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March,2001

You Can't Take It With You by Cliff Walker

Recently I stumbled upon a web page containing a preacher's collection of antiatheist jokes and slogans. He uses these for his sermons. One part was the "Ten Top Problems of Atheists." Our biggest problem is: "No matter where you go when you die, there won't be any atheists there." Oh I get it! When Jesus throws us in Christian Hell for disagreeing with Him (for saying He's a god?), then we'll have to admit gods exist.

After posting an impassioned but futile plea, asking him to join us in our struggle to reduce the bigotry against atheists, a few readers responded, saying that we don't "go" anywhere when we die.

Betimes I fantasize about the afterlife Christians think they'll enjoy, trying to see how anyone could believe it. Of late, The Muser has pondered the various functions of the body, that they all have a purpose. Evolution apparently saw fit to equip us only with functions that we need in order to get by in the physical world. Almost none of these functions would be needed in what I see as the Christian afterlife. In Paradise, where each man gets 72 virgins, I could see a need for bodily functions, but not in the Heaven described by Christians.

If, to the Christian, this life is just a veil, obscuring the "real" scheme of things ("we now see through a glass darkly"), then I do not see any need for eyes. If we are to be "spirit," simply "knowing," as many suggest, then we don't need any senses or even a brain -- which would only get in the way.

Limbs, senses, and internal organs, such as the pancreas and the large intestine, are rather easy to explain away as useless in the Christian Heaven. These exist so we can cope with life on Earth, and "things will be different up there."

But nobody who posits a non-physical afterlife bothers thinking about the need for a conscious, aware "Self" in order for us to survive on Earth. Bit by bit, evolution built the functions of the nervous system, perhaps starting with the part which tells an organism where it is in its environment, distinguishing (for the animal) its own body from things that are not part of its body.

Another part organizes complex motor control functions so that an organism may set and achieve goals (the seat of the will). No one yet claims to know how the sense of "Self" is established, but these smaller functions, as complex as they may be, are surely parts of the bigger picture of "Self."

So when we do discover how the "Self" works, chances are we'll find out that it's a mechanism just like other brain functions -- not something supernatural, instilled into us by a god (or a pigeon, or whatever). The "Self" will probably be shown to have come about because it gives an advantage to the organism. Science has a habit of doing away with supernatural explanations offered up by religion in lieu of a quest for truth.

Can you envision an afterlife where we won't need our liver or kidneys? Most can imagine such a state. But a can you picture a Heaven where nobody's conscious, aware "Self" comes along? What's the difference between the two, biologically?

And would Heaven be Heaven without our fellow-atheists? Or does this clown think we're just like Jesus, desiring only the company of those who agree with us?

Graphic Rule
Copyright ©2001 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon