Discussing Eternal Life with a Skeptic
I was discussing ultimate things with an atheist friend and the topic of eternal life arose. She seemed quite indifferent to the whole concept, so I tried to hone in with a specific question:
“Do you desire eternal life? Do you feel something inside of you longing for life that is full and robust and filled with relationships, where you have time to do all the things you want, where your physical health remains perfect, with no end? I think the answer must be yes – that all rational people feel this, but I really am not sure how you will answer it.”
She sidestepped: “How about ‘maybe’ or only with certain conditions. Does eternal life have a single meaning? How come you get to decide what the meaning of eternal life is?”
Her response surprised me. I assumed that everyone shared a similar positive view of “eternal” life. Her question about why I get to decide confused me. I responded:
“Okay. I think I get you now. You mean that your desire for eternal life would depend on what that entailed? You’re thinking that you can imagine scenarios where perhaps oblivion would be preferable? I hope I don’t come off as arrogant,” I said. “I don’t ‘get to decide’ what eternal life is. I simply have a frame of reference that I’m seeing the world from, so at first I didn’t see that you were viewing it differently. In my frame of reference, eternal life isn’t something I acquire; its something I already have. That’s both good and bad news. The good news is obvious: this feeling that there is never enough time and that I always desire to have more time will get fulfilled; the bad news is that I may not like my circumstances.
For instance, if I embark on a life of crime or drug addiction, I will eventually reap what I sow – nature has consequences built into it – and the place I find myself might not be pleasant. So too is eternal life, in my view. The ‘I’ part of me is eternal, even though my current body is not. That’s why I say that I ‘have’ a body and not that I ‘am’ a body. Even linguistically, we realize that the ‘I’ part of us is something different – something ephemeral – from the physical part of us.
So therein lies the reason for my question to you. How can you be indifferent about such a question? I know you will say that no one has the answers, but don’t you think its worth an investigation? To satisfy yourself that you really can’t know? Take my drugs example. Since you’re young and healthy, you might be able to abuse drugs for quite some time, but it wouldn’t be a smart move for you to say that you really don’t care what effect it will have on you in 20 years. Looking down the road to the consequence of our choices is something we all need to do.”
Apparently not. At least not in her view…
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