Oblivion and the after life.

So I tweeted out a poll recently concerning my thoughts on the after life.

If you’re wondering why I included “get off the goddamn porch” it’s because I’m sometime referred to, colloquially, as a “porch atheist” and I like to have a little fun with it here and there.

As for the rest of the poll, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Granted I probably shouldnt have been; I deal with mostly atheists online, and we tend to have a different outlook on death, but I was glad to see my views are shared by others.

Interestingly enough, that conversation never goes well with my religious friends. I once made a good friend cry talking about my afterlife beliefs, and have been thought to be suicidal more than once.

I’m going to flesh it out today, and really try and explain my position.

I was recently talking with one of my best friends about this, when she told me the thought of heaven had terrified her as a child. That hit me hard, right in the chest, because I was instantly reminded that, so was I.

I don’t know if I’d repressed that memory, or if it had been simply lost to time, but it came back intensely. I was somewhere between 6 and 8, thinking about heaven, and I was horrified at every concept of it I could come up with.

“What if I don’t want to sing praises all the time.”

“What if my friends aren’t there, or someone I love doesn’t make it?”

“What about Ozzy? I know he’s not gonna be there.”

Im a life long metalhead, and Blizzard of Oz was the first great love of my life.

The thought of heaven still fills me with dread, though some of the reasons are different.

First of all, I’ve never been presented with a heaven that wasn’t entirely servile. You’re slave to God for all eternity. Not my idea of a good time. Hey, work all your life for God and save up treasure in heaven. Then when you get there; you can give it all back to him and praise him forever. No fuckin’ thank you.

Secondly, how could I be made perfect and still be me? How would it be possible for me to maintain any sense of self? I can’t see it, and if I’m not me why bother. Think about it, if you’ve got however many millions of people and they’re all perfect, how could you distinguish them from each other?

That makes heaven kinda seem like an oblivion of self, but with continued existence.

Once again, NO FUCKING THANK YOU.

If did conceive of a heaven I would enjoy, perhaps an opportunity to learn everything and set some things right, it would have to be finite. I would have to have an exit option.

Now, none of this is relevant to whether or not there is an afterlife. There either is or there isn’t objectively, regardless of how I feel about it.

That said, I’ve never seen any evidence, that shows our consciousness is seperate from the body, or can survive it’s death. So I don’t believe it is, or does. It’s really that simple.

Now you might say: “But Duke, what about near death experiences?”

Great question. I’ll be posting about that in the near future, and talking about the evidence for a naturalistic consciousness also. But for today I’m just talking about how I feel about it.

So, as an atheist, I believe in my eventual extinction. If I’m honest, I believe that is universal.

To quote Neil Gaiman’s Death character from The Sandman series:

When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.

Obviously, I don’t believe death is a cognitive being, but it’s a lovely quote and I think it conveys my point really well.

Honestly, if you’re not reading Neil Gaiman, I don’t understand what you’re doing with your life.

So, you might ask me:

“But Duke, isn’t life sacred?”

Fuck no! Where the fuck did you get that idea?

I will gleefully spray my yard with fire ant killer, and think happy thoughts while those hateful little motherfuckers die.

Some life is sacred.

My life is sacred to me, and the lives of my loved ones also. Through empathy, I’m able to draw the conclusion that human life outside of that bubble is sacred also, and extrapolate from there to other sentient beings. From there I can apply appropriate rights to each level of consciousness, and fire ants have no fucking right to exist.

Sorry. I really hate fire ants.

Moving on, I know that the extinction of one’s personal life, and of our species is something that most people find upsetting. While I’m in no hurry to die, and I want to see the human species flourish into something more wonderful than it is today, I don’t see it that way.

I think it’s beautiful we are here at all. I think the finite nature of existence is what makes it valuable. If you live in the West, you may take water for granted. It’s everywhere all the time, so you just drink your fill and you don’t give it a second thought. If the water started running out it would quickly become the most precious thing in the world to you.

Perhaps that’s how I will feel if death comes for me slowly. If I waste away, instead of dying instantly. Who knows, but I do know there is nothing to fear.

If I die quickly or slowly the end result remains. I won’t exist anymore, so I won’t be there to notice it.

In a universe where life could’ve not happened at all; I got a shot at it. I find that thought to be lovely.

As for why I find the idea of oblivion comforting, it’s an eternity of rest, which I think will be welcome when the time comes.

As precious as my life is to me, I wouldn’t want to do it forever. I’m not even sure I’d want a do over.

Sure, I’m not famous or wealthy, and I’ll likely never be. But my life has been mine, and, for the most part, I’ve loved it.

I’ve connected with some truly beautiful people, had great times, great sex. I’ve had my heart filled with light, and fire, and I’ve seen that fire extinguished, a bit to often maybe, but I’d rather feel both than neither. I’ve watched two children be born (and let me tell you, that’s the greatest feeling ever).

I’ve really lived, and I love it.

I wouldn’t change a thing, and I don’t begrudge life for not keeping me forever.

When the end comes, it comes, and I think I’ll be ready for a break.

I love you all.

Anti-theism and the division in modern atheism.

I see the word spectrum a lot in online discussions. I think it’s a perfect word for when you’re trying to delineate between extremes and show there is a middle ground. Which is why I’m using it here to describe different atheist positions in terms of the utility, and overall negative/positive impact of religion.

It is a spectrum, as are most ideological positions, ranging from atheists who are outright religious apologists (Douglas Murray, Steve Shives, ect.) to atheists who cannot countenance even the slightest positive word on religion. (Daniel Dennet, Richard Dawkins, ect.) The disconnect I’m seeing is coming more from the later than the former.

Let me clarify something. I’m not referring to athiesm as an ideology here. I believe the lack of belief definition for atheism is the best definition for atheism in general, though I find that people have much more subjective definitions for their personal atheist experience. I, for example, do not lack a belief, but actively disbelieve in any God. There is no God. That’s my stance. So the broad definition doesn’t apply to me. By ideological stance I mean the position on the utility of religion.

Amongst anti-thiests there seems to be a reluctance to see any spectrum at all. It seems that any deviance from the strict anti-religious position anti-thiests hold is often met with open hostility, such as Reece’s anti-thiesm or gtfo position. (Don’t get me wrong here, I respect Reece both for his content, and his unwavering principled stance. I just don’t agree.)

This leaves people in different areas of the spectrum feeling disenfranchised to say the least. It also lends to the idea that there is something inherently dogmatic and fundamentalist about the anti-thiest position in general. I tend to see anti-thiesm and pro-theism as polar opposite positions on the same spectrum. We all agree there is likely no God, but cannot come to terms on what level of relevance religion has, if any, in modern society.

This is not to say that the pro-religious, cultural Christian group do not pose a problem to the movement also. They certainly do, such as lending credence and credulity to an oppressive system of thought that, in my humble opinion we would be well better without. And these people need to be called out for that, with no quarter asked and none given, but an out of the closet atheist expressing trepidation at calling religion all bad, in every possible way, all the time is not synonymous with the aforementioned group. It just isn’t. That said, I don’t see pro-theists to be as great of a threat to group cohesion as many of the anti-thiests in the movement.

I’ve often heard that creating an atheist movement is tantamount to herding cats. While this may be true in the present, I don’t believe it need be true forever.
Look at the modern Christian movement. It should be impossible. Once upon a time these were groups of people who viewed themselves not as Christian, but as Pentecostal, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, and so on. They viewed each other with distrust, and disgust, reacting with violence, to the point of burning each other for heresy. Yet here we are in the 21st century dealing with Christians united in nondenominational groups that are pushing hard for their values in government and society at large, and they outnumber us on a ridiculous level. Why? They have a common enemy: the modern, secular, liberal movement. If we want to make changes in society, and increase liberal values, we will have to find a way to emulate the faithful and put aside our differences for our common goals. In my opinion (and all of this is opinion) the disconnect between anti-thiests, and…well everyone else is the biggest stumbling block to achieving that.

My atheist testimony.

When I was young I loved Jesus. I thought he was the fuckin’ bees knees. I was passionate about Christianity, and lived my life as a devout Independent Baptist. I believed the earth was 6000 years old, and created in a literal 6 days. I believed every word of the Bible was God breathed into the minds of the men who wrote it without any input from them at all, and the only English translation of the Bible that was relevant was the King James 1611.

So what happened Duke? Why’d you decide to join a group of baby eating, amoral, heretics reviled the world over?

I’m glad you asked that, because that’s just what we’re going to talk about today.

I began having doubts in my mid 20’s. Those doubts did not come to fruition until my late 20’s early 30’s but somewhere in the depths of my brain was a small voice saying: “you know this is bullshit, right?”

I’m often asked by concerned believers: “What happened? Did someone die? What caused you to be so bitter towards God?” It wasn’t anything so dramatic as that. For me it was a simple lack of his presence. It was the countless nights of crying out into the darkness, and getting no reply.

And the voice started getting louder everyday:

“8 million species of animals in groups of 2 and 14 on a fucking boat? For how long?”

“The majority of the stars we see are way further than 6000 light years away.”

“Dude you’ve read the Old Testament, you know God’s a viscious cunt right?”

At 32 I had moved to being a deist, which quickly progressed to agnosticism before the year was out. Around that time I discovered Penn Jillette. I had no idea what being an atheist meant. I had no idea where to look for information, but I was looking at Penn’s Wikipedia page (I don’t remember why now) and saw that he is an atheist, so I googled his name, came across his YouTube channel, and started watching.

Through him I found Hitchens, and through Hitch I found Sam Harris, and I rather quickly became an atheist. I heard arguments I had never heard before, and they hit on all of my points of concern with pinpoint accuracy.

I did, however, still talk to God. Mostly when I was angry at him about something.

That’s an interesting part of my atheist journey. I was so used to just talking to God when I was hurt, scared, or just plain pissed off that I just kept doing it. Then one day, I was just about to start up when I said to myself: “Why are you doing this? He’s not there.” And a thousand pounds was lifted off my shoulders.

Up until that point I had been in abject misery over the loss of my faith and I desperately wanted it back. My marriage was falling apart. I was mostly hiding my beliefs for fear of reprisal. I felt betrayed and lied to by every person I loved, and worse I had led quite a few people to Christianity (including 3 confirmed atheists).

In that one moment all of that disappeared. My fear, and anger melted away and for the first time in my life I felt saved.

I went straight home and changed my Facebook status to atheist, and confirmed the fears of everyone I knew.

That was the beginning of the end for my marriage. It resulted in one of the worst fights my ex and I ever had. We were never the same. It took about 5 years to finally end. We fought the whole time, and if I’m honest I don’t really miss her. I miss having my daughter, but not my ex. I remember her looking me dead in the eyes the night of that fight and saying:

“Now all my friends are going to know they were right about you.”

And I suppose they were. I learned that day that love, perhaps, can’t conquer all.

Since then I’ve been an out of the closet atheist. I don’t necessarily broadcast it where I live (bum-fuck Florida) but everyone who knows me, knows I don’t believe.  And I wouldnt change that for the world.

So that my story, or I should say the short version of it. One life saved from an existence of meaningless servitude to a God that’s not there, and not a moment to soon.