The After-Life

A Note
There are so many different beliefs and superstitions on the after-life that it's easy to get overwhelmed when researching them. While it is interesting to explain exactly what these beliefs are, I think that it is more practical to examine how these beliefs impact our daily life. How does the Islamic concept of the torture of the grave make Muslims act today? Does the fact that most Christians believe in an eternal Hell spur them to greater evangelistic achievements? Why is the cow such a sacred animal in India? Keep reading, and you'll find out. I picked these five views on the after-life because I considered them an excellent cross-section of the world's views on the after-life. The first fourChristianity, Islam, Atheism (including the nonreligious and agnostic), and Hinduism--are the top-four ranked vies in amount of followers1. Judaism historically has been a very influential religion- as the forefather of Christianity, its impact on world history (the Crusades, the Holocaust) and now the reason Israel is the high point of tension in the Islamic Middle East. Each religion is complex, some incredibly so. The purpose of this paper is not to explore every facet of each religious adherents' beliefs, but rather to give a an overview of the religion's major views about the after-life in order to determine their affect on the adherents' life in this world. The effect will be unique for each person, but each religion's effect should all have some general characteristics.

Christianity is the largest religion in the world today, and there is no other religion today, other than perhaps Islam, that affects our world to the extent that Christianity does. Christianity's beliefs on the after-life can be cut into two very broad groups--those of Orthodox Christianity, such as the Roman

Catholic Church, and those of the Protestant Church. Orthodox Christianity is much easier to categorize, while Protestant churches have a wide range of doctrine and belief. It is possible, however, to get the general beliefs from the holy book of Christianity, the Bible, while ignoring the many interpretations.

The Eternal Soul
Christians believe in the immortality of the soul--that there is, in fact, an after-life. Souls that are saved enter Heaven, where they live for all eternity in the presence of God. Souls that are unsaved are thrown into Hell, where they either are tortured for all eternity, or cease to exist, depending on the interpretation. The Roman Catholic Church teaches of a middle ground for the saved souls between Earth and Heaven, known as Purgatory. Here saved souls are “cleansed” from their past sins until they are ready to enter Heaven. Not all souls enter Heaven. Some go directly to Heaven or directly to Hell. This concept is completely lacking in Protestant Church beliefs.

On Heaven and Hell
Heaven is described as a place of immense size and beauty, the main focus of which is God Himself. There is no pain or weeping in Heaven, only joy and constant worship of God.

Hell is described as a place of fire, darkness, and “gnashing of teeth.” Most Protestant and Orthodox churches hold that such punishment is eternal, although a few non-orthodox or cult churches (such as the Jehovah's Witnesses) believe that the soul that goes to Hell is annihilated.

Christians are saved by accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior, an intensely spiritual and personal

move. Some Christians believe that this salvation can be lost through a series of sin. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a Christian must perform good works in order to keep the faith. Even those who don't believe in either of the previous doctrines believe that Christians will be judged for their actions in life, even if said actions aren't the basis for their eternal destination. The importance of spiritual and outward actions has motivated Christians throughout the centuries to pursue “good works.”

Results of this motivation vary in intention with widespread effects. The most powerful example would have to be the charity and aid offered by Christians in every shape and form. While it cannot be said that every Christian is motivated by his outlook on the after-life to perform good works, the Bible promises eternal rewards to those who selflessly serve others. Examples of good works are providing for widows and orphans, helping the poor and needy, and spreading the “good news” (Gospel) of Jesus Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. The last is made expedient through the knowledge of what happens to those who are not Christians. The concept of Hell has been a strong motivator for evangelistic actions throughout the centuries. Major Christian evangelistic movements occurred in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., as well as during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Compassion International, and Habitat for Humanity all began as Christian organizations to provide for the poor, homeless and other needy people.

It can clearly be stated that the Christian belief in the after-life heavily affects Christians' actions in this life, beginning with the act of salvation. Christians are held to a rigorous moral standard and are commanded to do good works. While the Christian is affected by such in principle, not all Christians are motivated to such action.

Christianity share more commonalities in its doctrines on the after-life with Islam than with any of the other religions in this paper. Their shared belief in Heaven and Hell (although the concepts are slightly different) and a judgment by God for the actions in this life are unique among most religions.

Heaven and Hell
Islam does differ from Christianity substantially in doctrine and practice, so the role the after-life plays is different. Muslims believe that Heaven can be attained through following Allah's will and living a holy life. Muslims do not claim to know whether or not Allah will allow them to enter Heaven, however. Even Muhammad himself admitted that “Though I am Allah's apostle, I [do not] know what will happen to me...”2 referring to the final judgment. Heaven is a place of eternal bliss and pleasure. “Paradise is forever. Once a Muslim reaches Paradise, he will not want to be anywhere else and will live there for eternity.”3 Hell is a place of eternal punishment and suffering.

Requirements for Entering Heaven
“Whoever has worshiped no one but Allah is qualified to enter heaven. This includes followers of past prophets, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, who adhered to true teachings and worshiped Allah... followers of Muhammad will be more abundant in Heaven that those of other prophets.”4

The Torture of the Grave
According to Islam, a person's body and soul are separated at death, but only while the person's body is being buried, the soul is taken on a journey by two angels. Then the soul returns to the body,
2 Jesus and Muhammad, page... 3 4 hilal

where it is judged to be righteous or evil. If the person is judged as righteous, the person's grave becomes a place of luxury until the final judgment. If the person is judged evil, then the world begins to weigh down upon the body, crushing the ribcage. Worms begin to eat away at the body, causing excruciating pain until the resurrection. Muslims have used the deterioration of the body in the grave as physical proof of this belief.5

While Muslims consider Islam to be salvation through faith, and not through works, it can't be denied that Muslims perform certain acts as an outpouring of their faith.

The belief that martyr's enter heaven directly, thereby bypassing the torture of the grave, is key to understanding the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Certainly such attacks are the result of radical interpretations, but certainly the doctrine can be cited as a cause of such beliefs. Overall, Islamic beliefs do little to answer the world's problems or care for the needy (apart from the religious tax exerted from Muslims for the taking care of the poor around them), while it can certainly be an oppressor of women and non-Muslims. Islam does provide a good amount of moral restraint, although the enforcement of which can sometimes violate human rights, such as when Muslims beat or stone adulterous wives. For instance, there are restraints on pre-marital sex, alcohol, drugs and sometimes television and other media. In the end, Islam is a faith of outward expressions of faith, some of which are healthy, and others of which are detrimental.


Of the five views on the after-life that I researched, none of them was as complex and confusing as that of Judaism. I will try to be as true as I can in representing a clear and concise report on Judaism's beliefs on the after-life, but I cannot promise to accurately represent every single concept.

There are five main branches of Jewish thinking: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic6, each with their own subsets and areas of thinking. Along with the books commonly known as the Old Testament, the Jews include oral interpretations of their religious books known as the Torah. Needless to say, things can get complicated.

The Resurrection
One of the key beliefs of Judaism is the eventual resurrection of the soul. Although this has occasionally been rejected by some Jewish sects (mainly the Saduccees), “no aspect of the subject of the Hereaftere has so important a place... as the doctrine of the Resurrection. It became with them (the Rabbis whose teachings were written in the Torah) an article of faith the denial of which was condemned as sinful.”7 The eternity of the soul, like in Christianity, is necessary in Judaism. “The creation of man testifies to the eternal life of the soul. The Torah says, 'And the Almighty formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the SOUL of life" (Genesis 2:7).'”8

Sheol, often translated as “the grave”, is a common concept in Judaism and has undergone some changes throughout the years. Sheol is the resting place of the dead until the resurrection. It is often
6 7 Everyman's Talmud, Page 357 8

considered to be literally underground, based on some Old Testament passages referencing the Earth opening up and swallowing people. “Sheol was divided into four sections, intended respectively for the martyrs, the righteous who were not martyrs, sinners who had lived prosperously, and sinners who had been to some degree punished. The situation in these sections varied from extreme bliss in the first case to loss of all hope of the resurrection in the fourth. The souls in the third division were to be 'slain' in the day of judgment, but the meaning of this is unclear. Nor is it all clear that the fourfold division was commonly held. The twofold division into the abode of the blessed and the abode of those suffering punishment seems to be more generally held. At the resurrection, which preceded the judgment, it was believed, at least by those under the influence of Pharisaism, that the righteous shades would arise from Sheol, and, after receiving new bodies, ascend to heaven.”9

The Jews hold to two places in the afterlife which somewhat resembled the Catholic concepts of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Souls that have done good deeds or are considered “righteous” but need to be purified of sinful deeds enter Gehenom. Gehenom is not a place of physical punishment or torture, but rather a place where the soul is shown two “movies”, if you will. The first is how the soul lived his/her life, and the second is how his/her life could have been lived. The remorse and regret caused by such knowledge in turn purifies the soul for a period of up to one year, at which point the soul enters Heaven. Some souls that are too wicked to be purified exist in Genehom forever, although some Jews believe that these wicked souls will be annihilated.

There is little doctrine in Judaism about what Heaven (Gan Eden) is actually like. Some Jews believe that the amount of good works a Jew performs on earth determines how close he is to God in

Heaven. The best description of Heaven in Judaism is the place where God resides. Traditionally, Jews have held that Gentiles (non-Jews) must follow seven obligations in order to merit Gan Eden: 1. Refrain from bloodshed and murder 2. Establish laws and courts of justice 3. Refrain from idolatry 4. Refrain from blasphemy 5. Refrain from sexual immorality 6. Refrain from theft 7. Refrain from eating a limb torn from a still-living animal

While number seven doesn't seem like much of a problem, I think it would be safe to say that most Gentiles have at least a couple months in Gehenom based on this list.

Judaism is a religion concerned mainly with this life. The after-life is hazy and indiscernible by the finite human. “Because Judaism is built around a relationship involving agreements and promises in this life, the afterlife is less essential for Judaism than for other world religions. It would, in fact, be relatively easy to imagine Judaism without any after-life beliefs whatsoever.”10 Based on this information, I would conclude that the Jewish belief on the after-life has a minimal affect on Jewish daily life.

10 Jewish afterlife beliefs web

Hinduism is a complex religion, with millions of gods, fluid scriptures and a confusing sequence of life, death, judgment, reward, punishment, and reincarnation. A key to understanding the Hindu belief on the after-life is reincarnation. While trying to obtain a spiritual neutrality (neither good or bad), the Hindu goes through countless cycles of reincarnation, where he/she is sometimes punished or rewarded for past lives. It is also important to understand that this process of reincarnation is not judged by a god, but is rather the natural process of kharma.

Heaven and Hell
Heaven and Hell are both temporary, and perhaps not even real, in Hinduism. Hindus aspire to Moshka, or the soul's liberation from the almost endless cycle of reincarnation. This liberation includes the realization of one's own divine nature and either union or absorption with the universal god (Brahman). “Entry into heaven (swarga loka) or hell (Naraka) is decided by the Lord of death Yama and his karmic accountant, Chitragupta, who records the good and bad deeds of a person during his lifetime. It must be noted that Yama and Chitragupta are subordinate to the supreme Lord Ishwara (God) and work under his direction. Entry into heaven is only dependent on one's actions in the previous life and is not restricted by faith or religion. The ruler of heaven, where one enjoys the fruits of ones good deeds, is known as Indra, and life in that realm is said to include interaction with many celestial beings (gandharvas).'11

Achieving Moshka
“Hindus believe that people remain on the cycle of samsara (birth, death, rebirth), because they are

ignorant of their true (divine) nature. Naturally, this implies that once someone begins to realise, accept and embrace who they really are, that they will begin to progress towards God (Brahman).”12 can be achieved four ways: 1. “Karma yoga (the way of action): This 'way' [is accomplished by] performing one's dharma, or doing the 'right thing' according to one's caste (or social status).” 2. “Bhakti yoga (the way of devotion): This 'way' is [accomplished by] developing love and devotion to God (Brahman). It is generally considered the easiest way, not so much in terms of how much effort one needs to put in, but because anyone (no matter which caste [social group] they are in), can perform Bhakti anywhere, and at any time.” 3. “Jnana yoga (the way of knowledge): This 'way' is [accomplished by] being able to correctly perceive and understand the true nature of things (i.e. that the body is temporary, whilst the atman is divine).” 4. “Raja yoga, or yoga (the way of meditation): Those who stress the importance of this 'way' say that having a controlled and purified mind, is the key to gaining control over the rest of the body.”13 Moshka

Hinduism is mainly concerned with the individual's belief. So, how does this view on the after-life affect their lives her on earth? There is little concern for other human beings, since they are in one of their countless lives, and probably working through the problems they've created for themselves in previous lives. At the same time, many creatures (such as the cow and rat) must be treated with respect, because souls can be reincarnated in more than just human bodies. Overall, Hinduism has little to say about how to fix the world's problems, convert non-believers, etc. It's highly personal, highly

12 13

spiritual, and very complex.

Atheism is not a religion with standard belief-systems. Those that believe in atheism are simply united by the one belief a god or (gods) don't exist. Basically, there is no such thing as a spiritual world. Therefore, they do not believe in an after-life. Beyond that, it is impossible to group them in any other way, because each belief system is unique to the individual.

Nonetheless, not-believing in the after-life does affect how atheists' conduct their lives. Atheists aren't bound by any requirements that need to be met before they enter heaven, so they are the ones that provide the moral structure for the life (within the limits of the law). Some atheists have expressed a sense of freedom, that they don't have to meet any pre-determined criteria while living their lives. Many have also stated that since they don't believe in an after-life, they are more focused on spending quality time with their families and enjoying life to the fullest. Unfortunately, some atheists have expressed contempt for today's religions and remain very antagonistic towards religious people. They see religion as the cause of many of the world's problems and attempt to convince people that such religion is fake.

It is much easier to show what atheists don't believe in, and thus the way they differ from religious adherents, than to actually show what they do believe. Since this is the case, the largest impact of an atheist's disbelief in the after-life is a lack of requirements to meet in order to reach Heaven. From then, most is up to debate and is largely personal and relative to the individual.

Concluding Statement
It is now obvious that an individual's belief in the after-life has at least a minor impact on his or her life on this Earth. Christians perform good works and evangelize. Muslims enforce strict moral policies and follow closely the five pillars of Islam. Jews focus mainly on this life, but are aware of the spiritual world to come and the punishment for living their lives in futility. Hindu's recognize the tremendous amount of spiritual maturity necessary to maintain liberation from the reincarnation cycle. Atheists grasp tightly to this life and try and live it to the fullest, because it's all they have. Whether its good works or more prayer, each person is directly affected by their belief in the after-life.

Religion Christianity Islam Judaism Hinduism Atheism Heaven, Hell

Belief Heaven, (Purgatory), and Hell Heaven, “Purgatory”, Hell Liberation None

Effect Good works, eternal rewards, punishment Adherence to Allah's will Limited effect Class distinctions, balancing of behavior Live life to fullest, please self.

Renard, John. Responses to 101 Questions on Hinduism. Paulist Press (Mohwah, N.J.): 1999 Esposito, John L. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam. Oxford University Press, Inc. (New York, N.Y.):2002 Gabrial, Mark A. Jesus and Muhammed. Charisma House (Lake May, F.L.): 2004 Cohen, Abraham. Everyman's Talmud. Dution (New York, N.Y.): 1949 Ryries, Charles C. A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Moody Press (Chicago, I.L.):1972 Larson, Bob. Larson's Book of Cults. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Wheaton, I.L.): 1982 Life After Death. World Assembly of Muslim Youth. (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia). (1/18/08) Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents. (2000). (1/18/08) Williams, Kevin. Jewish Afterlife Beliefs. Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife (2007). 1/20/08 Halevi, Levi. The Torture of the Grave: Islam and the Afterlife. International Herald Tribune (2007). 1/20/08

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