Silly question? After all, most people down the ages have been religious, and most religions offer some promise of an life after death. Death can be a scary thought, and sometimes a scary experience (I’m told).
But some people don’t want any life after this one. They’re happy with the thought that when they die, that’s the end of everything for them.
Meanwhile most people look for immortality. Some through religion. Others in strange and interesting places.
Wherever you fit, do you think it is possible that there might be life after death?
Atheists and eternal life
Atheism doesn’t necessarily entail any beliefs other than no Gods existing. But atheists are sometimes pressed by theists to consider their future after death, and so I have seen many express a view.
Some say that they are quite happy with this life, and it is pointless thinking about something they believe cannot happen. They believe that they can find sufficient purpose in this life. In fact, some say, knowing this is the only life we have makes it all the more urgent to enjoy life and achieve some purpose. Perhaps leave behind a legacy for others.
Some go further and say that the whole idea of eternal life is either nonsense or boring.
For, it is said, if life after death is eternal, that means it is timeless and nothing can happen. Which doesn’t make much sense. Or if there is time in an afterlife then it is unending time, and sometime we would have done everything there is to do in heaven. We’d end up bored, but locked in forever.
I must say I think they make a lot of assumptions here about something no-one can know much about. After all, physicists and mathematicians play around with the idea of negative time, cyclic time and other strange possibilities. So who knows whether any afterlife could have a different form of time than we currently can imagine. Or that things can happen in and eternal now. We really don’t know.
Nevertheless I can understand their difficulties. It can be hard to believe in something we can’t understand.
One other possibility for atheists is for immortality. There are some who hold out the hope that immortality might be achieved some other way. In the past (and in Harry Potter) the philosopher’s stone could give immortality if it could be discovered. And in the present, medical science may one day be our philosopher’s stone.
Supernatural? Maybe. Religious? Maybe not.
In the last couple of centuries, investigators have examined several phenomena which seem to offer hope of life after death. In Is there life after death? I examine a few of these.
Part of many ancient Eastern religions is the belief that when we die, we return to earth in a new body. In recent years, people all over the world (not just adherents of these religions) report that they can recall a past life when they were someone else.
Often under hypnosis, some people recall being someone famous who lived long ago. or they remember being present at some well-known historical event such as the crucifixion of Jesus. But investigations have found that many of these memories are faulty, and sometimes they are complete frauds. And sometimes it turns out that more than one person remembers being the same famous historical character, making the whole thing a little farcical.
But some accounts have a little more credibility. Psychiatrists have found that some children between the ages of 2 and 6 report a past life, generally of someone who lived not far away and who wasn’t famous. Investigations have found that sometimes these memories check out against the known facts.
Opinion is divided on the reality of these memories. Supporters say many facts revealed by these children couldn’t have been known any other way than from a past life. But sceptics say there are serious doubts about this, and natural explanations are possible for these “memories”. Psychic or spiritual explanations other than reincarnation are also possible.
As outlined in Is there life after death?, I think there are enough doubts about the veracity of these memories and the idea of reincarnation to make us sceptical of that conclusion.
Belief in a spiritual realm which people enter after they die has long been a part of many religions. But modern spiritualism is more secular than religious.
Since about the middle of the 19th century, some people have believed that via a medium and (sometimes) a spirit guide, we can make contact with these spirits, especially the spirits of our dearly departed.
The information revealed by these mediums can be tested against what is known about the dead person. It seems that while investigators a century ago gave credence to the accounts, modern investigators have found many cases of deliberate fraud and wrong information. Moreover, stage magicians have pointed out some of the tricks used and can reproduce them.
Christians also warn that if contact is actually made with a spiritual world, the spirit contacted could be evil, dangerous and deceptive.
It seems to me that spiritualism offers little compelling evidence for an afterlife.
Near death experiences (NDEs)
NDEs are perhaps the most credible, and the most thoroughly investigated, of the phenomena that appear to show an afterlife.
Some people who are revived after cardiac arrest report that they had an exhilarating experience while unconscious. They often feel themselves rising above the hospital bed or operating table, looking down from above, then floating down a tunnel towards a bright light. They see lost loved ones, they see spirit beings or angels, and they feel the presence of God.
Then they are drawn back to their bodies as the doctors revive them. But for most of them, this intense experience changes them. They become more altruistic and kinder.
Sometimes these people are able to report events in the operating theatre while they were apparently brain dead. Which suggests that consciousness can survive after the end of brain activity, for a time at least.
But reality of the visits to “heaven” cannot be proven, and psychologists believe there are medical explanations for the experiences.
In Is there life after death, I conclude that some aspects of NDEs seem inexplicable by current science, but they don’t really provide evidence of life after death.
Christians, Muslims and some other believers generally have a strong belief in life after death, based on the teachings of the founder of their religion. But how do we know we can trust those teachers?
Each believer will have their own reasons for trusting. But for me as a christian, I believe we can trust Jesus for quite objective reasons. I believe the evidence shows that christian faith, more than any other worldview, makes more sense of all we know about the world and the human race.
And many christians have experiences of God that change their lives. These experiences cannot be proven any more than the experiences of NDEs, reincarnation or spiritualism. But they are convincing to those who receive them, and they back up the more objective evidence.
Christians believe that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical event with historical evidence. And we can live on after we die because God resurrects us too, into a new life in a new earth – probably not heaven if we believe Jesus, but something much more substantial.
And christians believe that this new life is wonderful and well worth seeking. We believe we can be confident of this. And that God can ensure that this life will be meaningful, not meaningless as the atheists say.
So it’s a matter of checking out the objective evidence.
So would you like to live forever?
Which belief do you think is most likely to be true?
Which one makes most sense to you?
Read more about these different attempts to verify life after death, with references, at Is there life after death?
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