Beliefs about the afterlife
What happens after we die? Conservative
Skeptical, & Secularist beliefs.
Conservative Protestant beliefs:
They teach a variety of ideas about the fate of the deceased:
Many conservative Christians believe that when a person dies, they enter
into complete oblivion -- a state of non-existence. They remain unconscious; they have no
self-awareness. Meanwhile, their body decays. When Jesus returns towards Earth, the dead who had been saved while they were alive, are
called from their graves. They rise to meet Jesus in the sky in what is known as the Rapture; they will be resurrected and judged. Those who had been saved while alive on earth will be given special bodies and go to
Heaven. The unsaved will be awakened and sent to the torture chambers in Hell for eternal punishment. 3
Thus, all of the Patriarchs
and ordinary Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Apostles, the
Christians who have died over the past 2 millennial, and in fact every human who has ever
died, are currently held in a state of unconsciousness.
||Others believe that the soul separates from the body and is taken to a
type of holding place - referred to as Sheol in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and
Hades in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). At the time of Jesus' second coming,
they will be reunited with their reconstituted bodies and judged. Many will have been
there for thousands of years before they are resurrected.
||Others believe, in practice, in some form of immediate judgment and the transfer of their soul to
Heaven or Hell immediately after death. Christians often talk about their loved ones who
have recently died as if they are already with God.
Some important passages from the Bible that appear to refer to the
deceased being unconscious and waiting for their call to resurrection are:
Job 14:14-15: "If a man die, shall he
live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt
call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands."
Daniel 12:2: "And many of them that sleep in
the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and
John 3:12-13: "If I have told you earthly
things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
And no man hath ascended up to heaven..."
John 5:28-29: "...for the hour is coming, in
the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that
have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the
resurrection of damnation."
Acts 2:29-34: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you
of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried...For David is not ascended into
2 Timothy 4:6-8: "...I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”"
The apparent presumption
of most of the above passages -- and others in the Bible -- is that when a person dies, their soul enters into a form of sleep. The person is only wakened at sometime in the future when they and the rest of the dead are resurrected. During this interval -- which has been thousands of years so far for some deceased people -- they do not experience consciousness. Thus, after their death, their very next conscious moment will be at their resurrection.
The Christadelphian movement is a
conservative Protestant denomination founded by physician John Thomas
(1805-1871). After his death, a schism developed over beliefs about life after
Some followers in the U.S., referred to as the Unamended
group, believe that only the deceased who are "in Christ" will be raised
from the dead and have eternal life; the vast bulk of humanity will simply remain dead, without conscious
Other American followers, and believers elsewhere in the world, called the Amended group, believe that all who
who have been exposed to the Gospel will be raised from the dead at the time
of the Final Judgment. The righteous among the responsible ones will be judged according to their works, rewarded appropriately, and live forever. Those
who have been exposed to the Gospel and judged
wicked will be annihilated, and cease to exist. Those who have not been exposed
to the Gospel will remain dead, without conscious existence.
Progressive Christians generally do not believe in the inerrancy of the
Bible. In their religious studies they realize that the beliefs of the ancient Israelites
about Sheol were derived from surrounding Middle Eastern Pagan cultures. Later Jewish
religious beliefs concerning Heaven and Hell incorporated ideas from Zoroastrianism and
Greek Pagan culture. Liberals do not interpret each passage of the Bible literally. Many feel that it
little detailed, specific information about life after death.
Many religious liberals anticipate some form of life after death.
Many, perhaps most, reject the concept of Hell as a permanent place of punishment and torture for anyone.
Some might accept the belief that some form of correction and purification is needed
before a person arrives in heaven. But generally, they do not hold exact beliefs
concerning the timing, processes involved, or the nature of heaven. They "find
more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty; in the questions than in
the answers." 2 They tend to be more concerned about
the present life than the future. They believe that if they follow the Golden Rule and lead an ethical, caring life helping others in need,
that matters will sort themselves out for them after they die.
Many religious skeptics, including some progressive Christians,
Atheists, Agnostics, secular Humanists, etc. note
that almost every religion teaches specific beliefs about life after death. But
religions seem in almost total conflict with each other. The Sadducees, one of
about 24 Jewish religious groups, during
the 1st century CE taught that there was no resurrection. Some
contemporary faith groups talk about a Heaven, but they have very different
views on its nature, location, and what criteria are used to qualify to go there. Others talk about a Hell, but differ greatly on the
details. Still others talk about the soul being transported after death into a newborn human
or other animal.
Most skeptics conclude that nobody really knows what happens to
us after death. However, almost most faith groups believe that they know. They look to
medical research for clues:
Some people actually die for many seconds, or very few
minutes, but return to life quickly. They sometimes report an out-of-body
experience in which they are traveling through a tube towards a light and
have a profound feeling of peace and acceptance. There have been suggestions
that these may be hallucinations that are naturally created by a brain
starved of oxygen. One of the members of the OCRT, the agency that sponsors
this website, died briefly during an operation to save her life. An ectopic
pregnancy had ruptured, and caused a hemorrhage. She felt that she rose
through the air and looked down on her body on the operating table.
Some people die for a few minutes; their brain is starved of
oxygen; they return to life, but have suffered minor irreparable brain damage.
Others die for a longer time. Portions of their brain die.
They may return to "life" but are largely incapable of intelligent
thought. They remain in a vegetated state, perhaps in a coma.
Most people who die and are not resuscitated remain dead.
From these observations on real people who have died for various
periods of time, some skeptics attempt to assemble a picture about the process of dying. One speculation is that when a person dies, they may first go through a very
comforting hallucination. A little while later, their brain functions start to seriously
degrade. Their ability to think and sense their surroundings declines until
they sink into unconsciousness. The electrical processes in the brain discharge;
the chemical processes rot. Since there are no other processes active in the
brain, the person's memories, personality, talents, life goals, preferences, consciousness,
etc. no longer exist. There is no Heaven, Hell, Purgatory,
Reincarnation, or Transmigration of the Soul. There is only a state of
non-existence, as the human body rots.
This is obviously not a belief that
most people can accept. One of the reasons why religions have attained power over the thoughts and beliefs of billions of people is that they promise to their members the chance of attaining an enjoyable eternal life.
Astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, Neil deGrasse Tyson, discusses what he believes happens when a person dies:
This video has received 4 million views by 2018-FEB-23.
Some related topics on this website that might interest you:
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"The annotated eight points by which we define Progressive Christianity,"
"What happens when we die?," at: http://www.angelfire.com/
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Copyright © 2001 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2018-FEB-23
Author: B.A. Robinson