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On the Afterlife and Religion

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

On the Afterlife and Religion

Andrew Ryan

The basic idea of any religious text, if you break it down to its core, is that if you follow the religion’s moral code, then you will be at peace when you die (assuming you haven’t been stabbed to death, or caught under a boat etc). And when it comes down to it, the moral code of every religion is the same- if you’re nice to people, and don’t intentionally hurt anyone, then you’ll be happy when you die. It’s fairly straight forward, or at least it should be, but after centuries of guys with all kinds of personality disorders getting on power trips and changing the rules to suit their own selfish desires and generation after generation of poor education and illiteracy, religious teachings about the laws of god/s have turned into a total farce, a distorted fucking rollercoaster of sin and penance and idol worshipping and money giving to crazy people who claim to be in contact with the anthropomorphized version of the Sun.

With all this money and power floating around, the no-regrets-on-the-death-bed idea has mutated into the idea of an afterlife, where a person is rewarded or punished, depending on how true to their church they were during life. The threat of worse suffering once you’re DEAD, possibly unimaginable pain FOREVER, is enough to keep a large portion of the western world (and often the third world too) on the donation/investor roll, as well as making sure they’re more likely to unquestioningly support political entities claiming to share their belief system.

Which means that there are millions of people who are going about their lives with their after-lives in mind- that is, they do or don’t do things in accordance to what they think will make them more likely to have a comfortable post-death experience. Let us explore what might be going on in the lives of some varying types of people, each with a differing idea of what happens when our heart stops beating and our brains shut down.

In most “primitive” societies, such as Australian Aboriginal and Native American tribes, there is no set reward or punishment for actions taken during life. Instead, the belief is usually that of animism, where the spiritual and physical worlds are closely tied to each other. Non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle, and throughout life, an individual must take heed to any warnings or advice given by these forces. Days were spent on basic survival needs- finding food, making shelter, strengthening social bonds. When a person dies, generally they would go through a journey across mountains or water, overcoming monsters etc to reach their ancestors, where they are greeted with song and dance, and led to the eternal hunting ground, where the constant hunting of beasts has no effect on the ecosystem, and the animals and plants are replaced just as quickly as they are eaten. The ultimate in relaxation for the worn-out warrior.

In modern conservative belief systems, such as Christianity and Protestantism, if you do everything you think the bible is telling you to do, then you’ll go to Heaven, where Jesus lives! There is no pain, no disease, no mental health issues, and, thank GOD- no sex! Who needs to unnecessarily sully themselves when there is no need for procreation?? Not a good Christian, that’s for sure. It is stated that death will definitely NOT happen again (phew), and tears don’t exist. Church should be attended as often as you can be bothered, but if you don’t, then you can still contribute money to the church, and pray when you’re feeling a bit down, and Jesus will still hear you and still love you, and save a place for you right next to him, same as everyone else. It seems to me that modern Christianity is an afterthought, something of a backup plan, just in case the fervent consumerisms displayed by all these middle class white folk ends up making them feel a little empty as their life draws to a close. At least Jesus knows money was spent in his honour too! And sure, you may have been underhanded in the way you dealt with that bitch Mrs. Smith down the road, but it least you never harmed her, and you did pray for her son when he broke his leg, so you’re okay.

The more extreme examples of this belief system lead to fundamentalism, which focuses on the fear of hell than rather than the excitement about heaven. Fundamentalists of any religion will do anything in their power to prevent anyone from going to hell, which often means abusing “sinners” in an attempt to convert them. Somewhere along the way they convinced themselves that this was effective, and somehow- perhaps rooted somewhere in their childhood development- love and the desire for peace was replaced by an overwhelming hatred of what they cannot understand. Hell is literal to them, fires and worms eat at flesh for eternity, and there is no relief. Sucks to be these guys.

On the other hand, religions such as Bahai and modern Roman Catholicism believe heaven to be a spiritual condition, where closeness to God is the good thing, while hell is seen as a state of remoteness from God. They hold a more abstract and realistic view of “heaven”, whereby it is accepted that physicality and consciousness as we know it are not concepts that can be translated into a “life” after death. Instead, the focus is on that base idea of being a good person, being nice to others and feeling good- close to god- as a result. The satisfaction of being a good person is the reward to be sought after, and the idea that your soul can become even CLOSER to god if people do good things in your honour after you die is something of a motivation to set up a foundation that benefits the needy, for example. I find this to be pleasing to an extent, just so long as the idea of “god” is kept abstract. You’re not trying to please some guy, you’re trying to keep your conscience clear of regret. However, it is commonplace among Catholics to worship idols, to specifically pray to certain figures in the hope that they will advise an individual on how to live well. It’s unfortunate that this lack of faith in one’s self is so rife- to attribute a revelation that comes from your own brain to the ghost of an old priest or nun is not something I can easily accept as healthy.

This leads me to my last example: atheism. God does not exist; heaven and hell do not exist. Occurrences previously thought to be supernatural in origin are generally easily explainable by science in modern times, which can lead to a branch of atheism known as World Pantheism, where it is understood that the planet we live on, and the nature that surrounds us are our reason for existence, and it would be impossible to survive without them, so should be revered and cared for. Life is all we have, because as far as we are able to understand, nothing comes before or after it, and fact that we exist at all in this unimaginably massive universe is one so mind-blowing that we are grateful, and as such, life is cherished and lived to its fullest. After a person’s heart stops beating, the brain begins to shut down. As it does this, a chemical is released that causes the individual to hallucinate, to see that which was most comforting to them during life. The brain creates consciousness, so when the brain finally shuts down completely, so too does consciousness. The individual ceases to exist. The body decays. Other species flourish in the decay. The life cycle continues.

I find the thought of a life based around a religious belief incredibly unnerving. One would hope that soon, very soon, it will be proven to the masses that it is unnecessary, and does more harm than good. A world full of people who care for the planet would be far better for the future of humanity than a world full of people who live to earn money so they can throw it at that preacher guy they see on television. Spending your life preparing for the experience you have after death is such a shitty concept, such proof of absolute manipulation and control by those in power throughout history… I look forward to a world without this shit.