us? If everyone chucked the past out the door, then all we are going to do is revisit the same mistakes over and over and over again.

  32. Hi, Jake.

    You said a lot of stuff, and there’s some of it I agree with, like your points on indoctrination. Aside from that, I want to dwell on one thing …

    “Existential pondering is, naturally, in man’s nature, but it is a pointless parade.”

    This statement reveals you to be someone who has given up the quest. You’re a victim of the “burden of proof” mentality who has decided it’s impossible to figure out an answer to the big question of what happens when you die. Your mind is boxed in, and in that state you give up, which is all you can do, faced with the need for evidence and the lack of any forthcoming. You’ve been conditioned to think like that, just like the rest of us. Time to wake up.

    “What will happen will happen. All we have is the here and now.”

    Yes, the present is vitally important. Always pursuing what’s around the corner means you never actually live. But give a man nothing to look forward to and his present may be a very different experience than it is for someone who does have something to look forward to. Future outlook defines present experience.

    So is it really pointless to think about the future? Of course not. It’s vital!

  33. Chris


    It sounds a lot like you’ve accepted a position that’s akin to some sort of self-affirmed mystical Materialism (I mean philosophical Materialism, not the unbridled accumulation of things). You back yourself up with a bunch of old wives’ tales about religion, then you write off atheism as “a pointless, nihilistic pursuit”, and conclude by throwing up your hands in defeat saying “none of us can prove of disprove anything when it comes to the future” and then sit back and enjoy the sunset, content that you have your head straight about life, religion, etc..

    It would seem that you’ve bought into a series of commonly heard propositions without really thinking them through, and you are now happy to live under an idol.

    Consider your statement:

    “[Most religions] … say we will be judged on our beliefs, rather than our deeds”

    I’m sure you had in mind Christianity here, given your preceding remark about “turning up on Sundays”. I know for a fact that you are not speaking from an educated, researched position, but are merely parroting commonly believed lies. How do I know this? Consider these quotes from the Bible:

    “You will be judged according to your conduct and your actions, declares the Sovereign LORD.” Ezekiel 24:14

    “Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” Proverbs 24:12

    “He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.” Job 34:11

    “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” Psalm 62:12

    “According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.” Isaiah 59:18

    “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:27

    “…those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:29

    “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.” Revelation 20:13

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    1059 “The holy Roman Church firmly believes and confesses that on the Day of Judgment all men will appear in their own bodies before Christ’s tribunal to render an account of their own deeds” (Council of Lyons II [1274]:DS 859; cf. DS 1549).”

    However, all of this is not to say that faith bears no consequence in the matter. Indeed it does, very much so. I’m merely presenting evidence to try to wake you up to the fact that, as Darryl put it, the conditioning of your mind is preventing you from thinking clearly, or perhaps even thinking at all…

  34. Earl


    What it appears you are saying is that man should reason in more than one way, and that conditioning has forced us into reasoning in a single way: that of determining something, everything, based solely on empirical evidence. Surely there are other perfectly legitimate ways of reasoning that man has developed and used over the ages, and should we utterly dismiss these out of hand. Ultimately, should we not apply more than one type of reasoning in our quest to find answers?

  35. Jake

    Death is like a present, sitting under the Christmas tree. No matter how much you ponder, philosophise and inspect the wrapping, you’re not going to find out what’s in there until you open it. People who devote their lives trying to figure out what’s in the box have, in fact, given up the quest. It’s all a bit “Flatliners” really.

    It’s ironic, given the Christmas present analogy, but children don’t spend their waking hours pondering about what happens to them when they get old and die. It’s all a million miles away. They get on with the business of living. It’s like that saying: There are no religious children, just children of religious parents.

    Likewise, you will have the rest of eternity to explore your gift. Relax and stop torturing yourself about it. If you’re a good person, living your life without hurting others, then it will all work out okay.

    I am neither a victim, Darryl, nor have I given up the quest. I simply believe that life itself is such a miracle and a joy, and there is so much spiritual satisfaction to be found in the moment, that these ponderances blindside you. You are staring off into the distance, living your life in “anticipation”, when what you are seeking is right beside you. Whether you are an athiest, conditioned by scientists, or a Christian, conditioned by an institution, it is terribly easy to miss the big picture.

    And jMaxon, yes I believe in evolution and mankind learning from history. We owe it to the people who came before us to educate ourselves (would heartily advise you to visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem). But that’s a different discussion entirely! The “dwelling in the past” quote was in regard to people who give up on life spiritually.

  36. Hi, Jake.

    I think you’re misinterpreting the debate. What we’ve got in the room are a few people who are pretty sure there’s something after death, and a few people who are pretty sure there’s nothing after death. And we’re getting to the bottom of why we believe so strongly one way or the other. And it’s interesting as hell.

    You came along and told us to stop wasting our time, suggesting that we switch off our minds because there’s nothing to be learned on the topic.

    So we should abandon any further philosophic thought about death, regardless of what it might reveal. We should never investigate the claims made by people who have had near-death experiences, to see if there is any validity. We should automatically abandon hope that religion has any insight into the matter.

    To decide that something is not worth investigating is the definition of a closed mind, Jake. You personally may have thought long and hard and reached your own conclusion. Allow us the same right. You shouldn’t come in and tell us to stop thinking.

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