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What Do Atheists Believe In If They Don't Believe in Heaven?

Updated on January 20, 2015

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

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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 see 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 though all my mother had was her religion. 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.

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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.

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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 there 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 and seen how beautiful 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.

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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.”

–Edvard Munch

4.2 out of 5 stars from 5 ratings of An Atheists Beliefs About Death

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    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 16 months ago from Tasmania

      Having only just chanced upon this hub of yours, Littlecat, I find it uplifting. You have written clearly and well. You have put words to much of my own thoughts.

      Next week, I will turn 75. Death holds no fear for me. So many of my own family have died; that is no lasting sorrow...they all led productive lives. Their tasks were complete, as my own will be. Sure, right now there are experiences I would like to have had, but I am not greedy. Maybe if it's not possible for me to accomplish them personally I can help a younger person go get 'em instead.

      You are right! Life is for living, not for contemplating a fictional hereafter. Not for me, anyway.

      I trust your family has been enriched by the birth of another new life.

    • Dr CHE Sadaphal profile image

      CH Elijah Sadaphal 16 months ago from New York, NY

      littlecat2013, this is an intriguing look in the mind of a non-believer.

      I have a question for you: if you were to describe to an alien from another planet what the primary benefit of atheism is (for you) without using religion, what would you tell it?

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 20 months ago from Irvine

      Little: I appreciate your taking time to expound upon my comment. I'm glad to hear you are happy. The alternative is well... much less joyless. I'm 30 years older than yourself. In my 30's I pretty much thought I knew it all. This isn't a rebuke. If I were still in my 30's, I'd write a Hub such as your own and defend it. I've had children. It's exhilarating until the point where they abandon you. I don't want to come off as some old, pompous ass, but I just want to warn you about a bumpy ride coming ahead. I really wish some adult person took the time and interest to set me aside and simply say enjoy the good times for they will not last. This may sound like another fable in an old man's wrecked life. If I were in my 30s and was subjected to my own material -- I'd think: This guy is a total freak. I'll deal with him in a polite manner and take his thinking to the toilet. And by simply leaving commentary on a Hub post, I don't presume that I'll stand much chance in changing anything about your position. I had to learn my lessons the hard way -- by actually living through them.

      Elders want to save their next generation from falling into what seems like predescribed paths. It is a futile effort. Communicating with someone 30 years younger than yourself is laughable at best.

      You are on a better track than myself at the same age. Continue to see life as a beautiful experience. Yes, enjoy this world for all it is worth because we may never know any better. I just wish I could hang on long enough to read what you might write when you hit your 60s.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
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      littlecat2013 20 months ago

      rjbatty I appreciate your comment and I don't see what you say as antagonizing. All humans have different viewpoints and I appreciate you sharing yours. I don't agree with you that as I get older that the wonders of life will hold no enthrallment. I do firmly feel life is a gift and I refuse to ever let that feeling go. If I were to stop looking at the world with wonder, if I were to stop appreciating the experiences I have had (even the bad ones), then life would be downright depressing and horrible. At one time, when I was younger I did welcome nonexistence because my life was really horrible. But in that mindset I suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. I wrote another hub that should be on my page called Learning to love myself as an atheist that explains my beliefs and how I came to those beliefs more in depth.

      Right now I am 30 years old and I'm pregnant and I'm getting to see how amazing the beginning of a new life really is. I'm getting the privileged to see life from a new perspective as I grow a new life inside of me. I look forward to the gift of seeing what was a tiny cluster of cells and is now a person go out into the world and see how they interact with it as they grow. That is a gift that only comes from age and getting older. I can't imagine my happiness/sorrow/self-pity adding up to nothing. I mean in the whole scheme of things someday I'll die and I'll be gone forever and my whole life will be eventually forgotten by all humanity...so technically it will add up to nothing. But to me, right now, in my own head, just to feel happiness, to see the beauty of the world, to understand the scientific processes that make everything in the world work, and more gives me purpose and meaning. When I die someday, I welcome nonexistence and don't fear death being truly the end. Until then I'm going to enjoy the world and the experiences I have in front of me, even the bad ones.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 20 months ago from Irvine

      I connect to your Hub until you start discussing life being some kind of gift. Your life may be turning out that way but mine hasn't, and I often welcome the concept of complete nonexistence. Spiritualism is a masquerade for religiosity divorced from the restraints of dogmatism. I appreciate sharing your viewpoint on life, and I don't offer this comment as an antagonism. You knew at the onset that expressing your personal views would provoke a certain reaction.

      The totality of any human being's existence usually equates to the sum of his/her total experience. You are still a very young man, and I can relate to your expression at this age. I felt much the same at your age. But, wait and see what is coming ahead -- stuff that neither you or I could possibly imagine at the same age. With age, you may find that happiness or sorrow and even self-pity, add up to nothing. The wonders/splendors of life hold no enthrallment. You need not respond to this post, as I am not attacking you, and I'm not going to be lifted by anything you have to say in a positive manner. You may regard this as a kind of conceit or arrogance, but it isn't. A lot of stuff happens in our lives over which we have little or no control. This is generally regarded as "luck." I wish you the best of luck.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Cat

      the term spiritual firmly belongs to the history and evolution of religion. This can't be disputed although I note the term has other connotations.

      That feeling of awe and existential mystery is in fact the historical root of religion be it cave man or advanced.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
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      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      Oztinato I am an atheist. I don't believe in God, the soul, or any supernatural phenomenon. I said above the sentence "embracing the wonders of nature is just as spiritual of an experience as many people get by going to church" as a way to explain my feelings to an audience who may come from a religious perspective. I'm aware that both atheists and those religious are reading my work.

      The definition of spirituality I looked up said "Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all."

      Spirituality's meaning is different depending on people's perspectives. Someone religious may say only religious people can experience spirituality. For me, I think based on the definition I've given, you don't have to be religious to experience spirituality. All people are capable of feeling similar emotions under various circumstances and some describe those emotions as spirituality. Someone in awe may have their heart beat fast, feel overwhelming happiness, feel like the world makes sense, etc. A religious experience may cause those feelings for believers while seeing natural phenomenon may trigger the same emotions for non-believers.

      Anyways, I wrote this article so that people who are atheists and people who are religious can understand my perspective. I wanted to use wording so that people of all backgrounds could see where I'm coming from.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      If a person is capable of feeling awe at the sight of natural phenomena (and recognize it as a spiritual experience) they are linked closely with theism and not atheism at all. The dictionary definition relates to the human spirit or soul (see below). At the very least it is an agnostic who can claim to have a spiritual experience, not an atheist. It is clear to many on HP and elsewhere that many people claiming to be atheists are in fact agnostics.

      Dictionary Definition:

      spiritual

      /ˈspɪrɪtʃʊəl,-tjʊəl/

      adjective

      adjective: spiritual

      1.relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.

      •having a relationship based on a profound level of mental or emotional communion.

      "he never forgot his spiritual father"

      •(of a person) not concerned with material values or pursuits.

      2.relating to religion or religious belief.

      "the country's spiritual leader"

    • profile image

      Crystal 2 years ago

      I forgot one thing in my comment. I greatly enjoyed the quote at the end. I hold much admiration, respect and reverence for the circle of life. We die and our bodies return to the Earth to keep it all in balance. It is truly amazing, thank you for sharing that quote. :)

      Bye again haha.

    • profile image

      Crystal 2 years ago

      I appreciate your article. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I haven't always been, but I have always been Christian. I find it fascinating and hopeful to know that you and I could have common ground. I also agree with many scientific findings, nor do I believe in a Heaven and Hell, or supernatural beings controlling our fates. My church actually tells that there are four "places" we might go. I always thought that a pass/fail sentence did not befit a loving God.

      This life is so beautiful, and I love what you said about progressing in life. It is definitely amazing. We all have freedom to choose our own paths here on Earth, and how grateful we should be for it. I also appreciate your article because while I could never agree with Athiesm, I am glad that articles like yours can help people understand that being an Athiest doesn't mean you don't care about beautiful things, or wonder about death and the afterlife.

      You have a blessed day. :)

    • adagio4639 profile image

      adagio4639 2 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

      I think reason is high on their list of values. I don't think they are invested in beliefs.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 3 years ago

      thunkfulthinker Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I think your view is a good one. Life is short so all we can do is find peace and happiness with the moments we have lived. Living a good and happy life can be a form of heaven for some.

    • thunkfulthinker profile image

      Jim 3 years ago from Ohio

      I rather enjoyed this article. I originally clicked on this thinking it was written from a christian perspective. But I'm glad it wasn't.

      My personally view of heaven is being able to sit down at the end of the day or my life and be content knowing I did everything I could to accomplish everything that I could. That's my idea of heaven. Nothing supernatural about peace of mind.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 3 years ago

      aidenw Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my article. It is hard to explain such a personal subject and I'm glad to hear that I explained myself well. I like to live in the moment and appreciate every second. I don't dwell too much on the questions no man can answer and just appreciate the world as it is. Have a good day yourself.

    • aidenw profile image

      aidenw 3 years ago from USA

      I really enjoyed reading your article. You have such a positive outlook on life which I admire. I am afraid of death myself sometimes when I think about it because as you yourself said, "The idea that a person who was once full of life could just cease to exist is terrifying." Yet I don't think anyone can say with absolute certainty that that is indeed the case.

      Life after death will probably remain a mystery at least for a very long time but that may not necessarily be a bad thing because if we knew everything, the ride probably wouldn't be as thrilling and enjoyable just like knowing the ending of a movie before watching it to the end. So let's just celebrate life! Have a wonderful day!