Bronze-level articleAfterlife

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The dreams of man


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Disturbing your sleep
Recurring dreams
Afterlife... what an awful word.
—Win Butler
Let's do some living, after we die...
—Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, "Wild Horses"

Afterlife usually refers to some form of "life after death." This could be "eternal life," "reincarnation," or something more abstract or weird. Common to most versions of an afterlife is the belief in a soul (or similar concept) which, being the spiritual part of the body, will live forever (or at least for a very long time) without the need for a corporeal body. The idea of an afterlife is often offered to believers as a comforting answer to fears of death, and esoteric questions like "Why do bad things happen to me?" and "What is the purpose in life?"


[edit] Does it actually exist?

Depictions of the afterlife may be proof more of the endless possibilities of human imagination than anything else.

According to neuroscientific views, the mind, with the components of memories, creativity, beliefs and opinions that form a person's identity, is a component of the functioning brain.[1] During brain death, which is typically bound to occur in as few as 3 minutes after cardiac arrest,[2] all brain function halts permanently. If the soul is a part of the mind, it would cease to exist at brain death. In the scientific context, there is nothing of one's personality that can exist outside of the biological framework which could float off to some happy place, or live a new life, nothing that could live "after life."

Even setting aside what we know about the human mind and personality, logical questions have always existed regarding the afterlife, the first of which is: "Where is it?" If it is, as many ancient religions suggested, a physical place "above us in the sky"[3] or "deep in the earth"[4] then we would have found such places in human exploration. If it is a place for souls to permanently reside, that's a hell of a lot of space needed for the billions who have come before. And there is the endless debate over who and what have access to such afterlife. Animals? Bacteria? Human fetuses? If humans have access to it but other animals don't, what about our ancestors and ancestral cousins, the extinct hominids such as Neanderthals and Afarensis?

The traditional heaven-hell dichotomy was not present in many early religions. The ancient Semitic peoples of the Near East, such as the Babylonians and Canaanites, believed that all the dead go to a shadowy place under the earth regardless of their conduct in life.

[edit] Reasons for popularity

The concept of an afterlife is widespread throughout most human religions. One of the important purposes of religious belief is to give explanations of, and reassurances about, the world. Humans and other animals fundamentally fear death; it helps keep us alive long enough to procreate. The idea of simply not existing any longer is also quite upsetting for most people. An afterlife offers hope of again seeing those who have died and a promise of an escape from death and non-existence. In many religions, the idea of an afterlife, especially where it is associated with punishment and reward, is a handy explanation for why we have to suffer in this life.

[edit] Where you spend it

Dying man couldn’t make up his mind which place to go to — both have their advantages, 'heaven for climate, hell for company!'
Mark Twain

There are as many ways to spend an afterlife as there are religions to talk about it. The stereotypical Christian notion is that there is heaven for the good and righteous and hell for the evil and homosexuals. Heaven is often peaceful and blissful, hell a place for endless torture and torment. The fear of hell is probably a stronger motivator than the promise of heaven at God's side. Fundamentalist Christians generally insist that everybody goes to hell except those who have accepted the love of Jesus into their hearts. Alternatively, Christians may believe in annihilationism, where those who would end up in hell simply cease to exist, or universalism, where everybody gets to go to Heaven regardless of their beliefs.

The traditional view in Judaism is that all people remain as disembodied souls until the Messiah comes and raises the dead.[5] Like most religions, however, many other views exist.

Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected. Likewise, Orthodox Jews can believe that the souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that wicked souls are simply destroyed at death, ceasing to exist.[6]

Some sects of Christianity also adhere to the view that souls await the general resurrection, usually coupling it with a belief in a final Judgement Day.

For most Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs, it is generally a recurring cycle of death and rebirth, and not always as a human. You can come back as a god, a demon, or a louse, or be reborn into any number of other realms (generally referred to as "hells"). Liberation or salvation in these types of theologies involves escaping the usual cycle of life-is-your-afterlife in some way, often through connection to something more transcendent, such as the consciousness of a supreme deity or the experience of unceasing, complete satisfaction.

Klingons have Sto'Vo'Kor for the honorable and Gre'Thor for the dishonorable.

Paradise for (male) Muslims sounds like one long party with a never-ending string of willing Houris.

Of course, not everyone believes in any kind of afterlife. Atheists largely assume that when you're dead, it's over - so live while you can. Carl Sagan famously stated:

Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.[7]
On the other hand, if you find the latter worriesome you can find some comfort on the possibility of being born again in the future (however there is no way to know where and when that would happen, and while from your perspective that would be instantaneous the old self and its memories would have been lost forever)[8]

[edit] It's so good, you can bet on it

The afterlife also plays a key role in Pascal's Wager, which contrasts the infinite gain of heaven (by believing) and the infinite loss of hell (for not believing) in an effort to show faith in God is favorable. A God that sends believers in God to hell and unbelievers in God to heaven could actually be the real God if God exists. There is no reason to assume that this God is any more or less likely than, say, the Christian God. For any possible God, there exists another possible God that hands out the opposite rewards and punishments. So if God exists, a scenario in which believers in God to go to hell and unbelievers to go to heaven is just as likely as believers going to heaven and unbelievers going to hell.

[edit] See also

[edit] Eternal External links

[edit] References

  • Christopher Moreman. Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010 ISBN 0742562298
  • Thomas Schouweiler. Life After Death: Opposing Viewpoints Greenhaven Pr, 1990 ISBN 0899080820
  • Alan Segal. Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion Doubleday Religion, 2004 ISBN 0385422997

[edit] References

  1. Rosenberger, Peter B. MD; Adams, Heather R. PhD. Big Brain/Smart Brain. 18th October, 2011.
  2. Safar, P. "Cerebral resuscitation after cardiac arrest: a review." (1986). Circulation. 74 IV138–153 pmid=3536160
  3. Lakota Sioux, Egyptian religion, Christianity as three examples.
  4. Greek and Roman views, Hopi views, Ancient Judaism, and Christianity.
  5. Heaven and Hell in Jewish Tradition
  6. The Afterlife
  7. Carl Sagan, 1996 in his article "In the Valley of the Shadow" (Parade magazine) and in Billions and Billions (p. 215)
  8. Death, Nothingness, and Subjectivity
  9. It's either a donation or a fee, they haven't decided.
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