1. When you’re dead, you’re dead!
This is the view held by atheists and materialists. It mans that when you die, there is no spirit than continues – the whole of the human consciousness is in the brain and when that dies all aspects of the being die too. This is probably the most scientifically viable view, but then there is no real scientific way of proving it. This could be bad view because it gives no meaning to life, and would mean that you are living for nothing. It would probably make people live life to their own ulterior motives because there is no punishment after life. There is no spiritual dimension to life and everything is taken at face value. As I have no religious beliefs this statement is close to my view on life after death.
2. The body dies but the spirit continues.
This is where the spiritual part of the body with no form continues to live after the body has died. This would be the part of the being that is contacted during seances and by mediums. The weakness would be that, when you die, if your spirit remains, what does it do? Does it just float around a bit and scare people? Wouldn’t eternal existence get a bit boring after a while? However this is probably what people come into contact with when they see ghosts or have spiritual encounters. Another strength is that when people have temporarily died and have an out of body experience, they often see themselves on the bed or wherever they were, from a position on the ceiling. Some people have seen things on top of cupboard that they would never have know were there otherwise. I do not think that this is very likely, I usually dismiss things like out of body experiences as a coincidence or a spooky dream brought on by film and television ideas.
3. When you die, you are reincarnated many times as people, or sometimes animals.
Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs hold this view. Throughout your lives your good and bad deeds build up, the goal being to move a step up the ‘ladder’ each time until you have reached the highest level when you will be with god. Then the soul is absorbed back into god. The soul cannot die throughout this process. This is a nice thought. It means that you would live your life trying to be good and kind, because then you would get closer to god. However, if we are all reincarnations, why can’t we remember our previous lives? This view can be seen as unlikely because so many people think that they were Cleopatra, or Henry VIII.
They can’t all have been Henry VIII, and so even if some people really do know that they had lived before the others undermine them. There are a few cases that I would be prepared to believe – A woman kept having these visions that she was in a very dark place with very distinctive oil lamps on the walls. The oil lamps got dimmer and dimmer, and she knew that she was going to die. Years later, a tomb was unearthed. They found oil lamps in the exact shape that the woman described, and they found out that the slaves of a master who had died were shut in the tomb too. Oil lamps were burned, and when the flames went out, that meant that there was no more oxygen, so they would suffocate. I do not really know how I would explain this as an atheist other than coincidence.
4. When you die, a spark of you continues into another incarnation.
When you die, a spiritual spark will go into another being. You can’t remember the past life. There are not really any strengths to this view – as you are not trying to be re-absorbed into god, there is no pressure to behave kindly. As you can’t remember the past life, there is no proof to suggest that the view is true. However this can also be used as a strength, as if you can’t remember the past life you can’t you didn’t have one. Again, I do not believe this to be true. This is because there is not proof either way, and I naturally disbelieve in all things spiritual as an atheist.
5. When you die, you go to heaven, hell or purgatory.
This is the Christian and Muslim view of life after death. When the body dies, the human soul travels to paradise, hell or the in-between place. You go to heaven if you have been really good, hell if you have been really bad, and purgatory if you have been neither. Almost all souls go to purgatory, where they work on getting to heaven. This is quite a good thing to believe because then you will live your life trying to help other people and please God by being considerate towards others, so that you can go the heaven when you die. However there is no proof that any of these places exist.
Where are they? The popular belief is that Heaven is a beautiful place up in the sky among the clouds with rosy-cheeked cherubs floating about and angels playing harps, whereas hell is deep in the bowels of the earth, with fire and brimstone and little demons with pitchforks, like the Hieronymus Bosch paintings. Many people find these ideas of heaven and hell unbelievable and fantasised, but do believe in a ‘good place’ and ‘bad place’ for after death. Some people believe that everyone goes to heaven. It is a nice thought that you can meet all your friends and family again in the afterlife, and can make you fell better after a death. I do not believe in the human soul or spirit, therefore there can be no afterlife, as there is on part of the human other than the body and mind which expire at death.
6. After death there is Judgement Day – the dead will be resurrected.
On judgement day, when the dead are resurrected, they will be made more real than the original body. The good people would go to paradise, and the bad people would go to hell. This belief would make people try to be good all the time incase judgement day is tomorrow – they would have no time to make amends to their bad deeds. However there are some religious sects who believe that they are already saved due to the fact that they belong to the sect. They completely isolate themselves from the general community, and it has the potential to make them think that ordinary people do not matter and can be ignored, as the general public is damned anyway. Again, as I do not believe in the human soul and spirit then I can not believe in judgement day on a spiritual level.
7. We don’t know!
This is the view held by Jews. Jews believe that if they are good people and love God, then he will do what is best for them in the afterlife if there is one. This view would make people be kind and considerate incase there is an afterlife or reincarnation which requires you to have been a good person, but it would also mean that it might not matter how you had behaved in life because there might not even be a God or an afterlife to aspire to. You have to have stronger self-discipline as there is not as much reason not to do what you want all the time and be selfish.
My own views are one and seven. I believe that when you die, then the mind dies too, and that there is no spirit which escapes the body and either moves to another being or goes to heaven, hell or purgatory. There is no scientific evidence, and I need evidence before I believe anything! I can see how the chemical changes in the brain can create emotions and intuitive empathy, but I do not see how anything with no form can exist. For me, the idea of a spirit is a sheet – style ghost that can walk through walls and floats around going “wooooooh!” and haunting people. I do not see how heaven and hell can exist but not be found by any explorers. The idea of eternity is a rather nasty thought which I try to avoid, but the very idea of heaven, hell and eternal bliss or pain seems impossible and scary. Actually, eternal bliss would get very boring – we need contrast, and without the lows and misery of everyday life we cannot appreciate the high periods.
The idea of nasty little red demons with cloven hooves and pointy tails sticking red hot pitchforks in you for eternity seems a bit unrealistic to the point of being daft really, you’d probably get used to it after a while. Mediums have always seemed to me like smart people getting a lot of money out of silly people for sitting in a dark room with a gypsy-style headscarf knotted around their head and a funny handbag, talking in a wavery voice while talking a load of rubbish. While I am sure that there are some people who are convinced that they can contact the dead, and can answer questions that they could not have otherwise, (which I can think of no valid explanation for) most of it seems to be made-up on the spot while sticking to a well-used plan.
I find it hard to accept that a God that I don’t believe in is watching me in a way that I find impossible to understand, and when I die a part of me that I don’t think exists will go to a place that I don’t think is real and a day that I don’t think exists will come and the dead will be resurrected which I do not think is possible.