When Atheists Die
Then ask yourself if heaven would be enjoyable without these things (the piano, sex, ideal family and friends, the dog, even some of those flaws), and ponder that if they were not present wouldn’t some important part of you be well and truly dead?
"In man's heaven everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there. The universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on, all day long, and every day, during a stretch of twelve hours. And everybody stays; whereas in the earth the place would be empty in two hours. . . . Meantime, every person is playing on a harp . . . ! Consider the deafening hurricane of sound -- millions and millions of voices screaming at once and millions and millions of harps gritting their teeth at the same time! I ask you: is it hideous, is it odious, is it horrible?
"Consider further: it is a praise service; a service of compliment, of flattery, of adulation! Do you ask who it is that is willing to endure this strange compliment, this insane compliment; and who not only endures it, but likes it, enjoys it, requires if, commands it? Hold your breath!
"It is God! This race's god, I mean. He sits on his throne, attended by his four and twenty elders and some other dignitaries pertaining to his court, and looks out over his miles and miles of tempestuous worshipers, and smiles, and purrs, and nods his satisfaction northward, eastward, southward . . . .
"All sane people hate noise; yet they have tranquilly accepted this kind of heaven -- without thinking, without reflection, without examination -- and they actually want to go to it! Profoundly devout old gray-headed men put in a large part of their time dreaming of the happy day when they will lay down the cares of this life and enter into the joys of that place. Yet you can see how unreal it is to them, and how little it takes a grip upon them as being fact, for they make no practical preparation for the great change: you never see one of them with a harp, you never hear one of them sing. . .
"It is because they do not think at all; they only think they think."
Do you know Shelley’s famous poem, “Ozymandias”? It’s haunted me from the minute I first read it until this moment as I reprint it for you:
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I’ve written much in this blog about my parents, both fascinating people. But, as with all of us (that’s you and me, blog readers) their memory dies as soon as those who once cared about them in turn die off themselves.
|Can you name these three famous actors?|
So it all dies, and our memories die too. Some people say “we’ll meet in heaven.” A pretty fable, but, in the ears of an atheist, the fanciful wish of those who cannot face their own mortality.
I’ve encountered death many times in my life (see “The First Time I Nearly Died,” August 3, 2010), and I’ve made most of the important decisions of my life thinking about how things will look at the very end (see “The Deathbed Test,” July 27, 2010). I accept that nothing lasts, but it’s nonetheless important to me that I, Douglas Whaley, did my best during the time allotted to me. Even if I’m the only one who knows it, I want to have contributed to humanity’s journey from the caves to the stars, doing as well as I could with was mine to give. This blog is part of that effort.
So atheists die the same way they lived. We believe that life is the sum of all one does between the first breath and the last, and judge ourselves by how well we did between the two. Would any fair god ask more?
On his deathbed, Charles Darwin, who started life training for the clergy but whose work saw him upend the Biblical explanation of the world, was able to struggle back from a faint. His last words were, "I am not in the least afraid to die."
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