Question: What happens if you take an atheist and get him to think hard about death and dying for two years?
Answer: He'll cut through the pretense and tell you what death means where it must matter, in terms of life.
The conclusion: You are going to die.
Because you're going to die, you are in a position you might find uncomfortable. You've got an unknown amount of time left to live and absolutely nothing like a real guarantee of anything after that. That puts a choice in front of you.
You can choose to embrace the full truth: you will die, and that's it. If you do, you have a chance to live more fully than you will otherwise, to appreciate life in a new way, to make better choices about how to spend your time while you have it, and to avoid regrets. You have a chance to realize the meaning of life and to live that meaning every single day.
On the other hand, you can choose to do as most of us do, even if we don't realize we are choosing it, and in some way fail to appreciate some crucial part of this sobering truth. The reality of death is something most of us don't like and aren't willing to face, and so we don't. In a blind terror of having to admit to ourselves that we may have lived life all wrong, we believe "immortality stories" and make "immortality projects" our lives' works. And for what? Or, more importantly, at what cost?
Many deny death. Religions, in fact, are at their bottoms elaborate social, moral, and political structures built mainly in the service of letting us live our lives pretending death isn't really what it is. We pretend we'll have more time. We pretend death isn't final. We pretend there must be some meaning to our lives that lies outside of the reality of our lives. And we do it so that we can avoid facing the reality of death, for a little anyway.
Death, however, as you'll surely realize, gets us all in the end anyway, whatever we believe, and unless it takes us by surprise, we all eventually have to set our pretenses about it aside and accept the simple truth: we each will die, and we've all known it almost all along. One of the greatest human tragedies is that we've made a habit of waiting until it's far too late to do anything with this simple, vivid, universal truth. We don't have to wait.
Pretense is a barrier against living optimally, and we can face the hard truth, accept it, and set our pretenses aside sooner, with many great decades ahead of us still in which we can live more fully and with a deeper appreciation for the gift that life is to us. We can live, as I have called it, a Life in Light of Death.
Life in Light of Death is the title of my newest book, which is available for pre-ordering now and to be released on December 1, 2016. It is a guide written to take you to a place where you can see the truth for what it is, unable to hide from it, and then to tell you exactly what you can and should do about it while you have the chance. It is a book about life that looks like a book about death. It is a book that explains the meaning of life in plain, simple language written without a trace of pretense. It is a book that seeks to give humanity something new: a mortality story by which to live their lives.
You will die, but first you will live. The question is how. You'll live better if you live a life in light of death.