One of the lamest and most vile things I’ve ever heard (spoken to my face, even!) is “Ah, you’re an atheist, so nothing happens when you die?”.
I’ve had experiences with close relatives passing away and countless other friends of mine have lost parents, grandparents, relatives. Diminishing all that suffering to a simplistic and malignant personal attack is one of the stupidest things you could say to an atheist.
The sad part is, it’s kind of true. I cannot believe in Heaven. It would be an incredibly egocentric leap of faith. Science has led me to conclude that once you die, that’s it. Your heart stops beating. The electric impulses in your brain stop moving around. There is no soul. You decompose and ‘return’, as it were, to the Earth.
This has not led me to suicide, however. This has not led me to become a nihilist. And it does not mean that I suffer any less when a loved one passes away. Truth be told, if ‘that was that’ then you could say an atheist suffers more.
Having set up the introduction as a justification for the meaninglessness of life, I’d like to present to you what I believe is the meaning of death, a subject much dealt with in the world of religion.
We all die. Our lives are miniature blips in the extravagantly large timeline of the Universe. Our legacy, our history, everything we ever made and broke is again, just another blip in the vanishing history of our pale blue dot of a planet.
That’s what makes life all the more meaningful. That you can wake up every day and be capable of realising your existence is incredibly improbable makes experiencing everything life has to give you that day all the more worth it.
Everyone. Theists. Atheists. We all are incredibly lucky to have been that particular combination of genetics and fucking. If you need miracles, look into Birth – that you made it is lucky enough.
What more meaning to life do you need other than a brief glimpse of existence to experience it?
What more meaning to life is there other than to live it as fully as you can? Darwinian evolution has taught us that morality is a product of natural selection. So do whatever you feel is right, take a fucking chance and live out your existence to make it as meaningful as you can to yourself and to your loved ones. You don’t need to justify your life to anyone else other than yourself.
How does this tie back into death?
One of the most beautiful and meaningful things one could do for someone who has passed away is to honour their memory. Remember the times shared and appreciate the way that person has built you as you know yourself. The best you could expect from people once you die is that they do the same.
I have the interesting privilege of having been to a Masonic funeral. And honestly, it was beautiful. All his friends from the lodge led the service and had a brief and emotion packed eulogy to his life. No goat sacrificing. They all wore white gloves but it made the whole ceremony kinda cute.
There was no solemn guilt-fest. There was no invocation of the supernatural. There was no preaching by a completely irrelevant ‘authority’.
It was a ceremony celebrating his life, honouring the memories he left with each and every one of us and it was full of hope. Perhaps it was an eccentric Mason funeral. But it was beautiful.
To answer the question less obliquely:
No, nothing happens when you die. That’s what makes living worth it.