I recently attended an atheist/nonreligious parenting seminar in which the speaker (Dale McGowan) raised the topic of how to depict death to nonreligious children. His approach was to describe it as returning to nonexistence, as before one’s birth; a few seminar participants agreed with this construct.
I found this depiction far too materialist. In the atheistic fervor to deny the existence of a soul that transmigrates after death, the approach reduces an individual or the Self more or less to a physical person.
For me, the Self is mostly a combination of experiences and interactions with an outside world, including other people, with the acknowledgment that my physical body is the venue through which those reactions take place. A similar type or tone of experience or interaction with an outer world would presumably continue for other individuals after I die. While those individuals may be very different from me because the world/environment that they inhabit is quite different from the one I lived through and left, I myself in the same physical body have become a very different person than I was in the past, partly because the world has changed and partly due to new experiences of existing realities.
Returning to the commentary at the parenting seminar, one participant objected to the depiction of death as returning to non-existence, by pointing out that those individuals who have children continue their physiological existence through their offspring, who would not have existed “but-for” the existence of their parents.
Certainly our ability to reproduce does appear to be Nature’s answer to our physical mortality, but I found this construct far too materialist and simplistic also. Again the Self is reduced to a physical person, just adding acknowledgement of our physiological reproductive functions.
The idea raises more questions than it answers. Do we continue our own existence through a child because that person is our physical offspring, or do we continue our own existence through a child because we have raised that person consistent with our own values? If the latter, why aren’t we continuing our own existence every time we impart our values, e.g., as teachers, peers, and so forth?