I know what happens when we die.
When I was around 13, I suffered a concussion. My friend and I would go to Camelsback Park, which had a steep hill behind it separating the park from the wetlands below. We would climb to the top of the hill, sit down, and slide down the back of the hill, like sledding without a sled. It was a pretty common pastime, and there were smooth trails well worn into the hill, so not only was it painless but you could really get going fast. As I took one of the turns, as I had done many times before, I found myself heading straight off a cliff. They had started building subdivisions over the wetlands and had started carving out parts of the hill to make way for a road. Before I had time to react I was over the cliff and on the ground. I looked up and saw my friend’s legs dangling over the cliff. He had grabbed onto a thicket of grass before he went over. I stood up and quickly rushed back up to the top. I grabbed his hand and pulled him back up from the cliff.
He was angry. Really angry, and I couldn’t understand why. He stomped around along the edge of the cliff, yelling at me, “what took you so long? What, did you think that was funny, to leave me hanging there?” I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say. The second I saw him dangling off the cliff, I rushed to his aid and helped him up.
It turned out that he had been hanging there for several minutes, trying to claw his way back up. I realized at that point that I had no recollection of actually hitting the ground, or for that matter, flying toward it. When I landed, I had immediately blacked out and lied there unconscious for a significant period of time. It was a weird feeling, knowing that my body had experienced something that I had not (lying there and doing nothing).
It’s an incredibly common occurrence, blacking out. People black out when they have too much to drink, or take too many drugs. People can become so angry that they black out. People wake up from comas, sometimes years after they lapse, and have no idea that any time had even passed. Those very few of us who suffer from schizophrenia or some other detachment disorder could have entire episodes where they are awake and functioning but have no recollection of it. It’s not just lost memories—we literally do not experience those moments. Our brain goes on cruise control and goes on without us.
I struggle to understand how anyone who has gone through any of these experiences feel that there has to be an afterlife. Many people argue that there must be an afterlife, otherwise once we die there would just be… well, not even nothing, because nothing is black. Time still passes. We’re still there in nothing. Buddhists believe that after we die we are reincarnated, a concept so counterintuitive that in order for it to make sense, they have to convince themselves that before they were born, they could have been the King of Spain or some African witch doctor. I wonder, if there is some Buddhist out there who believes that they are the reincarnation of Cleopatra, why wasn’t Cleopatra Buddhist?
Atheists have a lot of things to explain if they want to convince people that religion is false, but the afterlife isn’t one of them. Whether there is a Heaven or a Hell isn’t one of those things that we can say “I guess we’ll never know” because we actually have a pretty good idea of what happens when our soul is gone from our bodies. Just ask any football player, or alcoholic. One minute you’re there, and the next minute you’re not. And for anyone who has come back from a blackout or a coma, the next minute they’re there again, but eventually they’re going to not be here again, but at least they know what happens when that inevitable fate occurs—they’ve been through it before.