The Oberlin Review

Dismissing Belief in Afterlife Makes Life More Meaningful

CJ Blair, Columnist

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I’m afraid of death, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. This fear, coupled with a little nudge from living in Kentucky, was enough to convince me to believe in God when I was a child. But as I continued going to church, I started to look critically at Christianity and question why I believed in God. I appreciated a system that encouraged good behavior, but I was bothered by the notion of heaven. Even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it, the idea that going to heaven was the main reason for living clouded my appreciation of the world. It wasn’t until I embraced Humanism, with its suggestion of the spiritual power of life itself, that I found a way to appreciate life more than ever before.

Turning away from religion isn’t rare, especially for teenagers. I could write a novel about my frustrations with the hypocrisy and bigotry I’ve found in Christianity, but the truth is that these flaws aren’t seen in all Christians and that they weren’t major parts of my experience. Believing in God and an afterlife, though, were aspects I had to consider if I was going to call myself a Christian. No matter how many friends I had at the church I attended, I couldn’t fight the growing sensation, as I sat through services, that I wasn’t convinced by what I heard. I realized that the promise of heaven kept me from seeing the beauty in the life I already had, and my decision to leave was aided by a lack of familial attachment telling me to stay.

If this sounds like a parable about a white person’s religious awakening à la Eat Pray Love, I assure you it’s not. I have no interest in finding the perfect belief system or properly following whichever one I choose. Like many other teens and young adults, I’m just trying to make sense of life during this transition from childhood to whatever comes next. I don’t claim to have figured it out, but Humanism has gotten me a lot closer than anything else I’ve tried.

Humanism is a belief system that rejects all supernaturalism and says that human matters should be given primary importance. This manifests in dozens of Humanist schools, all loosely related by the notion that people are good and that they should help each other without expecting a reward after death. This is distinctly different from atheism because it affords conceptions of spiritual fulfillment to life itself instead of dismissing these ideas altogether.

I understand why it might be hard to accept Humanism, especially as hectic schedules and daily minutiae can make heaven seem very enticing. I’ll admit it was hard to accept that checking e-mails and brushing my teeth were part of the life that was supposed to be fulfilling. Despite the initial uncertainty, I started to feel a profound change in the way I saw the world, like a veil had been lifted from in front of my eyes.

Everything I felt was suddenly twice as vivid. I remember going for a run after I decided on Humanism and feeling the wind on my face and the burning of my calves like never before. When I accepted death as the definite end, I was far more excited to embrace things that had previously scared me before, and much less eager to do things that I knew I’d regret. I would never have to repent, but I would never see a life outside of the decisions I make. Either way, I took comfort in knowing that I didn’t have to elevate my own interests over those of others to guarantee my spot in heaven.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but making it infused my life with an excitement that had previously been absent. Now I feel an urgency to magnify the things I enjoy and diminish the ones I don’t. Still, it’s a model, and I’m trying to adjust it so that I can make myself and others happy at the same time; a balancing act I’ve yet to get right. Humanism won’t work for everyone, but it helped me improve my daily interactions and remember the parts of life that make it worth living. Any belief that does this for a person should be treasured. Hopefully, if enough people find what they’re looking for, they will redirect their focus from the life they don’t have to the one that they do.

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