Friday, September 30, 2011

Choosing your path to the afterlife: Religion in America

In my last post, we looked at the popularity of twenty-two religions around the world. That’s twenty-two different paths to the afterlife to choose from for those who seek a religious path. If you’re an agnostic or atheist, that path is included in the twenty-two as well.

The most popular religions worldwide, as I noted in the earlier post, are Christianity (2.1 billion followers), Islam (1.5 billion), secular/agnostic/atheist (1.1 billion), Hinduism (900 million), Chinese traditional religion (394 million), and Buddhism (376 million).

While Christianity has a slight edge in popularity worldwide,  it is far and away the most popular religion in the United States.

Broad-brushing the results of recent surveys, the majority of Americans (seventy-six percent) identify themselves as Christians, with Protestant adherents accounting for fifty-one percent of the U.S. population and Catholics for twenty-five percent. About 3.9 percent to 5.5 percent of the adult U.S. population is affiliated with non-Christian religions including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on. Another 15 percent of the adult population identifies as having no religious belief or no religious affiliation. About 5.2 percent responded to the surveys saying they did not know what religion they were, or more characteristically, refused to reply to a question about their private beliefs. 

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, religious belief varies considerably across the country: fifty-nine percent of Americans living in Western states report a belief in God, but in the South (the "Bible Belt"), the figure is as high as eighty-six percent.

A 2009 online Harris poll of 2,303 U.S. adults 18 and older found that "eighty-two percent of adult Americans believe in God,” the same number as in two earlier polls in 2005 and 2007. Another nine percent said they did not believe in God, and nine percent said that they were not sure. It further concluded, "Large majorities also believe in miracles (seventy-six percent), heaven (seventy-five percent), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (seventy-three percent), in angels (seventy-two percent), the survival of the soul after death (seventy-one percent), and in the resurrection of Jesus (seventy percent). Substantial minorities of adults, including many Christians, reported holding pagan or pre-Christian beliefs such as a belief in ghosts, astrology, witches, and reincarnation.

While more than seventy-five percent of Americans call themselves Christians, many of them are not regular churchgoers, an indication that their beliefs may be held rather shallowly. 

According to a poll by Gallup International, forty-one percent of Americans reported that they regularly attended religious services, compared to fifteen percent of French citizens, ten percent of UK citizens, and 7.5 percent of Australian citizens.

However, the Gallup numbers are open to dispute. states: "Church attendance data in the U.S. has been checked against actual values using two different techniques. The true figures show that only about twenty-one percent of Americans and ten percent of Canadians actually go to church one or more times a week. Many Americans and Canadians tell pollsters that they have gone to church even though they have not."

A 2006 online Harris Poll of 2,010 U.S. adults 18 and older found that only twenty-six percent of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often,” nine percent went "once or twice a month,” twenty-one percent went "a few times a year,” three percent went "once a year,” twenty-two percent went "less than once a year,” and eighteen percent said they never attend religious services. An identical survey by Harris in 2003 found that only twenty-six percent of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often,” eleven percent went "once or twice a month,” nineteen percent went "a few times a year,” four percent went "once a year,” sixteen percent went "less than once a year,” and twenty-five percent said they never attend religious services.

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.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The 25 documents you need before you die

We are all going to die eventually. One of the reasons we fear dying is that we’ll leave behind those we love without providing as best we could for them.

If you want to die without fear, one of the things you need to do is get together all the information that those you love will need to carry on after you’re gone.

It’s easy to procrastinate on preparing the necessary documents. Most of us say, “That can wait till I’m older, and closer to dying.” But remember - the inevitable might come sooner than you think - perhaps as early as today or tomorrow, in the form of an accident or unanticipated illness.

So, where do you begin?

On July 2, 2011, Saabira Chaudhuri had an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The 25 Documents That You Need before You Die” that is an excellent place to start. 

Here’s a link to the article. I hope you will read it! 

One of the most frequent errors made by people who die unexpectedly - or even those who die with knowledge that the end is imminent - is failure to list bank accounts and other places where money is squirreled away. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets. Does your spouse or someone else close to you know how to find your various accounts, and have you made provision for that person to access your accounts? If you wish, you can search for your own unclaimed assets at .

Here are three other sites you will find helpful: