People spend much of their lives contemplating death. They view their own death and the death of their loved ones with horror. They seek relief from the horror in religions that promise them that, one way or another, they won’t die.
As an atheist, I view death differently. For me, death is nothing. Literally nothing.
I have heard religious people say that death must be terrible for an atheist because it is an endless void. Darkness for eternity. The ultimate abyss.
They are wrong. “Endless voids”, “eternal darkness”, and an “abyss” are things that are experienced. Death is the absence of experience. None of these things will be experienced in death. Not endless, eternal anything. When experience ends, time ends. For the dead person, time does not pass.
I base my beliefs about death on the nearest experiences that I have had. At the moment of death, the brain ceases to function. In common human experience, there are two conditions that approximate that. Sleep is not one of them. The brain works hard during sleep, dreaming, rising and falling through different levels of consciousness. When you awake, you know that time has passed. A sleeping person is not experiencing anything like death.
But a faint is a different matter entirely. I have fainted three times in my life. It is an odd experience. I did not know that I was going to faint. I felt light-headed and, an instant later, looked up from the floor at concerned faces. What happened during the faint? Nothing. Time did not pass. I had no way to know if I had been unconscious for a second or an hour or a century. It would have been the same to me.
Exactly the same thing happens when a person is given a general anaesthetic. Recently, I had my gall bladder removed. The anaesthetist distracted me for a few seconds by asking me about my work and then I was in the recovery room, a few hours later. To me, those missing hours never happened. If I had died on the operating table, it would have been no different for me. It was only when I woke up again that life resumed.
Death is simply a faint that never ends.
Every person has already experienced an eternity of non-existence. It happened before they were born. I have never yet met a person who mourned all the billions of years that they missed from the big bang to their birth. Their brain did not exist during that time so they did not experience a void or darkness. They were not a little soul in heaven waiting to shed their angel wings and be born. They were nothing, so they had nothing to fear or regret. And, after they were born, they were too busy living to spend an instant contemplating the fact that they had been dead before they were born.
That’s fine by me. I won’t be worrying about being dead after I die, so why should I worry about it now when I’m alive? To spend your life preparing for being dead is to waste your life. That is a tragedy. While you’re alive, be alive.
Make as much of your life as you can and you’ll find that death is nothing to fear.