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Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Atheist Afterlife

Religions tell us that an afterlife awaits us after death - an afterlife which we will enter as individuals, as the people we currently are. From the standpoint of continuation versus ending, many religious people look at atheists with pity: it must be terrible, or so they think, to believe that you just... end.

Of course many atheists believe nothing of the sort. Far from despairing over the end of their individual beings that comes with death, many atheists derive joy from the simple scientifically based knowledge that, as their individual being disintegrates with the dead brain tissue, they remain vibrantly present as part of the boundless living world, not the dead world of heaven, hell and the afterlife.

Our brains die and disintegrate - but our minds and spirits live on, quite independently from our individual entities. Each time we meet another person, each time we speak or write or smile at a passer-by or give a bank teller a dirty look, we contribute to the body of human consciousness. Famous people are the most obvious examples of immortality of the human mind - but one doesn't have to be famous. We are all products of our history, as individuals and as a society on the whole; and our history is comprised of all the people who have ever lived. Through us, their consciousness, the product of their now dead brains, is as alive as it ever was in their lifetimes.

This immortality of mind goes not only beyond famous people, but beyond recorded history. The thoughts and beliefs of people living during recorded history were based on the thoughts and beliefs of their ancestors; the fact that they were never written down makes them no less a part of our shared body of consciousness in the 21st century.

The bottom line is, whether we publish books and make discoveries that revolutionize our descendants' world, or whether we simply interact with people in our daily lives, the bits and pieces of what we think and feel, by way of influencing the people around us, will live on in them, their children, their grandchildren, and so forth - even if none of them ever learn our name. The very act of our being makes us forever part of the body of human consciousness.

As with our minds, so with our bodies. As the structural integrity of our bodies falls apart in the grave, our bodies don't disappear - on the contrary, they spread across the world, becoming an integral part of more places than we could ever hope to visit while alive. As our individual being rots in the earth, it feeds the bugs who feed the birds; it feeds the flowers that feed the bees, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The bees and birds carry bits and pieces of our bodies, dropping seeds and pollinating flowers - and next thing, our bodies are feeding humans halfway across the world, becoming parts of their bodies just like our ancestors fed us and became parts of our bodies. Humans who were alive millennia ago are still around today, giving us life as part of the neverending food chain; and we will be around millennia from now, becoming flowers and bees and fruits and people and earth over and over and over again.


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