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Monday, 29 February 2016

"Would You Not Want To See Him Again?" A Question About An Afterlife

I was asked the above question, about my brother who died nearly fifteen years ago, by a colleague shortly after I came out as an atheist. The question came after he had established that I did not subscribe to the idea of an afterlife, and that I did not believe that I would be seeing any dead friends or relatives when, as christians like him believe, the time of this physical world runs out. My simple response to him was: "my brother is dead and gone and all I have left are memories of him which I will hold close to my heart until I die, and then others will also hold memories of me in theirs." He was unable to understand why I believed so strongly that I was never going to see my brother ever again, and his increasing incredulity during the course of our conversation was a priceless sight to behold.

I never really bothered about death and dying until I lost my brother. It was a tragedy I thought I would never recover from, and I always wondered then why he was so cruelly snatched away from us. I was nearly as angry with all those who seemed so sure my brother had transcended this physical world into the spirit realm, as I was at his passing, which tore apart the hearts of all of us who loved him. I even blamed him for dying; grief is a mother! Of course all those around us then could only offer up the useless clich├ęs about him being in heaven or having gone to be in a better place, and I quickly developed semantic satiation. I was officially an atheist then, but I had only come out to an agnostic friend, and that certainly was not the time to tell my grieving family that we had seen the last of our dearly departed son and sibling.

I would love to see my brother again, but sadly, I never will. There were so many times, even up to nearly a year after he passed, that I thought I would wake up and discover that the grieving process was all just some noxious nightmare; but it was all very real. How do I know I will never see my brother again? In all honesty I do not. But neither did my interlocutor. He has based his evidence of an afterlife on what he has read from the bible, a book he may never have read in full, that is if he reads it at all. He may have also based his belief in an afterlife on all the gobbledygook he hears, and continues to hear, in church. For me, there is nothing to show that I shall ever see my brother again, and I have accepted that fact. I loved him while he was alive and I will hold so many memories, especially of our childhood and growing up together, for as long as I am alive and not senile.  All those who believe in an afterlife still grieve nearly as inconsolably as those of us who do not, and these are people who claim to believe, with unwavering certainty, that they would be reunited with the dead in heaven, or paradise, or Valhalla, or wherever.

We live in this world, and we die. It is the natural order, and we are subject to it until we are able to unravel the mystery of death. Inventing deities, and fantastic places of abode after we die, may serve to lessen the burden that death has placed on us all, but believing a lie does not, and will never, make it true. Claims of an afterlife have been roundly debunked, and conclusively so as far as I am concerned. Let those who believe in an afterlife come up with another fairytale. I would sooner believe there is a dragon in my backyard than that I would resurrect, intact, on the 'last day', or that I have a 'soul' or spirit (or both) that will continue to exist after my body ceases all function.

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