AS All Souls Day or Undas is recognizably fast-approaching, we are once more allured into pondering about the reality (or ‘un-reality’?) of what lies beyond our grave.
What happens to us after we die? Is there life after this life? Or, is death the end of it all?
Regardless of whether death refers to the cessation of the functions of the brain or other parts and organs of the body, different cultures practice various rituals and traditions attached to death.
In some parts of Indonesia, families dig up the bodies of their dead relatives and rebury them, believing that a person is not properly dead until the second burial.
Somewhere in Tibet, corpses are left on a mountain instead of being buried. In ancient Persia (now Iran), some tribes built “towers of silence” where they placed their dead to be eaten by birds.
According to Buddhist tradition, when your body dies you are reborn in a different one.
There is no “self” or soul, there is no “you”. So when you die, not you but the energies that shape you take on a new form in the next life, which is connected to your previous one through karma.
Like Buddhism, Hinduism also sees life as a cycle of death and rebirth connected by karma. But unlike Buddhists, Hindus believe that every person has an “atman” or soul.
Muslims, who bury their dead as soon as possible, believe in the existence of a soul that survives the body, and that one day God will judge humanity where everyone will either be sent to Jannnah (paradise) or Jahannam (hell).
Christians, drawing hope from the New Testament account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, believe that God will give them eternal life after death. At some point, their lives will be judged by God – those who lived a good life go to heaven; those who didn’t go to hell.
Now, let me attempt to reason out on behalf of the belief in afterlife. Here are some cogent arguments that indeed life survives after death.
Life after life
Dr. Raymond Moody, named by the New York Times as the “father of near-death experience”, made a groundbreaking study of over one hundred people who experienced “clinical death” (or near-death experience) and were revived, and who tell, in their own words, what lies beyond death.
Moody’s pioneering work, “Life After Life”, originally published in 1975 and which has sold more than thirteen million copies worldwide, introduced us to concepts associated with near-death experience like exiting from the body and rising up above the scene, the tunnel, the bright light and an enlightened being, the presence of loved ones waiting on the other side, and others more.
On a similar vein, American anesthesiologist Dr. Stuart Hameroff, in his studies on the Quantum Theory of Consciousness, suggests that the “human soul is contained in the brain cells’ microtubules – and that it doesn’t die, but it goes back to the universe.”
Conservation of energy
The scientific principle of the conservation of energy supports the idea that the mind survives bodily death. It says that energy never just springs into existence or ceases to exist; it simply changes form. It follows from this principle that mind or consciousness cannot just go out of existence or disappear at death.
On personal reckoning, the conservation principle may apply only to physical energy. Thus, if mind is viewed as nonphysical but spiritual energy, there is no reason to think that the conservation principle would indeed apply.
Moreover, a guarantee for survival may be plausible if it can be established that the mind is a single, indivisible and indestructible unit.
Argument from justice
If life does not continue after death, there could be no justice. In this world, the innocent suffer, and often the good ones receive no reward while the bad guys go unpunished.
If this moral imbalance were not righted, the universe would not be rational or meaningful – it would be unjust, meaningless and absurd.
Therefore, the unfairness of life in this world indicates that life must continue after death, if only to balance the scales of justice.
Theism and belief in afterlife
Vis-a-vis these arguments for belief in the existence of an afterlife, it is interesting to posit a corollary thought that there is a plausible correlation between theism (belief in the existence of God) and belief in an afterlife.
American philosopher, William Hasker (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005) succinctly explains this interesting correlation:
“The close correlation between theism and an afterlife is affirmed in Immanuel Kant’s arguments for the Postulates of Practical Reason. Kant gives different reasons for postulating God and for postulating an afterlife, and it is highly plausible that the two postulates are inseparable. We ought to postulate God, because only in this way is it possible that in the end, happiness should be enjoyed by persons in proportion to their moral worthiness...We are told to postulate immortality because only an endless life makes possible a continued progress towards the goal of correspondence or a coincidence of one’s will with the requirements of the moral law.”