You see it all the time in movies: a character willingly sacrifices his life in order to save the life of another. In every one of these movies, it is always presumed that the character dying will simply move on to become a soul and go to the next step of existence. In fact, more often than not, the dead person’s soul is somehow shown in that next step of existence, usually announcing its presence to every living person they just left behind.
Of course, as you probably already know, art in this case imitates life. History is full of examples of people giving up their life in exchange for the sake of something they loved, such as a spouse, offspring, or country. Generally, the belief is that the person dying will go on to heaven, or be re-born, or become part of the Universal life force; that basically that person’s existence will not end, but that somehow they will go on.
I’m left to wonder whether an atheist, someone who truly does not believe that there is a God, or that we have souls, and who firmly believes that this life, in this plane of existence is all we have, could ever actually sacrifice their life for someone else, or for an idea. Now, I’m not talking about dying for biological offspring or a spouse, both of which we are genetically wired to protect. I’m also not talking about incidentally dying, as in the case of a soldier getting shot during a gun fight. I’m talking about situations in which the atheist knows that he has a choice as to whether he lives or dies. For example, would a soldier who is an atheist throw his body over a bomb in order to protect a group of people (who he may or may not know) who he is not sworn to protect? What about in the case of a bank robbery, where there are hostages: would an atheist volunteer his life to save the lives of others, knowing full well that they are giving up everything, that there is absolutely no future for them in any way, shape, or form, and that their time in the universe is now at an end? And finally, is this sacrifice more or less noble than the sacrifice made by a theist, or at least someone who believes in an afterlife, who believes that death is not the end?
As a theist, it isn’t all that hard to think about death. Even as an agnostic, death isn’t that hard of a subject: if there’s an afterlife, then there’s an afterlife and you’ll find about it then; if there’s not, then that’s that — everything ends and why should you fear nothing? At least there’s still hope. But if you’re an atheist, there’s no hope? This is it? And having made that realization, the idea of self sacrifice must have taken a completely different dimension for you. I know I don’t get many commenters here, but if there are any true atheists reading this, I would really appreciate your input on this.