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Sunday, August 18, 2013
Religion ... Spirituality ...

Atheism has been around for a long time and is fairly common in certain parts of the world, but it hasn’t yet caught on big here in the USA. However, it’s numbers are growing over time. A huge percentage of people in academia consider themselves atheists, especially in the sciences. So, atheism seems to be the preferred viewpoint of the “brightest of the bright”.

I have a lot of regard for those “brightest of the bright”. I consider myself to be something of a thinking man, a patron of critical thought and rationality. I myself have great regard for the ways and accomplishments of science; I myself subscribe to reason and the basic tenets of The Enlightenment.

And yet . . . I have a problem with atheism. I’m not ready to give up on God and the idea of some sort of life-after-death for we self-conscious beings with complex thinking and feeling abilities. So I have a question for all of you atheists out there.

What if life after death were in fact reasonably possible? What if the fact that our sciences currently cannot find any evidence to support the concept turns out in the far future to be wrong; just as science in the 1500’s could not anticipate that tiny, ghost-like Higgs bosons impart mass to some portion of what our world is made of? Electrons, neutrinos, quarks and other fermions get their mass from the Higgs field; however, the mass of the atomic nucleus, which makes up the lions share of mass in the world that we experience on a day to day basis, stems more from the gluonic strong force interaction among the quarks in the neutrons and protons. A 14th Century scientist might also tilt on the idea of gluonic strong forces.

But back to the afterlife. I gather that atheists just don’t like putting stock in a concept that at present is totally off the radar of science. I’m sure that they would give some ground for gravitons, which are the suspected quanta of gravity; these fit in with many forms of string theory, but are still far, far off from actually being detected. But the after-life . . . not even speculative science theories (such as string theory and the multiverse) point to that. If I understand correctly, atheists stick to the positivist view of not making stuff up out of thin air.

Groovy. But I want to know something more about your psychology. If, say, in 10 centuries, some currently unanticipated development in the understanding of our universe were to point to the possibility of conscious “resurrection”, how would you feel about that? Would you be happy? Would you rejoice in the idea that death is not the end of conscious being, that there will be more thinking and feeling for “you” ? (whatever “you” or “me” would mean in an afterlife context — probably something more like “The Matrix” than having your body taken to a land far away in the sky, as the Biblical authors thought Jesus went off to.) Or does that bother you? Do you really want death to be the end?

Yes, I guess that I’m wondering if atheism and rejection of afterlife is something of a neurotic wish based on sub-conscious guilt. There’s an interesting essay on the psychology of atheism by Professor Paul C. Vitz, who suggests that vigorous denial of God can sometimes be associated with a Freudian concept (ironically enough, given Freud’s severe criticism and rejection of belief in God); i.e. the “Oedipal desire to kill the father and replace him with oneself”. Hmmm . . . but yea, there is a lot of narcissism in academia these days. On a slightly more modern note, Vitz also presents “the theory of the defective father”; i.e. that a person’s bad experiences or disappointments with dad inspires them to hate the “Big Father in the Sky” as well. Come to think of it, many of the atheists I’ve known have indeed had their problems with their father . . .

I’m familiar with the atheist’s “secular materialist” mantra, i.e. that if we forget about God and an afterlife, and instead direct all our energies into improving the world that we have, life here on earth will indeed become better for all. I seem to remember that something like that was tried for the better part of a century in Russia. The secular materialist hypothesis does not appear to have much empirical data to back it up. Thus, to assert it requires “faith” . . . but atheists aren’t supposed to have “faith”; it’s all “reason based on real data”, right? And reasoning from real data indicates that putting ALL of humankind’s spiritual energy into materially helping the collective doesn’t necessarily improve things.

(Not to deny that focusing too much energy on spiritual causes has historically led to wars and genocide. I know something about the Crusades, and I know a little about Jihad . . . )

Still, why do atheists enjoy being atheist and deniers of any hope for an eternal life, if there is not some deep sub-conscious stuff going on inside their heads ? (Which is NOT to say that a lot of deep sub-conscious stuff isn’t going on in the heads of we believers or hopeful agnostics).

Hey, I’m not saying that all atheists secretly hate being alive and probably want to get it over with for good. But I can’t help wonder if some, perhaps a lot of atheists, are somewhat down on “just being alive, and being aware of their just being”. If they lead joyful, fulfilled lives, why do they only want so much of it (assuming it was available without cost to others, as religious doctrines seem to promise)? You can clearly say that religious faith-systems which promise hope for an after-life are forms of wishful thinking. But sometimes, wishful thinking is preferable to not wishing at all — especially when the subject is as fundamental (and precious) as conscious, sentient life itself. I’m just saying . . .

PS, this topic has been discussed on various discussion forums. Here is a board with over 200 responses to this question. It appears that majority say NO, or at best would only want a temporary afterlife “just to see how things worked out”. Some people legitimately wonder why an afterlife should be expected to be better than the current life. The old-school Christian teachings asserting a final judgement with hell as an eternal punishment for our all-too-prevalent human failings certainly could make you wonder about that.

PPS — Being a Zen dude, I know a tad about the Buddha and his four bits of wisdom regarding suffering and its elimination. In a nutshell, suffering is caused by hoping to live forever, and suffering stops when you stop hoping to live forever. By that token, you can eliminate suffering even quicker by committing suicide. I like Zen, but I’m no Buddhist. Many of our greatest artists and thinkers were propelled to create by their deep thirst for life and their resultant suffering. Nietzsche said that God is dead; if the Buddha killed Him (or whatever pronoun you wish to use here), then Nietzsche would not have suffered. But if Nietzsche had not suffered, would he have left us anything to remember him by? And what about ole Franzie K?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:00 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Some unrelated and tangential tho’ts: The question occurred to me as I read your blog, and it is mostly for atheists – but perhaps for those who think in terms of a God: Why must a life after death presume that there is a “God” (large or small cap, reader’s choice) involved in the question of life after death? Could there not be a life after death without a god involved? Why could not our conscious life continue on one of the many universes of the “multiverse” (which topic was discussed not too long ago on your blog)? I don’t know; just asking.

    I also find myself wondering just why a life after death must presume a “resurrection”, presumably of the body? Why could there not be a life after death and no resurrection of the body? (Some people, those who believe in reincarnation, might ask which body would be chosen for resurrection?) This question then also almost always includes the idea of a “judgment” involved of those resurrected? Why must there be a “judgment” involved, even for those who believe in God? These are questions I find myself wondering about. Couldn’t God just give everybody a “pat on the back” and say, “good job” everybody? Or: You screwed up here or there, but on the whole did your best? (Of course, there are some individuals one might find would be exceptions to that case.)

    I also find it difficult to accept the Buddhist concept that “suffering is caused by hoping to live forever”. Frankly, I find myself saying, “oh, I don’t think so.” The concept of suffering is much more complex than that. There have been times (not a lot but even a few is too many) when I’ve tho’t that life on this earth is hell, that religion does not have to posit a hell after death where the “bad people” go; hell is right here. I find the concept that “suffering is caused by hoping to live forever” an idea that must have been tho’t up by someone who had a very good life indeed; otherwise, who in his/her right mind would want to live forever?

    Then too, one wonders why it is that on this planet life and growth must always somehow involve suffering. Couldn’t a god have invented a life and growth of that life that did not involve suffering? Is there something unique about life on this planet that suffering is included as a means of . . . what? Learning something that is important for the consciousness? As I said: Just asking and just wondering.

    I found most interesting the Freudian point by Prof. Vitz and the “Oedipal desire to kill the father and replace him with oneself”! Well! Who knew? I say. Good point.

    In reading your blog, I could not help but think of the time when I was a little girl (small enough to stand on the front room couch and have my arm just reach the top of the back of the couch). My mother was explaining to me the beauty and joys of heaven. I remember saying to her, “Mom, I wish I could die and go to heaven”; it seemed the only sensible thing to me if heaven was so beautiful and wonderful. My mother started crying, and I could not understand why.

    I find myself wondering if those who insist there must be no life after death, no god, no nothing to follow have considered all the various possibilities that even I, who am no scientist, can think up. Surely, they could do a better job of thinking about consciousness, life after death, god, etc. MCS

    Comment by Mary — August 19, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

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