Monday, July 2, 2007

Looking Death in the Face

A friend of mine died in March, and I recently attended a memorial for him. Here is where the empiricist in me is at war with the believer. I see no evidence anywhere of life after death. But it was interesting, at the memorial, everyone claimed that my friend was present, and everyone noted how they felt my friend's presence. Even I felt it.

I'm pretty sure what I felt, though, is the familiar emotional tie that I had with my friend and that he had with the many people whose lives he had touched. We all wanted to believe that he was there with us, because we loved him so much, and because we miss him, too.

So what if life ends? What if nothing happens after death? Is that a problem for the person who died, or for those who are left behind? The older I get, the more convinced I am that death is not a problem for the person who died. I have enough aches and pains, and I have seen enough people die some pretty awful deaths that life certainly had nothing to offer them.

I went to their remembrances, too, and indeed, everyone present claimed that the deceased was present, too. Are we deceiving ourselves? Do the living need to believe that the dead are with them - alive, but not alive, and certainly not dead?

No, I think the after life is for the living. I think death is for the dead, who are freed from their suffering, indeed freed from life, itself. The dead have no needs, no pains, no desires, no taxes.

As far as life after death, I've seen no evidence. No one can tell me what the soul is that survives death. No one can show me empirical evidence or proof of an after life. Certainly among religious practitioners, the after life comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. It has little consistency across faiths, and an alarming inconsistency within different faith traditions. So I remain skeptical and unbelieving.

That doesn't mean that I don't want to believe in a meaningful existence after death. Maybe life goes on in a parallel universe. Maybe life continues in a sublime, magisterial place where souls plays harps endlessly, and their robes never get wrinkled. Maybe our post-existence is a meme virus that lives on among the living, long after we have decayed to dust from which we sprang.