Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reflections of Eternal Life: Part 1

I've decided to do a few blog posts together as a series on the issue of - for lack of a better term - "life after death." I don't know how many posts this series will finish up with, although I'm sure I will write at least three. I should begin with a candid admission that I am agnostic regarding life after death. I simply do not know - and am pretty sure that none of us can know - anything about what might happen to us after death (other than the facts that our bodies will decompose).

I thought, however, that I ought to compose a few reflections on the topic, since it has of late become something of a newsworthy item.

A well known evangelical pastor has recently come out with a book questioning the existence of Hell. There is, predictably, much controversy over this. The Religious left has long embraced this universalist conclusion, and the religious right damns it as blasphemy. But in my opinion he is only half right. I think it is VERY UNLIKELY that anything like the traditional concept of a personal afterlife can be true.

The idea that after death we will hang out again with Grandma and the beloved family dog we lost at age 12 is without any support of any kind. And it requires a commitment to the view of God as a supernatural being "out there" somewhere in a equally supernatural heaven; a God who makes plans, has intentions, thoughts, feelings, and will judge our merit (or gracefully forgive us all our failings) based on our moral behavior.

Belief in such a person-like God is hard to sustain given the impersonal nature of the laws that govern the physical world, the vast age and size of the universe, and the rather obvious historical development of that concept of God over time together with its clear role as a psychological projection. This is not to say that I embrace atheism. I do not. But I think that any viable conception of God must recognize that the view of God as person-like and supernatural is deeply problematic. If we are to retain concepts of deity, they must be of a different nature. I've discussed this elsewhere and refer my readers to that earlier material.

The reader may already guess where I am going with this. Just as it is possible to reject a supernatural and person-like creator without eliminating God all together, it seems to me that it is possible to reject a continuation of ourselves as persons after death without rejecting some essential continuation of ourselves all together. What I have in mind is something like this: Perhaps it is true that we do not "go to heaven," do not continue to exist after death in the same person-like state (filled with memories, images, sense-perception etc.) after our death - at any rate I'm inclined to believe that we do not so exist; but this need not mean that we completely cease to exist. It could well be that there are important senses in which something non-personal but essential about us continues to exist for eternity.

It is such non-personal conceptions of eternal life that I will consider in my future posts for this series.

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