Life after death has and always will be a great point for discussion within almost all religions. Due to the fact that any solid evidence for an after-life would be hard to come by, the issue is based around theories passed down through many centuries.
The general Christian belief is that when a person passes away they go on to be with God in Heaven, Gods home. This belief comes from the bible, which describes the many as two separate parts, Body and Soul. The belief is that the while the body is left to die and rot on earth the soul moves on into Heaven. There are many quotes in the bible that would back up this theory such as the following extract taken from Matthew 10:28.
“Few would accuse Jesus of being an evil man or a false teacher. Even atheists and people belonging to non-Christian religions usually refer to Jesus with deference and respect. But Jesus wasn’t vague or indefinite about the reality of a continuing personal existence after death. He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”.
The thought of an after-life provides a sense of security in Christianity. Believers trust that when they die, if they have lived a Christ-like life, that they will go to be with God. Christians who have a relatively poor earthy life style would say that this offers reasoning for it. If they suffer on earth they will be rewarded in heaven. This is talked about in the 16th Chapter of Luke, where on earth the poor man pegs from the rich man, whereas in heaven the roles are reversed.
The theory of an after life could also be seen as explanation for why so much suffering prevails despite the fact that a loving all-powerful God exists. John Hick was a Christian who used this theory to defend the God he believed in “If there is any eventual resolution of the interplay between good and evil…it must lay beyond this world and beyond the enigma of death”.
But the question here is, does the philosophy of the religion offer any proof for the existence of an afterlife? Many philosophers have produced arguments for or against the belief of an afterlife.
One already looked at above is the view of John Hick, he would say that an afterlife must exist because there is injustice in the world and therefore there must be more to life than earth existence. Hick also answers the question of how is it possible. He gave an example of a person called John Smith; if this man were to disappear and re-appear in a different place then surely it would be the same person. Therefore he suggests that it is possible for a person to be moved from earth into an afterlife once they have died.
Hick considers that a person is an indissoluble psychophysical unity. He believes in the replica theory. In heaven a replica of the person comes to life at the death of the person on earth. So God creates in another space an exact psychophysical replica of the dead person. This also helps give reasoning to the body and soul theory. As is the case with all arguments regarding life after death it is impossible to give any sort of proof, therefore this argument is simply a suggestion.
The Roman Catholic denomination use a different theory, they believe that God is present only outside of time and space. They use Aquinas’ theory of Body and Soul. Aquinas’ theory comes from Aristotle’s dualist ideas of the separation of the soul and the body to explain the nature of man. Aquinas would say the soul is an individual spiritual substance, but it also forms the whole body. So Aquinas considered that both body and soul together were needed to make a human being, although the soul can survive death by itself. This is not to say that Aquinas and Catholic thought is dualist, in that it is saying that the body is really irrelevant.
For Aquinas the soul and body are both needed to make a full human individual. He says in Summa Theologica “all man’s soul is in all his body and again all of it is in any part of his body, in the same way as God is in the world”. Aquinas believed that at death, our souls survive and go to hell, to purgatory or to Heaven. This theory uses the idea that we have a new and perfect body in heaven and one problem with this comes about when the question is asked for, how do we recognise others? In response Catholic theology answers this by saying that the language is not univocal, but analogous. So humans at this stage do have a body, but it is different from what a body is for in this life.
Christianity has held this view, and in the early church backed the philosophical trend of the idea of soul. It believed that Jesus appeared to the disciples and it believed in the resurrection of Jesus. Now this view raises another question. How do we know that the person who dies is the same person as the one who rises again to life? After all according to the bible Jesus’ own disciples didn’t recognise his straight away after he rose from the dead. In response Bernard Williams suggests the importance of the continuity of the body. A child becomes a youth, which becomes an adult and so on. For Williams death ends this process. Therefore after death our bodies reach a standard position. Peter Vardy uses the image of a computer printer. The same student’s essay can be reproduced exactly the same, and he suggests that a similar thing happens to us after death. This idea isn’t really backed up but really underlines the fact that all of these arguments are simple speculation.
Christians are not the only group that has struggled to find a solution to hope that there is life after death. One other solution is reincarnation. It is the Hindu belief, also accepted by Buddhists, that the soul at death moves (migrates) from the dying body into a new body. This is often known as the ‘transmigration of souls’. A Hindu attempts in each life to improve oneself until it reaches the Atman (perfection). At this stage the soul will no longer transmigrate but will enter a state of bliss. Buddhists have adapted the concept to include ‘karma’, that is the actions done in life place a person on a ladder towards perfection.
Again these are suitable suggestions that would fit into place, and that’s why it’s so hard to find a true outcome. Philosophy is all based around probable answers from actual situations. Its like taking two numbers 3 and 2, if we were to put them into a maths equation but not know the answer we could only guess as to what the outcome may be. We could guess that it will equal 5 because 3+2 = 5, however we could guess it will equal 6 because 2×3 = 6. It is very similar with the theory of an afterlife, we can only guess as to what is going to happen. Therefore I would conclude that religious philosophy gives ideas, some fairly logical such as the belief of an afterlife to make up for loses in the current life, and the idea of reincarnation. However from this we can’t conclude that an afterlife either probably does or probably doesn’t exist.