A. One less drunk.
Not everyone is an Atheist but everyone dies. The subject of the last meeting of the Tucson Atheists at The Shanty on the first Sunday of the month was Atheism and death. Fifteen members and guests tackled the subject with gusto and more than a couple pints of beer. Opinions were varied. One of the random questions was, “What is your death plan?” My plan is to put that particular activity off as long as possible. As far as what happens after that, I’ll probably be beyond caring. I won’t even know when I’m dead. Do you want to know why? It’s because I’ll be dead. Burned, rotisseried, stuck in the ground, spread on the ground, or shot into space it’s really all the same to me. I don’t even care if the Mormons baptize me, after I’m dead. If it keeps them busy and off door steps, so much the better. However, it would be nice if my friends and what’s left of my family would gather for a celebration and talk about me. I’d want them to throw a bash that people will be talking about for decades. According to Banksy—a graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter—“…you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” Unless you’re someone like Julius Caesar, both deaths are inevitable. Consider that there are people coming up in the world that don’t know the names of the Beatles.
The next question addressed was, “Does belief in religion and life-after-death increase or reduce the value of life as we know it?” Once again opinions were varied. Some believe that religion helps those that struggle through life to endure knowing that there will be a celestial reward at the end. In fact, there were those that believe the whole reason for the introduction of an after-life was to quell the masses and make people accept the toils of a hard life for the promise of a big glorious reward at the end. The benefit to the well-off is that they can be secure in the knowledge that people will be content with the promise and may not be as motivated to take their stuff.
Finally, we know that religion helps people accept the seemingly meaningless deaths that take away friends and family. Without religion we have to rely on the cold ungodly laws of probability. For Atheists, there is no “Divine Plan” because there is no “Divinity.” That can be a cold dose of reality but most Atheists accept the reality and in fact prefer it to the fantasy that religion supplies.
Everyone, almost everyone, agrees that death sucks. We’d all like to live longer and someday, we may get to the point where we can extend our lives. Already, life expectancy has doubled in the last 200 years. In 1810, you could expect to live to 40, now it is close to 80. It wasn’t religion that made the difference. It was science. It was science that reduced infant mortality and immunized us against small pox, polio, and other killers. My own life was saved at 50 through the skilled hands of a surgeon, a fluoroscope, a catheter, and a couple of high-tech, drug eluting stents. I didn’t thank God; I thanked the surgeon, his staff, the hospital, and the ambulance crew that scooped me up and took me to the hospital. The priest that came in to check on me, while he meant well, had NOTHING to contribute to the process.
As far as we can tell, this is the only life that we’re ever going to get. No one, I mean no one, has the evidence to refute that claim. It’s best to make the most of what we know we have.
Atheists who are active in the community often hear “Pascal’s Wager.” The reasoning says that it’s best to believe in God since there is an infinitely happy after-life to gain and our current life is finite. Wagering our finite life on the chance of infinite happiness is a bet worth making. Ignoring for a minute all of the problems with that bet, and there are many, Marcus Aurelius says, “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”