Fear of Eternity

This is yet another brilliant post from my husband, Dan Morey. Enjoy his musings!

I recently watched a documentary about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, called “Particle Fever”. Beyond the awe of the incredible achievements of the world’s best and brightest to coming together for one of the most defining moments in human existence, the movie struck another, more personal note with me.

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One of the physicists interviewed for the film was speaking about how he came into his field as a former Catholic. He recalls his upbringing within Christianity and at a young age, feeling uneasy and distressed and frightened about the concept of eternity. The Catholic faith, as do many big box religions, hinges on the reward of an eternity in paradise for a lifetime of good deeds. But I, like this physicist, was not okay with an eternity – nor Catholicism for that matter. I was stunned with both joy and empathy for this man because for the first time in my life, there was another human being sharing such a ridiculous fear. For us, eternity in paradise is punishment; it’s an eternity of horrible uncertainty in consciousness, and burden of unanswerable hell.

I’ll use the term “fear” because I don’t know how else to describe such an unpleasant and uneasy feeling about the future of existence. Strangely enough, such a fear has a name: Apeirophobia (PS: humans are the only species with an impulsive need to categorize and who see patterns in pure chaos). Personally, I wouldn’t consider my distress about eternity a phobia, but more like an upsetting truth of circumstance.

My fear of eternity – like many, such as renowned atheist author, Richard Dawkins – began very early in life when I first learned a Catholic prayer called the Apostle’s Creed. In various versions of the prayer, the last line before the final “amen” ends with word like “will have no end” or “forever and ever.” In Catholicism, this prayer is only the one example in a myriad of references to the limitless expanse of time in the afterlife. The thought of anything, much less my own consciousness carrying on for infinity was strangely easy for me to comprehend. However, dwelling on it makes me queasy.

I didn’t understand why there would be no end. How could a consciousness come into being one day and stay there for eternity. How could one even say that eternity was actually eternity? For a long time, I hoped they were wrong, that is was just a medieval way of not being able to pin down a time for the end of existence – turtles all the way down. But then what, what comes after existence, more eternity?!?!

Time itself is an invention of mankind and it’s clear that we’ve done a poor job of trying to fit an ancient technology into the fabric of existence. So when we consider eternity in a sense of time on a clock or our own lives, it becomes a concept often unfathomable beyond the metric we’ve built to scale our own lives. But even in modern science, when we can pretty accurately measure the age of the earth at 4.54 billion years old, it becomes even more terrifying that an eternity is that long, a billion times over and over. Who the hell would want to be conscious that long? Or is time itself flawed?

The worst part is that eternity IS reality, there’s no escaping that. Just writing this post makes my stomach uneasy knowing that this is an inescapable truth. Every other fear a human being can have today is resolved in a short period of time. Fear of bugs or ghosts or failure, all of which can be overcome or are tangible only on an individual level. But fear of eternity is something that affects everyone’s very existence and will never go away.

The only resolution of a fear of eternity is an end date to existence. But then what happens, “in”existence would continue for infinity. There’s no escaping eternity. Consciousness or unconsciousness, space or void, life or death, will continue on for eternity. In a childish way, I wish everything would just collapse into a nice little box and cease to be, but I know that even ceasing to be is a state of being which could ultimately continue on for eternity. Only until recently, have I found some solace in realizing that eternity isn’t a timeline, it’s not a straight line, I doubt it’s even a loop. Eternity not only stretches out in front of us, but it’s also behind us. Where did this all start? Even the Big Bang is being hypothesized to be only one in a cycle.

I doubt I will ever overcome my fear of eternity, but I’m also not sure I want to. I enjoy fear because it allows me to know that there’s still something I can do to improve my life, a hurdle to overcome. Being afraid of something so intangible and insurmountable as eternity puts a lot into perspective, in a strange sort of way. Why fear death when what encompasses that is far greater a concern. But then again, what’s the point of fearing something inescapable, something that simultaneously has no effect and every effect on my entire life. It’s like saying you’re afraid of the earth being round.

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2 thoughts on “Fear of Eternity

  1. This is the first webpage I’ve ever visited where I saw someone else describe feelings of eternity as I feel them. I found this by googling, “There’s no escaping eternity,” minutes after that statement came, crystal clear, into my conscious awareness. The concept, and fear of, eternity, is something I’ve been struggling with for eight years.

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