Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

The question of immortality

Posted by Paulo on July 8, 2008

One of the main preaching points for Christians is the destiny of your immortal soul– When you die, where will you go? To an eternity in heaven or an eternity in hell? Christians believe they will live forever.

I went to a fundamentalist Christian boarding school for missionary kids in Africa. This is from discussions I had with former classmates on our MySpace group, where opinions on religion are always a hot topic:

[I had asked the general question, “Do you think you will live forever? And if so, why?”] 

To me, the question of the existence of a God, heaven or hell, or reincarnation, or any kind of afterlife was settled very quickly once I came to the conclusion that I will not live forever. Even if we have something we can call a soul, I see no evidence to believe that it will survive the death of the body. Our very existence seems to be so intricately tied to our body that it is frankly impossible for me to imagine any kind of life without it.

For some people, this thought causes a lot of trouble. I have heard people say if there is no God and no eternity, then there are no consequences. We could just all do whatever the hell we want with no fear of eternal punishment. I’ve always found this kind of thinking to be shallow. Of course my actions have consequences. I can still choose to harm other living beings and add to their suffering (and my own), or I could choose not to. For some people it doesn’t matter if they hurt or destroy others. That is unfortunate. For me, it does. Even if I’m not going to live forever to regret it.

The biggest fear for a lot of people, especially Christians, is not the thought that they will one day cease to exist, but that somehow a part of them will live on! It all goes back to the belief in an individual, immortal soul. If you believe that your soul will live forever in heaven, hell, or somewhere else, like endless cycles of reincarnation, then you’ve got a lot more to worry about, or, looking at it in another way, a lot more to look forward to. My unanswered question is: What evidence is there for such an immortal soul? The Bible? The Koran? Some other religious scripture? All of them put together? Intuition? Well, there is no evidence, unless you consider faith as evidence…

[…]

… I don’t believe that there is anything after I die. When I die, I will just go back to the dust I came from. No part of me will survive. Even if I accomplished some great deeds that will change history, given enough time, even my actions will cease to have any effect (and yours too, when the sun goes red giant and cooks us all). I don’t believe I have an individual, immortal soul.

Why? Aside from the fact that the Bible says so, and that it’s just something people generally believe in, what is it that gives you any indication or evidence to support the belief that there is any more to this life for you, personally (for your soul, if you will), after death?

I think this is an important question, because the immortality of the soul is one of the basic foundations of Christianity and many other religions. Or maybe you don’t care to investigate this question. It’s enough that everyone you know believes in an afterlife, and that most religions hold these claims, so you believe it too… or maybe you believe in Pascal’s wager, or whatever it’s called (that you believe in God just in case there might be one)…

I can see how the belief in an afterlife can be very practical. It gives people a sense of purpose. If what you do in this life carries consequences for all eternity, then it gives you a reason for living your life in the best way possible according to whichever path you believe is true. Of course, then we have the problem of which path and which religion is actually true, and there is no way to really know the answer to that. One simply has to have faith in what one believes.

Also, believing in an afterlife gives people hope. For the miserable life of a slave in Rome, heaven sounds like a good deal. On the other hand, some people can’t handle the thought that one day everything will end for them. The thought that death is forever is too much for them. They want their life and the things they loved to continue for eternity (for example, Christians often look forward to re-uniting with their dead loved ones in heaven). So people are drawn to the idea of an afterlife, and encouraged by religion, they actually convince themselves that it is actually true.

But none of this actually touches on the truth of whether there is an afterlife or not. The concept of the immortal soul is ancient and has been around for ages, but could it possibly be merely an assumption, a belief? What is it based on? Why do you believe it?

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One Response to “The question of immortality”

  1. Ann said

    There’s something unique about looking into a person’s eyes who knows there’s no afterlife. The knowledge brings with it an existential deepness of experience the religious or “spiritual” person is unable to grasp, no matter how much empathy is there (although I’m sure there is some understanding of the idea of it). The difference between the atheist and the theist is unlike any other differences between humans. All other human differences are based on beliefs, ideas, appearances, or biology. But the difference between facing reality versus having a life based in a belief there is an immortal soul…it’s in the experience of living life alone in your experience, knowing this is it, that sets one apart.

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