A humanist Pause for Thought about The One Life We Have on Radio Shropshire on Sunday morning.
Listen on the time-line from 1:16:30 to 1:21:00 for one month after broadcast.
It is followed by a brief discussion on the government’s opt-out organ donation legislation.
Simon has provided the following transcript.
I recently went to the Terracotta Warriors exhibition in Liverpool and it was totally amazing. Over 200 years BC, this guy Qin Shi Huang built massive burial chambers with over 8000 life-sized porcelain soldiers not to mention loads of other stuff – just to ensure his comfort in the hereafter. Then of course, there are the pyramids and other massive tombs all over the world.
Even in the west, elaborate religious rituals have been devised to ensure safe passage to the afterlife – and to try and get preferential treatment once you’re there.
From the beginning of recorded history (and even from some prehistoric studies), mankind has always been obsessed with the after life. At present vast numbers of people around the world believe there is one – or a least they hope there is! Why?
Well, in times past, life was pretty rough and often very unfair (less so nowadays though the fact that there’s still huge and unfair inequality is shameful). So a life that’s “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (a phrase used by a great humanist philosopher of his time) – a life like that may not seem quite so bad if followed by a heavenly bliss for all eternity – and eternity’s a very long time particularly towards the end! A few decades of misery down here on earth would seem as nothing compared to eternal heavenly bliss. And if you saw someone doing wrong and benefiting at the expense of others, well that may not seem quite so horribly unfair if you believe they’ll get their “just deserts” in the hereafter.
The beliefs of humanists, who live without religion, are a bit different. We believe that what we are, as conscious individuals with our unique sense of identity, is entirely the result of the amazingly complex and truly wonderful electrochemical activity in our brain. Death occurs when that activity is irretrievably lost – and so death is the end of who are we and what we are.
Does all this really matter? Well, humanists think it does. We believe we just have the one life and that’s why it is so important to have a good life and help others to have a good life. So if other people are in a bad way – do something about it. The “one life” idea is actually sort of empowering. Life ain’t no dress rehearsal – it’s up to us to make the world a better place, now.
OK, I don’t wanna to die any time soon, ‘cos I enjoy life so much – there’s still so much to do. But when death comes, I can face it without the consolation of religion belief. I hope that like the great humanist philosopher, David Hume, I’ll die in a way consistent with how I’ve lived, with composure and joy for the one life I have enjoyed among those I love in our beautiful and fragile world.
And after I die – what then? I believe I will live on. OK, maybe not in my present form, but I’ll live on in my children and their children; and I’ll live on in the hearts and minds of all who’ve known me and in any small changes I have made to the world. Their memories of Simon Nightingale may last just their lifetimes, but if I’ve influenced even just a bit how others feel and how they view the world, that influence they’ll pass on by their interactions with others and so on. In a sense a little bit of the spirit of Simon will be gradually spreading out like ripples on a lake – over time and generations, long after I’ve gone. Now that’s true immortality; that’s a real afterlife.