Is there a God? Is there life after death? What do we have to do in our temporary earthly vessels to do to reach ‘Paradise’? These are questions humanity has asked for 200,000 years, since the time at which we were able to look up to the stars, gaze in awe, and wonder. Questions that were designed to add purpose to our lives. To distract us from human misery and suffering. Questions that were often rhetorical, or given answers that were, and are, at best ambiguous, and at worse, loaded and dangerous. Which is why I, as your Lord and Saviour, have decided to answer these questions for you.
If I haven’t offended almost everyone yet with condom gags and excessive use of the ‘C’ word, fear not, because there’s nothing quite like talking about religion and life after death to categorically ruin a friendship and a Monday night, on an Easter weekend, and mid-way through Passover. But rather, there’s nothing quite like knowing you’re going to die to make you contemplate what comes next, and how that affects your life now.
Discussions about life after death often begin after several pints/mum-sized glasses of wine/WKDs (whichever so way you’re inclined) or narcotics, and can end with desert beheadings, clashes of civilisations, and supressed homosexuality. This also may be another of my exaggerations. Or not, depending on the friends you keep. These discussions are often structured around our perfectly natural fear of death, or more accurately, fear of the unknown. That very fear, in the moment we are discussing life after death, prompts us to say that we should be doing more with our lives, casting our legacy, and whether any of it really matters at all. We then wake up the next morning and get on with our lives, without either a) remembering any of our eulogy, or b) remembering it, and actually not giving too much of a toss. The latter, principally because we have the whole of our lives to rectify it, and allow all our hopes and dreams to simply fall into place rather than working towards making said legacy, and doing more with said lives. But when that point is on the horizon, with a legacy and a life only partially lived, how do you come to terms with it, and how do you frame what comes next?
I – like all other sensible men – wanted to die in a blaze of glory, surrounded by mountains of cocaine, a hail of gunfire, and Ivanka Trump. This is, thinking of it, still possible. Having grown up in the Christian faith, one half of the family of Irish & Anglo-Saxon stock and one half descendants of Lithuanian Jews, my first thought as a spotty, skinny kid was fluffy clouds, eternal peace, and the warm embrace of the light. At no point do I remember reading about 72 virgins as promised in elsewhere, which could quite easily have swayed my belief at the time. Abrahamic jokes aside, there was a quiet peace in knowing that after I died, many years later, there wasn’t anything to worry about. As I grew older, I lost my faith (primarily through experiences and encounters that continually led me to question God) and became an atheist. But being an atheist doesn’t exempt one from contemplating life after death, because there’s no peace in this life to be found in thinking that there’s nothing but nothingness in the next. I find myself casting my mind back to what I was taught as a child – Heaven (which, under any religions’ criteria for Heaven, I am unequivocally barred from anyway). I find myself thinking about reincarnation, and whether I’ll end up as a screaming little Chinese baby, and therefore a potential future ruler of Earth. I find myself reverting back to the Gospel according to Dawkins, and my matter being scattered across the universe, to be remoulded in any way the universe sees fit. But more so than anything, I find myself realising that, in the end, none of that matters one iota, because, purely and simply, I have no control over it. Whatever happens, and whatever outcome presents itself, none of my thought and none of my energy can really alter that. I would be a stone-cold liar if I said that isn’t a scary proposition, but it’s an undeniable truth. And lots of things are scary, like the proposition of a Le Pen presidency, shorter Game of Thrones seasons, and the singularity. Which, as is now evident, means that the only thing within my control is my actions that affect the here and now. The more we worry about what comes next, the less we absorb the present; time and respect for ones we love, the experiences we have, and the life we lead/the way we conduct ourselves with others. And that seems, coincidentally, to be the underlying point of most religions, big and small - bar the odd batch of antique insanity - and their fundamental prerequisites for a 'good' life after death. So whether you subscribe to a faith or not, the core remains the same, and probably so does the outcome.
I’m far too bad a human being to justify a cake and candles at the end of this life – I get irrationally homicidal when someone answers their phone in the train’s quiet carriage, I bring my own olive oil into hospital because their product is inferior, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg – and that’s fine. It may be Bowie, Wogan and Alan Rickman for company, or it may be Pol Pot and Stalin. Who knows. The fun is in the surprise anyway. So before my corpse becomes a White Walker, and I’m carried down the aisle to the sound of NSYNC’s ‘Bye Bye Bye’ (no joke, it's already in my will), head to the wake, down several absinthe’s, and ponder the fact, like we always have, that we ultimately have no control over what comes next, try and be a good bastard, and relish the fact that you don’t have to read this sh*t anymore.
In the immortal words of Primo Levi, “the aims of life are the best defence against death”.