As an atheist, isn’t life absurd and meaningless without the promise of an afterlife? What is the point of living if you know your ultimate destiny is dust?
I know that I will someday die, but I don’t believe that any part of me will survive death. I know this sounds depressing, but I have come to a place of inner peace with this realisation that one day I will be no more. I haven’t experienced cynicism or bitterness as a result; rather, life has become more meaningful, every day more special – simply because I know that this is the only life I will ever have. Experiences have become more poignant: to know that I will experience a limited number of sunsets makes the sight of one that much more breathtaking. As an atheist, life has become precious and worthy of living, simply because I know that it will one day come to an end.
Sure, I believe that my brief existence does not matter in the context of history and the greater cosmos. But – and this is the important point – my existence matters to me. Those things that I value in my life – such as relationships, memories, achievements, wonder and discovery – don’t have to be eternal to be meaningful; they can be just as meaningful in the here and now. And I’ve learnt to find meaning in these things for their own sake, rather than in the context of some greater spiritual scheme or plan.
As the philosopher Raymond Bradley writes:
“ . . . my answer to the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ is akin to the answer I would give to the question ‘What is the meaning of such and such a book?’ The meaning of a book is to be found in the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, and the chapters it contains. Likewise, the meaning of life is to be found in the meaningful moments, episodes, and achievements that occur within our brief appearance here on earth. A book doesn't lack meaning because it comes to an end on the last page. Nor do our lives lack meaning because they come to an end when all neural activity ceases.”
Am I afraid of death? I’m afraid of the moment of death, of the unknown related to the process of death itself. But I’m not afraid of what lies thereafter. Mark Twain was once quoted as saying:
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
In conclusion: I do not need the promise of an afterlife to provide me with a reason to live; being alive is reason enough.