Flickr photo of graveyard by Rory MacLeod

Ask an Atheist: What happens after death?

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By Jim Downard

What do atheists believe happens after death? 

Nothing. Dying is not unlike going to sleep, when our consciousness shuts down, only this time no waking up.

Needless to say, if there is some manner of afterlife in which the consciousness we have now is still running, that would be amazing and wonderful (and incidentally there are ways to imagine survival after death that don’t require any gods to be involved; unlikely to be sure, but not theoretically impossible).

One may compare that with all the various religions whose views of afterlives differ substantially, and wonder why those conceptions are all over the map. Consider the hypothesis that these are but the many ideas people have come up with to account for what they would like to be true. Hindus or Buddhists may focus in on reincarnation stories, Christians may favor near-death-experience-going-into-the-light lore. All may or may not be bumping into actual neurobiological phenomena.

The upshot is: what will happen will happen. And go into it knowing you did the best you could, and didn’t make a nasty nuisance along the way.

About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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