You only live once
On Sunday, October 4, 2009, two young girls leaped to their deaths from the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde. They were Neve Lafferty (15), right, and Georgia Rowe (14), both in care at the Catholic Good Shepherd Centre in Bishopton.
A local priest, Father Peter Lennon, revealed that some four years ago Neve and three friends had quizzed him about God:
…who made God, and why doesn’t God stop tragedies in the world from happening[?].
At the time of the tragedy, Neve had been very distressed by the death of her boyfriend (Jonny McKernan) in February. Perhaps she was told at that time that he was safe with God and that she would see him when she died.
It is possible that, in her anxiety to be with Jonny as soon as possible, she decided not to wait for a natural death and took a friend with her. One has to ask therefore what part religion played in her death; the whole Christian Church believes that all who die go to an imaginary Never Land somewhere in the sky (where exactly?).
We don’t know how many suicides are by people anxious to meet God or go to a better place, but we can identify some of them. In 1978, most of the members of an American evangelical sect (Peoples’ Temple) committed mass suicide in Guyana, possibly due to internal conflict but surely in the hope of an afterlife.
In 1993, most members of the The Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists seemed to have chosen to die in the siege of their compound in Waco, Texas, no doubt convinced that they would live again.
In 1994, members of the Order of the Solar Temple, a cult rooted in the Roman Catholic faith, were either killed or committed suicide in Switzerland, believing that, after death, they would travel through fire to the planet Sirius (it is actually a star).
In 1997, thirty-nine members of an American pseudo-Christian cult committed suicide in the belief that they would go to a “higher plane” on a spacecraft hiding behind comet Hale-Bopp, then visible in the night sky.
Muslims also believe in an afterlife (the ultimate oxymoron!), a Paradise where the faithful (men?) will be attended by 72 houri (or raisins!) and there is an implication of abundant sexual opportunities. Surely it is this false hope that motivates Islamic suicide bombers.
In short, the world is infected by a meme that spreads the mistaken belief that, instead of death being the end, it is the beginning of a infinite ethereal life of happiness with friends and relatives. It is the cause of much misery and false hope and needs to be countered by reality. We only live as complex psycho-physical beings, the result of millions of years of evolution. When our bodies die, what we call our consciousness (mind) dies with it. That mind cannot live in any other way, certainly not without the body in which it emerged.
This meme was a central theme in Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels and alluded to by Islam. But Jesus inherited this meme from his Pharisaic ancestors, who brought it from Persia; the older Jewish faith knew of no afterlife. That Jesus was mistaken about the afterlife and that he was not resurrected is one main theme in my book The Rise and Fall of Jesus, just reissued in a revised edition by WritersPrintShop.
• This op-ed by Steuart Campbell was first published on the Freethinker site on October 21, 2009.