A man dies too young, unexpectedly.
His wife grieves. His three daughters are without a father. His parents wonder how he could have left this earth ahead of them.
And I have lost a friend.
Cold-hearted atheistic commentary: Man dies. Population decreased by one. There is no soul, so that’s the end. There is no afterlife. Get a grip and move on.
The reality: Friend and loved one passes away. Tortured emotions. Tears for him, for his wife, for his daughters and parents, … for his friends. Not sure how to move on without closure because it was so sudden. Couldn’t say goodbye. Couldn’t reassure him that all would be well with everyone he’s leaving behind.
Makes me wonder about this whole atheist thing. The cold-hearted approach works when it’s somebody else, when I don’t know him, when there is no emotional attachment. It is emotions which give life its meaning, my emotions, other people’s emotions. The meaning of life is in the joy of life, in the heart-felt hellos and goodbyes, in the shared meals, in the laughter, in a gentle touch. The intellect is a tool to be used to advance the joy of life. Life should NOT be a tool to advance intellect. I can use my intellect to dispassionately analyze the passing of my friend, but that cannot bring anyone any joy. I can remark upon the evolutionary necessity of death, but that is intellect talking. If that is the sole extent of one’s reaction to a death, then it might as well be that of a robot’s, not of a living human being.
And how can someone such as myself, an avowed atheist with the reputation of being an atheist, bring peace to the wife of the dead man? My words will ring hollow. “He goes to a better place.” The words are a lie and she knows it. For the atheist believes that there is no heaven, nothing beyond the physical world, no soul, nothing to distinguish the living body from the dead body except biochemical function, the struggle of a living organism against thermodynamic heat death fought every second, until the fight is lost and the inevitable heat death finally occurs.
Or I could say, “He was a good man.” Was? She’s thinking that he *is* a good man, that he still exists … somewhere. We play tricks with time, with tense. To the atheist, he “was” and can never be again. But how do I know for sure? What of his essence survives forever? Nothing? I don’t believe that. The atheist is a fool who does.
What would give his life meaning, even to an atheist? That he lived, that he raised a family and made a woman happy for many years, that he influenced the world, that he taught students and helped to create a better future for everyone, that he will be remembered by everyone who ever came into contact with him, including me.
How does an atheist reconcile with those truths? By believing that his “soul” is, was, and always will be within me and within every person he came into contact with. Maybe there isn’t a God, and maybe there is. I don’t want to argue about it now. I just want to remember my friend, and wish for the best for his wife and children. Some might call that prayer, but I resist use of that term.
His name is Nisim. He is Jewish. He lived in Israel. He is my friend.