Religion and Life After Death - Part 2
Religion and Life After Death – Part 2
Oliver T. Spedding
As the vast majority of human beings believe in the concept of eternal life in one form or another, it plays an important part in our lives. Most, if not all religions focus on our behavior here on earth as the major influence on what happens to us after we die. The dominant feature of this philosophy is the concept of places called "heaven" and "hell". Good behavior on earth will see us safely into heaven while bad behavior will see us ensconced in hell. Most people equate these "places" with earthly surroundings which makes if very difficult to explain and rationalize and perhaps it's better to try to visualize them as more spiritual situations that don't include physical qualities. Although this would make explanations of these "places" easier to believe the whole idea is fraught with unexplained circumstances.
Millions of people, both past and present, have claimed to have undergone "near-death" experiences in which they have left their physical body and briefly seen the after death existence. Their descriptions vary greatly but most of them are of a physical environment with human figures and voices. Very few described a spiritual environment which would surely be invisible if we leave our physical bodies behind on earth when we die and only our souls move on.
Human beings think in pictures and metaphors and explain things by comparing them to other things. But what can you compare something spiritual to, especially if spiritual things are invisible? The only things that man can use as comparisons are those things that are known and can be seen by man. And most of those things relate to the human being and to nature and the universe so it is natural to use these things to describe something spiritual.
The deities in almost all religions are spiritual in nature therefore it makes sense to try to visualize our concepts of what happens after we die in a spiritual form. There would therefore be no need for any physical forms to be present as everything would be spiritual. But humans find it extremely difficult to imagine spiritual things as all the things that they see and imagine are physical. And can a soul have a physical appearance? Unlikely. So, if the whole environment is spiritual, then physical forms as well as sound and light would be unnecessary.
It is risky though, to delve too deeply into what a spiritual environment would be as we don't know and cannot imagine the details. For example; is there such a thing as aging in a spiritual environment? In a spiritual situation can things be seen and heard? Where is this spiritual place? What do souls do in this place? Does anything spiritual have a shape? What about people whose physical bodies are completely destroyed for example, in an explosion?
There are just too many questions that cannot be answered here on earth so perhaps it's better to leave those questions to be answered after we die as they can only confuse us and create doubts that are unnecessary and pointless. After all, belief is based on faith and asking too many questions that cannot be answered can have a detrimental effect on our faith, weakening it and creating unnecessary fear. But the human being has an enquiring mind that isn't easily satisfied or complacent so it's inevitable that questions about the after-life will always be asked.
Fear is an emotion that all people feel at one time or another but the majority of these fears are fears about the unknown; things that we will only know the answers to, at a later stage. And the majority of these fears turn out to be unfounded and it's very possible that our fears about our fate after we die will also turn out to be unfounded. The growth of the known universe is based on positive concepts so why should the after-life be any different?
After Death Experiences
It is generally accepted that those people who claim to have seen the after-life had been dead in order to have experienced it and then returned to life to tell of their encounter. Many of these claimants were "declared" dead but were they really dead or merely experiencing a close call with death? Being "brain dead" is a medical term in which the brain waves, along with certain other conditions, are measured to ascertain that the person is actually dead. To be brain dead necessitates the complete absence of any activity in the brain and to show this state requires extremely sensitive and complex machinery. How many of the people who glimpsed the after-life were attached to such machinery at the time of their experience? Probably none.
Another noticeable characteristic of most of after-life experiences is that they are too "earthly" or visual to represent a spiritual situation - people dressed in white, singing hymns, bright lights and soothing music, "God put his arms around me", "I saw the Virgin Mary", the presence of some kind of tunnel, "I was in a house…", sparkling glass flowers, "injured and crippled people" and "there were streets of gold and a wall of precious stones". Some people also claimed to have seen "angels" all of whom had physically-shaped bodies often with wings and God is described as having human physical features. It's impossible to visualize a spiritual environment as one cannot visualize something that is invisible. And anything that has a physical shape surely cannot be spiritual. The word "spiritual" is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "having to do with the human spirit as opposed to physical or material things" therefore a spiritual environment must surely be invisible.
There are also many descriptions of after-death experiences that are purely spiritual in nature and don't refer to any physical features. These experiences describe feelings of peace, safety, tranquility and love. Many of these descriptions mentioned hearing a voice or voices but this doesn't necessary imply that they heard these sounds physically. They could quite possibly have been thoughts introduced spiritually. And thoughts are a reality even though they aren't actually heard as sound. Many people here on earth claim to experience hearing voices even though these sounds don't have any source. While this can be put down to their imaginations the fact remains that they did "hear" something that wasn't corporeal.
It's interesting to note that many the accounts of after-life experiences noted an atmosphere of peace and love and a complete absence of any kind of animosity, fear or danger though. This implies that all these incidents were impressions of "heaven" and therefore, either only good people experience after-death events or there is no such place as "hell". It could also mean that that our behavior here on earth has nothing to do with where we go after we die and that regardless of whether we are good or bad during our lives we will all end up in some spiritual "heaven". This is further strengthened by the fact that the deities that we believe in are all loving, caring and forgiving so any kind of punishment would be uncharacteristic. This is a strong sign that we should have no fear of the after-life.
But that doesn't mean that any belief should be abandoned or refuted because it isn't of a spiritual nature. Most beliefs are based on goodness and love and perhaps these ought to be the perceptions that we focus on. Spiritual dimensions are more likely to be the state of those who find themselves in these "places" and even the "places" must surely be spiritual. The important thing about this inspiration is that it creates a situation that encourages love and goodness. All people believe that they possess a "soul"; that inner spiritual part of us that makes us what we are, and surely it must be this "soul" that moves on when we die simply because our physical body remains here after death. And as our "souls" are spiritual it follows that heaven and hell must be spiritual in nature.
There is a very real danger in trying to explain any spiritual situation mainly because we have never experienced anything that can be remotely similar to our perceptions of heaven or hell and answers to one question immediately create new questions. And the more complicated our answers become the more complications they create. So, perhaps it's better to create a simplified adaptation of our beliefs and accept it as such. One of the problems with delving deeply into spiritual matters is that it can very easily cast doubt on one's beliefs and this can lead to unnecessary fears, doubts and a diminishing faith.
Atheists and Agnostics
An atheist is someone who believes that God does not exist while an agnostic believes that it's impossible to know whether or not God exists. Both would probably be classified as "unbelievers" and it's very possible that they would not experience a spiritual after-death or near-death event. If this is so, and there appear to be no recorded incidents of after-death experiences by atheist and agnostics, then it strengthens the supposition that such experiences are the result of the imagination being stimulated by the condition of the stressed person, as "unbelievers" are unlikely to have religion-based imaginations, especially of a spiritual nature. They probably don't believe in life after death at all and limit their beliefs to their lives here on earth.
But if there is life after death then what would happen to atheists and agnostics after they die? If God is all-merciful then they would be forgiven for their lack of belief in God and welcomed into the spiritual "heaven" which, by its mere presence, would convince these "unbelievers" that there is a God. Alternatively, they would be refused entry to "heaven" and banished to "hell" to be ruled over by Satan or the Devil. Perhaps there are such accounts of the after-life but they haven't attracted the attention of the world like those depicting a spiritual "heaven". But as they don't believe in God, atheists and agnostics also don't believe in Satan or the Devil, so they wouldn't have any visions of a spiritual "hell" that could be invoked while under the stress of a near-death experience.