Cosmically insigficant

People sometimes ask me if it's depressing facing death as an atheist. I mean, when you die, you're just gone. No white light, no harps in the clouds, no gold-paved city, no reunions with those who went before you. Just the end. And I tell them, no – it's actually kind of the other way around. To me, it's a much more depressing thought that this life isn't good enough – that it's just a preparation for the eternal life to come. Over at Evolutionblog, Jason Rosenhouse phrases it eloquently:
I really don't understand people who say life has no point or meaning unless it's a prelude to the eternity we will spend with God in heaven. This seems precisely backward to me. It is hard to imagine anything more pointless and soul-crushing than the thought that we are just marking time here on Earth while waiting for our real lives to begin after we die. Whatever meaning life has surely arises in part from the fact that it is finite. You have only so many years in which to cram as much experience, learning, love, friendship or whatever else it is that gives you satisfaction, so you had better make every moment count. That's the realization that gives life its point and its zest.
This thought also applies to the significance of how we live our lives. Certain theologians muse that unless our actions have cosmic significance, they just seem completely pointless. Why live if you're just going to be gone? Why do good if, in a thousand years, no one will remember or care?

People who think like that are missing out. Imagine you do some small, random act of kindness – like, say, buy a sandwich for a homeless guy. Did you solve all his problems? Did you give him a second chance? Did you change the world? Is anyone going to remember, or care, in a thousand years (or in eternity)? No. You met someone who's had a rough life, and you're brightening his day just a tiny bit. You reminded him that people are out there who care. Shouldn't that be enough? Why would it matter whether your act of kindness would be remembered, or whether it would be cosmically significant?

When we get to the end of our lives, hopefully we've made the best of it. Hopefully we've been lucky, and made it through without a lot of suffering. Hopefully we're leaving behind lots of friends and loved ones whose lives we touched, and we did what we could to live the happiest lives we could. And maybe we hope that the kindness we've shown others has helped make the world just a little bit of a better place – because we care about those we're leaving, and we want them to go out with a smile on their face too. Eternity doesn't care about me, but that's okay – I don't care about eternity.


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