Thinking about life and death is not something I particularly dwell upon. But I do sometimes focus on that subject, particularly after the death of a friend or loved one and my thoughts naturally turn to immortality (or the lack thereof), the afterlife, morality, the essence of what is a good or an evil life, etc.
In some recent blog reading, I came across Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, and post called Meditating On Death, And Life. This turned out to be a lengthy post with many wonderful reader comments. One particular reader comment resonated with me, as it comes pretty close to my current thinking.
My best friend died six years ago. A few years later, I got into an argument with a friend when I told him I no longer believed in Heaven and Hell. It was a big issue because we had both been struggling with the death of our friend and while I didn't think our friend was "in Heaven" in the traditional sense, he did believe that. He took great offense that I could say our friend wasn't in Heaven, as if I was saying he didn't deserve to be. I tried to explain what I thought Heaven and Hell meant now that I no longer believed in the traditional concepts or that they are places your soul goes after death.
I didn't say exactly this, but my argument was basically that Heaven is the emotional legacy you leave behind in the souls of others. By leaving the world a better place and touching the lives of others in positive ways, those good works ripple away from you for eternity. Hell on the other hand is hurting others and having those negative ripples go on forever. So if you're doing good things, helping others, making people smile, being a decent person, all of those actions are leaving a mark on the souls of those people you help and they and the world are better off for your having helped them. On the flip side, hurting others marks the soul of others, as well. And because your actions will impact the actions of another and their actions do the same and so on for eternity, in a way one can reach eternal life by doing good deeds.
Or here's another thought, this one mine--perhaps Heaven and Hell really do exist, but only for believers. That is, if you place yourself in the Theist camp, you become subject to their bylaws, and Heaven and Hell become real consequences. If you align yourself in the Atheist camp, you have removed yourself from the jurisdiction of the Theist rulebook, and at the end of your life your light simply goes out, forever.
Makes about as much sense as some of the other theories. I guess it's time to go for a run, we sure aren't gonna solve this one here.