I’ve enjoyed getting readers’ opinions on topics over the past few months, and now I’d like to hear what you think about another, which strikes me as unusually important. It has to do with the afterlife.
The traditional Christian belief, of course, is that when a person dies, their soul either goes to heaven to be rewarded for eternity or to hell to be punished, for the same length of time. (“Length of time” and “time” itself no longer make much sense in eternity, of course. Eternity is infinite, not long. Though admittedly eternal ecstasy or torment sure seems long….).
Many Christians today are moving away from an idea of hell, to think either in terms of temporary punishment, or annihilation, or …. something else.
Many others, including me, do not think there is an afterlife at all. Like the other animals, we simply cease to exist.
Here I am NOT asking for your opinions about whether there *is* an afterlife or about what it is *like* if you do. (If you don’t know, I have a book on the topic, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife). But if you do want to share your views, hey, why not.
BUT, my question is something else.
Many of my students – OK, virtually all of them – think that if there is no afterlife, there is absolutely no reason to be religious. I point out to them that for the vast majority of the human race, afterlife was not part of religion or the reason to be religious.
Let’s say homo sapiens appeared 200,000 years ago; I’m not equipped to debate the point, but pick your own number back there and it’s the same issue. It really wasn’t until Christianity came along 2000 years ago that religion had a strong afterlife focus. So empirically speaking, religion has almost never been driven by the afterlife. So it shouldn’t have to be.
On the other hand, my students do have a point. If this is all there is, why bother?
So my question is: what do you think?