Atheism has emerged in our times as an outlook held by many people from diverse backgrounds, especially the young. The claim is made that atheism equips people to live life more freely and fully.
A common idea among atheists is that death is a return to Nature. Death involves a dissolution into the universe. One becomes one with the stars, the plants, the animals, the whole cosmos. In 1819, the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, published a book titled The World as Will and Idea. Schopenhauer wrote that in death the “Universal Mother Earth” receives humans into her arms. Also, according to Schopenhauer: “if one knocked on graves, and asked the dead whether they wished to rise again, they would shake their heads”.
More specifically, the view is that, after death, the atoms of one’s body will eventually reveal themselves perhaps in the brilliant yellow of a dandelion, in the wetness of a rain drop, or in the throat of a giraffe, and certainly in the hearts of some people as well. It is therefore appropriate to scatter one’s ashes in the wind or on the sea, or to bury them in the forest at the roots of an ancient tree, ideally in a biodegradable urn. There are owners of some forested areas who, for a price, allow people to bury remains on their property. The family and friends of the deceased can console themselves with the thought that the organic remains of the deceased person will one day reach out to the sun in the whispering leaves of the trees.
Thus, today ashes are strewed over the sea, or swept from the top of a mountain by the wind, or buried in “forest cemeteries.”
The Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book No Death No Fear writes: “everyday I look deep at everything around me: the trees, the hills. I see myself in them and I know I shall not die, I will continue in many other forms.”
In the movie Houseboat, Cary Grant, in a scene where a boy asks him what happens when people die, Grant gives a dissolution into the universe response.
Today’s obituaries commonly express the idea of the self’s return to nature. Above the obituary is not the cross, but a broad-branched tree.
I am not the least bit consoled by the idea that my physical energy may live on in strawberries or Rhinos. Nor am I satisfied that “something” goes on and that I will continue in many other forms. I want to live on in my own person. I have no interest in being recycled in a cosmic way, like plastic bottles. The meaning of “dissolution into the universe” would seem to be that we live, we, die, we become compost, and all those vitamins, minerals, and nutrients help a path of ragweed grow big and strong and cause allergy problems for countless sufferers. Is that consolation?
The Christian Creed says: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Our bodies are destined for resurrection. John 6:40: “Everyone who believes in me has everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The resurrection is not a metaphor, for example, that the dead live on in the memory of their loved ones. The resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the General Resurrection (cf. Acts 26:28).
Christ is the first fruits of the great harvest that is to follow and there will be the annihilation of death itself. The omnipotence of God “will swallow up death for ever and will wipe away the tears for all faces” (Isaiah 25:18).
I will be made into “Immortal Diamond”, not some fertilizer for the universal greenhouse.
Let me leave you with something to think about. Karl Rahner, the elite theologian of the 20th century, stated: “No one is in danger of defending as a heresy if he maintains the view that the single and total perfection of a human being in body and soul takes place immediately after death”
(Theological Investigations, XVII, 120). In other words, Rahner is saying that being a human being calls for the union of body and soul. This calls for a body immediately after death. This body will be perfected at the General Resurrection. I can’t think of anything that I would like less than to be a disembodied spirit.