I do not believe that our bodies, souls, or consciousnesses survive our deaths. I do not believe in an "afterlife." In my own eight points of belief, I wrote
"that human consciousness is the result of natural selection. Human beings do not have immortal souls nor will consciousness survive death. Thus there is no afterlife. There is no heaven, no hell, and no need for salvation from one realm to another."
Can I prove this? Of course not. I have no desire to try to do so or to convince anyone. I simply am being honest about me. It is what I believe. It is what I be-love. I give my heart to that reality. It is a religious and spiritual belief. It is also consistent with what I have observed about life and death.
I am not personally comforted by thoughts of heaven. For me, afterlife seems to make this life less valuable. It seems like a wish-fulfillment dream. But again, that is just me. I don't insist. I don't particularly care if people believe that their loved ones have survived their deaths and that they will meet with them someday. If it works for some people, that is great. In fact, as a minister, I often use the traditional liturgy at funerals that affirms resurrection. Some people likely find comfort in it. I do, too, in a way. For me, it is like singing old hymns about God. They are poetic. They reflect a yearning and a feeling that seeks to affirm the sacredness of life. But I don't take any of it literally. I sometimes wish that there were more hymns and prayers that affirmed this life. I often turn to contemporary poets for that. Mary Oliver is one of my favorites.
This is not merely academic for me. My son died nearly seven months ago. I don't think he is in heaven. It isn't because I don't think he completed the requirements for admission; it is because I don't think such a place exists. The same is true for hell and for any other possible place or state. I don't think I'll see Zach again. It doesn't bring me sadness that I won't see him in heaven. What is devastating is that I won't see, touch, hear, and smell him on Earth. That is devastating every single day. No amount of "heaven" would ever substitute for that. Theistic forms of comfort or afterlife affirming forms of comfort don't do anything for me. My boy is gone. His memory will remain as I cultivate it. And that is life.
What I find in my grief for my son is that when I say what I really think, it truly disturbs some people. That is sad for me as it makes my grief even harder. They really want me to believe that he is somewhere out there or is communicating with me. I don't say anything as I don't want to offend them or upset their faith. I don't write this post to disturb. I write it because it is true for me and I know I am not alone. I grieve without the hope of afterlife. There are people who grieve without God and need to be encouraged and comforted in their grief.
Many people think that isn't possible. The Apostle Paul famously wrote in 1 Thessalonians:
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."
He goes on to say how both the living and the dead will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord on that great day. I don't believe that. So I guess I grieve as "others do who have no hope." If that is the only definition for "hope" then I have none.
You know what? I think I have earned the right to this honesty. I have been through hell. Not a day goes by, not an hour goes by, when I don't miss my son. From what I have been reading on the topic of the manner of my son's death, my grief will likely get worse before it "gets better." I really don't appreciate the smugness of the opinionated such as Dennis Prager, who writes of "the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism" in his piece,The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook. I mean, really?
Those of us who are not theists are not intellectually bereft or emotionally empty. We simply don't believe in God or in afterlife. For us, if there is such a thing as "hope" it is something to be found this side of the grave. We can comfort one another with our hearts and minds. We can care for one another with our words, deeds, and silence. We can share tears. We can acknowledge new shoots of green. Some of us don't even mind singing the old hymns and using "God" language. I happen to think that language about God is really about us and what we are and can be. I think I might be a post-atheist, for what it is worth. That simply means that I like religion and seek to bring its language and accomplishments to further the cause of human well-being and the well-being of Earth.
I don't grieve as one without hope. I hope to integrate my son's life and death into my life. I hope to become a better person. I hope to be able to listen deeply to others. I hope to be joyful on occasion. I hope to do meaningful work. I hope that all assault weapons will one day turn into garden hoes. I hope that we can learn more about suicide and help others through their pain so that they can make different choices. I hope that those who survive the suicide of a loved one will be able to relieve their burden of guilt. I hope those who have lost children will find their courage. I hope for a lot actually.
I also hope that Dennis Prager stops picking on atheists. Some of us are grieving here.