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Why Should Faith and the Afterlife Matter? Readers’ Mailbag April 15, 2018

I have a very long list of questions in my Readers’ Mailbag.  Here’s an interesting one that’s been hanging around for a while.

 

QUESTION:

One of the really odd things about Christianity is the emphasis on believing in order to gain admission to heaven. Why is that so critical?

 

RESPONSE

I would say that this one really odd thing is actually two really odd things: from the outset of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus emphasized both the centrality of belief and the realities of the afterlife.   These are oddities because prior to Christianity (this admittedly seems weird) there weren’t any religions that (a) focused on “having faith” and (b) stressed the afterlife as an incentive to practice religion.

Really?  Yup, really.  People may have trouble believing this (at least my students do), but it’s true.

Let me start with the afterlife.  For many of my students the afterlife is the one and only reason that anyone would want to be properly religious.  If there is no afterlife, why bother?  If there are no rewards or punishments after this life, then why be religious?

Ancient people almost never asked this question, in part because …

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Did Constantine Outlaw the Pagan Religions?
Is There a Time and Place for Heaven and Hell?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  April 15, 2018

    And yet, strangely, it was the Christian-dominated part of the world that developed–

    1)Democracy
    2)Modern science
    3)A belief (however inconsistently practiced) in social justice and human equality.

    (Also pizza.)

    In some ways, maybe we were better off as hunter-gatherers (the planet certainly was), but we moved away from that culture for the most part long before Jesus was born.

    If we had remained pagans, along Roman lines, would any of this have happened?

    Maybe pizza.

    4
    • NulliusInVerba
      NulliusInVerba  April 17, 2018

      Yay pizza! Oh no, I’m not PC.

      1
      • Avatar
        godspell  April 18, 2018

        In Pizza Domine.

        (Not Dominos, that sucks.)

    • Avatar
      stevenpounders  April 17, 2018

      The Greeks developed those ideas long before Christ was born.

      2
      • Avatar
        godspell  April 18, 2018

        Greek Democracy excluded slaves, Non-Greeks, and women. And didn’t last very long. In part because many Greeks (even many Athenians, like Socrates and Plato) despised it.

        However, it is worth nothing that the gospels were written by Greek speakers, and Greece was one of the first areas of the ancient world to convert.

        What was your point again? I never said Christianity invented any of those ideas. I said those ideas flourished and grew under Christianity, to an extent never seen before.

        Looking at the nations that embraced atheism–that is to say communist nations–how’d that work out?

        I mean, I’m a left guy myself. But I see what’s in front of me. Try it.

        1
        • Avatar
          HawksJ  April 18, 2018

          No, you said those ideas were ‘developed’, you did not say they merely ‘flourished and grew’. Your implication was clear.

          2
          • Avatar
            godspell  April 21, 2018

            That’s a lousy argument, that indicates a poor understanding of how development works. Development of an idea can occur over centuries, even millennia. Ideas can occur independently in many places, just like seeds blown in the wind–some of which germinate and take root–and some don’t. (Jesus would get this metaphor.)

            The internet began in the 1960’s. The ideas that led to it began earlier than that. It continues to be developed to this very day. No one person invented it (Al Gore was joking). However, it would be perfectly fair to say the United States government deserves credit for first developing it, even if you could find previous instances of people elsewhere suggesting it.

        • Avatar
          stevenpounders  April 20, 2018

          My point? Because I said nothing about inventing democracy either. You said ” it was the Christian-dominated part of the world that developed” democracy and science. I simply stated that the Greeks did it first. And to your last point I would add that democracies took centuries to develop under Christianity, and they also excluded slaves, women, and non-Christians.

          I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make about atheism; but you might try making it to an atheist.

          4
          • Avatar
            godspell  May 20, 2018

            I don’t know who’s an atheist, and I could care less.

            But we live in a world where people can believe as they please–without having to pay homage to the gods of their conquerors–and that happened under Christianity too.

            Athenian Democracy lasted 186 years–with some breaks.

            Most Greeks were not Democratic, and the idea didn’t really spread past the few city states that worked that way. The Roman Republic was different.

            The Democracy that took root in the Christian world has been both more durable and more prolific.

            And it’s under threat now. So maybe worry more about that.

  2. Avatar
    jwesenbe  April 15, 2018

    Seems like the perfect marketing solution: “Believe or eternally burn”.

    3
    • Avatar
      godspell  April 20, 2018

      Kind of skipping over the “Treat other people decently” part…….

      Which, you know, is Bart’s interpretation of what Jesus and most of the early Christians really meant.

      The problem was how to make it stick, once a lot of people had joined up, and the Kingdom didn’t come. Jesus wasn’t really threatning anyone with Hell, he was just saying that if you didn’t meet the entrance requirements–which were much more about behavior than belief, though he probably figured the two went together–you were not going to be there. You’d be outside, gnashing your teeth.

      Not everybody is capable of the same level of behavior. Originally, because of persecution, the people who joined were mainly sincere. But how do you maintain order in the ranks when it’s socially and economically beneficial to join? How do you keep what is now a mainstream institution alive?

      Anybody who thinks this only applies to religious movements is not paying attention.

  3. Avatar
    ask21771  April 15, 2018

    Where there any scriptures that we’re connected to an apostle and orthodox that didn’t make it into the Bible?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      Depends what you mean by “connected.” If you mean “written by” then the answer is no. If you mean “that had an author ascribed to it who allegedly knew the apostles” then the answer is yes (e.g., the Epistle of Barnabas; 1 Clement; etc.)

      1
      • Avatar
        MarkGrago  April 26, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman: What about Elijah when he was taken into heaven by a whirlwind? Does that not suggest that Jews were familiar with such a place?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 26, 2018

          Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking (I looked through the thread of comments and *still* wasn’t sure!)

          • Avatar
            MarkGrago  May 2, 2018

            That Jews believed in a Heaven. Where did Elijah go? Where did God take him? Surely this concept was discussed among ancient Jews.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 4, 2018

            They certainly believed in a heaven where God and his servants lived. But it’s not where the dead normally go (in the Hebrew Bible). They go down below, to Sheol, where God does not dwell and has no presence or effect at all. That’s what made Elijah so unusual and distinct.

            1
  4. Avatar
    ardeare  April 15, 2018

    I think Paul attempted to teach, probably in vain, that Christians needed to believe and lead righteous lives if they wanted to *feel* the saving power of Jesus in their lives.

  5. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  April 15, 2018

    This may sound simplistic, but would it be an accurate assumption that the Creeds of the early Church developed because the religion taught that correct belief was essential yet, just like today, there was a diversity of beliefs and opinions and that the Creeds were created to clearly state what those correct beliefs were?

    2
  6. Avatar
    Tony  April 15, 2018

    “These are oddities because prior to Christianity (this admittedly seems weird) there weren’t any religions that (a) focused on “having faith” and (b) stressed the afterlife as an incentive to practice religion.”
    ———————————————————————————————-
    How would you characterize mystery cults?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      As not focused on faith and as having afterlife as a side-benefit. As you probalby know, we actually know very, very little about these cults.

      1
      • Avatar
        Tony  April 16, 2018

        Yes, Christians did not preserve much, but what we do know fits well with Paul’s religion. In Paul’s letters essential doctrines are routinely called mysteries. Many of the terms used by Paul are taken from the mystery cults. All mystery cults centered on a savior deity who underwent suffering (patheon – passion) leading to salvation for the believing cult members. Initiations, secrets, baptisms, eucharists were often features of mystery cults.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 17, 2018

          I’m afraid you’re saying more about the mystery cults than we actually know about them. I’m not sure if you’ve read what the ancient sources actually tell us (for some mysteries they don’t tell us *anything*!); but one place to start is with Marvin Meyer’s anthology.

          1
          • Avatar
            Tony  April 17, 2018

            There is a great deal of modern literature on the subject including the work by Alvar’s “Romanising Oriental
            Gods”. Also see, Pakkanen, “Interpreting Hellenistic Religion”.

            The link between Christian beginnings and and the mystery cults is often denied by scholars. Your PhD supervisor Bruce Metzger wrote an article in Harvard Theological Review, 48, January 1955, pp 1-20 – on the very subject. I found his arguments contradictory, and his analysis biased.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 18, 2018

            I hope you’re not really basing your views on books written in 1904!!!

            3
          • Avatar
            Tony  April 18, 2018

            “I hope you’re not really basing your views on books written in 1904!!!”
            —————————————————————————————-
            Why? The two references I provided date from 2008 (Alvarez) and 1996 (Pakkanen). Perhaps you’re the one in need of an update. Did you read the article by Bruce Metzger?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 20, 2018

            Ah, my bad. When you referred to the work of Alvar, I thought you meant Alvar. Yes, of course I’ve read the article by Metzger. Which mystery cults are you most interested in?

          • Avatar
            Tony  April 20, 2018

            “Ah, my bad. When you referred to the work of Alvar, I thought you meant Alvar. Yes, of course I’ve read the article by Metzger. Which mystery cults are you most interested in?”
            —————————————————————————————————–
            The typo, and source of misunderstanding, was all mine – sorry. Not trying to be flippant, but the mystery cult I’m most interested in is Paul’s. Or, more accurately, the Judean – Hellenistic mystery cult he had previously persecuted and later adopted, (and modified).

  7. Avatar
    Tobit  April 16, 2018

    “As a result, there were no “false believers” or “heretics”; there was no “orthodoxy” or “heresy.” What you personally thought about the gods was your business. Religion didn’t really talk about that much. Religion was not about what you believed, but about what you did in your practices of worship.”

    So why was Socrates accused of misleading people away from traditional worship of the gods?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      He was accused not of having them believe heresy but of worshiping the wrong gods.

      1
  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 16, 2018

    This history, especially emphasizing that ancient people were struggling just to survive, is very, very helpful.

  9. Avatar
    randal  April 16, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman: On this past cold and rainy Sunday, I sat down in front of my gas logs with your new book and a growler of fine microbrew. Before long, I was in the spirit world.lol.
    Seriously though, I just want to thank you again for enriching our lives with such hard work. Your new book is another great one.

    1
  10. Avatar
    Gabe  April 16, 2018

    Bart, you wrote: “For many of my students the afterlife is the one and only reason that anyone would want to be properly religious. If there is no afterlife, why bother? If there are no rewards or punishments after this life, then why be religious?”

    That triggered something I never considered before:

    Who will keep these people in check once they get to heaven? Supposing there is a heaven and they get there, where is the carrot on the stick keeping them civil in the next life? Sounds like another way to sell the after-afterlife!

    I am actually surprised people don’t see the flawed logic. People think they can race to the next destination and then rest on their laurels, but that isn’t even how this world works. The addict who thinks if he can just get sober for a year, then he has ‘arrived’. Yet, if he goes back to his former lifestyle, he will be back where he started, a drunk. When people set goals, if there is no maintenance goal, what then? They fall right back to where they started. So what is going to keep these people moral in heaven? Some magical cleansing of all their evil qualities (sin nature) at death? How convenient and anti-freewill. God should have made us robots in the first place, if we just end up like that in heaven. Oh wait, he did, according to 5 point Calvinists. 🙂

    3
    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      Also, relatedly: if we need free will not to be robots, and this is what creates suffering — will there be free will in heaven?

      9
      • Avatar
        ailith  April 18, 2018

        I occasionally find myself rehashing the question “Wait, just where the hell did this “free will” argument even come from? Especially, how in the world did it become part of Christianity?”

        I’ve read maybe one or two dozen books running down parts of America’s denominational history, and I’m really not sure what the answer is, other than that it seems to have been a natural evolution of the arguments leading away from Calvinistic doctrine and the rise of the Charismatic churches. But I’m no scholar, just a retail employee who spends his spare time on books. The only expertise my BA in History and English gave me was that I’m not an expert, tho I have a pretty good idea what makes someone one (so how very much not one I am).

        • Bart
          Bart  April 18, 2018

          I’m not sure. I assume it arose during the Enlightenment. Maybe a philosopher on the blog can tell us.

          1
      • Lev
        Lev  April 18, 2018

        Doesn’t Paul argue that is our mortal flesh (sometimes translated as ‘sinful nature’) that provokes the sinful rebellion against God? (Roms 7:5, 14, 25b)

        If our souls are free from our mortal flesh, then (following Paul’s logic) we would have also shed our sinful desires.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 18, 2018

          Yes, Paul thinks we should have done that!

          • Lev
            Lev  April 18, 2018

            Not sure if you read my comment right – I was saying that (for Paul) once we lose our bodies (die), then we lose our sinful desires.

            So in Paul’s understanding, any bodiless, heavenly existence would be sinless, so even if we had free will in heaven, our actions would not result in suffering because we wouldn’t sin.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 20, 2018

            Oh, I see what you mean. I think that means there is no way to sin with your soul/mind. Most ancient people thought otherwise.

          • Lev
            Lev  April 20, 2018

            Do you think Paul was an outlier in this respect, or do you think I have misinterpreted what Paul says about the flesh?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 22, 2018

            What Paul thinks is that the power of sin that activates the sinful flesh has been put to death for those who are “in Christ,” so there is no need or reason to follow the desires of the flesh any longer.

          • Lev
            Lev  April 22, 2018

            “What Paul thinks is that the power of sin that activates the sinful flesh has been put to death”

            That a really interesting interpretation. Are you saying Paul believed that those who no longer have ‘activated’ sinful flesh, live in bodies that are sin/holiness neutral (that is, that they are neither inherently sinful or holy)?

            And related to that question, “there is no need or reason to follow the desires of the flesh any longer”, it seems you’re saying Paul still believed the ‘desires of the flesh’ were still present, so doesn’t that mean Paul still believed the sinfulness of flesh was still active?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 23, 2018

            Those who have died to the power of sin (everyone who has been baptized) no longer are driven by the evil “flesh” (that part of a person that is the liaison between the body and the power of sin) to engage in sinful activities. They have died to both sin and flesh, no longer needing to follow them, even if there are temptations.

      • Avatar
        VirtualAlex  April 18, 2018

        This paradox has caused heaven to vanish in a poof of logic.

  11. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  April 16, 2018

    Was the Marcosian afterlife practice significant in the development of the ideas for the afterlife?

  12. Avatar
    mannix  April 16, 2018

    I haven’t got around to reading your “Triumph” book, but it would seem to me the appeal of Christianity would, in part, be the concept of an existence after death wherein any undue suffering and injustice in this life would be compensated for after one’s demise and that those responsible for such would be held accountable. The poor would gain “wealth” and the rich would be less so.

    Would you say there wasn’t a fear of death in BCE times (relative to today)? An afterlife would seem to be the antidote for such a fear that modern H. sapiens seems to have.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      My sense is that people have always feared death — fear of death is certainly present in the Hebrew Bible. Not fear of punishment, but fear of what happens to all people.

      • Avatar
        Gabe  April 16, 2018

        I’ll bite on this and be vulnerable. I fear death, not because I am scared of hell or the pain, etc.., but because I think it will be the last time I see the ones I love. Although I know that I won’t know it when I am dead, but just the thought of dying and leaving my children without a father, causes great pain. The idea of my own father and mother passing will cause great pain. It, when contemplated for what it is, can knock the wind right out from you! I suspect most people, like myself, have found ways to distract themselves from feeling this gut punching thought. But for some reason, I often wake up in the middle of the night and ponder this very sad thing. I would love to believe everyone will be re-united at the end of time and everything will be perfect, but that just isn’t very logically sound to believe for more reasons that this post would allow. Still, I hope the Christian Universalists are right; that God will raise everyone, make everything perfect and be reunited with all of our family and friends. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

        4
        • Avatar
          godspell  April 20, 2018

          Mainly I’d just like to see my dogs again. Most religions don’t have much to say about that.

          My personal heaven would be getting to live my life over again, and fix all my mistakes–see what happened if I’d done this instead of that. Explore all the paths untaken. Then oblivion. Not reincarnation, because you don’t remember your past lives in that. I guess a bit like Groundhog Day, but not just one day in a podunk New England town, with the same annoying people all the time. (Though imagine how the poor woodchuck felt.)

          We better just accept that humans have always had ideas about what happens after death, and we always will, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

          Good news for Bart’s upcoming book, anyway. 😉

  13. Avatar
    jhague  April 16, 2018

    Does Paul get credited for changing the emphasis on life in this world to a focus on the world to come?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      It’s unlikely that the shift of focus to resurrected life started with Paul; you find it already in Jesus (and in other Jewish apocalypticists)

      • Avatar
        jhague  April 17, 2018

        I was thinking Paul because his thinking seemed to be a world to come in heaven whereas Jesus thinking was on earth.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 17, 2018

          Paul holds to both, I think. First some time in heaven, but then at the resurrectoin, eternal life here.

          • Avatar
            jhague  April 18, 2018

            Who goes to heaven before the resurrection?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 18, 2018

            Me, I hope. But Paul appears to have thought he would (Phil. 1:20-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-2)

            1
          • Avatar
            VirtualAlex  April 18, 2018

            But since the resurrection was imminent, there would only be a matter of years (months?) in heaven. Hardly seems worth it. I never realised paul thought eternal life would end up being here. Why did he need a spiritual body then, if he was going to come back here?

          • Avatar
            jhague  April 19, 2018

            When you commented: First some time in heaven, but then at the resurrection, eternal life here, were you saying that Paul thought that some people will go to heaven before they die and then return to earth for eternal life? Is that how you read Phil. 1:20-23; 2 Cor. 5:1-2?
            Paul seems to be saying that he’s going to die and then go to heaven.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 20, 2018

            Right — he’s referring to dying and going to be with Christ, prior to returning with him.

          • Avatar
            jhague  April 20, 2018

            So Paul thought that him and others “in Christ” like him would go to heaven when they died and then return to earth with Christ at some point to live eternally on earth?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 22, 2018

            Apparently.

          • Avatar
            jhague  April 23, 2018

            Would he have thought originally that he would be alive when Christ returned so he would not need a trip to heaven? But when it became obvious to him that he was going to die before Christ’s return, he needed to accommodate this by deciding that he would go to heaven and return to earth with Christ?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 24, 2018

            Yeah, that’s pretty much how I see it.

  14. Avatar
    Eric  April 16, 2018

    Will your book explore any funerary requirements in the Roman/Jewish/Hellenistic word with respect to the “why” of these requirements (what was believed to be the consequence, for whom, were a corpse left unburied or failed in whatever other rites were required)?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 17, 2018

      Just with respect to being left unburied. We aren’t sure what was behind many of the burial practices.

  15. Avatar
    fishician  April 16, 2018

    Do you think Christianity’s insistence on proper belief in order to get into heaven is one of the main reasons for all the divisions within the religion? If you think beliefs are the key, then you need to have the right beliefs, and the various sects find plenty of beliefs to disagree on, including the true nature of Jesus (man, God, man-God?), baptism, communion, etc. Of course, I suppose that if living a good life is seen as the key element, there is even room to disagree on that (gender issues, e.g.).

    • Bart
      Bart  April 17, 2018

      Yes, I think that’s basically right.

    • Avatar
      godspell  April 18, 2018

      Um–what religions don’t have divisions? That seems a worthwhile question to ask. I include secular religions. Even atheism has divisions. I’ve read about atheist conventions that broke down in shambles because different groups were asserting conflicting POV’s (“Do we work with some theists when we agree with them on certain issues, or do we oppose them in all things?”) Sounds like herding cats.

      I agree with your underlying point–if you believe there’s only one way to get to heaven, you’re going to be very strict about that, and arguments will ensue, and possibly even wars (though if we’re honest, most religious wars are really about land and power).

      But people can argue about anything. Jewish people are famously argumentative, and as Bart has told us more than once, most of them didn’t believe in going to heaven after death.

  16. Avatar
    wostraub  April 16, 2018

    Interesting post, Dr. Ehrman. But would you explain the focus on the afterlife solely on Jesus’s reported resurrection, or was it an idea coming into vogue at the time?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 17, 2018

      Many Jews at the time already subscribed to a view of the resurrection. That’s why appearances of Jesus were interpreted according to that category.

  17. Avatar
    ardeare  April 16, 2018

    On January 13, you reached out to blog members and asked for podcast suggestions for promoting your newest book. I recommended mormonstories.org. I was pleased to see your interview podcast of Friday, the 13th of April. Whether my recommendation had anything to do with it or it was just happenstance is not what got my brain turning this morning. I want to tell a quick story relating to languages and missionaries within the church.

    I’ve been inactive for 30+ years but since we’re such a small community, there’s a certain bond that sort of ties us together. Because of this mutual experience, I have met several internet friends I would never have known otherwise. One such example is a group of friends I’ve made in Pakistan. They served their missions in the Philippines. Virtually everyone 30 years or younger can speak English in the Philippines because it is required within the curriculum. I speak to these ladies on a regular basis and they’re pretty darn good at English. Before their missions, they knew close to nothing of the language. They write quite often and even though the spelling isn’t great, I can generally understand what they’re saying the first time around. I have many other examples of local friends who were sent to Central America for their missions and returned with a decent Spanish vocabulary.

    My point is that when people are immersed in a strange environment, they appear to exceed common expectations for learning new languages. I’ve surmised this is particularly true when they are passionate about one particular message (i.e. gospel principles, baptismal lessons). I don’t want to espouse the idea that I think every apostle quickly became proficient in Koine Greek. But, I do think these men and some of the women may be underestimated when it comes to their ability to relay stories and possibly even have done some simple writings in Greek before their deaths. BTW, the 45 minute interview was *excellent* and can be found here. https://www.mormonstories.org/podcast/dr-bart-ehrman/

    1
  18. Lev
    Lev  April 16, 2018

    Hi Bart,

    I appreciate you don’t believe in God – or at least the benevolent God depicted in the NT – so this may seem a silly question, but do you believe there is an afterlife, something of you that carries on after your body has ‘given up the ghost’?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 17, 2018

      Nope. I think death is the end of the story for each of us.

      • Avatar
        godspell  April 18, 2018

        And I think the only way to know is to go.

        Life is a mystery, and so is death.

        But please note, Prof. Ehrman–you are doing the same thing you did before–convincing yourself you have the answer.

        Because not knowing is, for some people, worse than hell itself.

        Hey! I’ve discovered the secret of how religions begin! Including the anti-god ones. 😉

        • Avatar
          godspell  April 18, 2018

          Don’t feel the need to respond–none of us have the answer, so what’s there to say, really? But I remembered, after posting, the parting words of Trollope’s majestic old Duke of Omnium, on his death bed.

          “I hope for nothing. And I fear for nothing either.”

          Well said. Though Trollope went to some pains in his Parliamentary novels to point out that the Duke had led an exceptionally useless life, even by the standards of the British landed aristocracy. And he was, as he well knew, headed for an exceptionally lavish Christian burial, with everyone of any consequence in his society in attendance.

          Our various delusions about the afterlife–like those pipe dreams in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh–may be a necessary part of how we deal with this existence. Not for everyone, no. We all have different pipe dreams. All of us. Without exception. Absolutely no exceptions at all.

          (Incidentally, Hickey is pretty clearly supposed to be standing in for Jesus in O’Neill’s play.)

        • Bart
          Bart  April 18, 2018

          Don’t think you’ll get too far psychoanalyzing me without some serious clinical time together!

          3
          • Avatar
            godspell  April 19, 2018

            I wouldn’t dare. I don’t have the creds, anyway.

            But I’m fairly good at reading people. Particularly people whose work I read. It’s safer after they’re not around to contradict you, of course. But please stick around. 🙂

  19. Avatar
    Hon Wai  April 16, 2018

    The worldview that faith and afterlife should be central to religion, is very much restricted to the Abrahamic religions (I’m not even sure if modern day Jews think much about the afterlife). Faith plays little role in many forms of contemporary Hinduism which resembles Greco-Roman religions with their focus on rituals, practices, way of life and non-exclusivistic worship of a multitude of gods, and generally disinterest in having orthodox beliefs (Hinduism is not evangelistic). Buddhists generally dislike viewing their religious system as amounting to “faith”. Hinduism and Buddhism have certain beliefs – often very elaborate – concerning reincarnation, but adherents are not required to believe them.
    I’m skeptical that people in antiquity didn’t think much about afterlife because life was hard. After all, the ancient Egyptians presumably had tough life too, but it didn’t stop them from developing very elaborate beliefs about the afterlife and doing a lot of things (mummifications, building huge tombs in form of pyramids) to prepare for the afterlife (unless this was just the obsession of the pharaohs). By the 5th century BCE (contemporaneous to emergence of the Jewish religion), Hinduism and Buddhism already had very well developed beliefs in reincarnation (yes, life was hard in that part of the world too). But a key difference with Abrahamic religions is that in these Eastern religions, the afterlife is often just another earthly life, and the cycle of death and rebirth goes on and on.

  20. Avatar
    Duke12  April 17, 2018

    Didn’t the religions of ancient Egypt have an emphasis on the afterlife — at least for some people like the Pharaohs and maybe a few others? Mummification and all that? Were any remnants of that religion still practiced or believed in the 1st Century Roman Empire, at least in Egypt itself?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 17, 2018

      Yes, at least for the upper crust elite. And yes, they were still practiced in the first century, as I understand it; but these practices did not seem to influence other parts of the world much if at all.

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