Sunday, February 2, 2020


A few years ago I started having ongoing debates with a friend about whether the existence of an afterlife is scarier or less scary than there being no afterlife. She was devoutly religious--Mormon--but she said about once a year she would wake up in a panic, thinking "OMG what if I'm totally wrong and there is no God!?"

She said she has to force herself not to think about this possibility because it freaks her out so much. As she was telling me this I started laughing, because apparently I'm insensitive in the face of another person's most terrifying vulnerability.

Really, though, I found it so funny because my whole life I have literally had the exact inverse of this fear. When I was a kid I went through this phase for about a year where the thought of living forever kept me up at night.

"What will I even do, forever?" I remember thinking. "Eventually I'll run out of TV shows to watch."

I got to a point that I had to force myself to stop thinking about this because it was not productive.

I told this friend that I could not relate to her fear because what she's essentially contemplating is the possibility of a thing you can never possibly confirm. Because the only way to find out there is no afterlife is to die and cease to exist, but if you cease to exist you can't know, well, anything. Because you no longer exist.

If there is an afterlife and that afterlife goes on forever, you will 100% be forced to grapple with that. Forever.

So I told her I thought she was crazy and she told me she thought I was crazy and eventually she said we would just have to agree to disagree.

This topic and conversation have come up over and over again my whole life. I have a coworker who told me last year that she really struggled with some sort of faith crisis many years ago. She had been religious for a long time but her beliefs changed. During that change she experienced a great amount of anxiety over whether she was making a mistake in leaving her church.

She had become atheist and felt pretty sure in that, but she would wake up occasionally in a panic, thinking, "what if I'm totally wrong about this and I'm making a huge mistake?"

She said for a while this terror was consuming her life, and then one day her dad, who was very religious, asked that same question she had been stewing over out loud?

"What are you going to do after you die and you have to answer to God?"

She said hearing someone else verbalize this made it suddenly click for her. She told him she's living her life the best way she knows how, trying to be an honest person, trying to be good to people, trying to make the world a better place. She said when she dies, she'll die proud of herself for a life well lived. And if there is a God, she won't have a problem owning up to her actions, because they were good.

This felt really familiar to me. I had gone through something of a similar process when stepping away from my religion. For so many years I was scared to leave and CHOOSE TO BE GAY because what if my church was right and this was a sin, etc.

One day it hit me that I wasn't living my life well in that state, so what was the point anyway? Now I think my old church is remarkably and dangerously wrong on its teachings about gay people. But even if its not wrong (it is), I will have no problem standing before God and saying, "I lived my life the best way I knew how."

It was such a relief to finally let myself try to be a good person without shriveling under the weight of wondering whether I was being a good person in the right way.

I think I should be kind and try to help ease others' burdens. I think I should love people. I think I should be aware of how my actions impact the world and use that knowledge to guide my decisions. I feel proud of myself and at peace when I'm doing those things well. I no longer worry about the eternal implications threatened upon me for not following any given rule some people choose to preach or live for themselves. A person can go crazy if they never figure out how to shut out all that noise.

I guess one of the best things about my 30s so far is shirking the old discomfort of not knowing everything.

Anyway, thems my thoughts on this Christian sabbath. inthenameofcheeseandriceamen.

And now, please enjoy some Strangerville, wherein I promise not to further stress you out with existential crises.

This time in Strangerville, Meg and Eli are not abstract thinkers and they do not believe anyone else is. And Jolyn is faced with some tough questions when she comes across a man harassing women at a concert.
Concert Harasser, by Jolyn Metro
Production by Eli McCann & Meg Walter

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. I grew up in an Atheist household and found my faith on my own. My biggest fear in the early years of my faith wasn't "What if there is no God" but rather, "what if I'm following the wrong version of God." I don't believe there is NO God - because I can't believe we are all here by random chance of elements combining in a way in the cosmos to produce life. I'm not saying that they didn't - I'm saying that I believe there was an orchestrator.

    However, what if the God that I believe did this is the wrong God? It's a question posed to me many times in my life - there are so many religions who follow different Gods - what makes yours right?

    I finally came to the point that I can say - He may not be. I may be wrong. However, believing in the way I do gives me comfort. It also helps me with guideposts about how to live life. It has also surrounded me with people that build me up (and some that have attempted to tear me down) and keep me accountable.

    I think when I stand before God, if the God I believe in is wrong my answer will be the same. I led my life the best way I could. I made mistakes - I attempted to make up for them - and I am not ashamed of the life I led.

    1. When it comes to the concern about worshipling the 'wrong' God my personal belief is that every religion is probably worshipping the same God, just in different ways with different names. The basis of every religion I have any knowledge of is do good, there are different understandings of what that good is and how best to worship the god that promotes that message, but it's the same core idea. So I have to agree with the idea that when I die, whatever God stands before me I can comfortably say I lived in the best way I could, and I feel that is in accordance with all religion's core purpose.

  2. I've done the freak out thing where I suddenly worry, What if I'm a member of this church and it's totally not true??? But then I realize-- I still think it's the best way to be happy and raise a family. If I were to quit the church next week, there aren't any major changes I'd make in how I'm living my life. So I'm okay with it. And then other things remind me that I actually do believe. I believe a lot, actually.

    I think those freak out moments are just part of life, no matter what we do or don't believe. But they're still crazy scary and stressful.

    I was a little sad that you were critical of the Mormon Church in this post, Eli, even if you couched it in parenthesis and humor. You've always been very careful not to do that, and I've always appreciated that about this blog. I hope this won't be a regular thing now. But I still love you (and Skylar), at least as much as I can love a couple of men I've never met!

    1. I'm sorry to see that you were sad about this Alanna.

      IMHO - the way Eli presented this criticism was completely appropriate. He wasn't malicious. He did not negate any good things about the church. He didn't blanket attribute the criticisms to all members of the church.

      From my perspective, he very gracefully shared a criticism that was not only valid in his experience (after all, it is a stance on who he is) but also the major reason why he left the church. It was also extremely pertinent to the topic of the post.

      While I agree that bashing the religion - any religion - is not appropriate - I don't think constructive criticisms that are based on personal experiences are inappropriate. In fact, I would conjecture that they are imperative for growth of faith, regardless of whether one agrees with them or not.

    2. The Church isn’t above criticism, especially for its policies and teachings about gay people. It’s ok to say the truth even when it makes people uncomfortable. In fact when the truth makes people uncomfortable I think sometimes that’s the most important time to say it. Eli shouldn’t have to pretend that those teachings aren’t dangerous when they so personally impacted him and others like him. It’s good that you love the church and find happiness there - I’m genuinely glad for you and your family. That isn’t the case for many and both experiences are valid, and both sides should be allowed to discuss their experiences and opinions openly. He wasn’t disrespectful in his criticism. Bearing testimony should be a right for everyone, so please don’t ask him not to bear his, especially right after bearing your own.

    3. Nobody leaves a religion without being critical of it. If you disagree with his criticism of the church saying his entire life is a terrible sin, and still felt the need to tell him that, then you are also being critical of someone in a way that makes other people sad. I was just thinking of my old religion in terms of actual Nazi Germany and the discovery that your team is the one full of bad guys, so I thought this was much kinder than it needed to be.

    4. Hi Alanna--Definitely never my intention to offend anyone or be unfair about people's beliefs. You are wonderful, and I completely understand your reaction (and I'm not remotely offended by it). There are a lot of things I agree with with the church and a lot of things I disagree with with the church. It's not my plan to debate all of the doctrine--I think the point of my post is that I've decided for myself, mostly, that I don't need to do that. This one point of disagreement is one that matters quite a lot to me, and mostly because I have seen this teaching cause irreparable harm to people. I wouldn't feel good about myself if I didn't disagree with this teaching and share my own belief on this. (Also, I'd be happy to call a truce on this point with the church--if they'll stop commenting on this, I won't either! :)).

      Love you, and thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    5. Is it really up to you to say whether he can be critical of the church, though? Because the subtext there sort of sounds like you’re saying, “sure, he can be gay, but he’s got to be the *right kind* of gay, who doesn’t call out homophobia in an institution that I support, because that makes me uncomfortable.” Is your discomfort at hearing that the LDS church as an institution is homophobic really more important than the pain caused to so many LGBTQ+ people by the homophobic statements and policies of the church? I get that it can be hard to hear anything bad about a church that may have brought a lot of goodness and joy into your life, but that doesn’t mean you should close your eyes to the fact that it’s caused real harm to others. Not allowing people to speak out about that harm because it’s slightly uncomfortable or inconvenient for you just means that more people will continue to be hurt by bad policies that we don’t change because we’re all too busy saying that everything the church does is automatically great.

    6. Alanna, I get where you're coming from. It's one thing for someone to say they disagree with the Church; it's kind of jarring when they state unequivocally that the Church is wrong. That being said, like other commenters have said, I don't think Eli was being hateful or attacking when he said it. From his perspective, based on his life experiences, that's what he feels is true. It's just surprising to see it laid out in black and white like that when it's not what you (or I) believe.

      It's such a tricky situation, and I don't think we have all the answers. I do agree that the way the Church has taught about homosexuality and how to treat LGBTQ+ people has not always been good. I don't think it was out of bigotry and malice but rather a lack of understanding. I also think that the Church has tried very hard to fix a lot of that and is really emphasizing treating everyone with love and compassion no matter if their beliefs align with ours or not, but it's going to take awhile for the culture to change (and some people will never get there, unfortunately).

      I don't know why there is such a disparity between the doctrine and the life experiences some people have. I have cousins who are LGBTQ+, and it has been very hard for them to reconcile those two opposing ideas. One in particular has struggled for years with how to accept that he is homosexual while also living the gospel. It's hard! We don't have all the answers. All I can do is love everyone where they're at, let them live their life as they see fit, trust that God loves all of us, and hope for greater understanding when, you know, I live forever and have time to figure out all of this, haha. ;)

  3. I grew up in a home where we did not discuss religion. My mother is Mormon (non-practicing) and my dad is Baptist (non-practicing). When I was about 10 I asked my mom who this God person was. She looked at me and told me that God is what comforts and guides us, that God can be different for everyone. That I needed to find God on my own in my own way in order to know what is right for me. So I studied up on many religions. I finally chose to just live my life as a good and honest person. So that if I do find out there is one I can say I am proud of me.

    I am lucky that growing up here in Utah I had such a forward thinking family that they could allow me to discover what was right for me.

  4. I loved the finale of The Good Place and now I hope that’s exactly what the afterlife is. Long enough to have every experience you want and spend as much time as you can with people you love without worry that it will all end unexpectedly. And then when you’re ready you can decide to enter peace and rest and nothingness. It sounds lovely.

  5. It's funny you wrote this just after the season finale of "The Good Place" where the characters are forced to deal with this exact issue. If you haven't watched it, I would definitely recommend!

  6. I 100% agree that the thought of living forever is terrifying, and I also used to lay awake at night as a kid wondering how I would possibly fill that time. I never got it when older church leaders would say things like, “it would be so sad to believe that all existence just stopped after death,” because, like, you wouldn’t exist anymore to feel sad about it. Even now as an adult, the thought of “eternity” still fills me with existential dread when I really think about it.

  7. Definitly don’t start googling quantum physics and the theory of simultaneously existing multiverses.

    Also get the universe splitter app. it’s how I make all of my deci

  8. I felt the same as Alanna when I first read this post last night. I didn't know how to respond, so I didn't. I just felt a little surprised and a bit sad. I read it again today and feel differently. I'm not sure what changed in how I read it, but I do know how Alanna felt because initially, I felt the same. Eli, I appreciate that your response wasn't an attack on her or her feelings, as it would be easy to do. I love that you saw her feelings as valid and allowed her that space. I think that is so important. Reading both the post and her comment in whatever new light I'm seeing this morning shows love and respect for differing views while allowing for honest expression. I love that this is a safe place--both for you, Eli, to share your experiences, and for the rest of us Strangers to share as well. These are tricky discussions that you handle so well, and I just want to thank you for creating such an amazing space where even when we may disagree, we don't all end up fighting about who is right and whether you're allowed to share reactions to posts, etc. Love to you and Skylar <3

  9. I'm coming from a "godless" upbringing - my dad is Jewish, my mom Lutheran, we didn't go to temple or church, we celebrated Christmas with Santa and a tree and Hanukkah by lighting candles, and I've never felt compelled to be religious. I'd like to think that I'm a moral person, kind, give back to my community, a good mother and wife, etc. And I don't need organized religion to do that. I never felt the need to be concerned about an afterlife for the exact reason you state - if there's not one, so be it, and if there is one, I'm living my life as best a person as I can be. BUT. Then I encountered the thought of my child dying. And the thought of my little love being alone in the ground and gone forever is so painful to me. For the first time, recently, I've wanted there to be an afterlife and a God, so that my child (hypothetically - luckily my kids are fine now) would not be gone forever, and would be surrounded by love. But, I can't bring myself to believe in that, and it makes me sad. So that's where I'm at right now....

  10. As a kid, I always hated the way churches talk as if they have all the answers and they know it to be irrefutable fact. I did have this fear of what comes after death specifically because nobody knows, and for people to claim they do know infuriated me.

    I’ve also had the thought that the image of God some churches teach is so hateful and spiteful and bigoted that if that god does exist I will have no problem telling him I’m ashamed of him. I don’t think I really believe in religion anymore but whatever I do believe, it doesn’t condone bigotry.

    Also I will never not have existential crises because nothing is permanent so what are we even DOING?!

  11. Yes, literally the panic of forever scared the crap out of me as a child. Sometimes it still does. But when I think of how complicated things are and how much stuff goes on while here on Earth, I think forever is necessary to work all the stuff out. And be with our families (Duncan! Skylar!) Too!! I don't know all the answers but know that God loves us all equally, regardless of whether or not other people see us as equal. #lovewins