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Atheist Explains What Happens When We Die

March 31st, 2009

As an atheist living in Tennessee I find myself discussing my lack of beliefs with Christians I have known most of my life.  After an initial shock these believers are usually intrigued and have many questions about my views on various topics that their religious dogma answers for them.  One of the most common questions I get asked is “What do you think happens when you die?”

image of a cross with the caption heaven not what you know but who you knowFor Christians the answer to what happens when people die is pretty simple. If you have accepted Jesus as your  saviour and asked him to forgive your sins your soul gets to go to a paradise called Heaven and if not you get to spend eternity being tortured in place called Hell.  A very simple and very disturbing idea if you think about. In order to believe this you must assume many things.  There is a god, what the bible says is true, people have souls that transcend the physical world and there are magical places like Heaven and Hell.  What initially appears simple has blown up into some pretty large and highly improbable assumptions based on the lack of evidence for any of it.

Atheism being a lack of belief, naturally has no doctrine or dogma associated with it and therefore makes no claims nor speculates on what happens to a person when they die.   All I can explain as an atheist is what I personally think happens when a person dies and cannot not speak for anyone else, atheist or not.

When asked the question “What do you think happens when you die?” my first response usually is, “I die and am dead.”  This is usually followed by the asker giving a confused look and ask then asking but what about after death and what happens to my soul.  I then go on to explain what I think happens when people die and a little about why I think this.

The uniform determination of death. The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1980 formulated the Uniform Determination of Death Act. It states that: “An individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem is dead. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.” This definition was approved by the American Medical Association in 1980 and by the American Bar Association in 1981.

The above is what the medical field uses as a definition of what death is and how to determine when someone has died.  In simple terms when someone’s heart or brain has permanently stopped working.   I do not think people have souls or anything supernatural that transcends our physical selves therefore when a person dies that is it, they are dead and nothing else. Even though the body is still around the person has essentially ceased to exist any longer as they previously did.

No longer existing is sometimes not a very easy concept for people to grasp.  I am not talking about the the physical body of the person or other’s memories of the person. Rather, I am talking about what I feel truly makes up a person and makes them  who they are, their mind. Since the brain has died so has the mind and the person is no longer there.  A dead person isn’t sitting in their body thinking,  “Oh shit I’m dead,” or hovering around in the third person looking over their dead body as is portrayed in many books and movies, but no longer exists. Nothing left of the person but a dead body that will begin to decompose like anything else that has died.

Many people, especially believers that feel that they are going to live for ever in paradise  say that not having an afterlife and no longer existing is a very bleak and sad future and I always wonder how so?  To me to think that when I die there is nothing afterwards and I simply no longer exist  is a very easy concept once one starts to imagine what it means to not exist and the sheer peacefulness of it.  I can think of nothing else that can compare with this peace and tranquillity, no pain, no regret just nothing whatsoever.  Nothingness and not existing is a true paradise of solace.

clipart of a tombstone with RIP on itSome would ask, “Then why not just end your life and experience the peace of no longer existing right away?” and the same question could be asked of Christians but of course this was added to there dogma long ago when it became an issue.  Initially this might look like a good point however since there is nothing after death it makes living even more important and special because it is the only life one will have and once it is over it is over.  Therefore it is reasonable and rational for one to want to  stick around and make the best out of whatever circumstances life has bestowed them.

For me, I want to live and make the best out of this one shot at life because I want to be there for my family and friends that I care about, especially for my 10 month old son.  I want him to be able to experience what I have enjoyed during my life so far and more.  In order for this to happen I need to be there for him and to take care of his little butt until he can take care of himself.  This is my main reason to sticking around when there is such an easy out but it is most likely different from many other people’s.  There are an infinite number of practical reasons for people to make the best out of their chance at life that are far better than fearing being tortured forever in hell.

There being no afterlife and nothing happening when people die is a conclusion I have made based on the lack of evidence to the contrary .  Even though this brings me peace I am still aware that there still is a very remote and improbable chance I could be wrong.   I’ve never found any empirical evidence to support that there might be an afterlife but I am still open to the slim possibility that there could be one.

In conclusion,  my belief that humans do not have souls nor an afterlife  is a very comforting idea for me.  Even though it is a naturally parallel concept to atheism shared by many rational people it is not necessarily a common belief to all atheists and is no way a claim of atheism itself. I admit I could but wrong but there is no rational reason to think otherwise.  I hold life to be a very wonderful thing that, against overwhelming odds. somehow became a certainty.  I encourage others to quit worrying about what happens after death and enjoy and make the best out of the lives they have.

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  1. Tony
    October 20th, 2009 at 05:59 | #1

    I respect your beliefs, but have you actually read the Bible? I think this is the biggest thing that refutes your “lack of evidence”. If you don’t want to read it, then research it. You might think its a waste of time, but it mih=ght turn out pretty interesting.

  2. Mark
    October 29th, 2009 at 15:13 | #2

    Wow. “Have you actually read the Bible…”? That’s your evidence? That’s your trump card? A book that was written by who knows who, who knows when, that’s conveniently evolved over time to fit ones belief system?

    I don’t really know what my position is here. I know what I think happens, which is very similar to what is written here. That is the logical answer. That is what we have prove of.

    We can actually see someone die, and know it as a fact.

  3. January 9th, 2010 at 02:20 | #3

    Even if Christians are wrong they still win. There are no consequences if a Christian is wrong when they die.

    You Atheists never address the fact that you agree with the Ten Commandments. You don’t like liars, thieves and adulterers but you have broken all of God’s laws.

    Not the Christians you have to worry about when you die.

    “Satan your accuser” – Revelation 12:10

    Are you going to tell us that evil does not exist? Naive!

  4. Anonymous
    May 18th, 2010 at 05:14 | #4

    i see a lot of christians, my parents included, that arnt “winning”. they are miserable with their lifes but don’t bother to get ‘divorced’ bc that would be ‘unchristian’ to them but would actually probably make them happier. also they dont live their lives to the fullest at all bc they think when they die they will just go to ‘heaven’ and have all the time in the world. the lie numbed their life away into nothing but a joke. wasted lives. sad.

  5. Sean
    August 15th, 2010 at 16:04 | #5

    No consequences when you die, what about consequences while living. Such a limited outlook on life. Good=heaven, bad=hell. I don’t know what atheists you’re talking to about the ten commandments, but say i was living in the years of the holocaust and hiding jews, i would definitely lie and say i wasn’t to save some lives. Or would god punish me for lying?
    What about the 4th commandment, keep the sabbath holy? Exodus 35:2 says anyone who works on this day should be put to death. Are you going to keep gods commandment? Evil does exist, and if you read the bible i don’t know how you couldn’t see that it doesn’t exist in your christian god. Even just read leviticus, that’s all you need. Or read Isaiah 13, Hosea 13, Numbers 31 where your god instructed the death of young children, even children yet to be born. Psalms 19:7 says his law is perfect. I think its disgusting. So you better stone me as it says to do in Leviticus 24:16. I could go on, slavery, sexism. I’m blown away that in this day and age people actually believe these bronze age fairy tales from the bible. Do you even know why you celebrate christmas on dec 25th. If you’re thinking birth of jesus take another guess. Do a little research into your beliefs before you go living your life by it. @Ignatius

  6. Alyssa
    August 28th, 2010 at 12:42 | #6

    Good luck in hell.

  7. Alyssa
    August 28th, 2010 at 12:52 | #7

    Believing in something you can’t see, or if you don’t know is true; requires alot of faith. All God wants us to do is fallow his 10 commandments and have faith, but yet he gave up his only son for us to be forgiven from our sins. It all pays off in the end. Being on earth is like a test from God, its only temporary here, then we go with Jesus or hell for ETERNITY! There’s NO death to escape it like there is on earth. The devil could be your enemy, but he could be the reason you wanna turn to God. Being in Heaven is nothing compared to being on earth. There’s NO PAIN, yet in Hell alllllll dayyy everyyyy dayyyyy is HORRIBLE PAIN & HELL. Read the bible. It’s not too late to turn to God! Just believe and have faith that’s all God wants. Remember he gave up his ONLY son for us and all we have to do is believe and follow 10 rules.

  8. October 12th, 2010 at 11:07 | #8

    Good post, TN A. I live without belief in an Abrahamic deity and share your understanding of what probably happens when one dies. I have great reverence for Nature, as in Spinoza’s God. I too live for my children, and my grandchildren. I also live for the simple pleasure of experiencing life’s awesomeness and beauty, warts and all.

  9. A veiwer
    October 27th, 2010 at 20:25 | #9

    @Ignatius

    evil dosnt exist,its all subjective,if someone steals 5 dollars to give his mom some pill she needs daily,is that evil?stop thinking becauses it dosnt envolve you,judging peoples morality and ”goodness” is meaningless,you can only temper your own and have no right to make it a general term,and dont make athiest a umbrella term,some athiests are practically neutrual,to got hating,to skeptics,we dont all belive all the 10 commandments,i actually disagree wth 3,but thats not my point,my point is your not even opening the other possibilities,i mean honesly you quoted some TRANSLATED text and accept it as your devine faith,even if the bibles ”godly” your deluded,going to throw something about irony or irrationality to try and make athiest seem stupid?go right ahead

  10. A veiwer
    October 27th, 2010 at 20:32 | #10

    @Alyssa

    so because if god exist,hes said to be nice, giving,having a great lose,yet omnipotent at the same time?your symathizing with god…thats your argument,making something sem like ”all he wants i…” dosnt matter if you dont even belive ”he” exists.you dont know what hells like,you dont know this pan you speak so strongly of,your speaking out of sympathy,acting out of fear,ive read the bible,many vertion,some are better then others,then again some are censored,you placed this post on a athiest post,in a format no one who had the corage to ”defy” god i can imagine would even give a second look,exept to ridicule

  11. goodwithout_god
    October 27th, 2010 at 21:41 | #11

    @Ignatius To quote Dawkins ‘Suppose we grant that there is indeed some small chance that god exists. Nevertheless, it could be said that you will lead a better, fuller life if you bet on his not existing, than if you bet on his existing and therefore squander your precious time on worshipping him, sacrificing to him, fighting and dying for him, etc.’ Your argument is a very primitive pascals wager if you will, and is a straw man argument.

    Just because it happens to be that we ‘agree’ with the ten commandments, means nothing. Humans can still be good without god/s. It’s proven everyday, by millions of atheists. And if you say that the only reason you or anyone else is good is because of a false deity than you and your outlook on life is pretty sad. If you actually pay attention to the 10 ‘commandments’ most of them are just repeats of another. Thou shall not kill, steal, lie, etc. If you notice most of the commandments are directed at honoring your god, and not to worship any other god, and such a vain god with all these orders. Not to mention besides killing and stealing it never mentions anything about other important issues that we have dealt with over time like slavery, incest, rape, child molestation(im talking to you pope/bishops). Why i wonder?

    And no evil does not exist, nor do demons/devil or anything like it. Just blind, pityless, indifference. People are products of their environments in one way or the other. For good or for the bad. On some rare occasions one may break away from their upbringing and go a different way. Example: If one is brought up in a hostile household, he/she may grow up to be the same way, and vice versa. Alot of things attribute to how people turn out as adults, like fighting/not fighting in front of them, violence, bullying, mental/physical abuse, loneliness, betrayal, sexual abuse. I once read an article that most psychologists say that between the ages of 12-15 we are shaping the way we will be the rest of our lives. But wait i guess you believe a newborn baby is born evil, right?

  12. goodwithout_god
    October 27th, 2010 at 21:49 | #12

    @Alyssa
    Actually according to Christianity, its called the trinity, in which all three are god. The father, the son and the holy spirit. So, god impregnated the virgin mommy(??) with himself, only to go on a suicide mission, and than as the son, he is crucified but hes still the father, wait, hold on?? Never mind, than he ascends into heaven to be the holy spirit/god again, make sense? Ok thought it would. I am only going on by what the book tells me.

  13. Dick belief
    November 11th, 2010 at 20:56 | #13

    I could say so much right now being as I am atheist. You die, and electron energy leaves the body. There is no soul. Know what you think the soul is? It’s the synaptic nerves, the neurons in your BRAIN that help you function as a person. Along with the neurons in your heart. Oh and I’m tired of you fags hating on fags. It’s nonsense. The bible also contradicts itself in many ways and it’s funny how you guys know. But you look towards something to “save” yourselves. So you won’t be the bed guy and go to “heaven.” So you know, you’re wasting your time. You go to a sewer like place where acid engulfs the floors so you can be in it to die.

  14. January 4th, 2011 at 19:39 | #14

    Let me ask u know it all athesist this:what happend before the big bang?? Why do most athesist seem like there mad or tense or want to belittle christians by saying things like:you believe a translated book by who knows or when? May god have mercy on your soul. U athesist know it all.Got it all figured out

  15. Atheist in West TN
    March 2nd, 2011 at 00:00 | #15

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I am always happy to read about issues that I believe in. That Bible is just a tool used by christians to justify themselves. They love to say idiotic things, like “god told me to do it”, If I heard someone telling me crazy shyt, you better believe i am going to get a head check. Also, this notion that you can just ask your invisible god to forgive you of your sins is utter BS…Ask the people you hurt to forgive you, tell the lady you yelled at your sorry, stop crap talking about people you do not like, etc.. That is killing the soul and spirit of people and your not suppose to kill..I was raised in a church…I have read that bible cover to cover and again, and highlighted all the wicked, nasty, distasteful, and contradictions you like to dis regard. I really enjoy how things are history or not relevant in this era, until it suits your disdain for something. So you guys just live in your own wicked little hell you made up and let your make believe god do all the judging.

  16. Bob
    March 10th, 2011 at 22:13 | #16

    I read your article and would just like to say that it is a Christian’s knowledge of the fact that they have a certainty of life after death that removes the fear of death. The thing that unbelievers haven’t gotten a true grasp of is that Christianity is not just believing in a God and excepting some form of hope that drives us on through our day to day lives, no! It is a real honest to goodness relationship with the one who created us. Once you truly except Jesus Christ in your life and you begin to pray and ask for his guidance, you too will experience the Lord in ways that mere words cannot describe. I can promise you that even though He isn’t real to you now the way a tree is real to you now, on the day he speaks to your heart He will be more real to you than a tree. Anyway, at least you left that small opening of possibility in your life. I pray that you will allow the Lord to have the opportunity to become real in your life before it’s too late. All you have to do is diligently seek Him. Take care.

  17. espy
    April 17th, 2011 at 12:56 | #17

    There is proof of evolution,actual physical proof including fossils. No proof of creationism,just a story in a book of myths and legends that have been used to brainwash countless generations to keep them in line and money coming in. Thinking for yourself is hard. It took my 53 years to get free of religion but I am FREE to live my life in the here and now on my own terms. I am no better or worse than anyone else. I am human and I don’t KNOW if a god exists; I don’t believe it either. Faith is okay but my brain requires proof.

  18. Anonymous
    October 28th, 2011 at 06:04 | #18

    um the bible was made to control how people act a long time ago and remember people if its impossible for us to even get messages from us now what makes it possible back then “the bible” is a book nothing less nothing more. everything you think that is a message from god is just a matter of timing

  19. matt
    November 2nd, 2011 at 15:10 | #19

    my problem with this way of thinking is that you are assuming that there is no afterlife. I could write a piece I believe I go to a huge McDonald’s when I die. There is no proof, so I’ll just assume that’s where I’m going. Dieing and going nowhere = going to a huge McDonald’s in the sky. There is no proof for either. Heaven and Hell have the bible as proof, it shows you where you are going and lets you decide where you want to go by accepting Jesus as your savior. How can you justify there is no GOD. look around you this stuff was made with an intellegent design. There is a God, you are just to affraid to admit it.

  20. DAS
    December 20th, 2011 at 00:20 | #20

    Islam is the Answer
    الله أكبر

  21. gjgj
    March 24th, 2012 at 04:31 | #21

    If when I die that’s it then kill me now. In fact this world is in such a sorry state, if I didn’t believe there was more to it then just living for 70 or 80 years and then dying….whats the point. I certainly wouldn’t bring a child into this horrible place. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing without a doubt my suffering is not for nothing and there is a bigger plan.

  22. Anonymous
    May 26th, 2012 at 16:09 | #22

    I read what you all have said in these postings and to be honest…all of your bickering and arguing will not benefit either of you. To the christian people cursing the athiests to hell for not believing…you are breaking your own laws by judging them, since only God can judge someone according to the bible. Athiests you are only fueling blind rage of the christians by defending yourselves…since you believe in nothing then what are you defending? Just let them ramble on. Everyone on the planet should embrace life instead of fighting. Noone has to be right…The only benefit we can have in life is loving each other. Thanks.

  23. Anonymous
    June 15th, 2012 at 09:20 | #23

    @Tony
    tony did you know that a larger percentage of atheists have read the bible than christians about 85% A to about 12% C

  24. Lucas
    June 17th, 2012 at 01:34 | #24

    My suggestion when an athest die: 1) no need any burial ceremony, dump body in the sea, bury in the ground or burn until become ash n spread around a tree or forest or any plants (good for plant fertilizer) 2) no need any burial site. 3) no need to tell anyone if they are dead, no need to because the human body is just an object

  25. Moe
    August 8th, 2012 at 01:11 | #25

    Lucas so the fact that someone is an athiest means that they’re undeserving of a proper burial right? Because that’s what it sounds like your saying. Just because a person is an Athiest does not dismiss the fact that they’re human beings just like you. We mourn and have people who care about us just as you do. Think before you decide to post something as arrogant as that.

  26. Joseph Stalin
    August 15th, 2012 at 03:12 | #26

    Join the RED ARMY :)

  27. erik
    September 11th, 2012 at 14:50 | #27

    i am an atheist and have been for quite some time and i don’t think it is a big deal and in the christian religion aren’t you supposed to not judge?

  28. erik
    September 11th, 2012 at 14:52 | #28

    sorry aren’t all men created equally is what i meant

  29. Anonymous
    December 18th, 2012 at 16:41 | #29

    @Anonymous I personally think that this is a way of putting it best post I’ve read yet.

  30. Anonymous
    January 4th, 2013 at 01:15 | #30

    That’s a stupid remark “good luck in hell” does your god show no mercy ? What kind of god would send so
    Wine to hell for not knowing the truth ? @Alyssa

  31. February 11th, 2013 at 17:33 | #31

    Why is this book less true than the Bible? LOL – If this guy had told us, exactly how the MEN that wrote the bible did, that it was inspired by God, would you believe it then? NO

  32. Josh Adkins
    May 26th, 2013 at 23:21 | #32

    Hey I’m also an athiest but I have a hard time not with the concept of nothingness after death but the concept of accepting it. But also something to think about I’m 24 years old 25 years ago I did not exsist so why is it implausible that I can seize to exist again. Now for my reason for posting; the comment about evidence in the bible is probably one of the most absurd things I have heard in a long time. If anything it is a direct contradiction to their claims. I have read the entire bible as well as the Koran and many other religious texts. In genesis god created man first well what about the dinosaurs. Not to mention crazy things like the arc full of each animal etc.Not to mention the immorality of the book. The bible is christanitoes best kept secret. It’s so draconian and vicious of s book they could make a horror movie on the Old Testament . The closed author in the bible is still over a hundred years later writing about thing that happened a hundred years ago. But again I’m so ambiguous about my feeling that nothing happens when u die in some moments it scares me until I quit being selfish and realize people have to die for others to be born and there will still be a world left without me. The only way I could be wrong is if we are all actually in the matrix lol

  33. jeserono
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:24 | #33

    well i died and was brought back and i could tell u that we have souls and yes god exists… i never believed until then… so ya jesus is real ..

  34. Robert
    January 9th, 2014 at 08:42 | #34

    I respect and understand your point of view. I am not going to discount it or try to argue or refute it. You are sincere in your belief of no after-life and that is your right to do so. My only question is this, “what if your belief in no after-life is wrong?” All I am asking you to do is think about that. If your belief is correct than the christian belief does not matter but if the christian belief is correct your belief is a very big gamble.

  35. anonymous
    March 27th, 2014 at 19:47 | #35

    I am a believer in God. It has been proven to me. God has spoken to me. I didn’t know where that voice in my head was coming from since I was a kid. I didn’t understand why I was hearing it or where it was coming from until I was an adult. When I was a child, He told me the full name of whom I was going to marry when I was grown up. And that came true. Another time I was about to rush out the door to go to work. He told me to go down to the basement. I almost didn’t listen, because I was late for work. Then I listened. I thought that He is telling me this for a reason and if I don’t listen, then I’ll regret it. So, I went down to the basement and found a lit candle. It was proof to me once again that God is real. Not everyone will hear God speak to them. You will only hear Him speak to you if you truely believe in Him in your heart. Even if you’ve been going to church for many years, you still won’t hear Him speak to you if you still don’t believe. It has to come from your heart.

  36. April 21st, 2014 at 04:34 | #36

    @Mark
    Well… The Bible didn’t “conveniently evolve over time to fit our beliefs”. We based out beliefs ON the bible and it’s teachings. And for the proof part. JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD. Isn’t that enough proof for you. He died THEN came back to life for us to save us.

  37. anonymous
    May 2nd, 2014 at 19:50 | #37

    @Ryan
    It is enough proof. I have always believed. I didn’t go to church growing up, and therefore never learned the details of what happened when Jesus died and rose back up. I only heard grownups say that God is a man that lived up in the sky. I didn’t read the bible until I was an adult and able to take myself to church since my parents never did. My husband and I even took a catechism class together. That’s when things I remembered that happened through my life finally started making sense to me. There were things I could not explain, such as the two examples I told you about earlier. I cannot predict the future, but yet I still was told as a child the full name of whom I was going to marry. How could I have a thought in my head that was not my own, telling me to go to my basement and end up finding a lit candle that could have burned my house down. That voice in my mind was persistent and would not let me leave out the door until I went downstairs like it was telling me to. Well, the point I was trying to make in my previous message is that there are always things happening all the time that shows everyone in this world that God is real. So, why do some people still think that God doesn’t exist?

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