Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why fear the afterlife?

One reason people fear dying is because they don’t know what awaits them on the other side.

There are only three possible outcomes when we die: 

1. There is no afterlife - we simply cease to exist. No reason to fear this.   

2. A part of us - a soul, a spirit - lives on after we die. 
  • Our soul lives on in a pleasant place such as heaven or regenerates (reincarnates) in a pleasant new existence. Nothing to fear here.
  • We go to an afterlife in an unpleasant place such as hell or we reincarnate in an unpleasant form such as a worm or cockroach. If you have a fear of this, time to do something about it.
A few words about truth. There are many forms of truth. To name just three:

·         Scientific truth is the truth of the scientistthe physicist, the chemical engineer, the statistician. It’s the truth of evidence, the truth of experiments in which the outcomes repeat time after time, the truth of the formula. If you haven’t read Karl Pearson’s The Grammar of Science, written in the 1890s, you might wish to do so. It’s a great book that, among other things, gave us the chi-square test and Pearson product-moment coefficient of correlation­­―perhaps the most used statistical tests of significance today.

·         Consensual truth is the truth of the group, where people for the most part agree or disagree about something. Consensual truth is the truth of the opinion poll.

·         Revealed truth is truth that people accept as true because God revealed it through prophets or by other means. It’s the truth of the Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Vedas. It’s the truth of miracles as wellthe truth of Eucharistic miracles, Marian apparitions and the like.

What do these three kinds of truth have to say about an afterlife?
  • There is no scientific proof for an afterlife. Scientists say that if there is a soul that lives on after we die, it probably resides in the brain, but no scientist has yet been able to find any proof for such a thing. If there is no scientific proof for the existence of a soul, then there can be no scientific proof for an individual afterlife.
  • At the consensual level, a majority of people around the world believe in some form of  life after death.
  • At the revealed truth level, those who are active in one or another of the major religions of the world almost universally believe in an afterlife of some sort.
I took a course in comparative religion as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1950s. I’ve been interested in the subject ever since, and have devoted a good deal of my reading time to the subject. Now, as I approach my end of life, I know more than the average layman, but not as much as theological scholars who devote their entire adult lives to the study of comparative religious concepts.

The major current religions of the world are Christianity (about thirty-three percent of world population), Islam (about twenty-one percent), Hinduism (about fourteen percent), Buddhism (about six percent), and Sikhism and the Abrahamic group/Judaism (less than one percent each). Another twelve percent of the world population pursues Chinese traditional and primal-indigenous religions. The remaining 16 percent of the world is nonreligiousagnostic or atheistic.  

Here’s a listing that you can use to get more information on any of the major religions, along with the approximate number of followers of each religion:
If you wonder what the specific religions of the world say about the afterlife, you can get a beginner’s overview at But be skeptical of anything said in this 20-plus-page article. Far more goes unsaid than said, as you would expect from an article attempting to provide an overview of a subject that has fascinated scholars and laymen alike since the beginnings of recorded history. If you start your research here, don’t end here.

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