Frigga asks: Death and The Afterlife-An Atheists Perspective

Frigga responded to my last call for a muse with a question….I thought it was broad enough to make a short post about, thanks Frigga for the inspiration!

Frigga says:

I’m curious what your thoughts are on Afterlife.  What do you think happens?  What do most atheists think happens?  What do your others readers think happens?  Do you believe in near death experiences?  How about ghosts?

when-death-comesThe afterlife is one of those things where I can definitively say I don’t have an answer…I can even definitively say that NO ONE has an answer…I just don’t think it is possible, but I have thought about it before…of course. When I was a Christian I would often ponder about heaven and just how close I could be to God if he would allow me, I was convinced that heaven was a reality and that my seeking God on earth would help me be closer to him one day. Now that I have rejected that view of life it feels kind of silly to think about heaven and hell…so I generally don’t.

In regards to death and the afterlife, the only thing I have to offer is speculation. I don’t have a belief about it because I just don’t think it would be prudent or provable, but I have a few ideas I would like to think could happen…but I won’t put any money on any of that.

For one, I have thought about reincarnation…or cycling through a new life at some point after death…maybe so- doesn’t seem likely to me though

Another thing I have pondered is that maybe some part of us lives on in some sort of consciousness and interacts with the people still here, until we can move on to something else later on…this might explain ghosts and such…Speaking of ghosts, I really don’t dismiss the entire idea like some might, I guess I have seen too many things to be the type to put a blanket on all paranormal activity as being mind trips. Ghosts could very well be real. Science knows all well that we don’t know everything there is to know about our existence, and the field of metaphysics is one that is slowly being approached, as quantum mechanics and physics become more well understood we will probably begin to see small insights into this stuff and maybe turn it into some sort of legitimate science.

As for what most other Atheists believe, I can’t really speak on their behalf, most of the Atheists I know are kinda quiet on the subject anyway, but most of us usually consider death to be the time in which we let our bodies rot in the ground and our consciousness with it and our brains. To be quite honest, this seems the most likely of all the possible scenarios to me, but I don’t mind exploring other lines of thought.

Near death experiences have been explained before though, when the brain begins shutting down the mind can take quite the trip, this explains most of what I have heard described as near death occurances pretty well. It’s all a dream, usually a dream that is structured behind a belief system…not a belief system structured around the dream.

The truth of the matter is though, in the end, we don’t know. We can’t know, and we can’t really ask any eyewitnesses either.

Readers: What do you think about all these things? Comment below. Mixx, Digg, and Stumble too!

  • Interesting Perspective!

  • Mike

    One of the aspects of this topic that frankly baffles most serious Christians (and even Jews, Muslims, etc.) is the fact that the concept of the afterlife is eternal as opposed to temporary – and that the short time we spend in this life seems like a vapor as opposed to the concept of eternity – so why wouldn’t everybody think a lot about it?

    As I’ve gotten older, it seems like time is picking up speed – I’ve heard the same from those older than me. I suppose as one gets older, it would make sense to think about the possibility more.

    To ignore its possibility and the belief that it represents so much more in magnitude than say a career – logic would dictate that one would explore all possible angles to discover its reality or not for an extended period of time before casting the notion aside – it is not logical to do so in light of the possible implications.

    Young people spend what seems like an eternity to them contemplating what college they will go to; what career path they will follow; what house and in what geography they will buy it; what person they will marry or not; if they will have kids – for what? 20, 30, or 50 years more of less of this lifetime? As much effort is put forward into those endeavors – wouldn’t it make sense to put forth decades worth of research, even if it were but a hobby part time, to discover the truth about the possibility of an eternal afterlife?

    This is the reason so many Christians/Jews/Muslims and others view those who don’t believe in a God as foolish, rather than wise (or Free Thinking) – the shadow of fear that it casts over humanity and the possibility that it exists far outweighs the simple dismissal of such a concept because it can’t be controlled, manipulated or any such thing by mankind.

    I have often contended with those who are simply going about their business as if they will never die. Many of the young never even ponder the possibility – then one day, bang, someone they know dies. And then we wonder; is it real, or what happened to my friend? Hmmmm, things that make us go hmmmm… 😉

    Not meaning to be too hard core here – just trying to represent what so many in the world think… MM

  • Fear of death and weather or not there is an afterlife was one of the things that used to make me pray at night. Eventually I realized the only reason I was praying was fear. I’d pray for my family to be safe because I was afraid to lose them. I’d pray so that maybe god would notice me and I wouldn’t wind up in hell. Not very good reasons to try to belong to a religion. LOL

    Now that I no longer follow any religion I look at death with a lot less fear. Probably because I no longer believe in hell.. I just figure that we’ll never know until we get there and there’s no point messing up the little time we have here on earth worrying about it when in the end we might just blank out and rot in the ground.

    I do believe some part of us stays. Weather it be a soul or just our energy I’m not sure of. Growing up where I have I’ve encountered many “ghosts” in my life. From my experience the most plausible explanation of them would be the theory that they are left over energy of peoples lives. Like a “memory” imprinted in that spot. For example there is one ghost here that walks out of the room down the hall, walks down the hallways opens my door and then disapears. Every time it’s been seen by multiple it’s done exactly the same thing. It’s like a memory repeating over and over and sometimes we see it.

  • Eric Soto

    I still believe in being in unity with God, heaven, when I die because I trusted in His sons sacrifice

    and I believe most, if not all, will make that decision in the afterlife if not here

  • I wonder if the reason people don’t contemplate death is because it seems so surreal to them. I, for one, have never lost anyone close to me so for me to try to understand how I would cope with that – is virtually impossible, let alone contemplating my own death. However, I’m just curious to know how one copes with death with absolutely no hope? Matt, just to make this hit home for you, if you’re still alive when you’re wife dies – don’t you think that will have a profound effect on your life? I mean, do you really think life will be hunky dory after that just thinkin’ “yep, there she is rottin’ in the ground.” I’m just using your own words here to make a point and I’m not trying to be disrespectful to you or your wife – in fact, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t think that at all but I’m guessing her loss would devastate you. As a husband and a father of 2 kids, I’ve had the thought before “what would happen if my whole family died in a car crash today?” I don’t obsess over it – it doesn’t occupy my every thought, but the reality is I have no idea when death is coming for any of them (or myself, for that matter). While I can only imagine the gut wrenching pain I’d be in if that were to happen to my family, I’d imagine it would put me in a mental institution to cope with that kind of loss with absolutely no hope – “sorry, they’re just dead.” But instead, I have God’s promise that in Christ, their names have been written in the Book of Life. Instead, I have the assurance that one day I will see them again. So even if my family dies before me, I know without a doubt where they’d be going. I’m guessing it would still be more painful and difficult than I can possibly imagine, but without the assurance and promise of eternal life in Christ – to just think they’re “gone” – I imagine THAT would be totally unbearable.

    Can I prove any of that? Have I ever been to heaven? Do I have a video I can show you or pictures of me hanging out there? Can I come up with a test in a lab to give irrefutable support? No. No. No. And No. But I still believe it to be true. So why – why when I believe in a God who loves me, forgives me, saves me, and wants me to live with Him forever – why when at the same time I still try to make the most of this life and do the best I can – why that makes me such a bad person – why that means I’m “missing out” – I still don’t understand and probably never will. And really, if there’s nothing left after this life – no accountability, no moving on, no nothing – what does it really matter if I’ve missed something anyway? I mean, in your view the end result is that I probably just end up in the ground rotting like you, so what does it really matter?

    You and I have had the “let’s compare lives” discussion quite a bit, and I still see no difference in our lives here and now – we’re both trying to do the best we can, make an impact, help others, we’re both imperfect, we both like LOST, etc, etc. – the only difference I see is that I believe in an eternal life because of God’s promise and you don’t. Aside from that major point, I really can’t find that much different with between us. So given that choice, I’m perfectly content to stay where I am.

    Finally, and this perhaps a bit off topic, but a friend of mine made this post on his blog a couple of years ago and I just thought I’d throw it out there. http://joeburnham.com/community/2007/04/27/atheists-and-purpose

    • Matt

      @ Russ:

      No offense taken…with regards to the wife comment…I have lost people in my life before and I know that in the near future I will lose more- The thought of someone just rotting in the ground doesn’t impact me in any negative way though, Just because you want things to continue after this life doesn’t make it so – and I can’t just force myself to believe in something if I truly do not. So, when my wife dies, if she precedes me, yes I would be in a severe amount of pain – but the idea of heaven wouldn’t replace her presence here and now, and I wish I could believe that she was going to be somewhere waiting on me to join her, but I can’t know it and as far as I can see it is unlikely. We are animals, and unless you want to think that every animal that has ever passed away is moving on to some spirit world, there is no reason to believe we should cease to exist in any way different than they would.

      and yes, we have compared lives over and over…even by your standards im a pretty decent guy—i still have all those notches on my belt also–you know, from the people I brought into the faith—so I might even have a one up on you by a few saved souls! (haha, what a thought). My only contention with your life is that you live for something that requires faith to live for –to me there is a potential there in your passion that is being unfulfilled because the thing you live for, christ, is a centuries old lie–just as I lived for it. I know we have tried to determine what I live for before, and other atheists as well, and I have told you before that I am still working on figuring that part out., I have desires and hopes and dreams about the things I would like to do with my life, but it takes time and reason to be able to process a method by which I can do that in the BEST and safest way…especially removing God from an equation that I thought required him at one time. I will get there though.

      In the end, you and I will both rot in the ground—you just have a hairs chance according to YHWH and Y’shua to get into heaven by THEIR STANDARDS…and I don’t. What if YHWH’s brother is the God you should be worshipping though, and he is pissed because you chose his brother over him…your result is punishment from him, what if Zoroaster was right and Ahura Mazda is counting down the days to start freezing your balls off (well, you do live in a frozen tundra, but you get my drift)–that hairs chance you have of being right is not something I am willing to put all my faith in…I would be safer playing Russian Roulette with a full revolver.

      reading your friends blog now btw

  • Growing up, I believed that there was a God and Devil etc.

    Now I tend to follow the same thoughts as you Rev; I find that a (supposedly) loving God would not permit the senseless slaughter of millions all over the world without some form of retribution.

    How could he allow the Holocaust to take place, how could he allow the slaughter of the Palestinians, how could the little girl in Melbourne yesterday be allowed to be thrown off a bridge to her death some 60m below by her Father?

    No, I don’t believe in God or the Devil; I believe that we make our own choices in life and when I die I will find out the truth one way or another.

    I do believe in ghosts and will admit that before I die, I want to participate in a seance to see if there really is an “other side” but this is just me and it isn’t for everyone.

    On a closing note; history is a great teacher. Every war that has ever been fought has been caused by one of two (or more recently, three) things:

    Politics
    Religion
    Oil

    I think there’s something in that for all of us…

  • @Andrew – Sorry, but I don’t know that we do have the same thoughts here because while I don’t fully understand God’s ways, I really don’t have a problem with God “allowing” bad things to happen. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t loving; it means that we live in a world plagued by the problem of sin and as a result, tragedy happens. God’s love is shown to you and me in Jesus Christ – that while we were still sinners Christ died for you, me and everyone else to forgive our sins and secure for us eternal life. If I based God’s love for me wholly on the things of this world – I’d always be let down.

    @Matt – I appreciate that we can have an open dialogue like this. However, your last paragraph is what really confuses me – especially your last conclusion – that by believing in Christ I’m somehow putting my life at risk. From a purely pragmatic view, it actually seems like I’m in a better position. If I’m wrong, I’m where you’re at anyway. What have I really lost besides this supposed “freedom” you still haven’t defined for me? However, if I’m right (which of course, I believe I am – not being arrogant, but if I didn’t think that I should really find a different job) – then there’s a lot more at stake. And again, Matt, there is still a chance for you to have eternal life. Just because you’ve rejected it doesn’t make it go away. God still loves you. Christ still died for you. You still have a place waiting for you in heaven. To turn your phrase back at you, just because you don’t believe it doesn’t make it so. Sadly yes, I believe that if you die in your state of unbelief you will not join me and the other Christians in paradise , but I also believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Which is in part my hope through these conversations. But again, I can’t force anything on you just as you can’t on me, so I’ll just keep conversing, try not to be a total jerk along the way, and pray that somewhere along the way that wall that’s been built up against God will break down.

    As for the whole being “animals” thing, yes – we can be classified as “mammals” but we are by no means “just the same.” You remember of course that my beliefs are founded on Scripture, with which I know you are familiar, and according to the creation account (which again, I fully believe and yes – I am a YEC – perish the thought), we are God’s crowning creation – we were created in His image (which was later distorted in us through the fall) and we were placed here to be in a loving relationship with God. We were put here to be stewards, take care of this planet – the animals and environment. So today, as Christians, I think we should be the foremost environmentalists – we should make the best of this life. But we never elevate the creation (even including ourselves) above the creator. At any rate, I don’t believe that animals have souls or go to heaven. I believe that animals will be in the new creation, but not in the same way God’s children will. I could flesh some of this out more, but here is not really the place. Maybe I’ll blog about it myself.

    Anyway, interesting post. Just thought I’d share those thoughts.

  • Mike

    Hi folks, great discussion,

    Jesus actually shared the story of a situation where a beggar and a rich man both died. The beggar went to paradise, the rich man to hell. The rich man lifted up his voice and asked God to send messengers from the afterlife to preach to his brothers so they wouldn’t end up where he was – he was denied and Jesus made a very good point by the way – the truth is – drum roll – even if I were to send them messengers, they would not believe them – this is the condition of fallen man.

    By the way, the Bible also says that ‘Proverbs 7:1 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

    So those of you who were praying and believing based on fear, I have a question. Now that you aren’t, how do you cope with your fears? Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. And lets face it, we all have some of it in our lives? Do you just ignore the factors that caused it and pretend that they aren’t there? If so, is that really a smart position? Just wondering.

    I grew up in a few haunted houses. After I met Jesus, I learned that they are simply demons. In some rare cases Angels – they both exist and interact with humanity – IMHO of course. They used to scare the daylights out of me as a kid – after Jesus, I now control them by the virtue embodied in the authority of his name. Its a pretty cool experience to have one show up and try to scare me and then I turn it around on them and scare them back into outer darkness. Really cool, I’ll tell ya!

    I really miss my son, even though I know where he is. I don’t take lightly the concept of losing a loved one, especially a child. Having experienced it, it truly changes your life… Just a thought… MM

  • @Mike – thanks for your thoughts. I hope it didn’t seem like I was taking the loss of loved ones lightly. On the contrary, I was trying to make the point that it must be extremely difficult, even as a Christian (and again, I’m not speaking from personal experience) and I can’t imagine how much worse it would be with no hope. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure I was clear on that.

  • The bottom line will always boil down to faith.

    You either have faith in your “Faith”. Or you have faith in your lack of it.

    You begin and end this life with one possession that is yours alone to do with as you will, and to live with the reactions from your actions…

    Freewill.

    What you do with it, dictates what it will do to you.

    “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

    I may not be under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trial, but either way it’s win/win for me as well.

  • Mike

    Hi RevRuss, no need to check yourself on my behalf my brother – I appreciate your input and it is valid. It is very tough; without hope I have only to look at how my wife responded – apparently she lost hers after my son’s death, so you’re right on that one. She has been drowning her sorrows with drugs and drink excessively ever since – my heart just really goes out to her – but it brings up another question really – how does it effect married couples and can we really know how the other person would respond to a close death in the family..?

    Heresy today, hey, that was pretty darn good. I liked that – hope you don’t mind if I steal it for some other things I’m working on…

    Matt, did I mention – YOU ROCK DUDE! Thanks… MM

  • @Mike…

    Feel free to steal away! There is no ©Copyright on the truth, so it is free to pass along…

    I would say “Give attribution to the author” for it, but that would start a whole new discussion if I told you who the author of what I sad was. LOL

    So just consider my words “public domain”. 🙂

  • The whole near-death experience thing is the subject of an article I recently read in Science News. Researchers have seen that there is a greater likelihood of people having one of those white light experiences if they have had the physical experience in their lives of waking up before their body. Normally our bodies are “paralyzed” during sleep so we can’t act out our dreams, it’s a problem if that doesn’t happen. But there’s also the situation for some people (and this has happened to me often) where your mind wakes up, you expect to get up but your body isn’t ‘connected’ yet. Horrifying feeling! People I told insisted that I really wasn’t awake yet, just dreaming I was, but I was awake. Now scientists are seeing that people who have this happen are more likely to experience the whole tunnel and white-light phenomenon. I hope if I survive a close call that my brain is hooked up to add to the research.

  • It’s interesting that this beautiful discussion on death (after life) has everyone talking quite a bit about their life.

    So I am going to paste an excerpt here from my last blog post that addresses both life and death as well as Rev Russ’ and other Bible based Christians’ earnest question of what they’re “missing out” on believing “that while we were still sinners Christ died for you, me and everyone else to forgive our sins and secure for us eternal life.”

    From my post entitled Life’s Pool of Love Light: “But Jesus Christ, not preempting even the grievance of crucifixion, projected how mighty love can truly be. Being personified love, Jesus went through the cusp of death and back into life’s widening pool of love light; Divine unconditional love filled His human body with a joyful, invincible biochemistry. (this not in post Jesus coming back from death proves there is an afterlife)

    God sending His Son to Earth to endure intense torture as a payment for human wrongdoing appreciates pain to an extremely high, unjust value. I dare say Christianity has turned God’s strategy to “save” humanity upside down. That is, Jesus demonstrating that humans are made in God’s image so that any intensity of pain, and even death, can be reversed…has been interpreted by Christianity as Jesus suffering intense pain to amend what believers do wrong as well as dying for them so they may have eternal life.”

    Most Christians, and even a majority of other people today, give suffering a stupidly high value because they believe Jesus suffered for the highest purpose of eternal life (after life). So I am proposing that modern Bible believers are “missing out” on the reality that God (Pure Divine Love) made suffering suck for a good reason…so that in human life we would only go in the direction of non-suffering or love to realize being made of Pure Divine Love; and then when we drop our bodies we will be pleased, or tormented, as to how much we realized, or made use of, being made of Pure Divine Love.

    So I agree with Heresy Today, it’s all Freewill, whatever you choose is what you are going to get. Choose suffering and you will have it, here and hereafter, choose love and enjoyment and that is what you are going to get forever.

  • This video is an excellent example of someone choosing love and enjoyment
    http://www.megavideo.com/?v=OWHNICB0

    Rich Dunstan
    aka Dhanamjaya

  • WoooHoooo! Thank you for posting this! 🙂 And sorry it took me a few days to catch up, but what can you do when life gets in the way of blogging?

    I guess, I’m still not sure what I believe about the other side. But maybe it’s okay that way. Like a really good novel, do I really want to know how it ends, or should I just enjoy my ride getting there? :-0

    I don’t know.

  • To me, the whole idea of an afterlife pales in comparison to what we have here. What makes life worth living? Loving, learning, striving, bettering ourselves.

    If you ask Christians what they see as an afterlife, their answers are usually about a paradise where nothing bad (or good) ever happens, and everyone sings the god’s praises constantly.

    Sounds boring. No thanks. I’ll enjoy what time I have.

  • Christian theology pretty much dismisses the idea of ghosts…it is an immediate trip to heaven or hell, with maybe a stop at purgatory if you are a Catholic. If ghosts are true, then on one hand it confirms the existence of life after death, but on the other hand it disproves a lot of rigid theology. The bottom line is the only way to discover if ghosts are real is thru personal experience. The paranormal is not easily subject to the scientific method. Then again, I feel the “spookiness” of quantum mechanics is somehow related to the ghost phenomena.

  • Ishtar

    @RevRuss: “From a purely pragmatic view, it actually seems like I’m in a better position. If I’m wrong, I’m where you’re at anyway. What have I really lost besides this supposed “freedom” you still haven’t defined for me? However, if I’m right (which of course, I believe I am – not being arrogant, but if I didn’t think that I should really find a different job) – then there’s a lot more at stake.”

    I see this argument all the time. What it overlooks, however, is that there are so many faiths, and each of them claims the others are all wrong. Sometimes even branches of one claim all the other branches of that same faith are wrong. Nobody ever decides to believe in, say, Zoroastrianism just because it might be right, and it doesn’t hurt anything to believe in it, but they always use that as a reason to believe in the faith they were inclined to believe in anyway. Why aren’t you afraid that Ahura Mazda might be the right God? Why aren’t you afraid of the Islamic Hell? Pascal’s wager relates to all of those, too, and in every case a believer chooses against all the others. Assuming arguendo that there were 1,500 faiths on the planet, how to pick the one correct one? There is exactly as much reason to believe in Brahma or Odinn as in Yahweh. Face it, everyone is an atheist – they can deny 1,499 gods while acknowledging one. Admitted atheists just deny one more god than everybody else.

    As for the cost issue, participating in any faith costs you something: Money (there are very few faiths that don’t have oodles of ways to dump money into them), time, social constraints, learning, etc. If you spend four years in seminary and the right god turns out to be Cernunnos, it’s cost you that time, the school fees, the effort you put into your studies – not to mention what Cernunnos might do with you once you hit the Summerlands. If someone chooses to invest a chunk of their life on a 1 in 1,500 chance, that’s their business – but never say it’s doesn’t cost them anything.

  • Gene

    The reason I think most people don’t contemplate death is that it is uncontemplatable. Imagining one’s self as dead is, well unimaginable. Its that old “mind-body” problem. One might see one’s body as dead–imagine it laying there, dead. But the mind can’t be located. Where is it? If I were to open up your head and look for your mind I wouldn’t find it. Since the mind can contemplate the brain, it must not consist of the brain. Well, not to go on and on about it, but what happens to the mind when the body dies is a better question that the general question, what happens to you when you die.

  • @David

    I disagree. The Bible does tell about ghosts but not as the people who died but as demons who guise as people who once lived. They could assume any form, knowledge, habit or mannerism of that deceased person since they get to view a person’s life in entirety.

    In the Bible however the real spirit of Samuel was summoned from death and foretold of King Saul’s doom due to his disobedience to God including consulting of spiritist.

    1 Samuel 28