Replacing Everlasting Life

Yesterday my local atheists group met and talked about many different topics. One question a woman asked was something I think most people who give up god and the supernatural have to face. I will paraphrase:

If there is no god, no heaven, no life after death,  or no reincarnation what do you replace that with?

In other words there is a comfort that many people find in religion, that they will live after death in some fashion. But when you come to understand that there is no god, then soon after you have to give up this comfortable idea in life after death, that our consciousness survives death and lives on in some other way.

For me, I became an atheist but still believed in reincarnation and the idea that there was some part of us, our soul, that somehow lived on. I was a spiritual atheist. Over time I realized that there is no evidence for a soul or any kind of supernatural and eventually gave it all up. For me, giving up the comfort of the supernatural was much harder than giving up the fear of god. But I had to be honest with myself and rely on science instead of my own fanciful wishes. For me, I didn't really replace the idea of the supernatural and the soul with anything. I just gave it up. If there was an exchange it was reason and science that replaced wishful thinking.

Butch, my husband, was raised catholic. He read Revelations in the bible, about how 144,000 Jews' names are written in the book of life, so that was the limit for heaven. He assumed he'd go to hell. So when he gave up religion and god it was a relief more than anything else.

I know a few atheists that still believe in ghosts and the supernatural. I see the appeal, as I went through that stage myself, but I wonder why we feel the need to cling to such beliefs.

The woman at the meeting asked what do you replace the comfort of life after death with. So I am asking you, my nonbelieving friends. What process did you go through? How did you transition? What did you replace the soul with, if anything? Was it easy for you, or did you struggle?

If you want to reply and it's lengthy, you can email me or leave a comment, whichever you prefer. I'd love to hear your story.


  1. Neece, my husband was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and they teach that it is 144,000 chosen Jehovah's Witnesses that will go heaven, helping to run things. (Can you just imagine the paper work?) They refer to them as "the anointed" and it is up to the individual to announce that they have been given the nod, and they are revered in the JW community. They get a lot of dinner invites and have their asses royally kissed. Not a bad gig. Everyone else is to live in a paradise on earth, you know, the lion laying down with the lamb, etc. Sounds groovy. Poor Butch must have been so confused to read there is only room in heaven for a select few. Why even bother being righteous with those odds?

    It is not hard for me to accept that one day I will cease to exist. I do not believe that anything lives on after we are gone. Only memories, and I hope to leave my loved ones with plenty of happy ones. I do not need to comfort myself with thoughts of living on in a spirit world. (Especially since there is no proof one exists) Who wants to think about their deceased loved ones watching over them as they shower, use the toilet, or worse? Yikes! I think humans are fundamentally egocentric and I guess many of them can't imagine the world going on without them. When my husband passed away when our daughter was 5 years old, I never told her that she would see him in heaven or that he was now an angel watching over her. I told her that we could think about him and look at photos and talk about him and always remember him. I felt I had to tell her the truth, as always, no matter how comforting and convenient the lie. Heaven, or living in a paradise on earth sounds totally boring to me. What makes life so very precious is that it IS finite, you only have a certain amount of time. Live wisely, try not to do harm, and have as much fun (and sex) as possible. If anyone can offer any proof that ghosts or spirits or souls or heaven exists, please let me know. Proof.

  2. While I am not entirely fearless about death, I do fear it less since I lost my faith. Now that I'm an atheist again the idea of an eternal afterlife seems dreadfully monotonous.

  3. Thanks very much for sharing this, Jenny.

    I never realized the anointed JW's anointed themselves. That's wild.

    I agree, I accept that one day I'll cease to exist. Just like the billions of years before I was born. I also agree that humans are egocentric. That's a good point.

    Even though it would have been easier to lie to your daughter, I think you did the right thing just being honest with her. Sometimes the truth is painful, but that's life... and death.

    Excellent advice too.

  4. I'm not afraid of being dead, really. I'm just afraid of pain and the dying part. I am not too comfortable with any type of suffering.

    I agree, the idea of singing hallelujahs to a megalomaniacal childish brat of a god for billions and billions and billions of years (ad nauseum) seems beyond monotonous. It seems torturous to me.

  5. Eternal life always terrified me. I grew up fearing hell but was also disturbed by the idea of heaven. Losing the belief in an afterlife was a huge relief, though it has had a devaluing effect that I'm still working through.