Atheists don’t believe in God. We deny the Holy Spirit. Jesus was just a man, at best, as were Buddha, Mohammed, and every other prophet and religious figure in history. That much everyone seems to be able to pick up on, but I think there’s something even more important that we reject.
We don’t believe in souls.
Now that’s a heresy, and should be even more distressing to people than our denial of gods. There is no immortal, constant part of any of us that will survive after death — our minds are the product of a material brain. We are literally soulless machines made of meat, honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution. And so is everyone else.
When we die, there is no paradise, no hell, not even a grim gray afterlife of darkness and regret…we are just gone. Everyone who has ever lived has or will simply end, and become nonexistent.
That should be the scariest, most depressing part about being an atheist. No future? How awful.
But it isn’t.
I have several replies to believers who think we should be miserable because we don’t have an afterlife to look forward to; they usually can’t comprehend any one of them, which is far more depressing than mere death.
One answer is that a lie is not reassuring at all — telling me that I’ll get to go to heaven when I die is about as believable as telling me that I’ll be rewarded with beer volcanoes and strippers for my irreverence. I’d rather be honest and aware then deluded and oblivious.
Another answer is that we are alive right now — I simply do not worry about what will happen after I’m dead. Life is for the living of it, it’s wasteful to spend it fretting over what you’ll do when it’s gone. One reasonable response to mortality is to enjoy life now.
We do have hope for the future, too. Think for a moment about your community a century from now. Does it make you feel good to think that there will still be people living there then? That they will be talking about things that you find interesting, that they will be doing activities you also enjoy? Do you hope that life will be better for them? Even though we will be gone, we can still aspire to perpetuate our culture, and find satisfaction while we are alive in advancing that cause.
The hardest explanation for theists to grasp, though, is the understanding that none of us have ever had this unlikely clot of vapor called a soul. If the soul is an imaginary fantasy, then Mozart’s music, Michaelangelo’s sculptures, Picasso’s paintings, the Wright brothers’ plane, every work of art and technology produced by people whose names have been lost to us, every child, every dream, has been created by us, mere mortal flesh unled by a magic puppeteer in the sky, unaided by angels or spirits. I find that wonderful.
We do not have immortality, but that also means we can throw away the irrelevant crutches of god-belief. We’ve walked successfully without them — cast them away, stand as a proud human being and meet fate without the wishful delusions of faith. That’s why this thought is a sacrilege — it says that we have no need of priests or gods or persistent ghosthood, ideas that have only hobbled us.