Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Afterlife - David Schumann

The broad topic of afterlife is invigorating to me. The idea of “life after death” or the lack thereof, is often debated, pondered, believed, altered, or denied in many, many ways. My real statement about afterlife is that we really don’t know. We have no idea. But that is completely acceptable, as we philosophize about the possibilities and beliefs of heaven, hell, purgatory, reincarnation, or the absence of any “life after death.” You can click here to see all kinds of theory about afterlife.

            Of course there are believers on each side of the spectrum; some philosophers believe in afterlife where as others deny any sort of afterlife. Presently, I am going to discuss the different beliefs and images of the belief in the existence of afterlife. This assumes a dualist approach to afterlife shared by philosophers such as Descartes and Augustine, who would agree with the existence of an afterlife.
            Primarily when we envision afterlife, we think of heaven. Heaven is not really specific to one religion, but is expressed in many (Judaism, Islam, Christianity). Although the idea of heaven is quite consistent, some features vary between believers. For instance, interpretations of heaven include Dante’s Paradiso, the Islam belief of the Seven Layers of Heaven, and of course the heaven including flying angels and golden streets. Although we have no evidence of the true image of heaven, it is generally agreed upon that heaven is a perfect paradise that is the greatest result in death.
However, many claim to have real evidence of heaven. N.D.E’s, or Near Death Experiences, are studied and often used as evidence to claim that heaven (or hell) is real. This is skeptical, since having hard evidence of heaven is rather contrary to the idea of faith, or believing without requiring proof.

Calvin and Hobbes have funny ideas about heaven, too. Either way, heaven never really exists without hell existing, too.
            Hell is the belief of a complete separation from God. This is usually coupled with the images of fire, suffering, satan, torture, and generally painful things. Just like with heaven, some claim that hell is real because they have seen in when they had a N.D.E. The ones that have claimed to almost experience hell, of course, turn away from their old ways and try to lead better 
lives. Again, this is a controversial claim. Furthermore, different interpretations of hell exist. Some believe it is just fire and “gnashing of teeth,” others think that satan rules and tortures the souls that exist there, and others, like Dante, create an interpretation that some wrongdoings are punished more harshly than others. This was recorded in Dante’s inferno, and he explains the hierarchy of wrongdoings by explaining how sins are punished in the nine layers of hell (each layer gets progressively worse). You can see his entire Divine Comedy here.
            These two depictions of afterlife, heaven and hell, are the most commonly acknowledged afterlives in our culture. However, there are three more commonly acknowledged afterlives that explain different situations of what someone deserves.
These three afterlives are purgatory, limbo, and reincarnation.
            Purgatory and limbo are both interpretations of afterlives that were spread by the Catholic faith. Purgatory and limbo are both afterlives that were created by Saints’ revelations, not by specific scripture that claims their existence. However, biblical scripture is used to support the claims of purgatory and limbo.
            Purgatory is the afterlife that creates a separation from God. The difference between purgatory and hell is the aspect that purgatory is merely a separation from God as the soul works away their sins. This is not so much an extensive amount of suffering, but is more like having a second chance to work one’s way into heaven. Limbo (limbus partum), contrarily, is more like a waiting period. Because of death, there is still a separation between the soul and God, but eventually will be replaced with eternal bliss in heaven when the Kingdom of God returns to the world. This afterlife is earned by having no grievous personal sin, but at the same time not having a chance to repent from one’s “original sin.” This category would include souls like unborn or newly born babies, persons who were never taught the gospel of Christ, and even Jesus Christ himself during his three days of death. This shows that limbo is for the mortal souls that are really innocent.

            The last prevalent interpretation of afterlife is reincarnation. Reincarnation is quite literally an after-life. Reincarnation is (usually) a belief shared by Hinduism and Buddhism. The concept of karma is also paired with the belief of reincarnation, as one’s past life influences the next life. Further, it is important to remember that, according to karma, the soul is not limited to only human life, but animal life as well. Often, many animal lives will exist in between the human lives of the soul. (This may influence some people’s bioethics…) Although reincarnation is not a prevalent theory in our culture, it is a major belief in many other cultures. I made available a video about reincarnation, though I am not sure why Hans Wilhelm, a children's author, has authority to speak on the matter. 


  1. Well... if it's possible for an embodied living person to speak authoritatively on fanciful notions of life after death, I suppose a children's author has as strong a claim as any. Maybe stronger, since he's used to stretching his imagination. The whole issue of a supernatural afterlife depends on the plausibility of dualism, which seems dubious at best. But the afterlife NATURALIZED is a different matter. Remember the naturalized version we touched on back in September? http://jposopher.blogspot.com/2014/09/anselm-aquinas-politics_24.html -

    Samuel Scheffler, in the Stone recently, wrote of the afterlife here. Here, of course, is where people live the lives their beliefs inform. Life, not god or supernaturalism, is the natural impulse behind religion. Dewey's continuous human community is another way of naming nature's afterlife.
    But what if you learned that the species would expire within a month of your own passing? That's Scheffler's thought experiment. He thinks he and we would be profoundly unsettled, that life would suffer an instant meaning collapse, and that this shows how invested we all are in a natural afterlife for humans (though not each of us in particular) on earth. He thinks "the continuing existence of other people after our deaths -- even that of complete strangers -- matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones." That's what he means when he begins his essay: "I believe in life after death."
    He also explained his view on Philosophy Bites.

    I'd love to know your thoughts on this. I don't personally believe in a supernatural afterlife, but I do take great solace in the thought that life on earth will continue after my death, and after the death of everyone now living; and that our successors may eventually achieve wondrous things. What do you think, David? Whether or not a supernatural afterlife awaits, isn't this a consoling thought?

  2. And on the matter of hell-

    Why is it that heaven and hell are almost always paired? This is another questionable dualism, isn't it? Bertrand Russell notes that some of the Stoics had a concept of heaven but not hell, though "the wicked are prevented from rising as far as the good souls..."

    Russell also says:
    "It is sometimes supposed that Hell was a Christian invention, but this is a mistake. What Christianity did in this respect was only to systematize earlier popular beliefs. From the beginning of Plato's Republic itbis clear that fear of punishment after death was common in fifth century Athens... also, it was common to attribute plagues, earthquakes, defeats in war etc. to divine displeasure or to failure to respect the omens."

    "There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment."

    And then there's the sourpuss Existentialist Sartre's statement: "Hell is other people," (Maybe he didn't meet the right people!)

  3. Very good point about my "authority" on the afterlife; I did not intend to try to give myself any credentials on the notion, I was just trying to do my best to address the most common theories of the existence of afterlife. I was just confused why a children's book author was speaking on a theory so profound. Further, the existence of afterlife DOES indeed rely on the notion of dualism. However, I, for one, admit to believing in this notion of dualism. I don't really find it that hard to swallow; I think it very possible that we have a soul that lives on to meet our creator (obviously, this is my faith. Part of my reason for believing this is the idea that, although we are intelligent, I don't believe the human logic or understanding could explain the existence of God if he really does exist. I use the metaphor of "trying to fit wisdom the size of an elephant into a peanut shell") Of course, when studying religions, people like Scheffler, Craig Martin (one of my religious studies text authors), and Gary Kessler (another one of my religious studies text authors) constantly use the method of "Cartesian Doubt" or the idea of "temporary atheism." We say it's like "wearing atheism like a hat" in order to study religion. However, I also use the method of "temporary agnosticism." Of course, when studying religion, if one never assumes that God may exist, than any sort of afterlife is quite dubious. However, if one leaves their mind open to assume that God does indeed exist, than it is very possible for afterlife to exist as well.

    As far as heaven existing along with hell, I really do not have an answer right now. I feel that our culture pairs them together so much that we usually assume one if we assume the other. I haven't really thought of the condition of only having one or the other.

    And last, I do have a second part coming! I did not label it "Part 1" because I plan on naming the second part "...and No Afterlife". This will address the theories of Monism, as well as the Epicurean philosophies. Sorry that I didn't mention that! (I only got to about 800 words with this first post, too)

    I'm excited for my next research and blog installment; I will have to change gears and see the philosophies from the monism side. Do you happen to know any good sources, Dr. Oliver?

  4. "I think it very possible that we have a soul that lives on to meet our creator (obviously, this is my faith. Part of my reason for believing this is the idea that, although we are intelligent, I don't believe the human logic or understanding could explain the existence of God if he really does exist."

    Maybe you can unpack this a little more, David, in your next post. I'm not sure I understand how our limited understanding (which I totally agree with you about) supports dualism. If anything, I'd have thought it would reinforce a more skeptical (or at least neutral) stance.

    Good sources on monism? Well, Russell and Sheffler both represent the non-dualist perspective in ways I find personally congenial. Maybe William James's lecture on "The One and the Many" in Pragmatism would be relevant to your present project.

    But frankly, asking a confirmed non-dualist for sources is kind of like asking a fish to tell you about the water he swims in. It's my constant medium, and I'm too immersed in it to stand back and consider the possibility that it's not, after all, just H20. I think my mind is open to any good evidence for the dualistic hypothesis, but I haven't seen any. (Note: the familiarity of a hypothesis, or one's desire that it be true, is not "evidence"-though it may still be a psychologically compelling criterion of belief.)

    But... check the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on dualism and mind-body.

    Finally, again: like Sheffler I find the afterlife a great deal more engaging as a NATURALIZED concept. I hope you'll address that in your next post, and say whether you find it helpfully supplemental to your view, or incidental, or hostile, or irrelevant.

    In any event: I enjoyed this post and look forward to the next!

  5. Thank you for your input! I appreciate your point of view on the topic, and I hope I find some new information on the monistic point of view. I'll post my next installment later, sir

  6. David, I don't want to give the false impression that info on monism is hard to find. The SEP entry, for instance, is extensive. http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=monism

    The point I would make is just that, aside from such explicit technical discussions of monism, the idea that mind = brain = soul = spirit is pervasive in modern intellectual life. It's the governing assumption of contemporary neuroscience, and of philosophical naturalism in general. It's almost too close and familiar to be noticed. James's discussion in Pragmatism, which I mentioned, is informed by the monistic point of view but in a non-reductive way that continues to take seriously the experience of those who, like you, are drawn to the dualistic interpretation. So I'd definitely suggest giving it a look.

  7. And one more thing... (I feel like Lt. Colombo, in case you happen to know who that was) - Sheffler's book is called "Death and the Afterlife," Google Books has a preview: http://books.google.com/books?id=yVh_AAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=death+and+the+afterlife&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FnBrVPCHLIKiNr7WgKgP&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=death%20and%20the%20afterlife&f=false


  8. Thank you sir! I look forward to presenting today, and I wanted to inform you that I listened to the Philosophy Bites podcast of Samuel Scheffler and his philosophy of the afterlife. It was VERY interesting, and I'm actually considering buying Scheffler's book on afterlife to hear more of his philosophy. I sincerely appreciate the reference, sir.

  9. Great, if you read it let me know what you think. I'm going to consider using it next year in my "Atheism & Philosophy" class, as an example of how the godless community think s about "life after death."

  10. David, your report yesterday was first-rate. I encourage you to pursue the teaching vocation, you seem very much in your element at the board!

  11. One more datum for your consideration: the philosopher A.J. Ayer, about whom we read this week, reported an improbable NDE of his own late in life. He wrote about it in a short essay called "What I Saw When I Was Dead," followed by "Postscript to a Postmortem": http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/a-j-ayer-what-i-saw-when-i-was-dead/