“I’m not sure if there is an afterlife, but I hope there is” is a comment that mystifies me when talk turns to religion. For one thing, if death really is death and all consciousness ceases forever, what is there to worry about? It’s not as though we’ll be feeling eternally disappointed at the lack of pearly gates and the chance of tea and cakes with St Peter since ‘we’ won’t exist.
This is actually a thought that I find extremely comforting as being an atheist doesn’t rank high on the list of beliefs that are supposed to guarantee a celestial entry pass. To ‘hope for an afterlife’ is, therefore, also to hope such an existence will be eternally pleasant and doesn’t involve pitchfork-wielding devils and a faulty thermostat.
But, some may say, it’s nice to think of deceased loved ones as being in heaven, somehow still aware of us and in some way available to talk to. Well, maybe it is, but that assumption still falls foul of the same objection. Your little old granny might be watching benignly down on you from above, but she could also be leering up from below; a slightly less heart-warming thought.
The lack of an afterlife is not a thing that should dismay us. Being dead is not an inconvenience to the dead and the best place for grandma is in your thoughts and memories, where she’s available to chat any time you need.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"