Beliefs about the afterlife
What happens after we die? Overview;
Catholic & Orthodox Church beliefs
What happens after we die? This is one of the questions found so often in the
field of religion in which different faiths teach a variety of incompatible,
mutually exclusive beliefs. Meanwhile, most people are totally onvinced that they know the
Many mental health professionals and religious historians believe that religion was created
millennia ago as an attempt to explain how the
universe works and what happens to people after death. Religions were originally
developed so that people could have a sense of power over their life and
environment. Knowing that they may be wiped out at any time by starvation,
animal attacks, drought, floods, foreign army attack, illnesses, accidents,
etc., ancient people sought security in an insecure world. Religion filled that need.
There are few if any fears more serious
than the fear of death. Religions answered these fears with a belief that
somehow a person's personality, memories, talents, and consciousness survived
death in a new form.
There is general agreement among persons of all religions that a person's eventual destiny after
death will be one of the following:
Heaven: Eternity is spent in Heaven
or Paradise with God, in a state that
is beautiful beyond our ability to conceive.
Hell: Eternity is spent in Hell with Satan and his demons. All are tormented and tortured, in isolation
from God, without any hope of mercy or relief.
Annihilation: The body rots. One's, spirit, memory, personality,
awareness, body, and mind disappear and are no more.
Transmigration of the soul: Our soul and spirit are reborn into a human
fetus or newborn child.
Reincarnation: Our soul and spirit are reborn into another living
entity - not necessarily human.
Most people believe that up to three of the above destinations and states
exist. For example, some faith groups teach that people who are
saved go to
Heaven; those who are unsaved go to Hell and are eventually annihilated. They regard the other
options as religious fantasy which do not exist in reality. But, of course, there
is no general agreement about which are the true states and which are the
There is close agreement within most faith groups, but little agreement
between religions, about what criteria is used to
determine whether, for example, a person has been saved and will eventually reside in Heaven or is unsaved and will spend eterninty in Hell.
There is also little agreement about the processes, locations, and states that a
person will go through between death and their final destiny.
The church teaches that when a person dies, their body starts its process
of decomposition. Meanwhile, the soul leaves the body and is immediately evaluated in a
Judgment. 1This belief is partly based on Hebrews
9:27: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the
There are three possible destinations or states of being immediately after the judgment:
Heaven: Those few people whose "love for God has been
perfected in this life" have their bodies "glorified" and
taken immediately to their eternal reward in Heaven.
Perhaps the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, the saints and a some others will qualify
for this path.
Hell: If they have committed a mortal sin which has not
been forgiven, or have rejected God, then they are taken immediately to Hell where they
will be tortured forever without any hope of relief or mercy.
Purgatory: If the person dies in a state of grace, but
loves God "imperfectly," then their souls immediately enter Purgatory. Here, they suffer for a time in order to cleanse
themselves of their accumulated imperfections, venial sins and faults. Any mortal sins
that they have committed, and for which they have been forgiven in the Sacrament of
Penance, may have some residual temporal punishment still remaining; this has to be
discharged as well.
The inhabitants in Purgatory are systematically tortured with fire. The dead remain
in purgatory until they have become sufficiently purified to enter heaven. However, if
their friends and family offer Masses, prayers and other acts of piety and devotion, then
their stay in Purgatory will be shortened. Purgatory is very similar to
Hell; the main difference is that one will eventually be released, perhaps after
Although most Catholic believers have regarded Heaven, Hell
and Purgatory as actual places, the church's teaching is that they are both
a place and a state of existence.
Later, when Jesus returns to earth in the "second coming", he will
conduct the General Judgment (a.k.a.
Those who have previously died have already faced the Particular
Judgment; that decision will continue in force. Those in Heaven or Hell will
continue to spend eternity there. However, those who are in Purgatory at the time of
Jesus' second coming will be released and moved to heaven immediately.
At the time of the second
coming, the bodies of the dead will be reconstituted; this produces a bodily resurrection.
At that time, they will be permanently reunited with their souls. This second judgment is
needed so that the entire human race can learn about every person's life and comprehend
the "justice, wisdom, and mercy of God."
All people who are alive on earth at the time of the second coming will
be assembled together (Matthew 25:31-32). "Those who have rejected the Lord in
this life, who have sinned mortally, who have no remorse for sin and do not seek
forgiveness, will have condemned themselves to hell for all eternity." The
others will go either to Purgatory or Heaven, depending upon the perfection of their love
for God. The same evaluation criteria will be used in the General Judgment as for the
Every "deliberate thought, word, deed and omission" of
every individual that has ever lived, would be reviewed at the Final Judgment. The only
exception would be thoughts and acts of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived without
sin. This would presumably be a very time
consuming process. It would be necessary to include the life histories of each of the
billions of humans that have lived on earth for the past many hundreds of thousands of
years that the human race has been in existence.
The beliefs of these churches very closely parallel those of the Roman
Catholic church. However, they have no formal belief about the existence of
Some related topics on this website:
W.G. Most, "Particular Judgment," at: http://www.ewtn.com/
"What happens when we die?," at: http://www.angelfire.com/
Copyright © 2001 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2010-DEC-28
Author: B.A. Robinson