Honorable mention — John West: Here and now

By John West

John West

Here are two questions among many that any atheist or otherwise areligious individual is sure to encounter: “Isn’t life pointless if there’s nothing afterward?” and “How can you be moral without the certainty of an afterlife to make you?”

These questions, however, are fundamentally flawed. Life is far from meaningless in the absence of an afterlife. To the contrary, it is vastly more meaningful in that it is all we have, and, to be frank, anyone who bases their morality entirely on a fear of postmortem punishment is not truly ethical to begin with. Questions of this sort can be far more than a mere annoyance, and they may be detrimental to us all in many ways, some of which are not apparent at first.

The persistence of archaic ideas has the unfortunate consequence of devaluing life. It seems that all too often people focus on the next life they anticipate, all the while forgetting the one they are in at the moment. Only when life is viewed as a fleeting oasis in the dark sea of perpetual unconsciousness does its true value become overwhelmingly clear. It is unfortunate that this is so often ignored. When people forget the immense value of their own life, how can they be expected to value of the lives of others? In a similar capacity, this way of thinking paradoxically increases selfishness in the world. People go to great lengths to ensure, or at least assure themselves, that they get into the “right” sort of afterlife, the one wherein they are rewarded rather than punished. This mentality leads people to prioritize their own salvation first, often coalescing in disingenuous acts of service or volunteerism. This is perhaps best exemplified by the historical practice of the church selling indulgences, essentially monetary payments in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. Avoiding punishment was the paramount concern; genuinely helping others was a mere afterthought. While this practice has luckily fallen out of common use in modern times, the mentality it represents still lingers.

Whether you anticipate an afterlife or not, you must acknowledge that your current life is a certainty and any existence beyond that can only be speculation. To that end, is it not most logical to enjoy the life you already have and help those around you to do the same rather than spending inordinate portions of your life clawing your way into heaven? I think the answer is clear, and if everyone were to think likewise, we may yet get our heads out of the clouds, focusing on the here and now instead of the hereafter.

John, 18, attended Cambridge High School in Milton, Ga. John will be attending the University of Minnesota with plans to major in microbiology. He greatly enjoys astronomy and has worked in retail, which he writes, “will give anyone a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism.”