Religion and Life After Death - Part 1
Religion and Life After Death – Part 1
Oliver T. Spedding
The ideas in this booklet are aimed at encouraging those who read it to put the prospect of what happens to us after we die into perspective and to hopefully ease the fear of the unknown and also to help put religion into a more understandable perspective. Religion is an abstract concept that is subject to a wide range of interpretations and contradictions many of which are paradoxical and contentious. But religion, regardless of its creed, is an essential component of any populace and is one of the most powerful unifiers known to man and also one of the most potent dividers. It has also been responsible for some of the most horrendous atrocities in history and can incite people to unrealistic fanaticism.
Religion is also responsible for some of the most wonderful, caring and loving behavior imaginable and is without doubt the greatest creator of good will on earth. It is also plagued by controversy mainly because of its spiritual nature. The most powerful feature of religion though, is that it is based on belief and faith in that belief. The deities in religion are mostly spiritual and are thus prone to human interpretation and imaging and this is possibly its greatest failing as deities are understood to be perfect whereas man can only dream of achieving this vaunted status.
The ideas expressed here are focused mainly on the Christian religion but it's probable that many of them are relative to other religious creeds.
Death is inevitable and dwells in the minds of most people throughout their lives. The reason for this attraction is that death is an anonymity that will never be absolved. The two most prominent fears that possess human beings when the subject of dying arises, are the fear of losing those that we love and the fear of what we might be subjected to after we die. The actual act of dying takes a great deal less precedence in most people's minds than what happens to us after we die.
Obviously we would all like to experience a painless, peaceful death surrounded by our loved ones but this appears to play a minor role in our attitude towards death and dying. Our greatest fear in this regard is the unknown. There are many beliefs and a great deal of conjecture about life after death, but no facts. The only reality that we can surmise if we accept that there is life after death is that it surely must be spiritual. However, all the beliefs about what happens to us spiritually after we die are totally theoretical, regardless of all the claims by those who have experienced near-death and believe that they have seen the after-life.
Any work of this nature cannot be comprehensively dealt with without some reference to religion as almost all theories about what happens to us after we die are derived from religion. But this work does not try to discredit any religion nor does it attempt in any way to ridicule anyone's beliefs or convictions. Every human being has the right to believe whatever they want to and nobody has the right to try and influence others regarding their beliefs, especially as nobody can prove their beliefs. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, the reader will have discovered a greater depth in his or her understanding of their beliefs.
Because they have such a superior intellect compared to other creatures, the vast majority of human beings believe that they will always exist; they find it impossible to believe in their own mortality. This is understandable when we accept that human beings are, as far as can be understood, the only creatures that can see themselves as individual entities and foresee the inevitability of their own death.
As far as can be ascertained by scientists, animals and other forms of nature do not have any kind of imagination or controlled thought patterns and survive purely by instinct. They follow a set pattern of instincts that decrees when and what they will eat and drink, how they will obtain this sustenance, how they will react to danger, when they will sleep and how they will cope with climatic changes. For example, during a solar eclipse, birds and other animals can be seen returning to their nests and lairs to sleep even though it may only be mid-morning when the eclipse occurs. The fact that these creatures may have been awake for only a short time doesn't occur to them. They obey their inbred instinct that when darkness approaches they must sleep; and so they do just that.
Although human beings also have strong instincts, their ability to think and reason allows them to override these instincts and behave as individuals. Because they behave as individuals and see themselves as such, human beings have acquired a sense of self that enables them to believe that they are immortal. This doesn't necessarily pertain to their physical being but rather to their spiritual being that many call their "soul". This self-image is extremely dominant in all human beings that have an awareness of themselves. And being aware that they are individuals creates a belief in their own invincibility. There are a number of concepts that relate to man's belief in eternal life and most of them are closely related to religion.
All these concepts are beliefs as they cannot be proved or disproved. As with religion we have the right to believe whatever we want to and nobody has the right to try and influence us to believe what they believe. The reason that they don't have this right is that they cannot prove what they believe and it would be terrible if they did influence others to concur with them only to discover that they were wrong. We all need to accept this premise and not try to interfere in other's beliefs.
But it is interesting to hear what the beliefs of others are as it broadens our knowledge and understanding of our fellow beings. Beliefs are just beliefs and without them there would be no need for faith. The mere fact that we cannot prove or disprove our beliefs, whether they are about religion or about what happens after we die, makes faith a vital part of the whole concept.
It's interesting to note that Albert Einstein, one of the world's greatest thinkers who discovered the theories of relativity, once wrote that he could not accept a God who both punishes and rewards those things that He has created and is also a manifestation of human weakness. He also rejected the belief that there is life after death, claiming that this belief was the result of fear and self-centeredness. Einstein believed that the complexity that was the earth and the universe was more than enough to contemplate without involving spirituality. But he also said that the most wonderful thing that human beings could experience was the mysterious, especially the mystery of life which has resulted in the creation of religion; something that man could only understand in its most primitive form.
But what about our children? Do we have the right to influence them regarding our beliefs? Yes, we do. There is no other way to introduce them to religious beliefs and we have to trust, just like our parents probably did with us, that as they grow older they will assume the right to question what they've been told and form their own beliefs if they so wish. This questioning of beliefs handed down from generation to generation is becoming more and more prevalent and this is a good thing because it's only by questioning the things that we've been told as children that we can open up our own horizons, form our own opinions and learn new concepts. Much of the progress that has made by the human race in the past has been the result of questioning things that have been taken for granted up until then.