Views on afterlife

GeneralRamos's picture

While I’m going to be focusing on the concept of afterlife as it applies to Christianity, because that is mostly what I deal with, I think that many of the points I bring forth are applicable to other afterlives and the concept in general. In this post I will be discussing three possibilities: heaven, hell, and ceasing to exist. As I have just listed them is how I would personally rate them least desirable-to-desirable.

The first and most important concept to grasp to understand why I arrived at this point is that of infinity. An afterlife in the classical view is an infinite period after the physical body has left. Such an existence also has another necessity – some form of existence independent of the physical body – which will be discussed later on as well.

The concept of infinity is crucial in discussing heaven and hell because we are talking about an immense amount of time of cruelty and ‘bliss’, without much if any contrast. As humans, we define the things around us through contrast. This should be easy to demonstrate – sit in a dimly lit room for a long time and then go outside on a bright sunny day. Then try the same from a pitch-black room to outside. You should note that the outside seems far brighter when you come out of the pitch-black room. You can run this same experiment with varying amount of light, and you should note that if you come from a bright enough room, you’d not note the contrast.
This is essentially what heaven would be like, except regarding much more than just light value. If you go for a long enough time without contrast, the concept loses its value. Eternal bliss and eternal punishment both become stagnation on a long enough timeline. If someone pokes you once a second for all of eternity, you’re going to stop noticing after a while. The only difference between this and eternal punishment is the severity of the ‘poke’, and thus will increase the time it would take to get use to such things. But since we are speaking of an infinite time ahead of us, this becomes inconsequential on the grand scale. And this all applies to the ‘bliss’ of heaven, whatever that happens to be. Eat nothing but cake for a month and see if it still provides you the same enjoyment. An infinite existence means that things like punishment become inconsequential to the argument. So what are we left with?

The Christian heaven is the place where all of the followers and believers in Yahweh and Jesus go. What does it take to get into heaven? The Bible gives a multitude of ways to get into heaven, many of them contradicting or not necessarily working in harmony. But the main two things cited are works and faith, mostly a combination of both. With heaven, you’re going to be limited to certain types of people, most likely people that followed the Bible very closely (we’re assuming here that the god is the one described in the Bible) or people that at least followed the ‘moral’ codes of the Bible pretty stringently. On top of that, what’s the purpose of heaven? What’s you’re reward?
It’s supposed to be a reward to spend eternity in the presence of this god who supposedly created everything, and you’re essentially there to worship it for all of eternity. On top of that, you are supposed to be incapable of committing sins in the presence of god. If you could, that would seem to contradict the bases for heaven and hell in the first place. But this denial of the ability to break any of the Biblical codes means an existence that is very limited in what you can do and think. It is essentially a constraint on independent thought. On the other side of the coin, if you know people are being tortured in Hell while you’re in heaven, how can you really be content? The answer that is most often given and the one I see as being necessary to counter the argument is that Yahweh removes your memories of them. So you conveniently forget a part of what your life was. Doesn’t this contradict freewill and change who you are as a person?
Physical pleasures would also be out of the question, because you no longer have any physical body with which to experience them (this alludes to the bigger problem coming up later). That means no sex, no alcohol, no food, etc. Without any sort of physical things, I think we’ve listed every one of the ‘perks’ of heaven – eternal worship of a god, a bland existence, no longer able to freely think, lose your memories of damned friends and family, and spending an eternity with people who all have the same mindset and basic view surrounding the worship of god as central to existence.

Since an eternity of hell will make the punishment inconsequential, what are we left with? Well, we’re left with the demons and Satan and anyone who didn’t follow the stringent rules of the Bible. That includes most of humanity – all people of other religions, all atheists, and probably a large portion of people that call themselves Christians now.
I said that we define things through contrast. The thing that makes Hell more appealing to me, aside from the negatives of an afterlife in Heaven, is that Hell would at least provide for more variety. There would be more interesting people in heaven, not only because of what they’ve done in their previous lives, but more importantly because they don’t share the same fundamental beliefs to land them there as is the case in heaven. There’s contrast, which makes it possible for one to like and dislike, which is pinnacle to ones existence.
In hell my thoughts would not be censured by the presence of a divine being, I would still have all of my memories, and I wouldn’t be spending eternity worshipping some deity. However, the still problem of blandness will still overtake the existence at a certain point. The benefit I see is that Hell appears that it would take considerably longer and would at least be more enjoyable and free in terms of thought and the ability to have a large variety of people and thus contrast.

I have not talked about the third option yet – non-existence. It’s interesting to ponder what existence would be like in these other ‘afterlives’, but when we come down to the facts, it all points toward non-existence. Once we die, that’s it. Some people find this scary or at least not as favorable as an eternity in Heaven or Hell. Personally, I don’t feel any of that. I have thoroughly thought about the issue of infinite existence, and can say it isn’t appealing to me.
When life hits the point of stagnation, it no longer becomes an ‘enjoyable’ existence. Once contrast runs out, which on an infinite timeline it must at some point do, it becomes a new kind of ‘hell’ in and of itself. I don’t want to come to a point of my life where there is no contrast – no ability to define happiness from sadness, anger from love, pleasure from pain – because without an opposite with which to contrast, the concepts themselves become completely meaningless. I have no fear of death because I understand that the alternative would not be an enjoyable existence. That being said, I might accept the idea of an afterlife if its length could be determined by you and you could cease to exist at any time you want.

This post is merely a thought experiment, though. The big problem, which was alluded to before, was that you couldn’t have an afterlife. There is nothing out there to suggest that any part of us exists in some sort of spiritual body or soul. Everything points to our minds and thoughts and memories being a product of the physical brain. The firing of nerve cells produces our thoughts and memories. Our existence, which is essentially our memories and thoughts, are locked with the brain. Once the brain dies, you have died. If you remove a chunk of someone’s brain, their abilities to feel certain things or think about certain things disappear or are severely crippled.
Also, the way we interpret the world around us is through the senses, which rely on a material world. For us to be able to experience pain in hell or physical pleasure in heaven (though I still can’t figure out what that would be…), we would require physical bodies. But supposedly, our souls are what survive past death to experience Heaven and Hell. So how are we supposed to experience our punishment or reward? How can one see, hear, smell, taste, or feel without the senses?
The Bible certain describes physical places in its descriptions of them (however little they are described). Heaven is even described with having streets of gold. The issue is that a physical Heaven or Hell is contrary to the concept of the soul. The two could not interact in any sort of effectual way. And of course, the idea of a soul is unfounded as well. There would be no purpose for the soul in the creation of awareness and the mind, since the brain does this. The soul is a meaningless concept.
The ideas of Heaven and Hell have also changed so greatly throughout the course of the Bible, let alone the existence of the Jews before any of the Old Testament works were written. It seems fairly obvious that the ideas of Heaven and Hell, at least the Christian one as we know it, is simply impossible. But even if it were, I don’t think either Heaven or Hell would be favorable to simply ceasing to exist.


I totally agree, but you will live forever no matter what anyways if Infinite Time theory is correct. You will be in this time forever and no time is superior to another or more real than another. You just won't realize it so it won't get boring. But I 100% agree that an afterlife, heaven or hell, would be undesierable. I'm amazed how some people manage to find that apealing. And another thing, how do some people fear the end of consciousness? It's not as if you will be conscious of your unconsciousness. I never noticed I wasn't alive before I was born. I highly doubt death would be any different.

GeneralRamos's picture

That actually precisely what

That actually precisely what inspired me to right this up - at the Lincoln Secular Humanists meeting last night, I was trying to demonstrate these ideas to one member who said he wished there was an afterlife, and thought that the fact that he would cease to exist was a bit uncomforting (though he said he was pretty sure that's what happened).

LostShepherd's picture

well i know i personally

well i know i personally dont want to be human when i die, i dont want to be limited by the structures of carbon and the time it take for an electrical impulse to travel infinifty.
but im pretty sure you cant die lol.
you can lose this vehical that is human i know but the whole principal of fractals in the universe , for those who dont know fractals are self replicating shapes that go on forever no matter on what scale, through big and small.
so it makes sense just to change scale. and go on as.
who knows......

GeneralRamos's picture

....I'm not quite sure what

....I'm not quite sure what you meanl. What are the 'fractals' you speak of. Is this some kind of new age 'energy' philosophy? Our mind exists as a product of the brain - it's not 'energy' that stores the information, it's a response of teh brain cells to electric pulses and stimuli. Our mind is the brain, not the electrical pulses in it. Without the physical brain, there is not existence of the mind.

If you simply mean to say that the basic structures we are made of are recycled through other life forms, processes, and natural phenomenon, I would agree of course. But we certainly don't exist as a concious entity past our death.