Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I’m not terminally ill.  I don’t have a fatal disease.  But I know that I am going to die and I am confident that this life is “it.”  There will be no second volume.  So from time to time I think about those things I would like to accomplish before I die--a bucket list.

One question I have asked is whether an atheist’s bucket list would differ from a Christian’s. 
You might argue that, because as a nonbeliever I am not looking to an afterlife, I would be more intent on getting the very most possible out of this one.  Christians, on the other hand, are hoping for eternal life, so their primary goal in this one is primarily to make sure they qualify for the next.  

I know that it’s really not as simple as that, that Christians as well as nonbelievers understand that the things of this life are supremely important.   Even so, there are certain items that presumably would be on a thinking Christian’s list that would not be on an atheist’s.  For many if not most Christians, profession of faith is fundamental to qualifying for salvation.  One of the ways that a Christian might jeopardize his or her ticket to paradise would be to lose belief in God and the Christian faith.  So one item on a Christian’s list would presumably be to make sure that his or her beliefs are solid.  (If you have been reading this blog, you may point out that I don’t really accept that an individual has any freedom of choice over his or her beliefs, but let’s set that aside for this discussion.)  

A second item on a Christian’s list might be to ensure that the slate is clean, that there are no unforgiven sins that could jeopardize one’s admission to heaven.  Not all Christians believe that you must have a completely clean scorecard, that it’s enough if you have generally done your best to live a decent life.  I’m not a Catholic but I understand that they have a hierarchy of sins--some are venial, some mortal (or grave)--and that it is important to take the steps necessary to ensure that the serious ones, at least, are cleaned off the slate.  And, regardless of denomination, if an offense is against another individual, it may be important to ask that person’s forgiveness, not just God’s.

To my Christian friends:  Are those items on your list?  Really?

OK, on to my list.  First, there are items, in addition to the above, that are not on my list.  Despite not worrying about admission to heaven, I really don’t have any items that one would consider sinful.  At one time I might have included items that one might consider on the adventurous side--climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, skydiving, driving a Ferrari--but with the advancement of time (read: decrepitude of age), those have faded in importance.  They might have been fun, but I’m not going to have great regret if I don’t experience them.  Also there was a time when, believe it or not, there were some intellectual items on my list--to read (and try to comprehend) Marcel Proust or James Joyce, or to understand quantum physics from a mathematical point of view, not just a layman’s.  Again, they’re just not going to happen, and that’s OK.  [As an aside, one of my professional colleagues who retired at just about the same time I did told me that he was going to spend significant time (several hours a day) in retirement reading Proust (for the second time) and studying molecular biology.  I admit that I was impressed.  We haven’t stayed in touch, but I’m curious.]

Keep in mind that from my perspective there is no ultimate meaning to things.  Just like everyone else, I’m here now but then I will be gone along with all of my memories.  It will be as if I never was.  But even though there is no ultimate meaning, we can still create our own meaning, and that is what drives my bucket list, which includes only a couple of items.

  • I want to have the confidence to believe that I have been a good person.  I have personal standards regarding what it means to be a good husband and father, a good friend, a good citizen.  And my goal is to live up to those standards and to know that I have.

  • I want my family and friends to know that I love them and to know that they love me too.  

Then I can go in peace.

© 2013 John M. Phillips


  1. Now I love that!!! You own the principles you live by...they aren't just a set of rules that if not kept correctly will keep you out of heaven! That is what Jesus was all is better if you live this way...oh taste and see...

    And God is demonstrate His love in your life to your family and friends.

    You have rejected the artificial and kept what rings true...

    I think you will be around for a long, long time!

  2. So what if, by chance, your family and friends do not love you at the time of your death?

    How will you go then?

    Either way, after you've gone, so what?

    Tom Gerber

    1. While I am living, the love and regard of my family and friends are important to me. I'm sure you would say the same for yourself. I agree that after my death it doesn't matter.