There’s a few things I’m fairly certain about. I believe I have an accurate, though imprecise, appreciation for the degree of uncertainty we have to deal with. (So I’m fairly certain about uncertainty.) The claim to possess absolute knowledge is a fairy tale. The claim, “I am absolutely certain that this (any) statement is true” is either naive, an exaggeration, or a lie. The only source of information about the external world our brain has is what it gathers from our five senses. We are all to familiar with the many maladies that can interfere with the functioning of the senses as we are of disabilities, temporary or chronic, that interfere with the brain’s ability to process sensory information. Hallucinations are real – they are real hallucinations.
It is the nature of a hallucination that we are tricked into believing what we hallucinated to be as real as that which we accurately perceive. Therefore, there is no way, no absolutely foolproof way, of distinguishing what is real from what is imagined. I could be hallucinating the experience of typing these words, or indeed, of having truly experienced every single one of my memories. But giving serious credence to that is no way to live. Indeed logic and experience tell us the opposite is true and that we should always trust the evidence of our senses as the basis for rational judgment. That our senses may sometimes be tricked, or that our judgment may sometimes not be all that rational, just remind us that we are not perfect and that absolute certainty is not a part of the human experience.
As usual, that was simply a long preamble to provide the context for stating that I am sure that there is life after death. I am convinced, for reasons I have written about, that our identities will survive what we experience as physical death and will continue to enjoy an even broader range of experiences hereafter. I base that belief not on blind (hence irrational) faith, but on a rational judgment informed by the evidence of my senses. The evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things unseen which are true. I am not absolutely sure, but I believe it to be true. If it turns out that I am right, I can then say that I knew it. Anticipating that I am right, I can now say that I know it (but I just don’t absolutely know that I know it).
I have always liked Roger Whittaker’s version of The Last Farewell. Some of the lyrics are:
“I have no fear of death, it brings no sorrow.
But how bitter will be this last farewell.”
These words express my feelings very closely. The process of dying may be quite unpleasant but that is different. I am speaking of death itself. I don’t fear it. But interestingly, not for the reason of my very strong belief in (anticipatory knowledge of) an afterlife. Many years ago, albeit when my belief in an afterlife was not so strong, I admit that I did have a fear of death. What if there were no afterlife? I certainly had to acknowledge the possibility then and still have to now. Then, if I were to die, I would no longer be able to enjoy all the things that bring me happiness. I would miss them.
It was roughly 20 years ago that it suddenly occurred to me that I was mistaken about this and implication has eliminated all fear of death. I can truly say that I have never experienced the fear of death since that time. I don’t understand why anyone would, as the logic is surely unassailable. Without an afterlife I would not miss my family, my friends, or the pursuits I enjoy because I would not be and in order to miss these it would be necessary for me to be. But if I were to be, after I had died, that would constitute an afterlife.
So, in death devoid of an afterlife, it is not as though I will be somehow aware of all that I was missing and would never again experience. I would not be aware at all because I would cease to exist.
This might sound morbid but this realization should actually be a welcome relief to any who have a lingering fear of death (remember I distinguished “death” from “dying”). If I were to die, I would do so convinced that I would imminently be experiencing an afterlife but also knowing that if that confidence was misplaced, I would never know it. I would simply cease to be and never be aware of it.
Now it occurs to me, in the interests of thoroughness, that I ought to address the alleged possibility of an unpleasant afterlife – one in which one experiences endless sorrow. The pain to be inflicted on the infidels by a god who rewards terrorists for blowing up buses full of children, or the eternal flames inflicted by a god who would punish those who never had an opportunity to know him, seem to me to be so far outside the realm of possibilities as to warrant no attention whatsoever. I would put it this way – I have no fear that God is my moral inferior, as such a god as these would necessarily be.
I know myself enough to know that I am far from perfect, but I am also far from being deserving of eternal suffering by any rational code of morality. Thus, I have no fear of death, it brings no sorrow.
What can and does bring sorrow is life – and because of this it is life that ought to be feared. In the song, the bitterness of the last farewell is the emotional consequence of actions taken by the living and experienced by the living. But despite occasional tears of sadness, life affords more occasions to shed tears of joy. It is this that makes life worth living. One ought to fear the consequences of a life based on incorrect principles. By consistently applying correct principles in making life’s decisions this fear can be dismissed and the love of life can determine one’s attitude.