Second place — College essay contest: Blake Miller
A fleeting chance to do things right
FFRF awarded Blake $3,000 for this essay.
By Blake Miller
n 1609, one of Galileo’s most famous inventions was creating optical tools of ever-increasing power. However, his most wondrous accomplishment was more profound: discovering Jupiter has moons. And that those moons, the planets and even the stars follow the same natural rules as our planetary home. That the sky itself is subject to the same forces as the ground, going against thousands of years of dogmatic traditionalist-derived “knowledge.” There are no special exceptions to the functions of the universe outside of Earth. Humanity discovered that we are not special.
There is no eternal and unchangeable celestial sphere. This is not a universe designed for our benefit.
Our species is not the nodal point upon which the cosmos revolves. There never was a grand purpose encoded and entrusted to our irresponsible species. There is no parent creator who obsesses with our every action or forgives us for the harm we cause.
But the inverse is true, as well. There is no almighty being to whom we can entrust justice or punishment for those causing us harm. Only we are masters of our fate. Only humans can make a better life for humans. For all religions’ claims of secret knowledge regarding a post-mortem superior sentient existence, the transition to that next mystical plane seems awfully preoccupied with how we live in this one.
We are better off concentrating on the here and now rather than an unknowable afterlife for the simple reason that we are alive in this place and in this moment. The concept of life after death is an illusion. It can only be discovered by losing the ability to discover. Only by coming together as a species to fix the problems and challenges we face, during our short individual lifespans, can we leave the world a better place than how we found it.
John Lennon once said that there is “no hell below us, [and] above us only sky.” Galileo would have been proud. We belong within that sky. The sky above us is the same sky below us. The only hell is what we allow to happen in the middle.
Why be thankful that someone’s suffering will be relieved in some magical second life? We should be solving their suffering now, while it actually affects them. If you try to tackle tough problems with the foundational belief that there is a much better existence following this one — one where all our problems don’t even exist — then you would be inclined to say that the answer to each problem is simple: it does not matter. Solving any problem in this life does not matter.
Now, assume an afterlife does not exist. Assume that this is it — every passing moment is gone forever, and you are one step closer to the end of your consciousness. Assume that humans are no more eternal than dinosaurs and that we are not promised a happy ending.
From this perspective, questions have a very different tone. Why should we care that we are making the planet uninhabitable for our species and many others? Why should we help the downtrodden and disabled members of our society without receiving any individual benefit? Because it is the only home we have ever known. It is the only place in the entire cosmos we know, for a fact, that harbors life. Because our descendants deserve the same finite moment of existence that we have. Because there is no justice or morality without direct human intervention. Because, when you only have one life, there are no second chances. I can lead and create a better life for myself and others because I care about the here and now.
Blake, 23, from Avon, Ind., is majoring in history of science and innovation at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis). Blake works as a librarian at the Avon Washington Township Public Library and plays a number of string instruments. He would like to become a history professor after attending grad school.