Let’s start with a joke that really isn’t. A little boy asks, “What’s the difference between an accident and an explosion?” His answer, “In an accident, there you are, but in an explosion, where are you?” This was used in my letter to the editor in reference to the Islamic terrorists of 9/11, who expected to have intercourse with virgins in paradise after their bodies had been blown to pieces. It was published just before Easter!
As an atheist, ergo realist, I must look reality directly in the eyes, without the luxury believers have of ignoring it, looking the other way, making alternative fantasy worlds and fanciful explanations to make it more comfortable. It is with deep concern that I read of those on this site who still struggle from a terror of death. I will offer you no B.S. about spirits, eternal life (which is an oxymoron), of gaining some eternal bliss via affirmations, words magical, handed over by others like so much free candy, coupled with that persistent brainwashing that there is such a thing as an immortal soul, as in “your immortal soul is in danger,” for I am not here to enchain, but to free you.
Their's are the techniques which have worked, still do, for those who want you to give up your mortal life for their uses, whether popes for crusades, imams in need of suicide bombers, or Mohammad for conquests. They’re on to a rich resource of people who fear death and can be convinced that life doesn’t really end when life ends. They preach heaven, paradise, reincarnation, whatever...
I looked up “immortal” in Roget’s college Thesaurus and found, “imperishable, superhuman.” But, just what is a “soul” anyhow? If you talk to a believer after a family member or friend dies, he will tell you that the deceased is in “a better place now,” that they “will meet them in heaven”. No one seems to be bothered by what he, she, or them consists of. If you ask them to describe what that person would look like in heaven, the usual answer consists of a description of the person as having some classically Greek statue perfection of bodily form, not the withered old lady or absent-minded man you knew, senile, or accident-mangled. And not as the child lying in that coffin, last seen ravaged by disease. Why not? They will talk about the good times, the anecdotes, habits, peculiarities of that person. What they will avoid mentioning is when they first noticed that that individual was beginning not to be the person they knew and gradually become less and less so, when that person died before dying.
My wife and I visit a man in a nursing home once a week. We used to visit him at home. Over the past six years, he has become not the teller of many specific experiences, but forgetful and full of holes about them. He thinks the picture of his daughter on his table is of a woman he is in love with, and can’t even remember that the same daughter took him to his hometown thousands of miles away just last week. Two years ago, my wife’s nephew died. We were getting constant reports about his last hours in the hospital and crying at each new one, such as, “He’s coughing up blood! Oh my god, there’s blood all over the room!” Then, finally, “That person is not Tony anymore.”
Examples abound in my life of those “immortal” souls. There is Arthur, 90, who no longer recognizes us but smiles anyhow. And June, his wife, who had a stroke and her whole personality changed. There is the young man who had an auto accident and no longer has any loving feelings for his wife and small child. And the local young poet who writes of the special pies her mother made for the family, the love and caring, and then concludes that the woman she buried was not her mother. I remember asking my wife what a soul is, and had to tell her, “Without my body, there is no ME.”
An unalterable soul is a fiction, and it’s just the way things are in all of nature. There’s nothing eternal about it.You see, all this talk of meeting them in the “afterlife” implies that a soul is a personality which is unaffected by the body, another oxymoron. It is not some ectoplasmic entity, either. Factors that alter the personality are all over the place: environmental conditions, brain damage, electrical stimulation of brain regions, alcohol, drugs, oxygen deprivation, starvation, etc. An unalterable soul is a fiction, and it’s just the way things are in all of nature. There’s nothing eternal about it.
Notice how this eternal soul thing works? Somebody promises it, but can’t deliver, and meanwhile another throws away his life for it. Jesus begins by saying that (like many before and since him), if you merely believe in him, you’ll be guaranteed eternal life - which means unbelievers won’t. But then he realizes that if the unbelievers die, don’t have immortal souls, he can’t send them to hell forever, so he changes his tune. Nice manipulation. (And at one time you bought that?)
I think death is like that explosion. Where are “You”? Here one instant, gone the next, unawares, not an experience but the absence of one, because there’s no afterwards to have a recall in. You and I won’t be back, but neither will Jesus, Mohammad, David Koresh, etc. They lived their lives the way they wanted to, didn’t know any better. Let us love the only life we have, and enjoy it with all the senses that make us who we are. Mortal is just fine, no matter what. Instead of dwelling on demise, think of ways to make life better for others; there are millions in need of help to live simply and healthily.
When I reached the age of 70, I was faced with a question that I never had before; what to do with the next 30 years of my life. Well, for one thing, writing these things, plus there is so much to do to make others’ lives better. So many are starving and dying and in need of help. And there is injustice and ignorance to be confronted and conquered. It’s gonna be a full life.