What Do Atheists Believe in If They Don't Believe in Heaven?
Religious practices offer people tools and explanations in dealing with the death of a loved one but what do Atheists use to cope? Death is scary and sad and many people from religious perspectives may not understand how an Atheist views the process of dying. I created this article as a way to explain what I believe to educate people of one Atheists perspective. I hope you enjoy this article and I help you understand how an Atheist can deal with the death of a loved one.
“Even if it means oblivion, friends, I'll welcome it, because it won't be nothing. We'll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we'll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we'll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was.”
–Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass
As An Atheist What Do I Believe About Death and Dying?
How do you deal with death and sadness when you are an atheist? This is something that I have stopped to reflect on many times this past year. This year I turned 28 and getting older comes with a cost because the people I know and love have also gotten older. One thing I have encountered is that people don’t understand what I believe as an atheist. There is a judgmental attitude directed towards me because people think I don’t believe in anything which is wrong. It’s sometimes a taboo subject to be anything other than Christian and when a sad event happens in an atheists life people from a religious perspective may try to push their beliefs on atheists because they can’t comprehend how they deal with pain. One event this past year has encouraged me to reflect and think about dealing with sorrow as an atheist and what I really think about life and death.
Back in October I received a phone call that my uncle was in the hospital and was on life support. Up until this point I hadn’t heard anyone mention my uncle or his health for a very long time. It was a shock to the entire family. I ended up traveling with my mom as she dealt with such a tremendous loss. It was during this time I struggled because I am an atheist and my mother is Catholic. I can’t explain how much pain she was in seeing her brother hooked up to all those machines. I had never seen my mother fall apart like she did when she was with her brother during his final two days. Growing up, religion was a private thing that really wasn’t spoken about. The week my uncle died all my mother had was her religion to help her cope with her grief. I have a great respect for religion and the strength it can give people. I may not believe in what my mother believes but I do know she needs a God in her life. Even though I am an atheist, I do respect aspects of religion and the ability for certain beliefs to keep people going when they are in overwhelming pain. I didn’t talk much during this time because the way I deal with death and pain are so different than my mothers and my silence and ability to listen was what was need most. I just put my arms around my mom as she cried and I let her talk. To me looking at my uncle I knew that he was no longer there. He was an empty shell that was kept functioning by a machine. He was gone.
This event really made me think about death and what I believed. I’ve never liked the concepts of heaven and hell. To me they are illogical and people use these concepts to scare people into behaving the way society wants people to behave. I didn’t just decide to become an atheist. It took 15 years of researching every religion and philosophy I came across to really decide that I didn’t believe in supernatural entities controlling and determining human fates. Even though I don’t like ideas such as heaven or hell, I also don’t like the idea that after we die that it is just the end. The idea that a person who was once full of life could just cease to exist is terrifying. Based on my education though, that it what I have been lead to believe is the most probable truth. I could be wrong. I admit that science doesn’t know everything but out of all the research I have done over the years, scientific explanations make the most sense to me.
I guess as an atheist I don't let myself think about what happens after you die. I don't see a point because no one has proof as to what really happens after you die. People can argue for the existence of an afterlife or for the non-existence of an afterlife. I get tired of all the debates and don't worry about my own death because I know it is an inevitable process all people eventually go through and even if I cease to exist I am okay with that happening. I'd rather spend my time appreciating the living. If you think about living, it is such a wonderful process. For me, I try to think about the life I am living now as my own personal heaven because even though bad things may happen I am so lucky to have experienced everything that life has to offer. I know quite a few people who live their lives in preparation for what happens in the afterlife to the point where they don't enjoy the moments they are living right now. The world we live in is so amazing if you stop to look around.
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon or up in the Smokey Mountains to see how beautiful the world is? Have you ever stopped to look around at how amazing the world is? I sometimes am overwhelmed with how perfect the natural world is, and to me sitting on top of a mountain and embracing the wonders of nature is just as spiritual of an experience as many people get by going to church. Isn't the process of being born and growing up and maturing amazing as well. If you stop to think about who you are, the changes you go through as you age, and everything you have done in your life, every moment could be seen as phenomenal.
The world we live in is a kind of heaven even though it may be hard to see it that way when there is so much bad at the forefront of our attentions. I think the most wonderful ability humans have is the ability to feel emotions like love, compassion, loyalty, and hope. We have the ability to love others, sometimes so much that it feels like your heart will burst. That's how I feel about my husband and if I died tomorrow I'm so glad that I got to feel that overwhelming, heart-bursting kind of love just once because it is has been the most wonderful feeling.
Death is sad and scary but I don't dwell on what happens after we die. I'd rather focus on the moments I am alive and appreciate all of them: the good, the bad, the happy, and the painful. I am so lucky to be alive.
“From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”
© 2014 Casey White