Since the beginning of time, mankind has pondered the question, “Is there life after death?” If you’re one of those who believe in life after death, you’re in good company. According to several surveys, most of us believe in some form of afterlife. In 2007, for example, AARP The Magazine conducted a survey of people age 50 and over in which 73% of respondents said that they believe in the hereafter.
Not everyone agrees, however. Some people believe that once the curtain falls, there will be no encore, and even those who are sure a new life awaits us in the great beyond disagree on what we’ll find when we get there.
Often intertwined with religious beliefs, our thoughts on eternity are as varied as the world’s religions. Generally speaking, however, they fall into two main categories: eternal reward or punishment, or reincarnation.
Heaven and Hell
Followers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are among those who believe that each person will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell, according to God’s judgment; in fact, some religions teach that the only reason we are born into this world is to prepare our souls for the next.
Within this broad view there are many variations. Some believers, for example, see Heaven and Hell as physical locations where body and soul will be reunited; others believe these “places” are really a spiritual state of being. Some believe that our fate will depend on how we lived our lives on earth; others believe that faith in God or Jesus is enough to guarantee a place in God’s Kingdom. Another point of debate is whether God will judge us immediately after we die or at the Last Judgment at the end of time.
Reincarnation, from a Latin word meaning “to be made flesh again,” is the belief that when a living being dies, some essential part of that being – typically known as the “spirit” or “soul” – is reborn into another body.
Reincarnation is a central teaching of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and many other religions and philosophies, but like those regarding Heaven and Hell, specific teachings on reincarnation vary from one tradition to another. In some belief systems, for example, reincarnation includes animals as well as humans, while other religions teach that only humans will be reincarnated.
What Does Science Say?
While the existence or non-existence of an afterlife remains a matter of faith, a number of studies appear to validate the belief in eternal life. Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life details the experiences of people who were clinically dead and subsequently revived. The visions, sensations, and emotions these people described were amazing in their similarity: separation from their bodies, traveling at high speeds through a dark tunnel, visions of light, encounters with deceased friends and relatives, feelings of love and awe, and an incredible sense of a powerful or divine presence. Among the many researchers have studied near-death experiences since Moody’s book was first published in 1975, most concur with Moody’s work.
What Do You Say?
What do you expect to happen when you die? Is belief in an afterlife a central part of your faith? Have your or someone you know had a near-death experience?