David Allred has written a "faith column" for Oak Ridge Today, in which he takes umbrage with the late Roger Ebert's musings on death. In particular, Allred would seem to dislike the term "nothing" being ascribed to the state of what happens to us after we die. Allred appears to believe in an afterlife and, it seems, a god. Following is a passage from Ebert's essay-in-question:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.
Adding to Allred's distress over Ebert's beliefs (or lack thereof) is the mass sharing of the late film critic's essay that has occurred since his passing earlier this month. From Allred:
I am not surprised to see Ebert’s letter so readily received by so many. Who wouldn’t want nothingness after death? Nothingness allows us to follow our own bliss in the time we have, to suck what marrow we wish from the bones of life, to find our own sense of purpose and meaning—to ultimately make a go of it with the ideals that suit us and please us best. That’s opium indeed.
He even quotes Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz when he wrote that there is “a huge solace in thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murder we are not going to be judged.”
Ebert is dead, and I do not wish to speak on his behalf, although it's worth noting that anyone who spent much time reading what he wrote on the subject of life, death and religion knows that he -- like many people -- was a complicated person, and an attempt to whittle-down his beliefs in such a way is probably folly at best, disrespect at worst. We can't, none of us, know what truly resides within the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns. Perhaps it is nothing, perhaps it is glory be unto Him, perhaps it is Hellfire. We simply do not know.
I happen to really liked Ebert's statement of "I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state," as it addresses the oft-neglected question of, assuming we have souls and that they live on after this temporal life, what then of these souls before we were created on this Earth? I happen to agree with Ebert, in that there was a time when all of us did not exist, and that time will one day come again.
Another truth, seemingly denied by folks like Allred and Milosz, is that we humans act out our lives because of who we are, how we were raised, and what we have become. We do not, contrary to popular belief, act out our lives due to some fear of what may happen in an afterlife -- or at least we shouldn't. There are devoutly religious people who maim and murder, and atheists who do not. Vice-versa. Fear, or lack thereof, in an eternal judgement and punishment, does not often enter into it.
Look at it this way: Who would you think better of? The teenager who volunteers at a soup kitchen because his father has promised to either buy him a new car if he does, or hit him with a belt if he doesn't, or the teenager who volunteers at the soup kitchen because he has been raised in such a way that he thinks of it as simply a good thing to do?