Once I stopped believing in God as understood by Christianity, the religious ideas regarding Heaven and Hell fell apart. Some time after that, by carefully and skeptically considering the existence of the soul, I came to the conclusion that it is quite likely that the soul does not exist either and, therefore, that there is no life after death.
Accepting that we only have one chance to experience this world was very difficult for me for two main reasons.
Life is not fair.
It is difficult to deny that life can be incredibly unfair: some people suffer immeasurably most of their life and there seems to be no correlation between how good a person is and the type of life that they live. If we believe in some kind of divine plan designed by a loving God, then we can think of different justifications or rationalizations for this apparent injustice (cf. “God acts in mysterious ways”). However, regardless of whether God exists, it is undeniable that there is much suffering in this world.
This is very unfortunate. We can try to remedy the situation with the idea of reincarnation (cf. “It does not really matter if you suffer in this life, you will surely do better in the next”). I believed in something similar for several years, so I could preserve some sort of universal justice. Unfortunately, when you stop believing in the existence of the soul (or that the universe has to be fair), then there is no place for reincarnation.
Thus, there is no escape. My belief system implies that life is full of abominable unjustified injustices and, moreover, that there is no later comfort or compensation to remedy them.
Reading about the Holocaust, seeing the photo of a starving child, or finding out that someone suddenly died of cancer, becomes incredibly more tragic. Simply and coldly, for one reason or another, those poor people had the misfortune to be subjected to these calamities and there will be no second chance for them.
Life is too short.
Even if we were to live a relatively normal and happy life, how can we accept that after dying we will never be able to embrace those whom we love? How can we accept that we will never be able to see the sunrise, have our favorite food, chat with out friends, or simply watch a movie curled up with the person we love?
Time flies. I still get a bit nostalgic when I reflect on the happy years of my childhood and realize that they are forever gone. And now, my melancholy greatly intensifies when I come to see that was the only childhood I will ever get to enjoy.
When I kiss my wife, when I smell her hair, when I see her smiling, I cannot help thinking that a whole life is simply not enough to be with her. If I find it difficult to accept that after one of us dies we will never see each other again, how can I accept that after I die I will never get to experience love again with her or anybody else?
It is tough.
Definitely, believing there is something else for us after death is very comforting. Trusting that starving children will reincarnate to live happy fulfilling lives, or imagining a wonderful suffering-free place especially designed for me by a loving God, brings a smile to my face. It is no wonder so many people think this way.
But I cannot. The cold logic of my reasoning does not let me escape, and my intellectual and moral integrity does not allow me to believe something just because I would love it to be true.
Things, however, are not as bleak as they may seem.
Yes, the world is riddled with injustice. But there is no reason for us to remain idle in the face of suffering. We can all contribute our grain of sand.
Let us go out in the morning with a big smile on our faces, let us be kind and considerate to all, let us make their day just a little bit more enjoyable. Let us reflect on all we have, be thankful, and share our privileges. Have you ever visited the sick? Have you ‘sacrificed’ your time in a social organization? Have you given to charity? The world needs us; even if God did exist, it is our and only our responsibility to make this a better world.
Yes, death is a tragic event that arrives too soon. But there is no reason for us to be depressed by such an unfortunate fact. We are here. We are alive now.
Let us try to take full advantage of the time we have. Let us experience the world. Let us enjoy the company of our family and friends, let us savor our favorite meal, let us laugh out loud, let us dance, let us run! Is there something you have always wanted to learn about and you have not done so for lack of will? Would you love to reconcile with that special someone? When was the last time you told your partner that you love them with all your heart? What are you waiting for?! Life is short.
We must face the world as it is, not as we wish it were, with its beauty and its ugliness, its injustices and its pleasures. We must face up to it to better understand it so we can improve and enjoy it in the best way.
Even though for some time the unjust and ephemeral nature of life made me feel quite distressed, curiously and even ironically, reflecting on the suffering in the world and the tragedy of death has led me to live a more human, more fulfilling, happier life.