The Afterlife, is a belief in continued existence in some form after physiological death.

Physiological Death

Death marks the permanent conclusion of all biological processes that support a living organism. Traditionally, it was associated with the cessation of heartbeat and breathing, although interventions like CPR and immediate defibrillation can occasionally revive these functions. In contemporary medicine, doctors and coroners typically refer to “brain death” or “biological death” to determine the precise moment of death. Brain death signifies the irreversible loss of brain function, including vital involuntary activities essential for life.

The belief that some aspect of an individual survives after death, usually, the individual’s soul is common to the great majority of the world’s religions.

Of those religions that include belief in an afterlife, almost all subscribe to one of two versions: reincarnation (a continuous cycle of death and rebirth in new bodies or forms), or an eternal life, which will occur in either a heaven or a hell, depending on the individual in question.

History of ancient afterlife beliefs

In ancient Egypt, approximately the 3rd millennia BCE, the connection between the living and the dead was an important part of society. It was thought that the after world might be located near the tomb of the deceased (and so near the living), in the celestial domain of the sun god (representation of the sun as a deity), or in the underworld realm of Osiris, he was both a god of fertility and the embodiment of the dead and resurrected king. 

Untitled-design-91 Do you believe in an afterlife?

Mesopotamians, believed in a netherworld known sometimes as Arallû, Ganzer, or Irkalla, among other names. Just as the heavens were thought to physically exist high above believers’ heads, it was believed that this netherworld existed below the earth’s surface. The land of the dead was neither a happy nor a fearful place; it was the spiritual antithesis of the heavens and a gloomy version of life on earth. Nevertheless, all mortals were bound for it, regardless of their actions while alive.

The Hebrew people referred to this underworld as Sheol, meaning “the place of the dead,” while in ancient Greece, it was known as Hades. Over time, these cultures introduced a more intricate concept by including the notion of a second destination for those who led virtuous lives. Additionally, the original abode for the deceased gradually worsened, evolving into a fiery and dark hell. These contrasting destinies led to the necessity of a third option by the 5th century CE, catering to the majority who did not qualify for eternal rewards or eternal torment. The gradual solution to this conundrum was purgatory, a realm where individuals of average morality could be prepared for eventual entry into paradise.

The idea of reincarnation can also be found in Western texts. The ancient Greeks, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Plato believed that the dead lived again. The Poetic Edda (a 13th-century Icelandic collection of heroic and mythological poetry) says that Vikings believed in reincarnation as well.

Beliefs to date in Religions

However, the modern concept of death and rebirth as a cycle governed by karma and samsara (Sanskrit: “flowing around”) is derived from the Hindu religion on the Indian subcontinent. It is first recorded in a set of Hindu scriptures composed from the mid-5th century through the 2nd century BCE. According to them, every living being, every plant, animal, and god dies only to have its soul inhabit a new form. What kind of new form the being adopts depends on the karma (literally: “actions”) it performed in its previous life. This cycle continues because the soul desires to live, so that it can enjoy the pleasures of life.

The Upanishads, late Vedic and post-Vedic Sanskrit texts teach that nothing the soul might encounter in this world will ever bring it true peace; this cycle (samsara) is forever unsatisfying. Eventually, a soul recognises the futility of its attempts at happiness and begins to seek its salvation through freedom from its earthly desires. Through spiritual practice, individuals comes to fully comprehend their divine nature and no longer identify with their bodies. With their desires thus vanquished, individuals are no longer reborn but find moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth). The definition of moksha varies depending on the Hindu sect or Hindu-derived religion in question, but in most cases it can be described as a kind of heaven.

Christians believe that death is not the end of our existence. That belief has shaped the Christian faith since Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his execution 2,000 years ago.  They believe when they die, there will be a ‘Day of Judgement’ when all humanity will come into God’s presence. Every person will have to give an explanation for all they thought, said and did the successes and the failures. 

Mediums purportedly act as a vessel for communications from spirits in other realms or the afterlife. Mediumship is not specific to one culture or religion; it can be identified in several belief systems, most notably Spiritualism. Mediumship practice gained popularity in Europe and North America in the 19th century, evidence of mediumship dates back thousands of years.

Eternal oblivion (also referred to as non-existence or nothingness) is the philosophical, religious, or scientific concept of one’s consciousness forever ceasing upon death. 

Non Religious beliefs

For most atheists (people who believe there is no God or gods) and some agnostics (people who believe we cannot know whether God or gods exist) say there isn’t enough evidence for believing in a life after death.

What science says about the afterlife

Research also includes the study of the near death experience (NDE). 

Near-Death-Experience Do you believe in an afterlife?

A near-death experience (NDE) is a personal experience associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations. Some explanations from neuroscience hypothesise the NDE to be a hallucinatory state caused by various neurological factors such as cerebral anoxia, hypercarbia, abnormal activity in the temporal lobes and brain damage, though the exact nature of such experiences is not universally agreed upon.

However, people experiencing NDE’s commonly report being transported to a different “realm” or “plane of existence” and they have been shown to display a lasting positive aftereffect on most experiencers.

Past life regression is a method that uses hypnosis to recover what practitioners believe are memories of past lives or incarnations. The technique used during past-life regression involves the subject answering a series of questions while hypnotised to reveal identity and events of alleged past lives.

One thought on “Do you believe in an afterlife?

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