While some believe it's impossible to know whether there is life after death, belief in immortality is timeless. People of all times and places in history have believed that the human soul survives death. If there is no consciousness beyond the grave, then life has fooled almost everyone.
When we talk about rebirth or reincarnation, some people laugh at the idea. They consider such belief is passed and obsolete. Others may think such question is in arena of religion. After all, it should concern us all, what is after death!
Scientists investigating 'near-death' experiences say they have found evidence to suggest that consciousness can continue to exist after the brain has ceased to function.
However, the claim has been challenged by neurological experts.
The researchers interviewed 63 patients who had survived heart attacks within a week of the experience.
Of these 56 had no recollection of the period of unconsciousness they experienced whilst, effectively, clinically dead.
However, seven had memories, four of which counted as near-death experiences.
They told of feelings of peace and joy, time speeded up, heightened senses, lost awareness of body, seeing a bright light, entering another world, encountering a mystical being and coming to "a point of no return".
None of the patients were found to be receiving low oxygen levels - which some scientists believe may be responsible for so-called "near-death" experiences.
Lead researcher Dr Sam Parnia, of Southampton General Hospital, said nobody fully understands how brain cells generate thoughts.
He said it might be that the mind or consciousness is independent of the brain.
He said: "When we examine brain cells we see that brain cells are like any other cells, they can produce proteins and chemicals, but they are not really capable of producing the subjective phenomenon of thought that we have.
"The brain is definitely needed to manifest the mind, a bit like how a television set can take what essentially are waves in the air and translate them into picture and sound."
Dr Chris Freeman, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist at Royal Edinburgh Hospital, said there was no proof that the experiences reported by the patients actually occurred when the brain was shut down.
"We know that memories are extremely fallible. We are quite good at knowing that something happened, but we are very poor at knowing when it happened.
"It is quite possible that these experiences happened during the recovery, or just before the cardiac arrest. To say that they happened when the brain was shut down, I think there is little evidence for that at all."
In 1991, Atlanta, Ga. resident Pam Reynolds had a near-death experience (NDE). Reynolds underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm, and the procedure required doctors to drain all the blood from her brain. Reynolds was kept literally brain-dead by the surgical team for a full 45 minutes. Despite being clinically dead, when Reynolds was resuscitated, she described some amazing things. She recounted experiences she had while dead -- like interacting with deceased relatives. Even more amazing is that Reynolds was able to describe aspects of the surgical procedure, down to the bone saw that was used to remove part of her skull.
It is estimated that as many as 18 percent of people who have been resuscitated after cardiac arrest have reported a near-death experience.
What's remarkable (although not unique) about Reynolds' experience is that it is the combination of an NDE and an out-of-body-experience (OBE).
Science has made its own headway toward explaining these weird phenomena. Two studies on the separate aspects of Reynolds' experience were conducted in 2007. Each seems to explain how a person can have an OBE or a NDE, but do they hold up in explaining experiences like Reynolds'?
As many as 18 percent of people brought back from death after a heart attack said they'd had a NDE. While many religious adherents might not be surprised by these accounts, the idea that human consciousness and the body exist distinctly from each other flies in the face of science. A brain-dead person should not be able to form new memories -- he shouldn't have any consciousness at all, really. So how can anything but a metaphysical explanation cover NDEs?
A study from the University of Kentucky has quickly gained ground among scientists as possibly the best explanation for NDEs. Researchers there theorize that the mysterious phenomenon is really an instance of the sleep disorder rapid eye movement (REM) intrusion. In this disorder, a person's mind can wake up before his body, and hallucinations and the feeling of being physically detached from his body can occur.
The Kentucky researchers believe that NDEs are actually REM intrusions triggered in the brain by traumatic events like cardiac arrest. If this is true, then this means the experiences of some people following near-death are confusion from suddenly and unexpectedly entering a dream-like state.
This theory helps explain what has always been a tantalizing aspect of the mystery of NDEs: how people can experience sights and sounds after confirmed brain death. The area where REM intrusion is triggered is found in the brain stem -- the region that controls the most basic functions of the body -- and it can operate virtually independent from the higher brain. So even after the higher regions of the brain are dead, the brain stem can conceivably continue to function, and REM intrusion could still occur.
With all their diversity of beliefs, the major religions are in accord in one great teaching: Human beings are immortal and their spirit comes from a divine world and may eventually return there. Since the earliest forms of spiritual expression, this is the great promise and hope that religions have offered to their followers. It is the believer's eternal answer to the cynicism of the materialist who shouts that there is no afterlife, that death is the end.
Anthropologists can only guess whether or not the earliest members of the Homo sapiens species (c. 30,000 B.C.E.) conducted burial rituals of a quality that would qualify them as religious. However, it is known that they buried their dead with care and consideration and included food, weapons, and various personal belongings with the body. Even the Neanderthal species (c. 100,000 B.C.E.) placed food, stone implements, and decorative shells and bones in the graves with the deceased, which they often covered with a red pigment. Since there are no written scriptures describing the purpose of including such funerary objects in the graves (writing was not developed until the fourth millennium B.C.E.), one must presume the placement of weapons, food, and other utilitarian items beside the dead indicates that these prehistoric people believed that death was not the end. The member of the tribe or clan who was no longer among the living still required nourishment, clothing, and protection to journey safely in another kind of existence beyond the grave. Somehow, there was some part of the person that survived death.
That part of the human being that survives death is known in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as the soul, the very essence of the individual person that must answer for its earthly deeds, good or bad. Hinduism perceives this spiritual essence as the divine part of a living being, the atman, which is eternal and seeks to be united with the Universal Soul, or the Brahman. Buddhism teaches that an individual is but a transient combination of the five aggregates (skandhas)—matter, sensation, perception, predisposition, and consciousness—and has no permanent soul. Of the major world religions, only Buddhism does not perceive an eternal metaphysical aspect of the human personality in the same way that the others do. However, all the major faiths believe that after the spirit has left the body, it moves on to another existence. Some faiths contend that it ascends to a paradise or descends into a hell. Others believe it may achieve a rebirth into another physical body, or may merge with the Divine in an eternal unity. Traditional Christianity, Islam, and Judaism envision a resurrection of a spiritual body at a time of final judgment, but generally speaking, the soul is of greater value and purpose than the physical body it inhabited while on Earth. The material shell within which humans dwell during their lifetime is nothing other than clay or ashes into which God has breathed the breath of life. The physical body is a temporary possession that a human has, not what a person is.
All the major world religions hold the belief that how a person has conducted himself or herself while living on Earth will greatly influence his or her soul's ultimate destiny after physical death. In fact, many teachings state that the only reason for birth into the material world is the opportunity to prepare for the soul's destiny in the immaterial worlds. And what is more, how one meets the challenges of life on Earth, whether or not one chooses to walk a path of good or evil, determines how that soul will be treated after death. All the seeds that one has sown throughout his or her lifetime, good or bad, will be harvested in the afterlife.
When an individual dies, according to many world religions, the soul is judged or evaluated, then sent to what is perceived as an eternal place—heaven or hell. The Hindu or Buddhist expects to encounter Yama, the god of the dead. In the Hindu scriptures, Yama holds dominion over the bright realms and can be influenced in determining a soul's admission by offerings made for the benefit of the deceased by relatives and friends. In the Buddhist tradition, Yama is the lord of hell who administers punishment according to each individual's karma, the cause and effect of his or her actions on Earth. In neither religious expression is Yama at all comparable to Satan, who in Christian belief is both the creator of evil and the accuser of human weaknesses.
In Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the soul's arrival at either heaven or hell is made somewhat confusing by the teachings of a great, final Judgment Day and the Resurrection of the Dead. And when Roman Catholic Christianity added the doctrine of purgatory in the sixteenth century, the matter became all the more complex because now certain souls were given an opportunity to atone for their sins while residing in a kind of interim area between heaven and hell. While many Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe that the dead lie sleeping in their graves until the Last Judgment, others in those same faiths maintain that judgment is pronounced immediately after death. Likewise, the concept of the World to Come in Jewish writings may refer to a present heaven or fore-tell of a future redemption on Earth.
There are many ways in which resurrection has been understood within Jewish, Islamic and Christian traditions. These notes focus on the Christian tradition, but you could of course use material drawn from the Islamic or Jewish tradition in an examination.
The belief in the resurrection originates from the accounts of Jesus’ followers and disciples concerning his resurrection as recorded in the Four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of
· Jesus’ followers at first do not recognise Jesus; Jesus was at one and the same time the same and different. He was transformed by the resurrection event. Also Jesus’ resurrection was physical; resurrection in the New Testament is not just concerned with the survival of the soul in a disembodied afterlife.
· The New Testament refers to the afterlife as a paradise, a state of continued existence with God after death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) and the afterlife is describe as ‘we will see [God] face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). In Christian belief the situation of seeing God face to face is later called the Beatific Vision.
· In his teaching as recorded in the New Testament Jesus states that God offers forgiveness if people really repent, and also that God judges people after death. (Matthew 24-25).
Within Christianity, whether resurrection involves a bodily life after death is debated. In general term Catholicism has traditionally believed in the resurrection of the person’s body and soul:
We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.
However, some branches of Protestant thought have suggested that life after death refers to the survival of the soul and not the physical body. The appeal of physical resurrection is that it corresponds with our understanding of a person as a physical as well as a spiritual being. Secondly, some philosophers have suggested that the only way to speak meaningfully of life after death is in physical terms because existence as a disembodied soul would not be recognisable as meaningful human life in the way that living human beings understand it. The philosopher Peter Geach has suggested that meaningful talk Life after death of life after death would involve the reuniting of the soul ‘to such a body as would reconstitute a man identifiable with the man who died’ because it is only through the resurrection that it is meaningful to talk of an individual continuing to live or living once more.
Challenges to belief in the Resurrection
Many challenges to belief in resurrection have been offered over the centuries. All of them centre on the fact that there is no available way to falsify claims concerning life after death, and verification is only possible in the weak sense of eschatological verification suggested by John Hick in his
The philosopher Bertrand Russell rejected belief in the afterlife as a product of human wishful thinking, arguing that at death a person’s memories, that make the person the individual character they are, are lost, since the memories and thoughts of the person are inseparably linked to the brain. When the body and brain rot the memories and identity of the person is also lost. Ultimately, Russell suggests that the universe is indifferent to people and, furthermore, that when you consider the wickedness of many people who have lived would anyone really want them to live forever?
A Modern Approach to the Resurrection
John Hick’s Replica theory is perhaps the most well known modern defence of resurrection. Hick rejected dualism, arguing that human beings are a ‘psycho-somatic unity’. Hick suggested that resurrection is best understood as a divine action in which God creates an exact replica of people in a different place. The replica would not be observable by us but would be observable by God.
Hick used the word replica to highlight the fact that God was not just creating a copy of the person who died; instead the resurrected person is an exact replica of the person who died. Hick used the analogy of a person disappearing in
Challenges to Replica Theory
· A number of challenges have been made to Replica theory. Many philosophers have questioned how the Replica is to be identified with the original. What is the continuity between the Replica and the original person such that they are the same person?
· An alternative challenge is that there could be multiple replicas. Hick himself rejected this suggesting that unlike a photocopy, replicas are limited to one.
· The nature and state of the resurrected body has also been disputed, particularly the age in life at which the replica body is made and whether the body would be suffering from any terminal illnesses from which it died.
There are many contemporary accounts about what some people experience when they leave their bodies. Obviously, this stage has something to do with the informal judgment or as a preparation for it.
In the lives of the saints and in spiritual literature, there exist stories about Guardian Angels taking the soul after death and accompanying it to heaven to worship before God. Frequently, as the soul is ascending to heaven, demons, upon seeing the soul, surround it intent on scaring it and carrying it away. This is because, according to Holy Scripture, after their expulsion from heaven, the fallen angels took over the area, if it can be called that, between heaven and earth. This is why Apostle Paul calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air" and his demons, spirits of wickedness in "heavenly" places, that is to say, in the sky or heavens. These wandering spirits of the heavens upon seeing a soul led by an angel approach it from all sides reproaching it for sins committed throughout its life. Being extremely insolent, they attempt to frighten the soul, bring it to despair and thus take hold of it. During this trial the Guardian Angel bolsters the soul and defends it. This is not cause to think that the demons have some power over the soul, because they too are subject to God's Judgment. The are spurred on to brazenness by the fact that the soul in its time on earth was submissive to them in certain things. Their logic is simple, "since you behaved as we do, then your place is with us."
In church literature these meetings with demons are called "trials" (from the Church Fathers, this theme is discussed by: St. Ephraem the Syrian, St Aphanasios the Great, St. Macarius the Great, St. John Chrysostom and others). The most detailed development of this idea is by St. Cyril of
While the souls of people who died naturally experience relief and happiness, suicide victims, quite to the contrary, experience confusion and torment. A specialist in the field of suicide summed up the fact very well: "If you leave life with a restless soul, then you will arrive into the other world with a restless soul." Suicide victims commit suicide to "end it all," but, as it happens, it is only their beginning in the other world. Here are a few contemporary accounts that illustrate the otherworldly state of suicide victims.
One man, who loved his wife dearly, killed himself when she died. He hoped to reunite with her for eternity, but things turned out quite differently. When the doctor revived him, he said: "I was in a place quite different from where she was… It was a dreadful place… and immediately I realized that I had made a huge mistake".
Some revived suicide victims described arriving in a kind of prison or dungeon and they felt that they would have to remain there for a very long time. They recognized that this was their punishment for violating the established law, which requires that each person must suffer his share of sorrows. Having wilfully thrown off the burdens placed upon them, they must carry even more in the world to come.
Another man, who survived death, tells the following: "When I arrived there, I understood that two things are absolutely forbidden — to kill oneself or to kill others. If I had decided to kill myself it would have meant throwing into the Face of God the gift he had bestowed upon me. To kill someone is to disrupt God's plan for that person".
The overall impression of reanimating doctors is that suicide is severely punished. Dr. Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist at the emergency ward of