The question of what happens to us after we die remains as mysterious now as it always was.
This week we're asking… What's Next? After death, that is.
Here's one answer: nothingness. How can I be so sure there’s no afterlife? After all, people have believed in the afterlife, since … well, since there were people. Who'm I to say they’re wrong? Well surely we can recognize wishful thinking when we see it. People believe in the afterlife because they don’t like the idea of dying. It’s a comforting fantasy – nothing more.
Of course not all visions of the afterlife are comforting. Shakespeare’s Hamlet certainly didn’t think so. The “to be or not to be” speech is all about how even though life is dreadful, the afterlife is potentially much, much worse.
But that may just be two sides of the same delusion. That is, Heaven is God’s carrot, and Hell is his stick. It’s like Nietzsche said about Jesus – he was so hungry for love that he had to invent hell so he could send those who refused to love him there. Heaven is the flip side – it’s where you go if you’ve been a good little soul.
So if we start out firmly convinced that there's no God, no soul, no cosmic justice, then, okay, the idea of an afterlife is going to seem pretty implausible. But what if we admit we may be wrong? Well what then? Could anyone tell us anything all about the afterlife? If so, on what basis? You ever met anyone who’s been?
Of course not. But believing in anfterlife is not a matter of evidence. It’s a matter faith – at least while we’re still in the here and now. Which is exactly why that might seem like the end of the story.
But it may not be. Suppose I told you that some really cool things are taking place in some really amazing -- but far off -- place. You and I are missing out on all the fun. You’ve got no basis for denying the existence of this cool place, just because it’s not nearby, not part of the here and now. You've got no basis for believing it either, of course, so maybe you should be an agnostic about it.
What then? Well, suppose I decide I’m going to go find out the truth for myself. I’m going to set out on my own in search of this really cool place. Would you be willing to follow me? Maybe not -- but wouldn’t you even be the least bit curious? Wouldn’t you want to know if I found it? Wouldn’t you want to know what it’s really like, if it’s actually there?
If I made it back and told you about it, you'd probably be happy to listen and learn. So at least I’ve piqued your curiosity. But, of course, I hate to tell you, it’s a one-way trip. If you really want to know, you’ve got to make that journey yourself. Are you willing to risk it? Or are you... afraid?
Now you might say you're not afraid, you're just not interested in wasting time or energy on a lark. But now we've gone from saying that belief in the afterlife is little more than a comforting fantasy to suggesting just the opposite. After all, people who believe in the afterlife are like people who knowingly set out on a journey to a distant land that they know just might not exist. Cowards don’t do that. Only people with the courage to take a leap of faith into the unknown. There’s nothing comforting about that.
Then again, denying the existence of an afterlife doesn't have to be about cowardice as opposed to courage – after all, everyone's going to make this journey one way or the other. And some of the many different visions of what the afterlife might be like may be more reasonable and more persuasive than others. Tune in and decide for yourself.