It's been a privilege knowing you. I'll live on in your memory. It's the best kind of immortality.Professor Stocking passed away Wednesday, and was beautifully eulogized by a former student, Barbara Bradley Hagerty of National Public Radio, in her radio essay. If you have a minute, take the time to listen to her broadcast rather than reading it.
– Fred Stocking
I usually find myself praising scientists, or the occasional philosopher, in this blog. Prof. Stocking was a man of literature, a Shakespearean expert, a man with rare skill with words, and a teacher of great repute. It's refreshing to be able to praise a man of letters.
If there's any sort of immortality to be had, it's not in a soul that lives on after death, but rather in the things we leave behind. Everything from a child that we raised, to the work we do, to a simple, pleasant memory left with a friend ... this is the only true immortality we can achieve. And it's an immortality worth having.
Those who believe in God look for their immortality in the afterlife. In many ways, their lives here on Earth are almost irrelevant – many Christians even believe that accepting Christ as their savior is really the only thing that matters here on this Earth. All the deeds, good or bad, that they do here on Earth are essentially for nothing in the end. That's always struck me as a deeply flawed way to lead your life.
But even for those believers who have a more whole-life, "karmic" understanding of goodness and sin, who believe that it's the overall balance of their goodness that matters, their lives here on Earth are just a blip in the cosmic time scale of eternity. What happens here is over in an instant, compared to the billions of years immortality they believe will follow.
Not so for the non-believer. As Professor Fred Stocking so clearly put it, all we'll leave behind, our only immortality, is memories, which are only as good as we are. Life to the non-believer is far more precious than it could ever be to a theist, because when you're gone, that's it. If you don't leave any memories behind, then you're truly dead.