15 April 2011

No Hell below us, above us only sky

I was recently asked for my feelings on the idea of evil going unpunished in the atheistic view; without a final Judgment for our actions, doesn't it seem unfair that we all end up equal in death no matter what kind of life we lead? The fact that the world's two largest religions teach that people are judged by God on their adherence to the faith rather than their deeds alone notwithstanding, this is an interesting question.

Heroic actions often get the hero killed in action. Humanitarian workers sometimes die at the hands of the very people they are trying to help. Many murderous dictators have stayed in power until their natural deaths. Some vicious serial killers live out the rest of their days without ever being caught. Would it be comforting to believe that people who do good deeds in life are eternally rewarded, and those who perpetrate evil are eternally punished?

I personally don't think so, but I understand the sentiment. I understand wanting to live in a universe where the good guys win in the end and the bad guys get what's coming to them. I understand wanting to believe that death is neither an escape for the wicked nor an indignity for the righteous.

But I disagree.

Without an afterlife, people who prey upon their fellow humans for material gain or sadistic pleasure aren't just making a futile gesture in an ephemeral life before eternity; they are depriving other human beings of life, liberty, and dignity in the only brief existence their victims have. It should give us a moral imperative to stop injustice while the people involved are still alive instead of waiting for an almighty judge to condemn the perpetrators after death.

Without an afterlife, people who risk their lives or donate significant time and money to improve the world for their fellow humans aren't just trading ephemeral resources for eternal favor; they are using their brief existence to help improve or protect something they believe in and making an impact which may well outlive them. It should inspire us to pay good deeds forward and help them have a greater impact instead of taking for granted that they will be rewarded after death.

You are here.
Ultimately, the universe doesn't seem to care what we do to each other on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. We humans are the ones who care, and in the end, whether we spend our lives selfishly preying upon others or striving to make a positive impact on human society, we all die and rot. I'd personally rather give people of the future something positive to remember about me; after all, the legacy I leave behind is the only thing about me that will survive death.

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