I am not a religious man, yet I find myself curious about the prospect of an afterlife. Is there something beyond this life, in this dimension, in this universe? While I don’t believe in the traditional conception of an afterlife (one’s soul ascends to a blissful place, where it inhabits all space and time for eternity), I do like to think we live on beyond the time we take our last breath.
In ninth grade, I graduated to a Sunday School class which resembled a forum — discussion-based learning. A retired history teacher, a Public Defender, and a social worker led the discussions in this class. The dialogue probed our most deeply held beliefs and asked profound questions about life, spirituality, goodness, happiness, beauty, and other similar topics.
One day, we were discussing the afterlife. The normal answers dominated the conversation: “When one dies, one’s soul ascends into Heaven to be with one’s family members and with God,” and “We exist everywhere and with everyone. We watch over those we love and help them live good lives.” When the question came to me, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Can an atheist believe in an afterlife? If so, did I?
I hadn’t given it much thought before, but I pondered it for a moment and concluded, “An individual’s afterlife is the culmination of the memories others have of the individual. It is the legacy that individual leaves behind and the impact that individual had on those he or she encountered.”
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. If we don’t have souls, how do we explain this legacy of the afterlife concretely? The afterlife is not something experienced by the deceased individual, but by everyone else he or she impacted.
I have not yet met anyone else who holds this belief I hold, but I invite you to explore it and see of you can reconcile it with your beliefs about the afterlife. Banksy once famously said (paraphrased by a friend): They say you die twice, once when your heart stops beating, and again when your name is said for the last time. I can’t believe there is something I will experience beyond my death, but I can believe that others will experience their memories of me beyond my departure from this world.