This is the fourth post in a series where I think about death and the afterlife. The first post was kind of an introduction, the second covered the elimination of consciousness at death, the third was reincarnation, this one will be about an afterlife, and the final one tomorrow will be my concluding thoughts.
One of the most common human beliefs about death is that there is some sort of afterlife that is different than this. This usually takes the form of a heaven and hell where people are sent based on how they lived their life. In fact, an afterlife is one of the key tenants of most (if not all) religions. Unfortunately, most religions believe they have a monopoly on truth when it comes to this issue which prevents religions from being compatible. Our consciousness on this plane of reality is a one time event, after this our spirit shoots off to another universe where we will either suffer greatly for our misdeeds (which can be simply not having the “right” faith) or be rewarded eternally for our faith (even if that faith requires us to kill innocent people).
I am pretty open to the idea that our consciousness exists outside of the body, that it somehow communicates with another dimension in a way that science has yet to decipher… hell, I’m even open to the idea that this is a one-time ride and afterwards we move on to another dimension that is vastly different than this. But, I can’t really believe any of the religions have the details correct. It is simply impossible for all of them to be right and pretty unlikely that any one of them is. Many organized religions not only require faith in the unseen, they require faith that our current reality is wrong. They require a belief that science and nature are lying to us, and instead we should trust our subjective feelings.
Now, I know that sometimes the subjective is all we have but when the feelings of one group of people are in direct opposition with the feelings of other people then there is a problem. I know many Christians who say they “know” that they are correct. I have also met many Muslims who “know” that they are correct. In fact, the more sure someone is that their faith is correct the more heinous they can justify acting in this life. I’d be the Westboro Baptists are more sure that they “know” the truth than most religious people.
Religion and the afterlife just seems too much like politics to me. But, instead of making campaign promises that they will never be held accountable for religious leaders make afterlife promises that they can never be held accountable for. And in the mean time they take money and power from those who have very little.
I understand the appeal of an afterlife, particularly if your life on this earth is really shitty. Atheism, or really any belief that there isn’t an afterlife, is kind of a privileged belief. Thinking that this is all there really is or that our suffering has no meaning can be a depressing idea, but just because an idea is depressing doesn’t mean the opposite is true.
If there is an afterlife I really don’t believe any of the religions have a monopoly on the truth about it. It is possible that we are connected to another universe that we go to after death thanks to “God” who is more evolved than us, a being that is simply more technologically advanced than us, or just nature connected us through some weird evolutionary trait, but if that is true it seems we should look for common patterns throughout faiths instead of believing that one is correct.