Nearly every religion is based on the promise of immortality after death. For as long as humans have existed, we have feared death, and for many, the only solace is the bedtime story that when we die, we will be reunited with loved ones and get to experience everlasting joy in heaven for all eternity. Countless peoples have based their entire lives on ensuring that they are admitted to this paradise when the time arrives. People teach their children what they need to do in order to get into heaven, and terrorize them with threats of hell. In the worst case scenarios, people kill themselves and take many others with them in an attempt to reach this paradise more quickly. The promise of the afterlife has clearly been at the center of much of the world's problems for as long as our species has existed. As I have argued before, many of the worst problems in our world would evaporate almost overnight if every major religion simply admitted that we don't know for sure what happens after death. However, I have always been baffled as to why people ever thought that immortality would be a good thing in the first place. Quite frankly, I have always been very relieved that there is no evidence whatsoever of an afterlife, because any form of eternity would be a curse. That is why today, instead of arguing against religion yet again, I am going to attempt to convince you that immortality is not the desirable state that most people think it is to begin with.
Unfortunately, there aren't much in that way of concrete, evidentiary arguments I can present here. This is more of an exercise in imagination, and if you don't have a good, active one, then this experiment is likely to fail. An eternal conscious state of any kind would be a terrible thing. It's difficult and counterintuitive for us to imagine the concept of forever, but with a little imagination, I argue that it isn't that hard to see that any conscious state that was truly never-ending would eventually result complete boredom, and then inevitably agony. People have long described heaven as a place of unending joy, where you get to do what you love best all the time. It is trivially easy, however, to discover that no matter how much you love doing something, you will grow bored and weary of it surprisingly quickly. Pick something that you love doing, and then do it without a break, and you'll soon discover that it doesn't take very long for that activity to become unpleasant. An eternity of doing anything would eventually result in torture. Now, it would stand to reason that if you were an immortal soul in heaven, you would be able to do anything--an infinite amount of different joyous things. This doesn't seem to me to change my argument. I believe that an infinite amount of time would eventually render an infinite amount of activities infinitely mundane, unpleasant, and pointless. After enough time, you simply wouldn't care to do anything anymore, whether it be something new, or an old favorite. Infinity is a hard thing to imagine, but if you try, I think you'll find that it's clearly a terrifying prospect. No conscious being can or should remain conscious forever; it's the most unnatural thing imaginable.
It's a staple of religious believers to argue that all of our intuitions about what eternity or immortality would be like are completely irrelevant, because they are all based on our mortal, corporeal experience, and we simply cannot comprehend what heaven would be like. Arguments like this are frustrating because they cannot really be countered due to the fact that they aren't based in any logic or evidence to begin with. Well, no, I can't disprove that argument, just like I can't disprove the existence of god, nor can I disprove the existence of fairies, but there's also no good reason to believe in any of those things. The argument that we simply cannot comprehend how good heaven will be seems completely hollow to me. It's made-up because people want it to be true. What I can argue is that any conscious state, no matter how good it is or what it feels like, will eventually feel tired and pointless. Regardless of how good it is initially, simply being aware and conscious for an eternity will ultimately result in agony. It will simply take a lot longer if it's an initially joyous state. I will concede that my argument here isn't very evidentiary. As I said, there's not much evidence I can provide. It's not as if I can run an experiment with being immortal. My argument is largely based on intuition, but I also arrived at my conclusion based on logic, and I do not believe the same can be said for those arguing for the eternal bliss of heaven.
I believe that any conscious state will become agony after a sufficient amount of time. This seems to be how the universe is tuned. Put your body in any one position without moving a muscle, and you'll be in a surprising amount of pain pretty quickly. Do any activity for too long, and you'll become very bored. Even with sufficient variety, I believe that any life will become exhausting after enough time. Our lifespans are short enough that many people aren't ready to die even if they live to be a hundred. On the other hand, many people are sick of life at twenty. It all depends. But if we lived into our thousands, I believe that we would begin to see life and time very differently, and we would eventually crave rest, and an end to it all. I believe that consciousness slowly but surely turns to agony, whether it would take a thousand, a million, or a trillion years, and after enough time, all conscious states would feel the same: they would be unbearable. I believe that after a sufficient amount of time, heaven and hell would become indistinguishable. They would both be torture. Granted, no matter how bad heaven would become, hell would, by definition, always be worse, which is why the relationship would be asymptotic--heaven would begin to feel worse and worse, and continue to approach hell infinitely, but never reach it. At a certain point, however, it wouldn't matter, because you wouldn't be able to discern the difference, just as how your body starts to not be able to differentiate hot and cold at extreme enough temperatures: they both just burn. Given enough time, you would be desperate for your consciousness to end.
Many people seem to ascribe to the idea that anything less than immortality is a waste of time. They seem to believe that there's no point in living if your soul will not live on for all eternity. Many, if not most, people say that they wouldn't want to live in a world with no afterlife. This fear of death and finality, and the desperate desire for a part of us to live forever, has governed much of humanity's spiritual development for our entire history. The fact is that this notion is actually completely backwards. It turns out that an eternal life would be pointless, and only a finite life has meaning. It is specifically because our consciousness will end that anything has any meaning at all. Every moment is precious for the very reason that it will never come again, and there will come a day when you won't have any more moments. If this life were but a roadside stop on the way to heaven, then there would be no point in living it at all. Why bother with this mortal coil if you could simply bypass it and go straight to eternal paradise? (This is, incidentally, the reason why some primitive cultures have been known to baptize babies and then promptly execute them, ensuring their place in paradise.) The only reason to bother with this life at all is because it's finite, and in turn, there would be little to no reason to bother with an infinite life.
I can actually draw a concrete analogy of this from a most common and amusing place: Minecraft. For anyone who has been living on Mars for the past decade or so, in a cave, with their eyes shut and their fingers in their ears, Minecraft is an open world sandbox game made entirely of destructible blocks, which can be used to build anything you can imagine. The game features survival mode, in which players contend with monsters, fend off hunger, forage and grow food, and mine resources in order to craft tools or build anything. The game also features creative mode for artistic builders. In creative mode, players are invulnerable, do not require food, can fly, and have access to an infinite amount of any item or block in the game through the inventory screen. When my friends I first started playing, creative mode hadn't been invented yet. We played for quite a long time before we would see that update. I love creative mode, but I'll tell you, the game was never as much fun as before it existed, and you just can't recreate that state. When creative mode came out, our minds were f*ckin' blown. It was awesome. The power was incredible. We felt like gods I could now build all the things I dreamed of with ease. And build I did. Oh, good lord, did I build... But over time, I became bored. There didn't seem to be much reason to keep building, since I could keep building forever. When I could do anything, then nothing seemed to have much meaning. Eventually we all just fizzled out. We tried to recreate the survival experience. We implemented various survival based challenges, pledging that we wouldn't use creative mode. Inevitably, however, we would get annoyed at having to get some difficult resource, and we would say, "Eh, I'll just use creative mode for this one thing, and nothing else." Obviously, you can see where this is going. We'd try to stay honest, but then a creeper would blow us up and we'd lose our stuff, so we'd use creative mode to get it back. Five minutes later, we'd all just say "f*ck it" and start using creative mode again. We even made a new server with creative mode disabled. That didn't last long. About five minutes in, we got fed up and the server admin just enabled it again, and we were back to the same, and then bored. We simply couldn't resist the godlike powers once we knew they existed, and there was no way to go back. And that led to a phrase I coined: The Creative Mode Effect--the phenomenon by which infinite power eventually renders all things meaningless.
Now, I realize that there are other ways we could have had fun with the game, and we could have stayed more diligent about using survival mode, but I'm not here to talk Minecraft. My point is that given infinite power or time, all things would eventually succumb to the creative mode effect. As an immortal soul in heaven, able to do anything your "heart" desires for all eternity, you would eventually feel no motivation to do any of it, everything would become devoid of meaning, and you would crave an end.
This phenomenon was never better illustrated than in the Star Trek Voyager episode, Death Wish. (One of my favorite Treks of all time. I highly recommend it.) It was because of the creative mode effect that the alternate Q character, who would come to be called Quinn, wished to die. He, the Voyager crew, and the Q we all know and love (Discord) engaged in a debate over the meaning of life versus eternity, and whether immortal beings such as the Q should have a right to suicide. Quinn argued the very same points I made here--that eternity and infinite power render all things meaningless eventually, and that consciousness becomes agony after a sufficient amount of time. He argued that all consciousness must be allowed to end, and that all beings have a right to decide when it should. (Which is a teaser for my next piece!)
Immortality is no gift. It is a curse. Humankind's desire for it is folly. If you could do anything, then there wouldn't be much point to do anything, and if you knew you were going to live forever, then there wouldn't be much point in living at all. Finality is the only reason life has meaning. Eternity isn't really what you want. Take no solace in the bedtime stories of religion; take solace instead from the fact that one day, your consciousness will end, and until then, each moment will be all the more meaningful. I, for one, am extremely glad that there is no evidence of an afterlife, nor immortal souls. I take great comfort from that fact, and I can rest easy knowing that, someday, I will, in fact, be able to rest.