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The After Life



"Nobody gets out of life alive." Anon


"Nothing is certain other than death and taxes," Anon


"Life is a disease; it is inevitably fatal," Anon

Why is belief in the afterlife important?

Human beings, apparently alone among the life forms on earth, are aware that their life is finite. According to many theologians and mental health professionals, one of the main comforts that people obtain from their religious faith is the assurance that life will not end at their death. They believe that it will continue in some form for all eternity. Søren Kierkegaard "proposed that the awareness and fear of dying is so fundamental to human nature that it underlies most human beliefs and ways of behaving." 1

Another reasons for the widespread belief in an afterlife might be the desire for justice. In some sections of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the reward for righteous behavior is said to be a long life and many children. But this does not necessarily work out in practice. The world is often not a very fair place: Many good people die young and childless.  Good people sometimes suffer in poverty and with disease. Many evil people lead rewarding, rich, and long lives. Many religions offer a belief in the afterlife that includes a resolution to the justice problem. If there is a final judgment after death, and if some people go to eternal punishment Hell while others go to an eternal reward in Heaven, then evil will be ultimately punished; goodness will be eventually rewarded. The scales of justice, which do not seem to be particularly well balanced on earth may be balanced after death. 

What faith groups believe about the afterlife:


Most Western religions, including most Christian faith groups, teach that one's eventual destination is either an eternal reward in Heaven or Paradise, or extreme torture in Hell, either for a finite time, or for all eternity.

Various faith groups the past two millennia have taught that individuals will be sent to either Heaven or Hell, based upon one or more of the following factors:
bullet Their beliefs at the precise instant of their death.
bullet Their behavior during their entire lifetime.
bullet The presence of any unforgiven sins committed before death.
bullet Church sacraments and rituals that have been performed prior and even after death.
bullet Some combination of the above.

In addition, there are many variations in belief about what sequence of events happens after death. Most faiths group assert that their particular beliefs are correct and are firmly based on accurate interpretations of Bible passages. Obviously, most faith groups must be wrong. In fact, it is even possible that all may be mistaken.

Some beliefs are:

bullet Many people experience painful punishment in Purgatory in order to purify them before they are eventually admitted to Heaven; a very few go directly to Heaven; most go to Hell at death.
bullet All saved Christians go to Heaven; the vast majority of humans, including all non-Christians will go to Hell.
bullet Everyone will go to heaven.
bullet At death, individuals enter a "soul sleep," a period of unconsciousness. They expect to be awakened later at the Final Judgment. They are then routed to either Heaven or Hell.
bullet Hell is not a torture chamber "out there". It is a state of anguish that people experience while alive on Earth. 
bullet Hell is not a place of punishment. Bible passages about Hell must be interpreted symbolically.
bullet After people die, life does not continue in any form. Nothing is left of the person who once lived, other than the impact of their life on others, and any contributions that they have made to their children's DNA.
bullet We simply don't know what happens after death.
bullet Eastern religions generally teach that, at death, one's soul is transferred into another living being -- either a human or other animal. 


  1. Quoted in: Robert Buckman, "Can we be good without God?, Viking, (2000), Page 78. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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