what happens to people after death, christian and non-christian views

If a man dies, will he live again?
Bible, Job  

Absolute death has always tormented the human being. Will we cease to exist after our physical death? Is our existence purely earthly? 

Most answers have been negative. Man is tempted to believe in life after death and some authors say that society and life - and the meaning of life - would be impossible without this creed.  But it is possible to detect voices stating otherwise, even in past times, and many doubts in philosophy and even in religious texts such as the Bible.

Christian & Bible Doubts about what happens to people after death

Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether it goes downward to the earth?
Bible, Ecclesiastes

Dying is one of two things. Either it is like having no awareness at all, or, as people say, it’s some kind of transfer of address for the soul from where we are into some other place. And if it is no awareness at all, if it is like a sleep slept out without any dreams, then death is wonderful.
Socrates, 470-399 a.C., Greek philosopher in Plato Apology

It is already time to go away, I to die, you to your life; but which of us goes to the better fate, that is unknown to us all - except god.
Socrates, 470-399 a.C., Greek philosopher in Plato Apology

Christian thoughts on life after death

To Christianity man is an exceptional being, on whom God has endowed the grace of resurrection. 

There will be no more death, no more pain.
Bible, Apocalipse

Death is the bridge to the definitive life.
Bible, Corinthians

All who have been adopted into God's family through faith in Jesus Christ will be given new life.
Bible, Corinthians 

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.
Bible, Corinthians

The corruptible body will gain incorruption, and the mortal body will gain immortality, and then what is written will happen: death will be swallowed up in victory.
Bible, Corinthians 

I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish...
Jesus, in Bible, John 

The Ecclesiastes Vision (9.3 to 9.12): life after death 

The Ecclesiastes vision of death is rather secular. It admits mortality of the soul, which is contrary to the broader biblical message of life after death and negation of absolute death.

This is the major evil in all that is done under the sun: that there is a same destiny to all. That’s why the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live: that all they go to the dead. 

The livings know that they will die, but the dead don't know anything, neither do they have any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 

The dead love, and their hatred, and their envy, all have perished long ago; neither have they any more a portion in anything that is done under the sun.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the death region, where you are going. 

Men don't know their time. As the fish that are taken in an evil net, and as the little birds that are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly on them. 

Mystic Visions about the After Death

Dead shall awake as Jacob did (…) And in the gate of heaven they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fear nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity, no ends nor beginnings but one equal eternity.
John Donne, 1572-1631, English mystical poet, Sermons

All things were spotless and pure and glorious… I knew not that there were any sins or complaint or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from my eyes. Everything was at rest, free and immortal. 
Thomas Traherne, 1637-1674, English mystic, Centuries of Meditations

AFTER DEATH AND HELL: EARLY PHILOSOPHERS AND CHRISTIANS 

The concept of hell is very old and common to most civilizations. It was very common in ancient Greece and Rome. The first Christians and medieval priests  simply retrieved this common concept and reinforced it through radical defenders.

The deceased, once in the place where they have been driven by their demon, are there judged: have they had or not a good and saintly life.  
Plato, 428-347 b.C., Greek philosopher, Phaedros.

Increase the expectation of the inexistence of hell, and the world will become a Babylon.
Priest Caussette, XIX century, in Georges Minois Histoire des Enfers

Here it is, my brothers, the foundation of all morality and all law and order: the day when the acts of each one will be judged and when each one will be sentenced in accordance with his merits.
Claude Tailland, in Georges Minois Histoire des Enfers

INEXISTENCE OF HELL 

Death, to some Christian thinkers (and not only), involves the refusal of the existence of a hell as a place of punishment.

Hell is, in fact, the sin itself. Hell is to be away from God, and the proof of this is clearly evident in the Holy Scriptures.
J. B. Bossuet, 1627-1704, French religious and writer, Oeuvres complètes

If hell exists, my choice is done: I want to be with the evil and those that suffer, to relieve them, because in that case God would not be our father.
Priest Monsabré, XIX century, in Georges Minois Histoire des Enfers

It’s more reasonable to think that the copywriters were mistaken, or that some phrases of the Gospel were wrongly conceived and interpreted, than to attribute to God the ferocity he is unable to…
Don Louis, XVIII century, in Georges Minois Histoire des Enfers

What happens to us after we die? Do we simply cease to exist? If a man dies, will he live again? 
Job 14, 14

ESSAY
what happens after DEATH

Democritus and Epicurus were two of the few great ancient philosophers who clearly said yes, we will cease to exist after dying. To them, and to the ancient materialists, the soul and the sensations were part of the body, and disappeared with it: «Death is nothing to us; for once the body is dissolved into its elements, there will be no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us» (Epicurus).

Lucrecius, a disciple of Epicurus, is extremely radical on this point. To him there isn’t a soul without a body, and hell and the fear of god’s punishment is a stupid belief:

«All those things told in fables about the land beyond the grave are here, in our life on earth. (…) It’s here, in life, that the empty fear of the gods threatens mortals.»

Curiously, in the Old Testament there are clear signals of doubts about the soul’s immortality:

«All go to one place. All born from the dust, and all turn to dust again»... 
«Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether it goes downward to the earth?»
(Ecclesiastes).

But these are clearly marginal positions. In all societies and cultures, the largely dominant position has always been belief in the immortality of the human soul. Authors such as Dostoyevsky postulated that social life would be impossible without the collective creed in immortality: «If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up».

Christianity only deepened and formalized the profound human creed in the denial of death. «I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish...» (Jesus in John 11:25-26).

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the doubt wasn’t as much in our immortality, and in the existence of a life beyond our mortal life, but in the nature of heaven, and in the rewards and punishments waiting those who left the earthly existence.

Some mystics have given voice to what was written in the Bible, in the Corinthians: «No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him». That’s the case of John Donne, in the eighteenth century:

«Dead shall awake as Jacob did (…) And through the gate of heaven they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fear nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity, no ends nor beginnings but one equal eternity.»

Yet some obstinate questions remain. How to conceive life after-death? The Bible, in Corinthians, puts the problem: «But someone will say: How are the dead raised, and with what kind of body do they come?»

Does punishment exist in life after death? Do evil people become good, denying what they were? Are only the good resurrected to enjoy immortality? And hell, does it exist?

The answers are obviously very divergent, even on the Christian side. To some fundamentalist theologians, hell is unavoidable. «The absence of hell would be an extreme of injustice, because it would be to concede the same end to Saint Vincent de Paul and Marat, Judas, Nero or Messalina. The last four are already there, undoubtedly. To replace hell by  purgatory would also be very unjust», said an outstanding French priest of the nineteenth century.

But one can argue against this. Divine good presupposes forgiveness and conciliation. The continuity and the transposition of vices and earthly situations don’t make sense. We can postulate that it’s wrong to give too much importance to human wickedness and crimes.

That’s what the words of Andre Comte-Sponville suggest:

«All sins, of course, deserve to be treated with mercy: we all do what we can, and life is too hard and too cruel for us to condemn anyone for failing in this area. Does anyone know what he himself would do if faced with the worst and how much truth could he bear under such circumstances?»  

 

 

 

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