Sometimes a theist will say to an atheist something along the lines of “If you think life is so pointless, you should just kill yourself.” Some of this, I think, is just trolling and nastiness; essentially getting angry and telling us to kill ourselves as a juvenile response to whatever argument is happening at the time. But some, I get the impression, is a genuine inability to understand why atheists in general don’t want to kill themselves. Some people really don’t understand how we can see any value in living, absent a god.
And I gotta admit, I reflect that attitude right back. I don’t understand why anyone who genuinely believes that they’re going to an eternal paradise after they die would want to continue living. Maybe someone who’s reading this will help me out on that.
But to get back to my perspective on the original question: if atheists think life is so pointless, then why don’t we just kill ourselves?
Well, first of all, we don’t actually think life is pointless. I’ve discussed this in a bit of detail here, but it’s worth reiterating a bit. In general, atheists don’t think life is pointless or meaningless, just that any meaning we derive from it isn’t something imposed by some outside entity. Many of us don’t see that kind of meaning as being terribly desirable or even sensible.
But even if life were pointless… what would be the point in killing ourselves? I mean, if life is pointless, is death any less pointless?
I have no reason to think death is something I should desire. I mean, first of all, most of the processes of actually dying seem like they’d be pretty damn unpleasant. Plus, there’s a lot of stuff I still want to experience that dying will definitely take off the table. And even though I go through periods of being depressed, there’s still stuff I look forward to doing or experiencing. Even when things seem to be going pretty shitty, there’s still stuff I look forward to doing or experiencing. Hell, sometimes just getting to my next pizza is more than enough reason to go on living a few more days. I mean, I like pizza. Come to think of it, I kinda want one now. But I don’t have one. Guess I’ll have to refrain from killing myself at least until I get pizza.
Trivial, right? Living for pizza? And what happens once I have one? Won’t I have lost my reason to live? Clearly not, because there’s always something else to look forward to. Really, that’s all it takes to want to keep on living: feeling like there’s something else to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be anything of world-shattering importance. It just needs to be important enough to us to want to experience it. That’s all.
And what does death have to offer in place of those experiences? As far as I can tell, nothing. Literally. I mean, I don’t really have much reason to think I’ll exist at all after I die. Death will be literally the end of all experiences for me. It’s a weird thing to try to contemplate, this idea of not existing anymore. Obviously, I wouldn’t be suffering – the end of all experience means all experience, whether good, bad or indifferent. I simply won’t be. I suppose it’s not something to be afraid of, but it’s not really something to look forward to either.
Of course, I could be wrong. There could be some form of afterlife, for all I know. I haven’t really heard of one that I’d want to go to. I suppose, if there was some kind of eternal afterlife where there actually was an infinity of new experiences to look forward to, that might be desirable. But no religion seems to be offering that as an option, and (more importantly), none have convinced me that the versions they’re offering actually exist.
So, if I were to kill myself, at best I can look forward to nonexistence, and from there it descends into progressively less desirable forms of post-life existence (yes, that includes versions of heaven). While I can imagine having such a painful life that the idea of not existing starts to seem preferable, that’s just not the place I’m at. This life is all I know I can have. And, gosh darn it, I still want to go on living.