Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Immortality from an Atheist Perspective

On Monday I attended a funeral. I wasn't well-acquainted with the deceased, but she was the grandmother of a beloved friend and I wanted to show my support. It was a Catholic Mass, which I, being raised as such, am accustomed to. The service reminded me of all the losses I've faced in life, the times I've said goodbye to my loved ones within the doors of a beautifully appointed church.

However, I'm an atheist, and have been for almost all of my adult life. So while people who believe in God(s) can be comforted by the idea that they will one day again see their dearly departed, when I lose someone it's a supremely unhelpful platitude, one that I nonetheless bear with a grateful smile, because I know the speaker means well, and the time and place for refuting life views is not in the midst of dealing with a loss. And hell, having never been dead personally, I can't say for sure if any part of the human consciousness survives death. It doesn't seem likely to me, but I'm not so arrogant to say I've got the universe figured out. I'm sure that will take me until at least 40.

What I do know, however, is that there is immortality. And we are all living examples of it.

Human beings are social creatures. We've evolved many times over in our existence, but the fact remains that we continue to live interdependently of each other. We live in family units, which make up communities, cities, countries, and finally the planet itself. We write, we make art, we leave imprints of our thoughts and philosophies for those left behind. That is a minor example of immortality.

Those left behind is the major example.

We are none of us absent from the influence of our fellow man. People affect us, sometimes without us even being aware of it. Children change us, parents raise us, friends influence us, strangers offer new perspective. And all of those people have been influenced in their own way as well. Reading this will influence whomever is on the receiving end, in however minor a way. I've had students, neighbors, a nephew, people I may not even remember. Like the ripple effect, they've been influenced by me and I by them. And I am the product of the inspirations of people who came before me, in ways they probably couldn't even fathom in life. This is true for everyone in the world.

The really beautiful part of this truth is that it takes nothing away from those who are religiously or spiritually inclined. You can enjoy the beauty of it while still hoping for Heaven or Nirvana, or whatever you believe death holds for you.

And when you think about it, it makes the idea that "He/she will always be with you." a universal truth rather than an worn-out cliche. A comforting truth is the most beautiful thing in a time of grief.

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