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I am not afraid of death.
Note from Adam: the following is a chapter from Jared Dillian’s new book: Those Bastards: 69 essays on life, creativity, & meaning that he kindly provided me to share with you all freely. As more context, Jared is a friend of mine and also of course fan of this Substack, we don’t do many guest posts but when we do them, the only promise I make is they’re worth the read. I hope you will enjoy this essay as an intro to his writing and connect with Jared if his words are meaningful to you, they always mean a lot to me.
I am not afraid of death. I know that when I die, my consciousness will survive, and I will meet my creator, along with the multitudes of people I met throughout my life.
Silly superstition? Naïve religious beliefs?
The question of what happens to us after we die is the most important question that we will ever have to answer. And I am not particularly religious. Like a lot of things, this issue has already been studied in great detail. Because modern medicine enables us to resuscitate people who have already died, we have tens of thousands of detailed accounts of what happens when the heart stops and the brain is medically dead. Many books have been written about this. There is an entire department at the University of Virginia that is dedicated to the study of near-death experiences. But still, some people are skeptical.
I can’t say I blame them. Science is the process of falsifying assertions, and it’s hard to do that when you don’t have any hard data. All you have in the study of near-death experiences is anecdotes, from people who died and returned to tell us what happened to them. But I would argue that science doesn’t have to be quantifiable—as long as it is repeatable. And the people who have near-death experiences report the same things over and over again. And some of the stories are incredible.
Not only am I not afraid of death, I welcome it. No, that doesn’t mean I have a death wish, or that I’m suicidal—it just means that I’m severely limited by this failing, decrepit body and the material world around us. But I’m here for a reason. I believe we are all hear to learn—we are all here to learn something, and once we do, our time is up. Every day that I am alive I get closer to the answer, but I’m not there yet. What am I here to learn? To become fantastically rich and successful? That would be fun, but it is probably not the answer.
The older I get, the more anti-hedonistic I get. It’s one of the reasons I chafe against the libertarians, particularly the Reason libertarians, because they are hedonists at heart. It’s not so much that they want drugs to be legal—they want people to actually do drugs. But that is not the answer. It is a temporary escape. But the interesting thing about drug addicts is that they are in search of the same thing that I am—they are trying to find God. But they are completely misdirected. Lots of people mistake being high for a spiritual experience—sometimes, it sure feels like one. What is a true spiritual experience? It is that feeling you get when you help someone, without expecting anything in return. So for the people who are doing the drugs or doing the sex, I get it—I was once there myself. But it is not the answer.
Of course, most libertarians are probably atheists. It comes with the territory. But you don’t have to be a member of a church to believe in a divine consciousness. In fact, many members of churches probably don’t. It is a bit fashionable these days to say that you are spiritual but not religious, but I think that defines me perfectly. And lots of members of churches are bad people, and lots of atheists are good people. Which brings us to the question of hell.
One thing the near-death experiences researchers have discovered is that a certain percentage of such experiences are negative—people return from death and they describe pretty much what you would imagine hell to be like—darkness, fire, demons, screaming—and they are profoundly changed by that experience. In fact, about 20% of near-death experiences are negative. But the researchers have not detected any pattern among the people who went to “hell.” There are murderers on death row that have had positive near-death experiences. And there are church-going housewives who went to hell. Try and figure that one out.
Even though I am not religious, I tend to believe that there is some accumulated wisdom in organized religion. All major religions believe in an afterlife. Most believe in the concept of heaven and hell. And then we have empirical evidence of tens of thousands of people dying, being reanimated, and describing what seems to be heaven and hell. I don’t think this is a coincidence. So the first question is: what happens to you after you die? And the second question is: how do you avoid going to hell? People get a Starbucks on the way to work, sit in a chair all day, come home, watch some shows, and go to bed, without really pondering this question.
I think about it every day.
So what is the solution? Give away all your money and all your worldly possessions? Join an advocacy group to free the wrongfully convicted? Same the world from climate change, racism, or war? Do these things make you a good person? No, absolutely not.
The answer is love.
This is where people get confused. Most people equate love with falling in love, or romantic love, but that type of love is a feeling. Real love is not a feeling, it is an action. You see, people reverse cause and effect. They think that you feel love and as a result of that, you act selflessly towards someone. It is the other way around. You act selflessly toward someone, and then as a result, you feel love. The left tends to believe that it has a monopoly on love, but really it is about coercion—we’re going to force you to love your neighbor as yourself. Just because I pay a high tax rate and it is redistributed to someone else in the form of food stamps does not make me a good person, because I am compelled to do it. And the people who compel me to do it are not good people. Real love should be given freely and without reservation.
I don’t have the answer on what happens after you die. But I have ideas. Most people love their spouse, their kids, their pets, their family. That is the low-hanging fruit. What about everyone else? What about your dickhead coworkers? What about your grumpy neighbor? What about your enemies? Do you wish for them to get everything you want for yourself? Do you feel compassion and understanding towards them?
Do you strive to ease the burden of everyone you come in contact with?
Do you give people the gift of time?
I’m no saint. But the progress chart is going from the lower left to the upper right. The point is that I am constantly working on it.
Most people are not so introspective.