By Nick Bellizzi
“They who live on love and laughter don’t mess around with the hereafter.” Many people, however, fervently prepare for the end of their lives by spending the majority of it in devotion to some belief system that provides an afterlife. At first glance, this is quite understandable — death is an uncomfortable topic, and to reject religion leaves people with a cold, nihilistic view of their cosmic role. However, just as nihilism can be too easily conflated with cynicism, it can also provide us with comfort in knowing that we can choose to spend our lives however we’d like.
Religions, in essence, provide too reductive a view on life. First comes the question of Why this religion and not the other? Most people are naturally embedded into the religion they are born into, but from a clean slate, why should humans fret about choosing one of over four thousand religions, hoping they’ve got the right one? It quickly becomes a game of
trade-offs. Do I choose Christianity for the large domestic following, or Islam for the houris (heavenly virgins) promised to faithful believers? Perhaps I’ll roll the dice and go with the Greeks hoping to get at least the Asphodel Fields if not Elysium. In essence, concepts of the afterlife may be comforting to some, but too often is it used as a tactic to increase a following. Go to church? Great. Don’t attend? Have fun in an eternity of swimming in infernal fire pits.
Aside from that, religious leaders use threats and attacks on morality to encourage others to join a religion, causing them to worry for a lifetime about how they’ll be rewarded in the afterlife, even though they can act reasonably virtuous in their own right. Followers claim that religion gives them morals, though further analysis raises questions on how ethics might be derived from a deity. Take, for example, the Euthyphro dilemma from Plato’s dialogues. Basically, it goes something like this: Are things morally good because God says so? Well, no, because he could just as easily declare murder to be good though we know that’s definitely not the case. So, does God consider things to be pious because they are inherently morally good? Well, wait, that can’t happen if our morals come from God. He’s supposed to have the final say. Thus, we’re stuck in a loop and morality never clearly comes from religion. We act upright because we want to.
Overall, I cannot simply accept religion just because it promises an afterlife (or else suffer in pain for perpetuity). I just feel it logical to consider what I can know to be true: I’m here, living, though have no clear, definite reason to believe life will continue after the last breath. Earth is the only guaranteed chance I have to make life worthwhile, so I’ll spend it here in all the enjoyment I can, with plenty of love and laughter.
Nick, 18, graduated from Harry D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin, Ill. He was active in several clubs, including Interact (Rotary-sponsored), National Honor Society, and Peer Jury. He’ll be attending the University of Illinois with the plan to major in computer science. He hopes to become a theoretical computer scientist or software engineer.