I hear many people postulating ideas on the afterlife. It’s often treated as a superstitious idea whose time has passed by those who don’t believe in it and is treated as an awards ceremony for a job well done by those who do believe in it. I think both views are wrong.
As someone who believes in an afterlife, I find the view, that this life is all there is, and then nothing afterward to be both depressing and disturbing. If there is no afterlife, then it would follow that nothing we do in life really matters. We can kill, steal, rape, commit adultery, commit the worst atrocities of humanity, and it doesn’t really matter because after this life, there is nothing. No judgment, no retribution, no justice. Without an afterlife, life is an existential hell where nothing we do, either good or bad, has any value whatsoever. Why bother helping people? Why seek to alleviate human suffering? Why try to make the world a better place? In the end, if there is nothing beyond the here and now, it doesn’t matter anyway.It would seem a supreme injustice for people to commit horrible crimes against humanity, and then just die, with no punishment for the suffering they may have inflicted on others.
Only an afterlife can give meaning to the deeds of life in the here and now. Only an afterlife gives hope of justice for wrongs committed. If there is an afterlife, the Nazi’s will not have gotten away with the murder of six million Jews as well as millions of others. Pol Pot and Saddam Husein as well as others guilty of genocide will not get away with their horrible acts. True justice doesn’t happen often in this world. We strive for justice, but it really doesn’t happen here. Innocent people suffer, the guilty go unpunished. Belief in an afterlife is a hope for justice and that all things perpetrated against humanity will be made right.
On the flip side of things, if there is an afterlife, it necessitates people to give thought to how they live their lives in the present. People need to realize that human life has value, and people’s actions matter, and that fact has implications for our actions in life. If people believe their actions will be judged, for good or for bad, they tend to do a better job of what they do than if they believe there is no accountability. Conceiving of a world where our existence does not end after death, but will include a judging (or evaluation if you prefer) of our actions with some type of consequence, gives value to human life that isn’t there if this world is all there is. The notion that life ends at the grave is a life without ultimate meaning. It seems dark and futile.
Belief in an afterlife does not mean this life is merely an audition for the main event, but a continuation of what was started here. It is the realization of what is only hoped for in this plane of existence. Religion did not invent the notion of an afterlife as an enhancement for its followers. It reminds people that because there is an afterlife, our lives matter and the way we live our lives have meaning. It is not a superstition, but a reminder that actions matter, and the way we treat others matter. Without a belief in an afterlife, all there is, is meaninglessness, and it leaves one with the question, “why bother?”