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Hitler, lawyers, politicians, SUV owners and life after death
by Graeme J. Davidson, April 2006

.Maybe we ought to live our lives as if this is the only one, rather than an audition for a hereafter that might never happen.

.. Who’s going to heaven? You, me, our loved ones and, hopefully, Fido, Tiddles and every pet we’ve ever had. That’s what we say in surveys because most of us are certain we’ll join our loved ones in the afterlife.
....And who’s going to sizzle in hell? Tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, along with murderers, drug lords, gangster bosses and corrupt politicians and tycoons. To which we could add lawyers – no explanation needed – and SUV owners because their gas-guzzling machines are bad for the environment and they use their elevated position in the driver’s seat to intimidate other road users.
....All of which assumes there’s an afterlife.
....The New Testament describes how Jesus physically rose from the dead on Easter Day, complete with the wounds of his crucifixion. But this is hardly a model for our own immortality. Unlike Jesus, when we die our bodies disintegrate. So is there any evidence that we survive our physical demise – other than a longing to spend eternity with those we love?
....A leading philosopher of last century, A J Ayer, technically died in intensive care when his heart stopped for four minutes. Afterwards, he remembered being “confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe”.
....As a student taught by Ayer at Oxford, I wondered whether this vivid near-death experience would change his mind. In seminars, Ayer argued that life beyond the grave raised two basic questions. Do you have a mind or soul that can exist apart from your body? And can you retain your identity as a person beyond the grave? His answer to both was no. Despite his heavenly vision, which is similar to that reported by many who clinically die and are revived, he held fast to his conviction that death means total annihilation.
....Maybe near-death experiences are like dreams in which you imagine yourself leaving your body. And like all dreams, there’s no evidence an immaterial soul or consciousness leaves the body, even though it can feel like it at times.
....About a third of us think mediums can contact the dead.
....These psychics may have insights, which may or may not be accurate, into former loved ones. This, though, doesn’t prove that the deceased continue to exist beyond the grave. Perhaps these mediums make shrewd deductions based on your behaviour towards the departed. And even if they do hear voices or have visions, are they reaching loved ones on the ‘other side’ or tapping into your perceptions of the dear departed?
....Jesus told the felon crucified beside him, “today you’ll be with me in paradise”. Was he referring to living in a cloud nine mansion in the next world, or to how his fellow sufferer will have the joy of finding forgiveness and peace of mind in his last hours?
....Among first century Jews, there was a strong belief that the dead would rise from the grave during an apocalypse. “We look for the resurrection of the dead” rather than “We believe in the immortal soul” is enshrined in the Church’s Nicene Creed.
....Is this belief viable?
....We can imagine God reassembling the molecules of your body at some future time to reproduce you as the complete human being you once were.
....But does that involve you looking as you did at the moment of death – riddled with cancer, wrinkled and crippled with age, cut and bleeding from the wounds of a violent death, comatose or suffering memory loss from dementia?
....What if a cannibal ate you? In the resurrection, do you end up as part of the cannibal’s body or do you get back your original anatomy?
....St Paul says we get a new spiritual body. That raises the question of whether, when you rise from the dead, you are the same person that you once were. If it’s a semblance of who you were, then it raises awkward questions about whether it really is you. And how do you know it’s you or whether your memory of your self is reliable? Could you be deluded?
....As he was about to die, Socrates said, “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows."
....Maybe we ought to live our lives as if this is the only one, rather than an audition for a hereafter that might never happen.



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