This isn’t an argument I’ve seen put forward anywhere before, so it’s possible I’m having one of my more original moments here. I’ve written before about the idea that only a god, or an eternal afterlife, or something of that ilk, can give life any meaning or purpose, and why I think it’s bollocks. But here’s a way of looking at it which I only recently thought to consider.
To recap briefly and coarsely the position I’m taking a stand against: “What’s the point in anything if we’re all just going to die and rot in the ground?” My actual answer to that is in the above-linked article. Here, I’m going to look at it another way.
Suppose, for now, that there is an afterlife. Imagine that all humanity are possessed of souls, spiritual elements of our being which survive bodily death and pass on to a higher plane, where there awaits us all a true, blissful Eden of utter contentment and gloriously divine holy commune with Vishnu himself. Or whatever. However lovely you could hope for your choice of afterlife to be, it’s that with knobs on. Heaven. Sweet.
Only, imagine it’s not quite eternal.
Okay, as a mathematician I can’t use a meaningless phrase like “not quite eternal” without wincing – something can’t be just a bit less than infinity – but suppose that the soul itself has a finite life-span, and will eventually die. It’s just that it’s a really, really long life-span. Say, a trillion years. Or, better, a trillion trillion trillion. That’s, like, loads. (See, I really am a mathematician.)
So, after you die, your soul lives on for more time than you can possibly conceive. You could live a million natural lifetimes, and a hundred million more, see the entire universe through every moment of its existence so far, watch countless millions of stars explode and die, burn up and fizzle out, over billions of years… and still, after all this time of ecstasy and delightenment, of utter heavenly fulfilment and rapture, you’ve made barely the lightest hint of a shadow of a sliver of a dent in your allotted time. Not a microscopic fraction of a percent of a trillionth of a percent of your afterlife is done. To within any reasonable level of accuracy, you still have absolutely everything to look forward to – and still will do a further trillion years of bliss from now. And so on, and so on, lofty rhetoric, yadda yadda.
But at the end of all that, you will die. Again. For real this time. Your near-immortal spirit gets snuffed out, your soul ceases to be. No after-afterlife. No post-postscript. Annihilation. Nullity. Although you have all this fun for many orders of magnitude more time than it’s possible for the human mind to fathom, there will come a day when it all stops. Eventually, total oblivion is your unavoidable fate.
So. Is it all still completely pointless?
One way of looking at it is that all the complaints about the miserable hopelessness of an atheistic worldview still apply. We’ll all be super-dead someday, with nothing of us remaining. It seems unthinkable that the existence of a conscious soul could just stop. There’s no ultimate, eternal accountability, so why worry about anything you do now, in this temporary state of being?
But this seems silly. If you can’t find enough opportunities to make your afterlife worth living throughout 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years in Heaven, then frankly you’re beyond pity. Is there anyone who could really go through all that and still not be satisfied, not content with what they’ve been given, insist that it’s pointless and not fair unless there’s somewhere else to go onto next, and somewhere else after that, and somewhere else after that, or they get to stay here for ever and ever and ever, like some four-year-old throwing a tantrum and insisting that they want more ice cream and they’re never going to go to bed?
Well, probably. There’s no pleasing some people. But it does seem like a ridiculous position to take. You get more years than you could even count to in a trillion years, and which you could treat like eternity – it’d be indistinguishable from it for virtually the entire time. I’d say it’s a pretty sweet deal. I can’t see it realistically being deemed an utterly pointless and bleak existence.
The only alternative is that an existence can have a purpose, can be meaningful and worthwhile and fulfilling in itself, without needing to be completely endless. The fact that it all stops one day doesn’t make this impossible. Because it’s good, now, during the time you do get, and that’s enough.
And then it’s just a matter of arguing the numbers. If value can be found in a squillion years in Heaven (for any finite value of “squillion”), but not in a life-time on this planet, then I say you’re just not trying hard enough.
So, what does anyone think? Am I making sense? Is this at all convincing? Is it well trodden ground already? Enquiring minds want to know. (And low-rate bloggers wouldn’t mind the traffic.)