A group of people go into an airplane for a routine flight. They take off, and as soon as they reach altitude, they hear a loud “BANG!” come from one of the engines. Everyone starts freaking out. The pilot tries to make an announcement on the intercom, but it’s broken, so the words are muddled.
Someone yells, “We’re all gonna die!” Another person responds, “No, the plane is fine.” Two groups start forming as they argue back and forth whether or not the plane is going to crash. Within the group that believes the plane is not going to crash, a variety of explanations come about. Some say there was no “BANG!” sound at all. Some say there was a “BANG!” but it was something else outside the plane. Some say there was a “BANG!” and it was something breaking on the engine, but it wasn’t that bad, and didn’t cause any real damage. The different factions, although sharing the belief that the plane won’t crash, begin to argue amongst themselves in addition to arguing with those that believe the plane is crashing.
Suddenly, smoke starts to come from the engine where the “BANG!” sound came from. Many passengers start to feel the plane descending. The groups claiming that there was no “BANG!” or that the “BANG!” was not the plane lose significant membership, and only a couple people remain in each. It is generally agreed upon by all the passengers that there was a “BANG!” that came from the engine and caused smoke to come from it. The ensuing debate is between those that believe the damage will cause the plane to crash and those who believe the damage will not cause the plane to crash.
People from either side attempt to gather all kinds of evidence to support their stance. But ultimately, there is no conclusive evidence to determine it either way. The “Plane Crasher” group says the “Non-Plane Crasher” group is living in a dream world, making things up so they can feel better about themselves. The “Non-Plane Crasher” group says the “Plane Crasher” group should have faith that things will work out well in the end.
What I want to suggest today is that when we were born, we all got on a plane, and when we learned about death, we discovered that we are, in fact, in a crashing plane. Religious conceptions try to create a belief that the plane isn’t going to crash, or, in other words, that we will not die. Atheist conceptions try to create the belief that the plane is going to crash, and therefore we need to face the reality of death, and make the most of our time on earth.
But let me ask you: would you rather be in a plane where everyone believes they are about to crash, or in one where everyone believes they are going to be ok?
A plane where everyone believes they are about to crash would be chaotic. People would do whatever they want, because there would be no consequences. They would live for the moment. But although they might do crazy and immoral things, they also might do some very meaningful things. In the knowledge of their immediate death, they might call a family member they had an argument with and tell them that they forgive them. They might call their spouse and children to tell them they love them. They might set up their finances to give to a charity they find meaningful.
A plane where everyone believes they are going to land safely would be much more ordered. People wouldn’t want to act crazy, because they would have to answer for it when they landed. They may choose to do meaningful things, but they also might be selfish, since, after all, they are going to continue living, so it’s not like they have to make things right in their life. They would tend to be more optimistic about things, and probably be happier in many ways.
I think there is a healthy balance there somewhere, where we recognize the inevitability of death, but also have faith that there is something more to live for. The ideal passenger on the possibly crashing plane would make things right in his life regardless of whether he is going to die for sure. He would act ordered and with kindness to others because he does not want to live his last bit of life in a plane of chaos, but also wants to act well in case the plane does land safely, and he has to give an account of what he did on the plane.
Whether or not you believe the plane is crashing, we know for sure that we have this time on the plane, so we ought to do what we can to make it meaningful. We can also hope for more life to come to keep us optimistic and give us another valuable reason to treat each other with kindness.