Existence is preferred over non-existence. Something is desired over nothing. Even the adolescent teenager that possesses no maturity imagines themselves able to observe from some higher plane the aftermath of their suicide “to get even, or make them sorry”. The concept of nothingness is as impossible to grasp as is the immensity of very large numbers. Unable to understand the concept of nothingness, that the nothingness also entails not being able to experience the nothingness, people genuinely, naturally, fear it.
A son or daughter unable to let go of a parent prefers to think their loved one has advanced to a higher plane, “a better place” upon death. They imagine them whole again, watching down upon them, perhaps even looking out for them. Death, it has been said, is a part of life. If so, why is it so hard to face? Why do they fear the coming nothing? Isn’t it true that before they were, they were not? From nothing to nothing?
The fear of death is the goldmine of religions. Religions offer a solution to death, though it be necessarily one that cannot be proven. Without a shred of evidence that would stand up in a court of law, religions are permitted to offer an imaginary cure for death. People buy into it by the carload. They are desperate.
Naturally there are some that do not fear death. Nothingness, they imagine, is better than the existence they are enduring. For these religion also has an answer. It is not just an escape from death they offer, but an escape from eternal punishment for acts of immorality, sins. Even those who do not fear the nothingness fear being tortured hideously for an eternity. They buy into it by the busload. They are desperate.
Religion wants everyone to believe. Is that enough? No. Religions also want everyone to obey. Through the use of threats of punishment and rewards for obedience religions also control the population. If the religion is the government the punishments become harsher. If they are not the government, to gain the favor of government, religions work to align the masses behind the goals of the government. If, as in the United States, the corporations are de facto rulers, the religion helps to instill a slave mentality in the masses to keep them quiescent and accepting of low wages and bad working conditions.
The government, corporations, and religious leaders fear atheism for these reasons. Atheism frees people from the religious control and allows them to see reality. People with free minds, free thought, can only be persuaded by reason. Much of what government and business does is done without clear thought, but with only profit or power in mind. If those in power cannot convince people that they are helpless to oppose government, or that opposing government carries a penalty in the afterlife, control becomes more difficult. Hence the biblical promise that those who have much in this life will have little in the next, while those who have little will have a greater reward. “They’ll get theirs when they die” many humble religious mutter when faced with hardship in which the rich do not have to share. Of course, they don’t want to accept that what happens when you die is nothingness. No tyrant will be punished if all there is, is nothing at all. The frustration they feel is mediated by the belief that enemies in this life will be punished in the next.
The peoples’ greatest fear is of death and nothingness. The greatest fears of those in power is that people will lose their fear of death, their belief that there is something after this life, of atheism.