Can You Have a Meaningful Life Without an Afterlife?

At the Oklahoma Freethought Convention yesterday, Seth Andrews debuted his latest video — Afterlife — and got a standing ovation from the crowd. Well deserved, too.

This is a really beautiful video. A lot of popular YouTube atheists answer the question of how they get through the day knowing there’s no afterlife awaiting them. In short, they show us that a secular life is far from empty or meaningless:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Georgina

    Questions for the religious community:
    Is there life before death for those who believe in heaven and hell?
    Why are they so afraid to die?
    If there were no religious law against suicide, would they want to continue to live?
    Do they really want to convert us, knowing this would fill their heavens with people like us?
    Why are they so afraid to live?

    • Baby_Raptor

      Answers to  your questions, based off my ~18 years in that culture.

      1) Life before death planet is all about converting people and implementing God’s will. And bemoaning how evil the world has become, and how they can’t wait to go home. The way the church I attended phrased it was “being an example while we wait to be rescued.” 

      2/3) I personally wouldn’t have. After I realized my sexuality, I was terrified that God was going to send me to Hell when I died. I’d have delayed that as long as possible, had I stayed in the faith. 

      4) This is personally one of the (many) issues I have with Christianity. I don’t know how prevalent the attitude is, but my church was big into the “witnessing” thing, and often guilted people about it. “If you were to die tomorrow, how may people would ed up in hell because you never told them about Jesus?”

      5) Being in the world is seen as a bad thing because of how evil and corrupting it is. Living, therefore, would basically be signing yourself up for a trip to hell. 

    • machintelligence

      Do they really want to convert us, knowing this would fill their heavens with people like us? 

      NO.

      We are the pure, the chosen few,
      and all the rest are damned.
      There’s room enough in hell for you.
      We don’t want heaven crammed.

    • Arc182

      Based on my upbringing in the church (Christadelphian – a small offshoot similar to Jehovah’s Witnesses in many ways, though of course they’d deny this)

      A) Since we didn’t believe in hell, that’s a moot point…is there life here on Earth before heaven? Yes, of course, there is a rich life full of God’s blessings for you to enjoy…though there are some caveats…don’t enjoy it TOO much because
                 1)most of the things you enjoy are sinful, and
                 2)this world is only temporary, so you wouldn’t want to get too attached to its pleasures, would you?
            AND…you’d better remember that it’s all blessings, ALL of it, even the bad stuff, because that’s God’s will, and God’s will is GOOD, remember?

      B) Why would we be afraid to die? Well…
                 1)it might hurt
                 2)we leave people behind
                 3)what if we weren’t good enough?

      C) If there were no law against suicide, all of the above reasons would still apply. (I do remember thinking, even back then, that the prohibition on suicide was particularly unkind to the terminally ill…)

      D) Did I really want to convert you? ABSOLUTELY.  Knowing that my heaven would be filled with people like you…? You say that as though it’s a bad thing…but (maybe it was my youth) I truly believed that there was good in everyone, that God’s love would bring all the goodness in you forth, ta-dah, problem solved.  I loved humankind, and I really did want everyone to be saved. 

      E) Why would we be afraid to live? I’m not sure I understand the question…do you mean ‘why so afraid to enjoy all that life has to offer?’ That’s easy – so much of what’s available is sinful.  Before you laugh at that, please do consider that most of us don’t enjoy all that life has to offer for very similar reasons: we don’t live for pleasure alone, we also live by our own morals.

       (Old friends tease me, now, about some of my positions back then…I ‘knew’ that God considered homosexuality a sin, and I hated to think of all the nice homosexuals falling from God’s grace, so I wanted to persuade them to not be gay.  Exactly HOW I intended to do this was a little ambiguous…some friends with dirtier minds than me had a few suggestions…)

  • debbiedoesreality

    Beautiful and inspirational. The Thinking Atheist has so much good material. Good to read that he got a standing ovation for this.

  • NickDB

    Yup, I’m almost certain it’s the other way round. You can’t have a Meaningful life with an Afterlife.

    Kind of looses it’s mean for me if you can get a do over or this is just practice there is a reward of eternal happiness (Surely you’d get bored if you’re enternally happy) if you do what we tell you.

    • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

      Exactly my thought.  I’d want to ask believers how one can have a meaningful life when this one’s basically a warm-up.  For us, this life is meaningful because it’s the only one we’ve got, and that this isn’t self-evident to all people is somewhat terrifying to me.

  • Mick Wright

    Holy crap. Manly tears were shed. I woke up depressed this morning, and I’m grateful to Hemant and The Thinking Atheist for giving me something that lit me up like a sun for the day.

    • Baby_Raptor

      You sound like you need a hug. So…*HUGS*

  • Occam

    “An eternity in heaven would be hell for me.” — DPRJones

    This is exactly the thought that used to keep me awake at night as a teenager raised in the Catholic church.  I couldn’t imagine what anybody would find attractive about such a concept.

  • advancedatheist

    You know, atheists in the 21st Century can do better than this. Instead of tolerating this death nonsense, we push the development of cryonic suspension so that today’s dying people can take an ambulance ride across time to try to benefit from the better medical capabilities of future societies. 

    Refer to:

    1. General but outdated background information on the idea, mainly of historical interest now:

    The Prospect of Immortality (1964), by Robert Ettinger:

    http://www.cryonics.org/book1.html

    2. Cryopreservation of rat hippocampal slices by vitrification (a peer-reviewed scientific paper)

    “Microscopic examination showed severe damage in frozen–thawed slices, but generally good to excellent ultrastructural and histological preservation after vitrification. Our results provide the first demonstration that both the viability and the structure of mature organized, complex neural networks can be well preserved by vitrification. These results may assist neuropsychiatric drug evaluation and development and the transplantation of integrated brain regions to correct brain disease or injury.”

    http://www.21cm.com/pdfs/hippo_published.pdf

    3. Mike Darwin’s Chronosphere blog:

    http://chronopause.com/

    Mike goes back nearly to the beginnings of cryonics in the late 1960’s, and his blog offers a metaphorical gold mine of information, including references to a lot of scientific papers, about the field and its current but probably surmountable limitations.

    4. MIT neuroscientist Sebastian Seung defends cryonic suspension as a feasible scientific-medical experiment in his book Connectome, and I have it on good authority that he plans to speak at Alcor’s conference in Scottsdale, AZ, this October:

    http://hebb.mit.edu/people/seung/

    http://www.amazon.com/Connectome-How-Brains-Wiring-Makes/dp/0547508182

    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/New_Cryonet/message/2609

    http://www.alcor.org/blog/?p=2492

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

    that was very beautiful. thank you, Hemant. 

  • cipher

    No, of course not. Without the fear of hell, we’d all be out there rapin’, pillagin’ and a-plunderin’. It must be true; it’s what their pastors tell them, and they wouldn’t lie because they’re men of God!

  • ejoty

    I’ve often reflected on how conceited – or lacking in self-awareness -  anyone must be who wished to stay the same person for ever.

    • Arc182

        I always assumed that it had more to do with not wanting anyone ELSE to change – that is, in the afterlife, your loved ones are always there just as YOU remember them, surrounding YOU.

  • Kevin

    This video is fabulous….it defines who I am in many ways.

  • Marsha A.

    “Thinking about ‘forever’ hurts my brain,” said my five-year-old. Yet we dragged him to church for years. Thankfully, his wise doubting as a teen helped us all reject religion for good. Wonderful video! Thanks for sharing it!

  • machintelligence

    A little song (a ballad, no less, by Talking Heads) about heaven: 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zNdMc6wGtU

    If I can not see as far as some, it is because of the giants standing on my shoulders.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Bayin3 Ryne Smith

    This is a beautiful video. And it gives me something I can direct people to when they talk about the ‘hopelessness of atheism’.

  • Cincinatheist

    Seth is awesome. And this video continues his awesomeness. Thanks for sharing. This one now sits at the top of my list of favorite YouTube videos right beside philhellenes’s wonderful ‘Science Saved My Soul.’  Link here for those few of you out there in atheistland who might not have seen this one yet.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6w2M50_Xdk

  • Seladora

    I think the best part is that at the beginning it makes you feel so little and insignificant but near the end it connects you to not only the earth, but the universe. 

  • jpicazio

    Whoever said life was meaningless apart from faith? This world is beautiful and there is so much to see and explore and contribute to. It’s like saying life can’t be meaningful if you’re single / not married. The idea behind Chirstianity is beyond the pejorative idea of merely having fire insurance but the sublime, being friends with God.

  • TruthSeeker

    I think the beauty of the video masked the real meaning of the words spoken. Rather than focusing on how atheists find meaning in this present life, it seemed the first 2/3 of the video focused on dissing the idea of afterlife. Even if some religious zealots have distorted the afterlife idea somewhat, I still find it difficult to accept the concept that the unique essence and individuality of each human being is simply absorbed into the whole of the universe when this physical life is done and that’s “all there is” for me as a person. Something inside me wants to believe there is more to it than that.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X