"Tell me for sure,” my friend, asked, "is there something after death?"
I hesitated but the answer was easy because, I had settled this question many years before. It was a question inspired by existential pondering. It was a question exposing humanity's shared fear of death.
Unlike most people, my friend was sharing his mulling aloud. He was working out a contemplation that has been settled, in as many ways as there are people who decide they have the truth of humanity's existential cycle.
Some people, upon birth, emerge into a family that indoctrinates them into an answer. This part of humanity has canceled questioning with a handed down story that explains the origin of humanity, the reason for being and what is beyond death. These people belong to one of the many religious doctrines of the world.
They believe and follow one of the mythological books that resolve existential angst. A book, sacred and holy, that outlines the solution, varying slightly from doctrine to doctrine. "You are the children of an omnipotent supreme being, there is life after death and if you are obedient to my laws, I will reward you with heaven. If you do not obey, my wrath will bestow hell upon you. Your purpose in being alive is to become worthy of joining me in an alternative dimension of perfection."
In an opposite corner are the thinkers perceiving every holy book as written by ancient people who were no more and no less like themselves. They consider these ancestors (writers and mystics) as primitive and less informed. They remain unconvinced that these ancestors are correct.
Confused by the contradictions, these non-conformists reject the holy books. That the writers of these books declare personal divine support does not calm the mavericks' questioning brains. The atheists think most ancients did not have the discernment or means to investigate whether thunder was indeed the voice of God, or if human brains can produce delusional voices or if witnessed observations are always what they seem. Their questions addressed with the bottom line answer, “Have faith.” leaves them frustrated. To them, the information science exposes belies many of the facts the believers hold dear. In contrast, for them, the non-believers, there is nothing after death.
The one thing all the varying philosophies desire is certitude.
For me, personally, I practice experiencing life as it unfolds. When I feel a desire for certitude, I know it is born from my fear. Accepting ambiguity has dispelled my fear and caused my existence to be exciting and continuously fresh. I am patient to meet the future peeling off its masks second by second.
I am neither a believer nor a non-believer. With this attitude, I answered my friend.
"Bob, choose one certainty if that is what you need. It does not matter which one. Choose the one that best comforts you. There are two certitudes. Either there is something or there is not. If you choose to define something concretely and it proves false once you die, you will not know. So why not comfort yourself with the belief that there is something since you need to know for sure. Whatever the actuality, even if there is nothing, the you that needs an answer now, will not exist and it will not matter. If what there is differs from your before death belief, there will, nevertheless, be something. It is not possible to interact with the something before you get there. Fearing what will be is a waste of your living minutes.”
Two weeks later he died in a car accident. I hope the last two weeks of his life were free of fear.