I’ve long thought about the possibility of life after death; whether it is possible and if so, under what conditions it may exist. As a human being, I find it hard to accept the possibility that with death, your consciousness ends; that not only does your body perish, but so does your conscious mind, your very sense that you exist as a sentient being.
Growing up in the woods of eastern Kentucky, myself, along with everybody around me, my classmates, my family and friends, everybody, went to a christian church. That was the belief system I was brought up in, and for the longest time, that was the belief system I clung to. Even after I joined the military, I attended the “general christian” services every Sunday morning.
As I traveled the world, deployed to a combat zone, read books, watched the news, met people, and generally lived my life, I came to a realization that should have been pretty obvious to any objective human being. For the most part, religion is a joke. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m willing to denounce the possibility of a god(s) altogether, but the religious practices that we as human beings have built for thousands of years around the assumption that we can somehow understand what our god(s) wants are absolute and total nonsense. Billions upon billions of people have been murdered, raped, mutilated and tortured, all because of differences in religion. Many of the religions of today’s world are interconnected, one just as old as the other, with just as much history and just as many holy books written by people who thought they had been inspired by god. If you look at it all objectively though, and get rid of the personal bias you may have because of what you believe or were raised to believe, is one faith “really” any more likely or unlikely than any other faith?
In small American communities, churches are often the centerpiece of the town. While they cannot legally be supported or banned by a government agent, that doesn’t stop the community at large from respecting and somewhat orbiting around the common religious fabric of that community, and that’s not something I have a problem with. When you escalate things however to a national scale, religion as a whole, regardless of faith in most cases, is very discriminatory. Many faiths teach that anybody who disagrees with them is a “heathen”, an “infidel”, or a “sinner”, and is to be converted or killed. Nations go to war because of petty differences in the belief of how we all got here and how we should or should not worship certain deities.
So I’ve officially announced myself to my family and even to the military while I was still on active duty as “agnostic”. It only makes sense that, seeing as how I, and all of you, are only human beings, that none of us can “know” anything about the existence of a god(s). Scientists will attempt to argue that they know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is no god. I will argue however this point. It is very possible that there is no god, or nothing that resembles one in existence. It is also very possible that there is a god, or many gods, all of whom played a role in creating the universe as we see it. As human beings, we understand far too little about our universe to make any educated statements as to whether or not a god(s) does or does not exist. The very nature of a “god” puts a definitive answer just out of our reach, and the lack of knowledge we have about so many of the forces at work in our universe is a clear demonstration that as human beings, we are fallible.
I generally tend to believe that there has to be “something”. Forget earth, forget the milky way, forget any alien species who some people claim “god” is a member of. Think bigger, think existence, period. Not our universe and our dimension, not our planet our galaxy, or even our conscious mind. Just think of “existence”. What spawned that first spark, that first particulate of matter? From whence came that first puff of air, that first glint of light, that would eventually result in myself sitting here on the 3rd rock from our sun typing away on a computer? This is a question that I don’t think we as the human race will ever be able to answer, nor comprehend. It supersedes the very laws of physics as we know them. As human beings, it’s hard to believe that we are just another collection of proteins and cells that simply react to stimuli in a mathematical way. The human mind can think, analyze its own existence, choose to do things that are illogical or against our survival instinct. That is why I tend to believe that there has to be “something” like a god that, at least indirectly, influenced the creation and development of our universe, and that at least we as a species have a soul, or some sort of permanent consciousness that persists beyond death.
However, I try to also be as objective as I can. I understand that throughout history a belief in a god(s) has been a fairy tale made up by people for many reasons. It helps us cope with the permanence of death. When a human as we know them, dies, their physical body is gone. We will never be able to hold that person again, to have another conversation with them or learn from them. When a person dies, they are dead, end of story; there is no coming back. That’s a hard pill to swallow, so I can understand why religion is so popular. The idea that after death, we continue to exist in another form, that we continue to exist as a conscious, sentient being after our mortal bodies wear out and stop functioning, is comforting. The thought that we have a paradise, a city of happiness and wonder, waiting for us after we die, helps us accept the fact that eventually, we will all die.
So what do I think about this? That’s kind of the point of this article. Personally, I feel like the human consciousness is an amazing thing, and it is a terribly scary thought that when I die, I may cease to exist in any form. A human being can think about its own existence, and analyze it. A human being can be happy and contented to sit and do nothing but “think”. We can consciously do nothing but stimulate the firing of neurons in our brain, and gain pleasure from it. We can make decisions that are contrary to any logical, natural instincts. This, I believe, is what makes a human being special. There’s something more to us. We’re not just another organism that reacts to external stimuli until our parts wear out. We’ve got to be something more, and that’s not just wishful thinking on my part. I find it hard to believe that something as amazing and magical as the human consciousness can cease to exist because of the physical limitations of the body it is contained in. Our memories may be stuck in the brain or body that learned them, but our consciousness, our soul, if you will, I believe has to persist after death. Would we really know any different? If it doesn’t, we’ll never know because we will no longer exist, and therefore cannot know anything, but if it does and we lose the memories when the brain that has them dies, then we’ll also never know because our next experiences after death will be totally new ones. The manner in which our consciousness/soul persists, I’m not going to speculate on. I’ve heard fairy tales about golden cities, reincarnation, etc., but at the end of the day, I’m a human. If I had a past life, I don’t remember it, and if my soul was in a body that experienced death before, I don’t remember it, so I’m not in a position to make an educated guess about what actually happens to our soul when our body dies.
At the end of the day, I’m going to live my life as if I’m not afraid of burning in hell, because I’m not. I’m going to be the best husband, father and son that I can be, not because I’m afraid of punishment from a magical deity in the sky who knows and sees everything but for some reason gave us free will to do what he already knows we’re going to do, but because it’s the right thing to do in my mind. I’m pretty sure the very first primitive cave-men found out that it was a bad idea to make enemies within your tribe if you depend on one another for survival. Is there an afterlife of some sort? I think so, but I don’t know, and neither do you, and anybody who tells you that they “know” any different is lying. We’re all human beings, and if I can make one person critically analyze their belief systems and how they came to believe what they do, then I’ve accomplished my goal by writing this paper.