What Happens After We Die?

In a recent online discussion with a theist, I had to endure a twenty-minute lecture on the afterlife and what it’s going to be like. He rambled on about what heaven is like in remarkable detail, from the fruits that grow over there to the rivers of milk. Then he proceeded to explain to me about hell, with all its fiery pits and multi-headed snakes.

I inquired him if he were a zombie. He said he wasn’t, so as politely as my aching head would allow me to, I asked him to come back later and tell me all about it after he’s returned from the dead. I’m sick of theists talking about afterlife with such confidence as if they just came from the grave.

Whatever happened to those beautiful words, “I don’t know”? Doubt is humble. It teaches us to be open minded about new information as it unfolds before our eyes. It’s a folly to be certain about things that we have no reason to be certain about.

A theist speaks of God with such self-assurance, it seems as if he just had coffee with God, and had a chat with Him about Inception not getting as many Oscar nominations as it deserved. Such pigheadedness alone should disqualify one from being thought of as a rational being. Likewise, any Atheist who’s absolutely certain about God’s non-existence is irrational.

When a person asks me what I think happens after we die, I do not offer him/her an enema of discombobulating, philosophical statements which sound wiser than they actually are, but I just say these three brilliant little words: “I don’t know”.

As far as we can tell, dying is like never being born. Mark Twain once said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Humans are so used to the idea of existing, that they find it hard to imagine nothingness. The closest idea we have of death is a calm, dreamless sleep. Other than that, many find it difficult to comprehend what it’s like to be non-existent.

For instance, most people believe that a blind man sees nothing but a curtain of darkness before him, just like we see darkness when we close our eyes. Dead wrong. A blind man sees absolutely nothing…not even the black color that we see with our eyes closed. To help you understand this better, let me ask you what you see behind your head. Do you see a black space? No! You see nothing there because there’s no eye at the back of your head to help detect any light coming from that direction.

It is impossible for a living person to tell precisely what it’s like to be dead. But the best estimate that we can make is that being dead means being nothing.

So go ahead and try it! Say, “I don’t know!”. If you like say something like, “I don’t know for sure, but I have a good hunch that God exists.” or maybe, “I don’t know for sure, but it’s highly unlikely that God exists” (the latter happens to be my stance).

Voltaire once said, “He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he’s asked.” You’re a genius, Volty!

  1. Nail on the head, my friend. Perfectly written.

    Many years ago, a very wise and old priest who knew my father during his school days – the priest is now in his early 90s – was in my parish in Karachi, while I was on vacation there.

    I had the great opportunity to have a 30 minute conversation with him, generally. During that time, i asked him a great many things, which I felt he would be able to answer well given that he was a very learned, experienced and wise man, a holy man at that.

    At one point, I asked him about death and why it was so difficult to reconcile, or find an answer. I will never forget his reply:

    ‘I don’t know. No one does, and those who say they do are fools’.

    I was shocked. He then proceeded to tell me, ‘Anthony, never be ashamed to say these 3 words. ‘I don’t know’. If you knew everything, you would be God.’ If you find it funny or strange that a priest would say this, remember: we are just men. Humans. Dust. We grew from the very dust you and I now stand on. Did God give us reason, logic, a mind? Who knows? Do we HAVE it? Yes.


    • loneliberalpk
    • February 26th, 2011

    That’s nice. It reminds me of short story I read in a book about Zen philosophy.

    Emperor: “Oh wise master Godu! Tell me what happens to the enlightened after they die?”

    Master: “How should I know?”

    Emperor: (startled) But you’re a wise master!

    Master: Yes, but not a dead one.

  2. Hitchens was recently in a debate on this topic. Well worth the watch!


  3. Interestingly, I was recently having a similar conversation with my friend. She is a Sufi from Karachi. I am an American who was raised Catholic, but firmly appreciates other modalities. We both live in Bangkok.

    We both agreed that all religions are paths to the same God, and for people to claim that their path is best is really quite arrogant.

      • Sonya
      • August 25th, 2011

      Actually if you think for a few minutes what you just said, you will see that your comment is a bit out of commonsense.

      Now to answer your question in last two lines of your comment, is that any religion can claim to be the best, but if you evaluate and cross reference its scriptures/books/teachings, you can judge which religion has ambiguities and which one is more sane and passes all tests of common sense, science and human behaviours.

      The girl from karachi you met may not be well versed with islamic teachings, so she certainly gave up. Try to discuss religions and compare them with someone like dr.zakir naik who has studied them all, and then see which religion your minds likes to follow

    • loneliberalpk
    • March 1st, 2011

    Theists often say things like that to make their religion sound more ecumenical. But if they really believe it, why do they even bother sticking to the same religion with such devotion? Why not go to a mosque on Friday, a synagogue on Saturday, church on Sunday, and crack a coconut at Ram’s altar on Monday?

    Most religions are fundamentally opposed to one another. What’s allowed or encouraged in one religion is forbidden in the other. Islam preaches very explicitly that those who don’t believe in Allah or associate false gods with Him shall burn in hell. For a Muslim to say “all religions lead to the same God” is for him to deny the teachings of his own religion!

  4. Appreciate this blog. It’s always a pleasure to meet a Pakistani with similar views as my own.

  5. I have this problem so many times in my discussions with theists. They ask me, then why did so-and-so thing happen? Then what was there before the universe? Then why did we evolve into intelligent beings? And when I say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘there was no reason!’, they think they’ve scored a point over me, even though the answers or reasons their religion provides may be frog-spawn for all they know.

  6. Question: What causes [insert disease here]?
    Answer: Gods punishment for [insert vice/sin here]
    Full marks!

    If one is so certain, there wouldn’t have been a need for science, or any knowledge. The entity does all.

    Doubt is a wonderful thing, agreed.

    • Sonya
    • August 25th, 2011

    If this comment passes through, it might be an eye opener for many.

    Q: What happens after you die?
    A: I don’t know, cause anyone who died never returned to tell. Correct.

    Q: Why does the sun and moon keep revolving day and night?
    A: I don’t know, cause they don’t talk to me. Correct

    Q: Why was I born?
    A: I don’t know, cause no one every told me and neither do i care. Correct

    Q: What am I supposed to do in this world?
    A: I don’t know, cause I am too busy doing nothing all the time. Correct

    So what exactly is it, my friend, that you know, apart from your name given to you by someone else?

    Recently, it’s discovered sun revolves around its orbit, plants have male and female gender, one day sun will rise from the west and some many things that Qura’an told 1400 years ago.. wouldn’t you believe it ?

    Nothing that Qura’an says has been proving wrong to-date, and most of what it says has been proven right. Doesn’t your brain tell you to think about it and listen to what the Qura’an says about death and believe it??

    If you are such an intellect, try and answer my question.

    • loneliberalpk
    • August 31st, 2011


    Regarding Q 2:
    Newton and Einstein explained gravity fairly well, so we DO know.

    Regarding Q 3
    Cause and Effect.

    Regarding Q 4:
    You’re supposed to do whatever you want to, as long as you’re not harming your fellow humans.

    Not all plants have genders. They simply have separate androecium and gynoecium (male and female parts) in the same plant. Dioecious plants exist too, but not all plants fall into that category. And if you’re attempting to validate the Quranic claim of “God making everything in pairs”, then the existence of asexual bacteria or hermaphroditic, self-reproducing organisms are alone to deflate that argument.

    And needless to say, there’s no evidence suggesting that sun will rise, or ever rose, from the West. But don’t let the lack of scientific reasoning prevent you from believing what you want to.

    And the fact that you actually believe that nothing in the Quran has been proven wrong shows that you’ve never had much exposure to the other side of the story. All your life, your parents or the people around you have told you that Quran is perfect, but search the words “contradictions, Quran” on Google. You’ll find more than you can read in one sitting.

    • Faisal Irshad
    • September 22nd, 2011

    What happens after we die? Same as what happened before we were born: NOTHING.

    • Namra
    • September 19th, 2012

    ummm interesting,surely, I will die but after my death phir bs??? I don’t believe in this all complex religion crap hell heaven, but some questions really make me ponder about this multifaceted, multileveled life, its system and yes my existence. Whose idea was this? Why am I here with limited powers ? do I actually choose all the events of my life? Not everything is in my control… I feel there is more powerful force exist, I really feel so… irrational? can you please help me as I want some convincing arguments about non-existence of god and what the purpose of this all big game?

    • There’s a great deal to be said here, which I’m having some trouble saying as concisely as possible. So I’ll point out a few general ideas about atheism. If you have more specific queries, please feel free to ask.

      I disbelieve in God because there’s no evidence for His existence. I cannot be counter-challenged to procure evidence for His absence, because I cannot (and do not need to) disprove what has not already been proven to be real. In short, what can be asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

      We sometimes “feel” that there’s a higher power out, because of the “misfiring” of some important cognitive mechanisms. I’ve discussed these in detail in one of my previous posts (Why we believe in God).

      The purpose of life, from an evolutionary standpoint, is to eat, survive and reproduce. We are the effect to a cause(s), and can be explained in natural terms. If that may seem too unambitious or not poetic enough, realize that you have the freedom to set your own purpose in life beyond the three aforementioned goals. Perhaps to get rich, to excel at your career, create an artistic masterpiece, or to simply to find love and raise a loving family.

      You don’t need rules written down by the ancients, who knew so little about the world, to guide you through life in the 21st century. It is true that things are not entirely within your control. Natural and human forces exercise significant influence over your life, as you may exert influence over others. But for the most part, we set our own goals and find our own paths.

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