Atheism and Death

Grim_Reaper-252x300A blog called Just Atheists was written by a group of atheists who tried to explore ethics and justice in the absence of a Creator who grants us those things.  One author named Brian J. Sabel wrote a post in March 2008 that explored death and why he believed that a nonreligious view of death was superior to the religious one.

Unfortunately, the original article is long gone.  The only bit of it that has been preserved in tact is this quote, cited on my own blog:

Without the rewards of the afterlife, [the religious] say, our lives on earth have no value or meaning. They often view my rejection of a belief in an afterlife as a cynical and nihilistic view which robs humankind of our best qualities. They could not be more wrong. And, in fact, I feel that my view elevates the value of human life beyond the capacity of a religious view.

The finite nature of our lives compels me to believe that each life is unique, valuable, and irreplaceable. When a person dies she is gone and we will never get her back. The consequence of this belief is that I love the people around me very deeply because I recognize how precious they are and how fortunate I am to experience their lives – they could be gone from me so quickly.

Brian actually has a point.  His view elevates the view of this life above how religious often view it.  But the Bible doesn’t teach us to view this life as one of much importance.  The Bible calls this life a “mist” (Jms 4:14).  Like Brian’s astute observation, the Bible affirms that this life can be taken from us at any moment.

Unlike Brian, the Bible states we must build our treasure in heaven (Mt 6:19-20).  But if life is a vapor and our focus should be on heaven, does that mean we have no regard for this life or the people we meet?  Is the secular view really superior in that it places a higher value on life than we religious?

While this life is nothing compared to what is to come, there is certainly wisdom in the expression “We don’t inherit this planet from our parents, we borrow it from our children.”  With all of the comparisons to God as the landowner and humans as His stewards in Jesus’ parables, can anyone ever really conclude that we aren’t called to be faithful stewards of all God has given us — including life?  There is value to this life inasmuch as it points to the next life.

I like to steal the example that Peter Kreeft gives for eternity.  Think of our lives as a flat geometric plane and eternity as the geometric space containing that plane.  The “shape” we build on the plane is one dimension of what we will have in space.  A rectangle on the plane becomes a box in space; a triangle becomes a pyramid; a circle becomes a sphere.

That means if we build a foundation of devaluing existence now, it’s not going to be any better in space.

The lesson is to be good stewards of what God gives us right now.  Those who are faithful with a little will be trusted with a lot (see Lk 16:10).

While I understand the point that Brian was trying to make, it just doesn’t make a secular view superior to a religious view.  The very view Brian suggests is absent from religion is implicit in the Christian worldview.