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5.5: Religion, the After-Life, and Immortality (Noah Levin)

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    30 Religion, the After-Life, and Immortality
    Noah Levin40

    “You’re serious? The only reason you haven’t done something really bad is because you think you’ll end up in hell?” Devon asked.

    “Yep. I’d have done something bad to some people in high school, that’s for sure. They had it coming,” Angelica replied.

    “But I knew you in high school. Did you have anything planned for me?” Devon inquired.

    “No! I barely knew you, and you were always nice to me. Mostly Allison and Gerald. Allison bullied other kids all the time, including you, and Gerald was dealing hard drugs. They’re both in jail now, too; Allison embezzled from her company and Gerald had that party where that minor overdosed and almost died. I could have prevented that from happening. I would have prevented it from happening if I didn’t have the fear of God in me,” Angelica replied.

    “But could you do it? Could you have done something really bad to them?” Devon asked.

    “Definitely. I know I’m capable of it. It’s always kind of frightened me that I know I could do such things, but I have always refrained because I believe that God will punish me forever when I die if I do,” Angelica said.

    “Then please, by all means, keep believing,” Devon said, quite seriously.

    Angelica laughed and said, “I hope I do. I don’t want to believe that this life is all there is for us. It would be an awful, cruel joke if all we got was this short life. What’s the point of living this life if it’s all over at the end?”

    “Well, we have this life and can make of it we want. Just because this is the end of it doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. Why do we have to have an afterlife to give this life value? Where would the value come from in the afterlife if you live forever? There’s not another life after that afterlife you need to give it value, too, do you?” Devon asked.

    “No, but you get to experience all the good things forever. I know some of heaven would be a buffet followed by a great massage and then a wonderful nap,” Angelica mused.

    “But wouldn’t you get sick of that? Plus, you can do that here already. So why not do those things you like? And wouldn’t it not feel as good if you did it all the time? I spent a summer in Maine, and before going there, I loved lobster as a rare treat. Now, it’s just another thing to eat. Did you know it used to be known as a poor man’s food? You eat enough of it, and you can see why. For one, it’s not that filling and, secondly, it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients. So wouldn’t living forever just devalue those things?” Devon replied.

    “Maybe. But that’s not why I think heaven will be great. Sure, I can do those things there (and more, like ride unicorns), but I’ll also experience love forever. Can you get sick of being loved? And loving others? For eternity? Would you get sick of always being extremely happy? There’s a word for that: bliss. I would love an eternity of bliss. Wouldn’t you? Or do you not like being happy?” Angelica pressed Devon.

    “Of course I do. But why is the only way to have value in this life having that infinitely happy existence in the future? Why can’t you just enjoy this one and get as much happiness from it as you can?” Devon asked.

    “Because this life kind of sucks. There’s pain, there are jerks – myself included – and there just aren’t enough things that make this life worthwhile. I get as much as I can, but I really want there to be more. I don’t want there to be just this much happiness. I want there to be more, so I follow the beliefs that tell me there will be more. My parents came to Christianity when some missionaries spoke to them about the possibilities of heaven. An eternal reward for being good in this life sounded amazing to them, and I agree. We have to earn our spot, and I plan on doing that. God rewards the faithful,” Angelica said happily.

    “But why believe that? And shouldn’t any of the other stuff in religion matter? Doesn’t that cheapen everything else in your religion since you just believe so that you can be rewarded? There’s no other reasons you would want to or can believe? You don’t even care about the reasons God exists, you just hope there’s a God to reward you?” Devon asked.

    “I do believe in those other things because they are attached to my belief in an afterlife. That anchors everything else for me. If someone believes Christianity because they believe that Jesus died for our sins, does that cheapen everything else? Does it mean they shouldn’t get into heaven because that’s not why they’re there?” Angelica challenged Devon.

    “That’s a good point. I actually didn’t know you went all the way in to it, I thought you just believed enough to try to get into heaven. But, to come back to this idea of heaven, let’s say it’s true, that you will be rewarded with an afterlife. How do you know that will be you when you get there? When your body dies, you die. You’re buried. You decompose. Do those worms get reassembled into you like some sort of squishy transformer? What if I eat those worms – does part of my body get ripped out?” Devon inquired.

    “There’s more to it than that. You’re not your body; it’s just a vessel. You’re your soul. When you die, it goes up to heaven, and you are given a new body there,” Angelica answered.

    “But then how would that be you? You’re in a new body, but your old body that was a big part of your life, is gone. And how exactly does the soul transport there? And how do souls work? Can you see my soul? Smell it? As far as I know, there is no hard evidence for souls or an after-life, so why believe? And even if they existed, why think that they would really capture who we are?” Devon asked.

    “I take it on faith. Yes, there are all those problems, but without a soul, then there is no afterlife or heaven for me. But that’s not all there is to it, anyway. There’s going to be a second coming of Christ and we’ll be resurrected on this Earth,” Angelica said.

    “Wouldn’t that just be more of this life that you hate? Why would you want to come back to life on this Earth? And can you die? What age would you be resurrected at? What if you lose a leg? What about me? I wouldn’t want this body forever. You know I have Morquio syndrome. It defines much of who I am and I wouldn’t want to change a thing – but I wouldn’t want to live with its complications forever. Yet it’s impossible to get rid of them without changing me and who I am,” Devon replied.

    “God would find a way to make it happen where you’re the best version of yourself and one you could live with forever. I’m not worried about when the resurrection comes, since if I am good in this life, I will be eternally rewarded. And that’s the only reason I’m going to pay this bill instead of sneaking out right now,” Angelica said, pointing to the waitress that just went into the back of the restaurant they were eating in.

    “So, we’ve come back to your actions here in this life. Why would you not want to pay this bill and be good to other people if there’s no God and promise of an afterlife?” Devon replied.

    “Because I don’t want to be good, and I don’t want to pay for anything I don’t need to. I want to do bad things. Doing good things and being nice to other people is hard, and I usually end up having to do things I don’t like. I’d be much happier if I could be selfish and not have to worry about other people. I’d do bad things all time,” Angelica said.

    “Wow. I always thought that people felt good for doing good things for other people. That’s one of the perks for me for being nice: I feel good, too. I’m nice to other people because I think we owe it to each other by living in society together. We ought to do good things because we care about each other, and not just because we’re expecting a reward,” Devon said.

    “You might act that way, but I don’t. As long as I believe in heaven, I’ll be nice and do what I need to do to get in there,” Angelica said.

    “And you think that will work for God? That you only followed his words and did what you were told so that you could get in there? Are you going to keep behaving this way in heaven, or will you give in to your desires? Why would God want to let someone like you into heaven anyway?” Devon asked.

    “Ouch, that’s harsh. I don’t know if God will let me in, but it’s my only chance. I believe there’s a heaven, and I have to try my best to get in there. All I can do is it give my best shot, despite my inner nature, and hope God will understand,” Angelica said, and got up to leave, hoping Devon was too distracted to realize she didn’t pay for her part of the meal.

    For Review and Discussion

    1. Do you believe in an afterlife? Why or why not?

    2. Are some religious beliefs more than others? In other words, hardly anyone truly believes and practices all parts of their religions. Does it matter which parts they adhere to? Why or why not?

    3. Describe what might give life value from various religious and non-religious perspectives. Are they mutually exclusive (meaning that you can’t believe more than one at the same time)?

    This page titled 5.5: Religion, the After-Life, and Immortality (Noah Levin) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Noah Levin (NGE Far Press) .

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