“The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” – Matthew 27:52-53. So what is life after death? The concept of life after death is described as an existence beyond the life we are currently in; after our death. Two main ideas have been given to describe life after death further.
Firstly there is the idea of reincarnation. This is the rebirth of the soul into an entirely new body after death. Religions such as Hinduism share this belief that once we die, we are reborn. Hindus believe that the Atman (soul) is eternal and can appear in many bodies. At birth, a Hindu is given their duties; these are based on their caste. This individual must keep their ‘dharma’ or duty which accumulates to good karma. The reborn soul carries no memory of the past life, only the state of the life is based on the previous life.
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If they kept their dharma, then they would have good karma bringing them wealth and good karma in the next life. Reincarnation, however, is not the conscious self; rather, it is an eternal spiritual reality that underlies the whole process of life. The Hindu faith also believes that there is a ‘subtle body’; this carries the karma onto the next life.
Another faith that believes that once we die, we are reborn is Buddhism. This belief, however, does differ from the Hindu belief. Buddhism teaches that there is no single eternal Atman. Therefore there is nothing that can be passed from life to life. It holds the view that we do not have a fixed identity; we constantly adjust to the environment around us and the conditions we encounter. Buddhism also teaches a different meaning of karma; they interpret it as the process of working through the effects of ethically significant past actions.
However, these actions are not passed on to the next life, although they do influence it. The other central concept of life after death is resurrection. The idea of resurrection appears mainly in traditional Christian beliefs. This is the idea that a human’s existence is continued after death; this came from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected physically and that he had more than a spiritual ghost-life presence. The Christian faith suggests that the resurrection of the body occurs at the end of time when Jesus returns to the earth.
Many Christians also say that the soul is united with God once again when the body dies until they are resurrected. Catholics believe that most souls go to purgatory where they can either be punished or purified to prepare them for the Beatific vision (the vision of God in heaven); this is when they are ready to be resurrected with a body. Protestants, however hold a much more varied view of life after death. Some interpret the resurrection as a spiritual event that involves the soul going to God but not requiring a physical body. The protestant idea of resurrection also tends to foresee heaven, a community where people meet and recognize one another.
“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” – Corinthians 15:42-44. Judaism does not present much evidence in the belief in the afterlife. When ‘apocalyptic prophecy’ became more mainstream, imagery of the afterlife was used to illustrate the prophet’s point about the fate of the Hebrew people.
In the later periods of history, many Jews believed that the souls of the dead went on to live in the Sheol (the place of shadows). This was the consequence of the ‘Fall,’ the sins of Adam and Eve. By the time of Jesus, opinions were derived about the afterlife in Judaism. Sheol became a waiting place (similar to purgatory); the evil suffered an eternity in Gehenna while the righteous would enter Paradise.
To what extent is the concept of life after death incoherent? The first problem that we encounter when discussing any form of life after death is the idea of disembodied existence, an existence outside of our physical bodies. The idea of Plato’s realm of the form involves permanent disembodiment, while reincarnation and resurrection usually hold only temporary disembodiments. This raises the question of is a disembodied existence even possible since we have no proof of the soul, to begin with?
The idea of disembodiment in this day with the science we have seems outdated; some genes have been identified in our DNA to give us specific characteristics, so the idea of a soul that makes us who we are can seem inconceivable. The next major problem we may encounter while arguing for life after death is what exactly happens after death? If our disembodied soul arrives in the afterlife, there is no way that we know where or what that is; this only means that there is no firm evidence for anyone to give on life after death. If there is no absolute proof or evidence of an afterlife realm or some existence, the argument falls with every question raised.
”I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvellous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.” – Albert Einstein, The World As I See It.
David Hume held the argument that talking of life after death was utterly meaningless. A group of philosophers named the Vienna Circle once said that language was only meaningful if there was either internal logic to support the statement or external direct sense experience to verify the statement. Internal logic means that there would be no contradictions in the argument, nothing to say logically that the argument is invalid.
”If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning containing quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Commit it to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion:- Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. There is no internal logic in such an argument about life after death, and immediate sense experience is minuscule and impossible to prove. This would mean that logical positivists would argue that life after death is coherent is entirely meaningless.
With the apparent problem of the verification principle (the doctrine that arguments or statements are meaningful only if it is in principle possible to establish empirically whether they are true or false). John Hick proposed an eschatological verification principle stating that the argument about life after death can be seen as meaningful because it will be possible to verify the afterlife when we arrive there (or not). This argument is extremely weak as Hick’s concept will only work if there is some sort of cognitive presence to experience death.
To what extent is the concept of life after death coherent? John Locke proposed an argument that would suggest that the concept of life after death is coherent. He gave a story of a prince and a pauper who had woken up in each other’s bodies and argued why they knew who they were. Locke said that they knew who they were based upon their precious memories in their previous existence. He said that this means that if we leave our bodies we could claim that we still exist despite the death of our bodies, this is if we remember ourselves prior to our death. This solves the issue of DNA determining our characteristics leaving the argument that our identity is in our genes, Locke argues it’s in our experience and memories.
The question of what life after death was attempted to be answered by H.H. Price. Price argued that it was possible that our mind could survive the death of our body and exist in a mental world. He compares the idea of this mental world after death to the perceptions that we encounter in dreams which are formed by images from our mind. However, they are different by these perceptions being shared by other minds in this mental world. Hick criticizes this in saying that there is an inconsistency between saying that our mental world after death is created by our desires and that the world is shared, it would be quite obvious that there would be conflicting desires from each mind thus creating a different world for each of us.
“I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence.” – Socrates. There are ways in which people may argue that there is life after death and evidence for life after death including near-death experiences. Dr. Raymond Moody had studied a large number of patients who had said they experienced some kind of out-of-body experience during serious operations. In his study, he found that there were plenty of similarities between the cases he had studied. These patients could give detailed descriptions of what was around them or what was happening at the time of their unconscious state.
”People who undergo a near-death experience come out of it saying that religion concerns your ability to love—not doctrines and denominations. In short, they think that God is a much more magnanimous being than they previously thought and that denominations don’t count.” – Dr. Raymond Moody, The Light Beyond. Many of these studies also had experienced the presence of such a God or at least being in another realm. Common descriptions were to see a light in darkness with an overwhelming sense of love, as though they were being cradled by God. Whilst this argument would give more evidence to there being life after death, there simply is no way of proving that this does happen. Susan Blackmore, a scientist, believes that these experiences are nothing more than chemical reactions happening in the brain as it starts to die, nothing more than a dream.
Is the concept of life after death incoherent? After looking at the arguments for the concept of life after death, it seems extremely difficult to determine whether life after death is incoherent or not. The argument of a disembodied existence to prove life after death is both almost impossible to do and a weak argument. If there by chance was some way of proving a disembodied existence this does not mean that there is life after death, all that it would prove is that our identity is not physical, not that there is another world where we may go after death or that our disembodied existence survives death.
John Locke’s argument that we would still know who we are due to our memories and experiences even if we were in another body seems to fall down on the evidence for it. There is no way of telling that we would know who we were until that actually happened, we cannot assume things that have never happened, therefore Locke’s argument is weak and holds no argument for the concept of life after death.
With the arguments put forward for the concept of life after death being a coherent argument, they are easily criticized, there is no proof for any argument of life after death. There are also arguments put forward by scientists that suggest that near-death experiences are nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain. This being said the concept of life after death seems to be incoherent with the arguments mentioned. It seems illogical to put forward an argument in which we must conceive another realm of existence.