Disclaimer: This is not meant to offend anyone. Seeing as we live in the Age of Butthurt, I’m sorry if anyone is offended. Also, grow up; wanting to live in a democracy without ever being offended is a Utopian fantasy.
I love when this question is posed to me. Not in an asshole kind of manner, where I try and explain in an arrogant manner why I am right and why you are wrong, but I really love this question because it forces me to stop and ponder: “What do I think happens to me after I die?”
First things first
Before I actually answer the question, I feel like I need to first clarify my belief system. So, I’m an Atheist. I haven’t always been one, though I can see why I ended up as one.
I was raised in a Muslim family, surrounded almost exclusively by Muslim people. As a child I was always asking questions. These started off innocent, like “Where did we come from?“, and then eventually developed into the uncomfortable questions that parents often feel ill-equipped to answer – like, “If Allah is all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop bad guys from doing bad things?”
These questions unsettled my parents. In my opinion, I think they were unsettled not because they didn’t know the answer, but because they didn’t want others to know they had a son committing a grievous sin. In some interpretations of Sunni Islam (such as the one my family ascribes to), questioning Allah amounts to committing Apostasy; basically, the laymen understanding is that by questioning Allah you out yourself as an Atheist. I learnt at a young age to keep my questions to myself and instead drowned my nose in books.
I read and read and read about as many religions as I could. I read about modern, existing religions but so loved the mythologies of the ancient cultures: the Aztecs and the Greeks and the Norse. They were a childish fascination with fantastic gods and monsters who had supernatural powers, but they laid the foundation for my later Atheism.
When I was 15 I read The Bible. That was quite the experience. Firstly, it was difficult to even read it in the first place; my parents, being the Muslims they are, were completely uncomfortable with me reading The Bible in the first place. Secondly, it opened my eyes to the similarities between the religions. I decided to watch debates between renowned Muslim and Christian clerics who argued why their religion is true and why the other’s is false. It intrigued me even more. What was the most intriguing of all was the loopholes and contradictions that the were pointed out regarding both holy texts – The Qur’an and The Bible.
This post is not about pointing out the irregularities and contradictions found within The Qur’an and The Bible (that’s what the Internet is there for), so I won’t digress.
I grew older and started questioning for myself whether or not there actually is a God, and – if there is – whether Islam had somehow landed on worshiping the correct one.
Up until that point, my doubts with religion had mostly been about factual and scientific errors, and how a perfect, all-knowing God would not have made such amateurish mistakes. As time passed, however, my doubts moved from science to moral philosophy.
Is God really good? – “But what if God does exist?”
Okay, I am totally comfortable in entertaining the idea that a deity does exist. We can get into the messy bit of deciding on which God(s) we are talking about, but, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s the God of Abraham – the deity worshipped by Muslims, Christians and Jews.
God the Creator exists. He is an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent, loving being, who made us in His image (Muslims don’t agree with this bit) and who wants nothing more than for us to dwell with Him forever in Heaven. God created the world in six days and took a break on the seventh (not in Islam; “And fatigue did not touch Us”). He created the Garden of Eden, placed a tree with forbidden fruit in its center, and then let Adam reside in it. Sensing Adam’s loneliness, He took one of Adam’s ribs and shaped Eve from it. We all know the rest of that story.
There are many stories I can use to illustrate my point, but I chose this one because I assume it’s the most well-known. Firstly, God takes six days to make the earth? And He needed to take a rest? Why? There is no point in being all-powerful if you need to take a breather every now and then. Also, how were the days measured with no sun?
Then the Adam and Eve story. Adam is created from dust or clay, and then Eve is made from Adam’s rib (which, by the way, would mean that “she” was a clone of Adam, with his complete, identical genome – but never mind that), and they are both placed in the Garden, wherein lies the dreaded forbidden fruit. At first glance, nothing seems too much out of place here. But, consider this: God is omniscient, meaning He knows everything. Past, present and future mean nothing to Him; He is beyond the realms of space and time. He deliberately created the forbidden fruit knowing full well what was about to happen. He knew that the Downfall of Man (yes, “Man” – why? Who knows? Possibly because these holy books were written by misogynistic men living in a patriarchal society?) would occur, yet still placed the first two humans in the vicinity of their eventual demise? Sounds dodgier than a moustached middle-aged dude in a white van offering seven-year-old me sweets.
Now, the age-old cop-out of “God works in mysterious ways” can be applied here. Surely we as humans cannot possibly comprehend the divine motives of on omniscient Creator, can we? Well, whatever your stance on this is, let’s just see what is so mysterious about this:
The Downfall of Man is what brings sin into this world. It is what causes Adam and Eve to find shame in their nudity, and causes all of their descendants to be born in sin (not in Islam). Because of sin, God drowns all of creation save Noah and his family and a pair of animals of each species on the planet, and then has to come down in human form later to die on the cross (not for the Jews and the Muslims ). Why? To save humanity from the sin which was given to them – by God – in the first place.
Even if I try and find the whole concept of the Downfall of Man and Original Sin morally sound and worthy of my belief, I still can’t wrap my head around why God couldn’t just forgive humans – just for the sake of forgiving them. God is known as the God of love and forgiveness, yet the crutch upon which religion stands, the one thing that gives it any credulity, is God’s inability to forgive (hence Original Sin) and love (hence Hell, where all those unworthy of His love are sent to enjoy an everlasting barbecue).
The perfect sales pitch.
The very concept of sin is entirely invented by religion; the cure for sin is also invented by religion. It is the perfect sales pitch:
You come up to the door of a potential client. “Hello, would you like to buy a carpet cleaner?” you ask, polite as the Queen at her Sunday tea. The client smiles and shakes her head, suggesting the vegan couple down the road – you know, the ones with all the cats. You purse your lips and nod slowly, understanding the situation. You reach into your leather briefcase and pull out your special container. You barge past the client and into their home, straight into their living room. You open the container and empty its contents onto their imported Persian rug. The client comes running, a look of horror on their face at the steaming pile of dog shit now ruining the pristine room. You turn and smile at them – “Hello, would you like to buy a carpet cleaner now?”
Just answer the damn question already!
So what do I believe happens when we die? The answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know, and, unlike most religious clerics I know, I’m not afraid to admit that there are things about our existence, about this universe and this life, that I do not know. I thrive off of my own ignorance. To acknowledge one’s ignorance of reality is to start on the journey of discovery. My issue with religion is that it prances about in silken robes and golden hats as if it has already completed the journey, arriving at the destination with the ultimate answers to everything. To the question, “How did our universe come into being?” religion answers with, “God made it in six days,” whereas I answer, “I have absolutely no fucking idea, but here are some of the currently accepted theories and hypotheses…”
As far as I know – and as far as anyone knows for certain – this is the only life we have, and I’m not going to spend it pondering about what may or may not happen to me after I die. Will I go to Heaven? Will I go to Hell? Will I go to Asgard and meet with Odin? Will I go to Hades and confront Charon, only to realise I have no drakhma with which to pay him? These are – in my opinion – nonsensical questions. You know which questions I’d rather devote my life to?
- How can I be a better human being?
- How can I increase the quality of living of humans as a species?
- How can I help those around me?
- How can I not be a complete and utter twat?
If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to hear from you. I’m always game for some constructive dialogue. Comment here, email me or even hit me up on Facebook.