Existential Comfort For Nonbelievers

Existential Comfort For Nonbelievers

I was seven when the reality of death overpowered me.

The sudden realization that there is no way out of this definite and absolute end to life jolted me out of my bed. When I crawled to my mom crying and asking her about whether everyone’s death would be unstoppable, she assuaged my terror by telling me about a potion in Japan that keeps people alive forever.  This made a lot of sense—I understood how a cough syrup cures a cough. A potion, I reasoned, acts in the same way. To this day, when faced with a problem or an anomaly, my first reaction is to formulate a cause-and-effect story that can provide a practical solution out of the problem. But unfortunately, I still struggle to apply this strategy to the problem of death.

As a classical non-theist, I see death as a looming shroud of nothingness. I know that one day, my physical body will no longer function, and that will be the end of my experience. Why isn’t this account satisfying? Logical explanations for death and other existential issues like suffering leave me feeling powerless and vulnerable. In the face of this powerlessness, I often wonder how life and death would look differently if I believed in gods, eternal justice, heaven, or an afterlife. And there have been times where I have deeply wished to be convinced, or simply take for granted, that there is more than meets the eye. Like Granger from The Quiet American, who wishes he believed in God after he finds out that his son might die, I sometimes wish I believed in God.

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