In my interactions with theists, I'm sometimes confronted by this accusation that atheism offers no hope, no future, only despair and annihilation. Often, the eventual heat death of the universe is brought up to paint the picture of our bleak ultimate demise. There's no heaven, they say, there's no life after death. What's the point of living or doing anything if you're ultimately going to die and be annihilated?
And my response to this is—much to their surprise: so what? Who cares if the universe is going to reach heat death in 10^100 years? That's so far into the future it's irrelevant to anything I do now. Who cares if there is no magical eternal heaven after death? The finitude of life makes it more precious. Rarity increases value. It's the law of supply and demand. That's why we cherish diamonds. If diamonds were as common as dirt, their value would immediately plummet. You see, religions often culturally indoctrinate their members into dependency, and that's exactly what I see happening when I hear these views expressed by various religious adherents.
So I decided to come up with another analogy to express how I feel to give you a chance to hopefully see where I'm coming from. Here it goes.
Imagine you were raised from birth believing that you would inherit 1 million dollars when you turn 21. This promise makes you extremely happy and gives you tremendous motivation. It gives you something to look forward to—so much so, that the idea of not getting 1 million dollars makes you depressed. You fantasize about all the things you're going to do with it. And then, finally the day comes when you turn 21—and guess what—you are sadly informed that it was all a lie. You will not be getting that 1 million dollars you were promised. Unsurprisingly, this makes you extremely depressed. You curse your parents who lied to you. All of your dreams and fantasies that you entertained for years are now shattered. How are you going to live without the million dollars? Well, being raised without religion is kind of like being raised without the promise that you're going to inherit a million dollars when you turn 21. I wasn't raised with the promise of heaven. I wasn't raised with the idea that I will live forever. So the idea that I will one day die and be annihilated is totally normal to me. I didn't grow up with an emotional dependency on heaven and eternal life. But so many theists who believe in an afterlife have become so emotionally dependent on it that they just cannot accept the possibility of there not being an afterlife without thinking it's the most depressing thing in the world.
Or, to look at it from another angle, consider once again being that person who's lied to who thinks that he or she is going to get a million dollars on their 21st birthday. Imagine being confronted by a person who knew the truth that you weren't going to get that million dollars who's trying to convince you that it's all a sham. And imagine how that initially would make you feel. This person would be tearing apart your dreams and fantasies, your hopes for the future, the thing that gives you the most happiness—the most to look forward to. Imagine how you'd argue with this person. Imagine how much the emotional attachment to believing your whole life that you're going to get a million dollars would influence your response. Well, I feel like I'm dealing with this kind of situation when I interact with some theists on the issue of heaven and the afterlife. I'm the party pooper to them. I'm the one splashing them in the face with the bucket of cold water to sober them up. I'm the one ruining that promise that they've been believing their whole life that gives them so much to look forward to. That's what it's like dealing with theists who think that there being no eternal life is the most depressing possible news in the world. Many religions make people emotionally dependent on unsupported metaphysical claims, and that's how many of them keep their adherents under their power.
I hope that any theists reading this can at least appreciate the perspective.
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.