4 Reasons that the Afterlife is for Chumps

by  —  January 22, 2008

This discusses only some of the more common concepts of an afterlife; if you do not have a personal belief in the afterlife, or you do but it doesn’t feature your eternal continuation in a different realm, hanging out with friends and relatives, then you can safely read this article with your value system unassailed.

#1. The concept of infinity
It’s got a drop-dead sexy symbol, but at the end of the day people have a hard time wrapping their mind around the concept of infinity; i’ve found, surprisingly, that it’s often the case that people just don’t ponder it. So what does that mean for eternity?
In historical eras in which life was rough and short, philosophical and mathematical developments of the concept of infinity were generally non-existent except in small enclaves. So to someone who expected to live to 40 with a bit of luck, who had no mature development on the idea of infinity, and no real knowledge of human history (and certainly no idea of geological nor cosmological record), “eternity” sounded like a fine idea: ‘a really really long time in which all of this truly harsh living is replaced by no worries in idyllic settings.’
As they say: that was then, this is now. Today we have:

In other words: life is long and not very rough, and eternity is quite a beefy thing.
If you haven’t thought much about infinity, consider for a moment that were the height of the ‘Q’ key on your keyboard to represent your entire life span until this moment, you would need to build a stack of keys that would reach the moon; you’d then need to do that same thing so that a stack covered every piece of land on earth. That resulting representation of time, with each ‘Q’ key being your entire life span, would still not be even one-trillionth of the time you’re looking at in the afterlife.1
The deal sealer part of eternity is that it’s immune to scaling — so were some enterprising heaven-aspiring lad or lass to come along, hear that Q example, and say, “Aha – but what if the afterlife was set up so that what we experience while living as 1 second is actually like 100 billion years in the afterlife.”, then the response to that is, “Even so, because we are talking about infinity, that Q example is still completely true.”

#2 Repetitiveness of close relationships
A frequent part of the various afterlife scenarios involves being around at least loved ones, and in some versions: other stranger do-gooders as well. The idea that this is an enticing fact fits well with people dying at 35 or 40; people dying at 80 or 90: not so well. Do we really want to hear Aunt Tildie’s repetitive annoying story about that childhood summer trip to Lake Erie — that one that’s been like torture for just the last 20 years we been forced to listen to it — for all of eternity? Even people you have really adored for 40 years — how do you think you’ll tolerate him scraping the fork across his teeth in 2500 years? Perhaps this afterlife is more likely to be filled with random shouts of, “For god’s sake – won’t you ever stop doing that?!”.
And what happens, if after 18,000 years of teeth raking you’ve had enough and want to move to a different afterlife neighbourhood, but he doesn’t want it to end? Well, that brings us to #3…

#3 The problem with anti-symmetric relationships
Bob and Jim are on a flight during a business trip; Jim’s a lonely person who has basically Bob to count as his only friend, whereas Bob is quite popular and honestly finds Jim kind of annoying. Suddenly both engines fall from the wings and the plane plunges into the ground killing both of them. What happens here?

These are not quite the picture postcards of the afterlife.

#4 The numbing to enjoyment
I don’t know about you – but i get bored with everything (or from the half glass full perspective: i have an insatiable desire to ‘learn new stuff’ — though unfortunately i can get bored of the insatiable desire). Let’s say you’re not me; try the following:
Think about the absolutely best, most stimulating, most rewarding experience of your entire life; maybe it was some event with a bunch of friends; maybe it was a drug experience; maybe it was a sex occasion; maybe it was a vacation; maybe your super-best friend who had been thought lost in a plane crash emerged from the woods six months later just fine.
Whatever it was, think about the enjoyment pattern it followed. It was great, it was amazing… and then at some point it’s likely that it wasn’t so great and you were glad it came to a close. It’s also likely that if you opened up your date book the next day and saw that [only] the following two months were repeats of that event, that it probably wouldn’t look so savory. Maybe this isn’t you, you say; that you could have taken another eight months of it and loved it all equally. Maybe, i’d say, but eternity will break you – for this is how processing information inevitably goes… watercolour paints aren’t nearly as magical as they were when you were five, and every fantastic experience will likely be truly blasé 12,000 years from now (let alone one hundred million billion years from now). Even worse, at some point of realizing that things ‘just aren’t as great as they used to be’, you’ll soon then realize that ‘this will never end and never get better.’
(You could also change the title of this section to “#4 The numbing to suffering” and use this as an argument against the penalty of an idea like Hell. At some point, suffering becomes adapted to; it might take a really long time, but the occupant of Hell has eternity – and so at some point, Hell would have a large population of occupants immune to the suffering (except the suffering of realizing that conscious existence will never cease).)

Again, it’s understandable where the basis for these afterlife mythologies might have stemmed when viewed in the light of an average life span during the eras in which they were originally ‘explained’. For an average life span of 35 and an average birthing age of 15, you’re looking at an average length of roughly 12 years of adult inter-generational relationship time before the parent dies (assuming that a person of 8 years old could be considered mature enough to appreciate their parent(s) in an adult manner). It’s entirely likely that someone in that situation will have a strong desire for a cosmology which involves seeing their relative again.
I realize that one of the foundations of faith is to simply not question that in which you have faith, but to not see these inconsistencies for what they are — damning — is purely delusional.

  1. Spare the comments: i know i’m trying to quantify the unquantifiable — it’s just illustration. []

Marked as: Belief SystemsIntrospection  —  5 comments   (RSS)

5 Comments so far
  1. magdalene January 22, 2008 3:52 pm

    Sweet Jesus, these points summarize nicely why I fled the LDS Church at age 13. “I’m going to be stuck doing genealogical work in the Celestial Kingdom with my parents and my dumbshit husband for how long?” Even if my dumbshit husband and I were sufficiently pious to be promoted to gods of our own planet, how many “spirit children” could I possibly bear before becoming bored with the whole spirit childbirth experience? Or creating new animals? At some point, one imagines going into a malevolent sort of despair in which one creates animals that devour themselves, or ferocious animals that have space/time travel capabilities who will hunt down the god that created me and rip out his divine guts. Although I do wonder what would happen after the boredom, the despair, the godly carnage. Having no temporal markers, would I begin to lose ego identity? Then what? “Become one with the universe?”

  2. FatalTwilight January 22, 2008 9:25 pm

    Reincarnation would be a quick solvent to boredom. But then, supossidly in much of the beleif systems that support reincarnation the goal would be to end it, and become one with the brahma(god, universe, etc…)

    Then one asks, “Whats the point?”

    One would most likely bring into question, “What is the purpose of life?”

    I beleive that its what you make of it. When I die I will find out what happens and I will live my life to its fullest, with my own purpose, ignoring that which does not make sense, until I am satisfied.

    Right now in this period in time I am exploring my universe in much the same way religions were created, except with the difference of my own creative experimentation and discovery.

    So far my experimentation leads me to an agnostic questionable answer that there is a larger presence at work…or just residual bio/psychological feedback.

  3. Plasmafist January 23, 2008 8:09 pm

    This was a funny read, and insightful. I think a fair portion of your article could be summed from a little Stephen King quote, “Hell is about repetition”. Positive or negative, repetitive actions “build a hell in heaven’s despite” (W. Blake – Clod and the Pebble). Although I guess OCD afflicted individuals could argue against this, no?

    I completely agree about how suffering can become accustomed to, and on an infinite time line obviously, but I think even just looking at how Jews in the Nazi concentration camps had become accustomed to a seemingly infinite variety of sufferings this theory to a certain degree has been proven correct. Suppose for a lot of individuals the U.S. prison system has had the same effect also in numbing the physical / mental / spiritual.

    And yes, as the progression of slight to sever addiction tells, numbing to pleasure (or “enjoyment”) is an obstacle most do not overcome. And thats on such a relatively minute time scale that the mere idea of heaven is pretty scary. Although, spending eternity as one of the Einherjar in Valhalla assisting in the battle against the giants… now thats something you just can’t find fault in.

  4. FatalTwilight January 23, 2008 8:19 pm

    Hells yeah. Then eating an apple which bears the word kallisti.

    Kickin’ it with Eris would probably be fun too!

    An ever changing reality where new senses are developed and destroyed for no reason. Random, complex, simple, chaotic existence…

  5. william January 25, 2008 9:53 am

    I have a few thoughts on this post. First of all I’m highly amused that you used the phrase “sex occasion”. Great name for a band I think…

    Regarding #4 “numbing to enjoyment” I think this applies more in the visceral sense i.e. if you rub up against something and it makes you feel good eventually it’s just going to give you road rash. Experience as memory however…that’s more about how you contextualize it in the future. I have had great big life experiences which happened a decade ago that still reverberate in a very powerful way. In fact I would say that some of them shine even brighter based on what I’ve learned. New consciousness=new interpretation of existing memories. If you experienced a radical shift in your perspective it would alter the context of your memory completely. That, of course, could swing either way.
    To cite a positive example. I remember playing an Ohgr show at the Palace in LA when things were going off (in the best kind of way). I recall turning around and seeing you rocking that Nord Lead with a shit eating grin on your face. That will still make me smile a thousand years from now.

    Regarding the whole life after death malarky. My standard response is “how can you ask for anything more than this?”
    You are a being that is somewhat (self) aware that you sprung from oblivion and are headed right back where you came from. But, just for a second, you get to experience something we call life. For whatever reason you are witness to something pretty immense and amazing that actually seems to be happening right now. Really, stop and look around you. I would trade one more of this for eternity any day.

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