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The Secular Afterlife Myth

So none of the following is to bring shame to people who have ideation. Tropes such as “You are being selfish” and “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem” to a person in pain are invalidating, malplaced, and likely to do more harm than good.

If you’re in pain you need two things—and maybe that needs to come with the help of someone else, someone external to you—that seem kind of opposite. Acceptance and improvement. It’s difficult to accept how things are right now when you have your eye on the horizon of how you want things to be. It’s difficult to improve your situation when you don’t have any bearing on the swamp you are currently standing in.

The following text talks about how the relief that death brings, how that relief is just an illusion. That might cause panic in some of the reading audience if their experience is that their life sucks. If you are clinging to that illusion as a consolation, please don’t be afraid. Please don’t panic. Nothing is urgent. There’s no rush.

One of my great zen teachers, when I would say “aaaah I’m freaking out over here, I can’t even with this!” she’d often reply “Can things just be that way?” As in… if things suck… can’t they just suck? Not to get stuck in acceptance without any hope of improvement—acceptance is just one of two legs you are going to need to stand on.

One of the fundamental illusions in the Western mindset is death as relief. As much as Ligotti protests it, it seems that his book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is also underpinned by the same assumption. We hate what’s on TV, we turn it off. Worker bees can leave. Even drones can fly away. But it’s not proven that we can experience relief in death.

Acceptance of death and the inevitability thereof is great, has really made a huge difference in my life. Really happy I don’t have to be afraid of that anymore. But death itself when it comes is not an improvement on my life. It’s an end of it. It will not bring a sensation of relief, a feeling of lessened stress, an experience of no more pain.

The experience of relief feels like the “afterlife myth” of our secular context and I believe it’s a myth that’s doing a lot of harm.

Life is what it is. Finite, limited, and here and now. Taste it or waste it♥

Ligotti makes a good case that “life is gonna get better” is an illusion many people cling to. But his proposed solution of death is not gonna bring relief.

As I write this, I’m struggling with insomnia. I need to be patient. Maybe getting back in the groove of better sleep will take months rather than weeks.

Circumstances can suck—constant physical pain, panic over isolation, and the frustration of diminished cognition due to lack of sleep—but that’s just how it is. And sure, there is a point in many people’s lives where things are not gonna get better. But skipping to the end won’t solve that.

It’s one life, it’s this life, and it’s, well, if not beautiful then it’s the closest we’ve got.

It was so sweet to read about the box of rain the other day. “It’s just a box of rain and I don’t know who put it there.” I don’t need to write my Ligotti refutation since Robert Hunter already did.

Things just are. The disgusting, decaying chaos of stars and suns and hurtling comets and rapidly reproducing cells and proteins folding all over the place and neurons firing… it’s what we have. There’s no getting away from it. Death isn’t “getting away”. It is not escaping. It’s just what it is.

I’m not proposing that we cling to life with cockamamie cryogenics schemes and stuff like that.

Please don’t be afraid of dying. It’s gonna come no matter what we do. But please don’t be afraid of living either.♥