Once God is extinct, claimed one of Dostoyevsky’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov, everything is permitted. And this is a common theist mantra.
What unfathomable perversion lies at the dark heart of atheism?
My answer: nothing more salacious than loyalty to life. At the heart of atheism is a single-minded loyalty to this short breath of existence we call life here on planet Earth.
Atheists recognize that we are body beings. That we are inherently physical, that this bit of chemical, experiential life is not just all we have, it is what we are.
Atheist loyalty to life is necessarily paired with something else: antipathy towards death. Our lives are all that matter, and dying is the loss of all that matters. The finality of death imparts a finality to life. This makes life valuable to us as nothing else can.
In contrast, the afterlife religions worship death (which they euphemistically call heaven) and eagerly try to convince us to sacrifice our lives for an incoherent, imaginary state that can only be obtained by dying.
Aliveness requires movement and breath and temporality; it cannot exist in an eternal, timeless state. Life and eternity are inimical opposites. We will not sacrifice life for the eternity of non-existence, even if you sweeten it with names like Heaven or Nirvana.
Atheists embrace and indeed worship reality, because we realize it is all there is. We are human bodies with human feelings, desires, needs, hopes—and we live within a fragile biosphere that is as temporary as we are.
There is no God. There will be no afterlife, no elsewhere.
With this stark embrace of reality, atheism proclaims its loyalty to life.
It follows that we are all in this together. Nothing can be experienced after life ends, and the brutal fact is that life will end. Every one of us will die and cease to exist. This fact forces us to the realization that our fulfillment relies entirely on each other.
No heaven, no hell. There is only Eden, our one earth, and we share it with everyone else.
That’s it. This simple, honest confession about ourselves, about life itself, is what lies at the heart of atheism.