This isn't exactly breaking news, but I'll say it anyway. Each of us is going to die.
Those seven words are undeniably scary. Life isn't always pleasant. Yet the gulf between having a difficult life and no life at all is more than immense. It's immeasurable. There's no way to compare being alive and being dead, or existence and non-existence.
The worst day anyone can have is on a different dimension than not existing at all.
Understand: I'm not saying that life is always worth living. Suicide and death with dignity testify to the fact that sometimes people prefer to check out of life early, rather than waiting for the involuntary eviction notice.
There are many reasons most people on Earth embrace some form of religiosity. However, a central reason has to be the reassurance almost every religion provides that when the last breath is taken, that doesn't mark the end of their life, but rather the beginning of a new form of existence.
I don't believe this is true.
There's no convincing evidence of life after death. Nor is there convincing evidence that human consciousness can exist without a functioning brain. Comas, anesthesia, being hit on the head with a baseball bat -- there's abundant evidence that consciousness is a product of the brain, though how this happens still isn't fully understood.
Still, each of has to come to grips with the reality of death whether we're an ardent atheist, committed religious believer, or somewhere in-between.
Leaving aside the option of not thinking about death until it stares us in the face (which can be a good way to live, for those capable of doing this), it seems to me that there's two basic approaches to preparing for the inevitability of our eventual demise.
One is to try to expand our self. The other is to try to shrink our self.
Almost all religions take the first approach: expanding the self. For example, some religions say that after death there is either bodily resurrection (Christianity) or reincarnation (Hinduism). Mystical aspects of religion proclaim that the soul can merge with God, taking on divine attributes.
Aside from the fact that self-expansion, or consciousness-expansion, likely isn't possible in any sense that extends beyond the bounds of a single physical life, there's other reasons to shy away from this approach.
It encourages grandiosity.
I see this all the time in comments religious believers leave on my blog posts, notably those who are devotees of an Indian form of spirituality known as Sant Mat, or the Path of the Saints. They're fond of claiming that this is the highest form of religion, supposedly leading as it does to knowledge of an ultimate divine reality.
Of course, just about every religion makes this same claim.
Since there is no evidence of one religion being superior to another, almost certainly because they all are "fake news" (to borrow a phrase from Donald Trump), it seems ridiculous for a member of any faith to say that their way is the only way -- sort of like people arguing about which unicorn color is the most attractive, given that unicorns don't exist except in one's imagination.
So I prefer the other approach to dealing with life and our eventual death: shrinking the self.
After all, us humans already are pretty damn insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Aside from having a lot of company here on Earth -- the human population is about 7.6 billion -- we are on a planet circling one of about 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of at least 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe.
And we're very lucky to live 100 years, which is an infinitesimal blip in the 13.7 billion year old universe we inhabit.
Thus it doesn't take much for us to shrink down to almost nothing, either figuratively or literally (the whole "ashes to ashes' thing). But our egos enjoy pretending that we're way more important than we really are, which goes a long way toward explaining the appeal of religions.
God so loves us, he sent his only son to die for our sins. The soul is destined to return home to its heavenly father. Humans are the pinnacle of creation.
The myths of religion are innumerable. I much prefer reality:
Each of us is nothing special. We're connected to all other living things through the secular "miracle" of evolution. We live for a while, then we die. Humility is not only a virtue, it's the way things are in a world that is much grander and longer-lived than us.
Of all the world's religions, in my opinion Buddhism and Taoism are the best at offering ways to help us shrink our sense of self. One reason is that neither posits an enduring Self, or Soul. Rather, they teach that life is ever-changing, as are we. Our existence is intimately connected with that of everything else on Earth. We're humble parts of the whole.
He who stands on tiptoe is not steady.
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
He who makes a show is not enlightened.
He who boasts achieves nothing.
He who brags will not endure.
According to followers of the Tao,
"These are extra food and unnecessary luggage."
They do not bring happiness.
Therefore followers of the Tao avoid them.
-- Tao Te Ching
As a concrete example of the difference between grandiose and humble approaches to spirituality, I spend exactly zero time and effort on religious web sites or blogs trying to push my atheist point of view. Sure, I enjoy sharing churchless/atheist ideas here on my own blog, but I don't go out of my way to convince others that they should adopt my perspective.
But ever since I started this blog in 2004, religious believers -- mostly of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas/Sant Mat variety -- have commented in droves on my blog posts. The way I see it, this shows that they're not very confident in their belief system, since when someone presents arguments against what they believe, they take this as a battle cry to fight against.
Thus I'm pleased to be a humble churchless blogger rather than a grandiose believer in religious dogma. It's much more relaxing that way, since my only commitment is to the truth as best I can understand it. Truth doesn't require any attempt to boost it up, since it stands tall on its own.
Regarding death, my bet is that what will happen to me is exactly the same thing that happens to every other person: we die and are gone forever. The way I see it, the more I can reduce my sense of ego and specialness, the easier it will be to let go when the moment of dying comes.
Until then, I'll enjoy life.
Sure, religious believers typically derive comfort from a fantasy that death won't be the end for them. But the price they pay for their belief strikes me as too high -- feeling like they are the special beloveds of God or some other higher power, which leads to a sense of separation from everybody else who won't enjoy such a marvelous afterlife.
I'd rather feel like I'm simply part of the dead-and-gone-forever crowd. If somehow I discover that I'm living on after I die, that'll be great news. I'm not counting on it, though.