Question from Sarah:
We all have to go somewhere or will happen to us when we die. If you do not think or believe in God or heaven where do you think you will go or what will happen to you when you die?
Question from Jessie:
What are you living for if nothing happens after you die?
Question from Rachel:
I know you don’t acknowledge a God, but do you believe that we have a soul or that there is some sort of afterlife?
Question from Emily:
What do you believe will happen to your soul after you die? Christians believe that we have a purpose beyond death and that our souls will be in heaven. If you’re not going anywhere but the ground what comfort can you or your family find in death?
Question from Elizabeth:
Where do you think that you’ll go after you die?
Question from Brooke:
What makes you think that God doesn`t exist, and if he doesn`t what comes next? What is there to live for?
Question from Heather:
I know you do not believe in heaven or hell, but where do you believe your soul goes after you die?
Answer by SmartLX:
Looking again at this sudden deluge of questions, I notice they all arrived within ten minutes of each other, so I reckon the questioners are in a group somewhere. Welcome to you all, and I’ll get to everyone before too long.
I’ve answered the main thrust of the above questions once before in Death: Just Curious, but as I’ve said I’m happy to retread old ground for newcomers. (Brooke, for the first part of your question, see the post immediately before this one.)
An afterlife would require something of a person’s identity, mind, memory and so forth to persist after death. All evidence indicates that these things operate entirely within the physical brain, which is completely irreparable mere minutes after it loses its supply of oxygen from the bloodstream. Even while people live, physical damage to the brain can rob them of their memories, drastically change their personalities or turn them into complete “vegetables”. A “person” does not appear to be a separate entity from the tissue and bio-electrical activity in his or her head, as suggested by the concept of a soul, so there’s no good reason to believe in souls.
That said, I have heard from a few atheists who believe in an afterlife and even in ghosts (as you can see here, on the old archive). This is not a contradiction as their explanations do not require the existence of gods; they tend to focus more around energy. I say to them just what I say to others: present the evidence.
I’ve just said that there’s no good reason to believe in souls. A not-terribly-good reason to believe in them would be that if they don’t exist, there is no comfort to take from death or nothing to live for. Even if both were true (and I’ll get to them presently), you would be reasoning that souls are real because it would be better if they were real. This is wishful thinking, and it has no power to determine what really is or isn’t. Formally, it’s known as an appeal to consequences and is recognised as a logical fallacy. More simply put, it just doesn’t follow. Fortunately, things aren’t quite so bleak.
Death is always a loss to the living. There can however be different sources of comfort in death, even tragic death, for those left behind. For those who willingly sacrificed themselves for noble causes, such as the lives of others, we can celebrate their bravery and selflessness even as we mourn. For those who led full lives, we can reflect on their legacies. For those who died with important work unfinished, we can take up a cause in their names. Most obviously, the deceased will no longer suffer whatever pain and anguish led up to their deaths, so at the very least there’s that. If horrible people die, people we wish had been punished more for their misdeeds, at least they can’t hurt anyone anymore.
As for why we would want to live if there’s no life after this, why wouldn’t we want to make the most of the one life we know we have? I’m sure you value this life too; Heaven is meant to be all that and a bag of chips, but are you all constantly wishing and hoping that any moment a car would kill you instantly and send you straight there (indicating that God’s plan had finished with you)? I doubt it. We all have things we want to do before we die – romance, kids, careers, travel, charity, art – and the possible existence of a subsequent (but likely very different) life doesn’t change that. Even the religious are in the dark about their gods’ supposed plans, so apart from doing their bit to propagate their religions, they choose their own purposes in life as well. Atheists just leave out the religious bits.
Question from Sarah: