The vast majority of people I know believe in some kind of afterlife. They do not necessarily think that they are going to a paradise with angels on the clouds, or to a Dantean hell where they will find all sinners, much less to an eternal recurrence of battles and banquets as in the Valhalla of the Vikings. They just can not accept that everything will simply end. Today, on another anniversary of my father’s death, I envy them.
I confess that I have tried many times to deceive myself and to pretend that I believe in this possibility. This was during the time I used to say that I was an agnostic. But I can not lie to myself anymore. Much less after meeting Lucretius.
Lucretius was a Roman poet who lived during the first half of the first century b.c., an era of great revolutionary turmoil and moral decay in Rome (Caesar was killed only ten years after Lucretius’s death). However, with all the reasons to believe in an afterlife, the immortality of the soul and the like, he wrote a huge poem, expounding in majestic writing the materialistic philosophy of Epicurus. In the midst of his exposition, he cites many reasons why the soul is mortal, just as the body is.
What struck me were not his reasons, though very interesting and centered on the idea that the soul is corporeal and made of tiny atoms; it was the simple fact that he thought so over 2,000 years ago. How rare to find someone like him today!
At a time when the unknown was everywhere, it was normal to attribute to the gods and all sorts of mysticism the explanation of the “nature of things“. But this is not the case today. You could argue using the cliché that the more you know, the more you do not know, but this is not the case with the immortality of the soul. People think about it because they are as scared of death now as they were 2,000 years ago.
There is no reason to believe it. No “rational reason”, at least. It is only man’s natural fear and tendency to seek pleasure and escape from pain — to believe in eternal life must undoubtedly be a very good feeling.
I was impressed to read such an old text giving so many reasons not to believe such absurdity, and I intend to devote a much more complete post to Lucretius. But today is when I like to remember my father and, to be honest, I do not want to agree with Lucretius now, or write about him.