As regular readers of this blog will know, I am not a believer in the afterlife. It a fairly certain disbelief, but not one carved in stone, as none of us really have proof one way or the other, so I admit to possibly being very wrong on the subject. At any rate, one of the reasons I've had an issue with the notion of an afterlife (at least, as it's been presented in most world religions) is that it seems to encompass all of eternity. That may seem lovely to some, but not to this fellow. As the First Doctor noted in the 1983 Five Doctors special, "Immortality is a curse, not a blessing." I mean, really, who wants to live forever?
It was a few weeks ago that an opinion presented on The Dish brought to mind another, perhaps far more disturbing issue with the afterlife as it is regarded religiously. And that is how everything about it is presented to be wonderful and perfect. A litany of commonly proposed eternal afterlife qualities include; reuniting with loved ones, knowledge of so many things not known to mortal man, eternal happiness and joy, no strife or conflict, no sadness, etc. etc. It is like paradise defined. Indeed, that is likely why so many have gravitated toward various religions during their long history in this world.
What concerns me (and the person who wrote to The Dish) about an eternal paradise is that, well, it sounds like something right out of the The Stepford Wives. It would seem to be a bland, boring existence. Now, some might argue that such a peaceful, loving, warm way of life would provide much more time for folks (or souls, or whatever) to devote to more purely intellectual pursuits. But would this really be the case? And what kind of existence would it be without any lows to counter the highs? How would we appreciate love without any more loss? How would we enjoy happiness if it were constant, never to be intruded upon by sorrow?
Despite the harshness of the valleys that we face in life, they help make it what it is. They help us to appreciate when things go well. They can (sometimes) help spur us onward, to strive to do better. Through being hurt, we have the opportunity to learn and enact the liberation of forgiveness. When we lose loved ones, it teaches us something that can only be learnt through the brutal nature of finite existence, that life is precious, that we are only granted a certain amount of time with those we care about, and should therefore make the most of it.
I'll be honest: I do not want to live forever. And I do not want to live a forever life where roughly 50-80 years were spent in mortal human flesh (where, by the way, the rest of my eternal fate is decided), and then spend the remaining billions and trillions of years as a happy, smiling soul that never has to deal with anything, because to deal with anything would create possible conflict, and conflict cannot exist in the afterlife.
I enjoy being happy. But that is because I know what it is like to be sad, and I know that the happiness I may enjoy could be over with at any moment, to be replaced by fear or uncertainty or sorrow. That's what makes the happiness so special. The kaleidoscope of life's experiences and emotions is what makes being a living, sentient being so wonderful. I like being happy, but I also appreciate the necessity of being sad. I like my pain. I need my pain. And I raise an eyebrow at the proposition of an existence where pain, hurt and sorrow is something we never, ever have to worry about again.