Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Non-Consolation of Belief in an Afterlife

The original version of this entry was written ten months after the death of a close friend.

It is incomprehensible to me that anyone can find consolation in the idea of being reunited with loved ones after death. I am not even considering the question of how anyone can believe such a thing, though that to me is incomprehensible to such a degree that I seriously doubt that most people who profess such a belief actually hold it. I suspect that most of them have confused the wish that something were the case for a belief that it is the case. But that is not my concern here. What I mean is that I cannot understand how people can even find such a belief, or pretense of belief, consoling.

When I mourn my friend, it is in my life that I need him and miss him: it is his absence from my life that afflicts me. Even if I could believe that I would see him again after my death, that belief would do me no good now. Granted the assumption that I, unlike him, live a normal span of life, the prospect of being able to resume our conversation several decades from now, when in all likelihood my grief over the loss of him will have diminished almost to nothing, does nothing for me now, when I suffer the most from the loss of him.

For that matter, I find nothing consoling in the idea of my own life continuing beyond death, whether in ghostly form or resurrected—assuming, of course, contrary to my suspicion, that such suppositions are even coherent. Such an existence would have to be utterly unlike anything that we can imagine. So it would not be a restoration of what we stand to lose by dying. To me, that makes it no better than no existence at all, as far its power to make death seem less terrible is concerned.

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