"Do you believe in reincarnation?"
"Not in the traditional sense, no. I don't think it's neccessary. I think that the soul is a man-made concept that is only popular because many people are perpetually dissatisfied with their lives. Besides, every seven years our physical bodies are almost completely replaced through cell reproduction. And depending on the part, the cycle goes much faster. Our intestinal lining regenerates itself every seven days. 30-50% of our own shit is intestinal lining. With all this constant renewal, what more can death take from us but our vague sense of continuity?
What if, every night we went to sleep, our 'souls' swapped from one person to another? Across time and space? And our dreams were residual evidence of this? We'd wake up every day to a stock of crystallized memories specific to that organism, completely unaware that they weren't "ours" yesterday, yet compelled to work with them for 24 hours, after which we swap out again. How could you ever know this is not exactly the case, if you insist on the notion of a soul?
And what about people who drink so heavily that they wake up on Monday and forget what they did Sunday? Chemical saturation prevented the transition from temporary memory to crystallized memory. Did they have a soul on Sunday? Was it ...DISCARDED on Monday? And why should they repent if they honestly can't remember? What messy thinking it invites. What time it wastes."
"Well, what do you think happens to us when our process is finally halted? If you get hit in the face with a cruise missile tomorrow, what do you expect to happen to you? Other than turning into a DOOM wallpaper tile, I mean."
"Nothing, of course."
"So you figure, that's it? Lights out?"
"Well, here's how I see it. Memory furnishes my illusion of continuity. And when the processes that drive memory are halted, I can no longer mark or experience time. Without time, what 'happens' to me is a nonsensical question. You might as well ask what 'happens' to fire after it goes out. Do the flames go to 'fire heaven' and dance on candles for eternity?"
"Okay. Put differently, do you expect your consciousness to continue in any meaningful sense?
"Hmmmmmm... Well, my consciousness remains as an impression, in journal entries, music, and the genes of my siblings. All that should last a generation, maybe two."
"So basically you figure that's it for you."
"To think in any other way, I've come to realize, is either not profitable from a psychological perspective, or not profitable from a material perspective."
"How do you figure? What's the advantage to atheism?"
"My ambitions and emotions aren't clouded by things that are, sometimes by definition, outside my influence."
"But then, what's the motivation to do anything if none of it's really going to matter?"
"Wait... Are you telling me that if nothing is eternal, nothing matters?"
"Well, if a good man and an evil man both get hit by a bus, by your way of thinking, do their past actions have any impact on their future?"
"What future? I suppose they'll be remembered by their peers differently, and survive in documentation, but that's a pretty poor kind of immortality."
"That's not immortality, that's artifact."
"Well put. That's a good clarification. But on the other hand, in terms of human beings, what's the difference, when most living cells in your body are dead every seven years?"
"But don't you find the idea of TOTAL oblivion a little disconcerting?"
"No, because there's no such thing to me. How in the world could my sense of time possibly persist beyond my death? When you were born, were you horrified by the infinite time that elapsed before your birth? No; because it didn't happen to you. Time had not begun. Likewise, time STOPS when your body stops. You don't go anywhere or get anything. Fire does not burn after it's out."
"So basically, when you die, you don't expect your ability to think to continue in any way?"
"No. And even if we are merely 'projections' of some other being into this reality, and it really turns out that that is the truth, and we ARE immortal, and our experience IS quantified after death, there is no advantage to believing it is so during one's lifespan. If your parents raised you on the claim that their holy book is right, what makes their claim any more informed than yours? Aside from a bunch of frightening, abusive, circular lectures about how corrupt life is without their book, and how lost they feel without it? Someone once postulated that we had all better believe in god just for the sake of statistics, because NOT believing in god would be seen as an offense after death. That's a false assumption. What if one really scores points for not WASTING TIME dicking around in man-made cults? What if trusting your mind and feelings makes you a MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE instrument of 'god's will'?"
"Okay, so what's the practical advantage to NOT believing?"
"If we went about our business, doing exactly what we thought was right, trusting the faculties of reason and empathy within our own temporary selves as well as others, ... wouldn't we get a lot more done?"
"What about reincarnation? I think it makes sense to believe in, inasmuch as, you'll tend to live in a way that leaves the world in better shape for 'next time', and you'll be more willing to take risks that may advance society, science, yourself, etc. ..."
"Is that so? And what would you say to a cult that raises their children to believe in reincarnation, and when they reach puberty, sends them out into a marketplace wearing a vest made of dynamite and nails? If everyone comes rolling back around for another try, where's the crime?"
"Well, that's why reincarnation is all about karma."
"Hrmm. ... I admit, I like the idea of 'karma', good work and bad work, as the Hindu religions define it. The idea of living one life to work off a karmic debt in another can reduce the sting in random events ... But accepting bad circumstances as karma, especially when they're really caused by other people, can needlessly prolong terrible social inequities in the world. Caste systems for example. Besides, I have a problem with karma in that it once again steals the judgement of what is right and wrong from the hands of humanity. For example, why should a man in India accumulate bad karma for striking a cow, when millions of Americans grow and eat them? Who is right? Especially considering that, by farming cows, Americans cause many more of that "sacred animal" to be alive on the planet at any given time?"
"So if karma is not necessary to you, then what IS necessary to you?"
"What's necessary to me is that I continue to work towards self-actualization. Basically, that I continue to figure out, and then do, what is RIGHT. Physically, emotionally, publicly."
"Alright, let me put it like this... If you found out you were going to die in two weeks, no matter what, what would keep you from robbing a bank, if the mood struck you?"
"If I had two weeks to live, what the hell good would robbing a bank do me? I would probably spend the remaining two weeks trying to find a way to cure whatever disease I had."
"And if your community were to decide that they hated you, and you could never justify your existance in their eyes?"
"If my community decided they hated me, and I could never justify my existence to them, I would have to either change myself or find another community. Whichever is easier, in whatever proportion."
"And if on the last day, somebody you'd always hated was in front of you, and you had a gun?"
"Hmmmmm... Who do I hate enough to shoot on sight... Nobody, really. If I were to shoot them they'd be dead, and dead people don't remember their lessons. Or beatings. But there are lots of people that I'd want to yell at, that's for sure."
"Also, sometimes it doesn't matter if you change yourself, if someone's already written the wrong thing down about you."
"Yeah, like those phrases in the Bible that supposedly condemn homosexuality, but only because it doesn't increase the population like the prophets desperately wanted. What garbage. We're only just waking up from this God nightmare... And honestly, the world just makes a lot more sense without it. Every single day I pass in a world that can be explored and explained, is worth a thousand days passed in the pre-explored, pre-explained fog of superstition."