Does This Atheist Really Believe In Heaven?


Image found here.

I’m an atheist, by the way — for now at least, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind. So if you ever catch me sitting around doing absolutely nothing, I assure you there’s absolutely no need to panic: that’s just me practicing my religion¹.

But I recently discovered² that even though I am an atheist, I do actually believe in Heaven. Now, please, don’t get too excited about this. I assure you there’s absolutely nothing trippy or paradoxical or even especially interesting about the fact that I believe we all — yes, truly all of us; even the worst of us (Hitler, Stalin, Donald Trump³) — go to Heaven when we die.

It’s no big deal, really, because all I mean by this is that I believe that only living things can suffer; and that inanimate things like rocks, coffee cups, and corpses don’t have any experience at all, but in particular and most wonderfully they do not suffer.

And to my view, that is really all anybody can rationally expect from Heaven.

Fortunately, it’s also all that any of us actually needs, I think.

¹ This is only partly a joke. I do practice meditation, which many consider to be a “spiritual practice”, and which is arguably a euphemism for “sitting around doing absolutely nothing”.

² My mother passed away a few weeks ago, after a decades long struggle against the Parkinson’s Disease that slowly — oh so excruciatingly slowly — transformed her into a meat statue. It was awful to watch, and one of the most tragically heroic events I’ve ever personally witnessed. After her passing, I was nervous about telling my six-year-old twins, and it took me a good 10 days to work up the courage. In the end, my wife and I decided we would tell them that she had died and gone to Heaven, and I reconciled this explanation with my atheism in the way described above. It was a little weird, at first, but I am glad we did it.

³ Ha ha, just kidding. Sorry, couldn’t pass that one up. Although I do think His Donaldness is an epic pig of a human being, and it really shouldn’t surprise anybody in the least if he does eventually haul off and commit some sort of mass atrocity like Hitler and Stalin did — and really for no better reason than because the Twitter server had an outage and he didn’t know what else to do with himself at 2 am — so far Mr. T-Rump has managed to keep his actual body count to a level far below monstrous. But he’s only been in office for less than a year, so maybe he will eventually earn his place among the real monsters of History.

Skepticism as Curiosity

Little boy looking at the ground through a magnifying glass

Image found here.

Although I see myself as a skeptic, I’ve never liked that term. It always has a taint of disparagement, and I always feel like I need to explain it, or make jokes like “Don’t worry, it doesn’t seem to be very contagious.” It often seems to be used like a synonym for disagreeable, or party-pooperstuffy, stodgy, closed-minded, old coot, etc.

For me, skepticism is quite the opposite of all that. To my view the word skepticism is more like a synonym for curiosity — an urge to push past my current knowledge and understanding of the world. As I see it, to be a skeptic is nothing like being closed minded. On the contrary, it means to open one’s mind to alternatives, to free oneself from excessively rigid or mindless ideological over-commitments, and to stubbornly refuse to clutter up one’s own nervous system with a tangle of complicated, contradictory, and unnecessary opinions — what we might call belief pollution.

But that doesn’t mean I have no beliefs or opinions, of course. In fact, I seem to have so many of these that I’ve even created this blog as a place to document them. But my blog isn’t just a place for me to put my opinions. As I experience it, writing is actually a better way to think, and the process of a writing a blog post is also the process of formulating, scrutinizing, testing, reformulating, re-scrutinizing, revising, and in general indulging my often relentless curiosity regarding the way my own mind works.

In this way I am skeptical of even my own beliefs.