I’m not religious, but I understand why others are. The desire for meaning is present in all of us. Religion holds a sense of belonging that people yearn for. God provides a reason; nay he is the reason. Will I denounce the possibility of a god? No, but I will denounce what he can do to people. He is an easy answer to questions that shouldn’t be easily answered. It is not hard to praise and blame god whenever anything happens. It is hard to wonder and question, because in mystery lies darkness, and in darkness lies pain. But in knowing that there is darkness, you also know there is light. I wouldn’t be writing this paper if I didn’t have at least a teensy inclination to learn.
There is an afterlife. Unfortunately, not in the possibility of heaven and hell, but in some form. We are not reincarnating into trees or living in the sky, but instead living in each other’s minds. You are only dead when you are forgotten, but our memories fade. Since the afterlife is another form of life, there has to be another form of death. After the long-fought battle to understand that death provides more meaning to life, I now have to understand that it’s not just my death, but our death as a collective that plays a role. I can rationalize what life is like without me and my family specifically because I see it in movies all the time, but to think of our entire species gone? Unfathomable.
What Samuel Scheffler brings to me is a dawning realization. The afterlife is temporary just as our regular lives. At some point, it’ll all be undone. Those who remember us will forget or will be forgotten to the point of my existence not existing. Scheffler’s afterlife conjecture is a harrowing way of defining what we should give value to. He says, “if we were faced with the prospect of humanity’s imminent extinction, we would lose confidence in the value of many of our most cherished activities” (Scheffler 1). As disappointing as that is, that is not a reason to lose all sense of meaning. It is just another death. If the first death isn’t scary because we are maximizing the meaning inherent in every situation of our lives, there is still no fear.
Scheffler, Samuel, and Niko Kolodny. Death and the Afterlife. Oxford University Press, 2016.