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08/23/2010

Rethinking The Afterlife

Tony Judt was a remarkably insightful historian who past away a few weeks ago from a long battle with ALS. As a tribute to Tony, NPR replayed a recent interview with him for their Fresh Air program. 

Throughout the interview, Tony shares his wisdom on a plethora of topics and is worth a full listen. One section that struck me the most was his thoughts on dying, religion, and the afterlife...

"I don't believe in an afterlife. I don't believe in a single or multiple godhead. I respect people who do, but I don't believe it myself. But there's a big 'but' which enters in here. I am much more conscious than I ever was — for obvious reasons — on what it will mean to people left behind once I'm dead. It won't mean anything for me. But it will mean a lot to them. It's important to them — by which I mean my children or my wife or my very close friends — that some spirit of me is in a positive way present in their lives, in their heads, in their imaginations and so on. So [in] one curious way I've come to believe in the afterlife — as a place where I still have moral responsibilities, just as I do in this life — except that I can only exercise them before I get there. Once I get there, it will be too late. So, no God. No organized religion. But a developing sense that there's something bigger than the world we live in, including after we die, and we have responsibilities in that world."

Thinking about an afterlife scientifically leaves a dry cotton taste in my mouth knowing that my body will either be repurposed for science/medicine or decomposed back into the Earth. I want there to be more, but thinking so only invites the same rational that a Flying Spaghetti Monster rules us all. 

Tony, however, opened me to an afterlife concept that is much more appealing. My life will live on. It lives on in all the people I interact with while alive. It lives on in the ideas, relationships, emotions, connections, products, and change I bring to this world while still alive. That's an idea of an afterlife I can live...and die with.

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