Have you noticed sometimes people who believe in an afterlife believe in it for the same reasons others don’t? And that reason is: what you do in this life is important and meaningful. I’ve heard atheists argue that if we lived forever in some afterlife, then why would today matter? We’d have an infinite amount of time to make up for it! But if you’re time alive is finite, then it’s infinitely more important. But to me, the opposite seems true: if we’re all going to completely stop existing one day, why would anything matter? “Well, you want to have a good effect on the next generation,” some atheists might say. But if that generation is just going to die and become nothing as well, what does that matter? On the other hand, if you live forever, all the consequences of everything you’ve ever done stay with you forever; you can’t undo the past with eternity. If you don’t live forever, then there ultimately are no consequences.
But who really lives as if nothing matters? Only people with psychological problems, as far as I can tell. Those who don’t believe in an afterlife still believe their actions matter (I think). I suppose the goal then becomes to be as happy as you can now, and the future really doesn’t matter, unless of course what you’re doing now would prevent you from being happy in the future. But the goal is all about pleasure and while I’m alive to feel it. How much pleasure and pain you felt throughout your life ultimately doesn’t matter in the end, but it matters now, because you’re experiencing pleasure or pain now.
But if that’s the case, there’s still no rational reason to go about caring for others, unless of course it gives you pleasure. But if it doesn’t, why should it matter?
And what if two people’s pleasures conflict with each other? I guess one just has to suffer? After all, it’s only temporary. It won’t matter eventually.
Then there’s the reincarnation belief . . . we live again, but we forget everything (or mostly everything) from our previous lives. Isn’t that just the same as never having lived? But then . . . what about those people who get brain damage and really do forget much of their lives? Is it really like never having lived?
What if there’s a criminal who sneaks into a rich man’s home, destroys his belongings, and kills him. Then, as he’s trying to sneak out, he slips on a marble staircase, hits his head, and forgets the past decade of his life, which was when his life of crime began. Without such memories, is he the same person? When the police come and arrest him, should he still be held accountable for his crimes? Even though now the man who will be sitting in prison is a confused man who can’t even remember what happened? What if he wasn’t held accountable, then one day the memories came back? Would he have to be accountable then?
Or what if he could never get his memories back? What would happen to the man he used to be? Surely there can’t be an afterlife for that man. He just vanished completely. What was the point of all the pleasure and pain, of all the hard choices, of all the decisions within those ten years if memory of them just vanished? Just that he now has to live with the consequences? But is he really living with his own consequences, or is he living with another man’s consequences, becausing having his memories erased makes him a completely new person?
Of course, science fiction stories have brought up these issues many times, but not many (none that I’ve read) come to any hard certain conclusions. (Really no new thoughts here.)
So why do your decisions matter now? Because you want pleasure now (and while you’re alive), or because we’re going to live forever? And does that decision matter?