Religious Views on Death and the Afterlife
For thousands of years of human civilization, people followed a huge number of beliefs and religions. All of them, in one form or another, believe that life after death exists. Some view death as a punishment for sins, passage to a better existence or liberation from suffering others – as a transition from one life to another. In different religions, the idea of life after death can differ significantly. However, the fundamental view of death remains unchanged: death is not the absolute end of human existence, and life (or the flow of consciousness) in one form or another continues to exist after the death of the physical body. It is worth noting that religion is inherently linked to the culture. Thus, in some cultures, the afterlife is merely a prototype of the real world. The life there develops according to laws similar to those on earth. However, in the overwhelming majority of cultures, the afterlife is endowed with features not characteristic of an earthly reality. Studying life after death, there are striking coincidences between religions, and, correspondingly, cultures that are divided both geographically and historically. Thus, the idea of death and life after death in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, differs, having its own cultural and geographical roots, but they all have a common idea – death is only a continuation of life.
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Death and the Afterlife in Christianity
In Christian teaching, death is a change for the better life. Jesus Christ taught that living with God involves a radical change, where will be no place for ordinary human relations (Mills, 2015). Therefore, death was described not as a disaster, but as an opportunity. Jesus said that to find life is to lose it (Mills, 2015). In Christianity, it does not matter what kind of death a person died. Only suicide and murder are forbidden as the intrusion of man into God’s plan. The resurrection of Jesus gives reason to the Christians to hope for the resurrection of the dead. After all, the central message of the Christian teaching is the resurrection of Christ.
The cause of a person’s death lies in the man’s fall because a man through own disobedience let death into the world. However, death is not the ceasing of a person but a transition to a spiritual state, which is the ultimate goal of earthly life (Mills, 2015). After death, the development of a person stops, any further change is excluded, and salvation begins for all that was accomplished during earthly life. The spirit leaves the body continuing its being. The immortal soul of a man, even after death, retains its self-consciousness; all the features of a personality, memories of the circumstances, persons, and events of their earthly life remain.
According to the Christian tradition, after the soul has left the body, it stays in paradise for six days. Consequently, it descends into the underworld. Here, within 40 days, it suffers from toleration, a court that is different from the general Judgment Day at the “end of time.” The good and bad deeds of a person are examined in detail, and one is given the opportunity to realize one’s whole life and see oneself in the true light. Christians believe that if a person during one’s life has not cleansed the soul with repentance, then torment in the form of ordeals is inevitable (Mills, 2015). As a result of a private court, a “verdict” is imposed on the soul, and those accused a sin are sent to the corresponding “dark monasteries.” But the souls of the righteous are elevated by angels to heavenly mansions. This process will continue until the Last Judgment. It should be noted that the resurrection is a “new creation” of God since the resurrected soul acquires a new, spiritual body, death ends with limited existence and offers hope for a complete transformation of the spirit (Bautista et al., 2017). The idea of the immortality of the soul and resurrection fills the exalted significance of the existence of a Christian and gives a person the strength to go through difficulties since short human life is just a preparation for the spiritual existence.
Death and Life after Death in Islam
According to Islam, death is the end of trials and temptations. On the last day, God will gather all people and judge them according to their earthly deeds. After that, some will go to heaven, others – to hell. Throughout life, a Muslim must do good deeds, but it is also very important how one dies. For a Muslim, it is desired to die when all the actions are dedicated to God (Goldade, 2017). Muslims honor the death of martyrs – people who gave their lives for their faith. Sometimes old people make the pilgrimage to Mecca, hoping to die on the way. Also, the warrior who died in the holy war (jihad) immediately goes to heaven (Goldade, 2017). After the Muslim dies, he is buried and lamented for a long time. According to Muslim beliefs, until the Day of Judgment, the dead “suffer punishment in the grave”, which is a special kind of purgatory where a person experiences pressure or is punished, depending on own actions during life.
On the Day of Judgment, all souls will unite with their bodies, rise from the dead and wait for the Last Judgment of God, which will determine where they will spend eternity – in heaven or hell. On the large scales placed on the square, the Lord will weigh the good and evil deeds of men, and, as a result, some people will go to heaven, others – to hell, concealing accordingly unimaginable bliss or incredible horrors (Goldade, 2017). The attitude to the afterlife in Islam is particularly important: death is the transition to a subsequent existence in heaven or hell in a physical body.
Death and the Afterlife in Judaism
In the Jewish religion, death is the last chapter of life in the physical world. Death is regarded neither as evil nor as a punishment for sins, but a natural process: everyone dies – both the righteous and the sinners. The Jewish religious system is expressed through the Torah – the Oral and Written, where all the beliefs of life and death are outlined in detail and consistency (Goldade, 2017). If a person lives in full accordance with the precept of the Torah, then one is a righteous man, and, accordingly, vice versa (Setta & Shemie, 2015). If a person who professes Judaism dies while pronouncing the words of the Torah, then one relieves his hour of death and goes to heaven.
Same as in other religions, in Judaism, too, three significant milestones are evident. First and foremost, life and death lay in the hands of God. Only God disposes of them. Second, people are judged after death. They are either rewarded by sending to the Garden of Eden, or are punished by sending to hell. The last postulate tells that when the Messiah comes, everyone will rise from the dead, and the soul will unite with the body. An individual judgment occurs after death. Resurrection from the dead will occur at the end of time, which will come with the coming of the Messiah.
Death and Life after Death in Buddhism and Hinduism
The idea of death and posthumous life in Buddhist and Hindu religions differ significantly from Christian, Muslim and Judaist traditions. A crucial difference is that Buddhists state that a person goes through many deaths and births. This circle of reincarnations is called “samsara”. However, one can get out of samsara and become immortal.
Buddhism tolerates cultural diversity and unites many schools of thought. Therefore, only the most common ideas about death and the afterlife can be considered. In Buddhist philosophy, death is a given, eternal reality that has always been present in this world (Setta & Shemie, 2015). Buddhists understanding of the death, means to recognize human subordination to the unchanging natural laws, the main one of which is “everything is transient”. Everything is conditioned by nature and a number of interrelated reasons. All people suffer, get sick and die, and death is the limit of suffering. Impotence and death are where birth is. Birth is associated with desires or desire for existence, which is the origin of samsara. According to Buddhist belief, Samsara is created by mental and moral inclinations, based on the experience in previous lives, which, in turn, form the experience of the current life. A person must free the mind from this experience, and only then one can see the world as it is. This clearness of mind will give one the opportunity to get out of the wheel of samsara and become immortal, but as long as a person lives, he or she obeys the causal law of karma. The law of karma has great ethical significance. With its help, knowing the present, one can foresee the future. In other words, every act (meaning actions, words and thoughts) in the present forms the circumstances of the future. Therefore, death is viewed as one of the ways of karmic retribution, reducing the severity of karma. Therefore, a “good” death, meaningful and conscious, when a person is not afraid of dying, facilitates karma and creates conditions for a favorable birth in the next life or makes a person immortal, one that is not born and does not die (Flannelly et al., 2008). Buddhists believe that death and dying are not the same. Dying is divided into several stages, and each of them is described in detail in the Book of the Dead. At the same time, the entire description of the Buddhist tradition – Tantra is devoted to the study of the process of death and practices of the preparation for it. Buddhists believe that it is at the third stage of a person’s dying the Lord of Death judges according to one’s deeds in the previous life. A person feels as tormented by demons, but is punishing oneself by own manifestations. Further, a person can be reborn in one of the six worlds: the world of people, animals, gods, spirits or demigods (Goldade, 2017). The actions accomplished in the previous lives determine in which of these spheres a person would revive.
Hinduism interprets death and the afterlife very closely to the philosophy of Buddhism. In Hinduism, the concept of karma and a cycle of reincarnations, called samsara are the basic foundations. Hindus are concerned about what will happen to them after death. The followers of this religious movement strive to exit from samsara and obtain the “liberation,” which overcomes death. The main aspiration for them is to stop an endless series of births and deaths. It should be noted that the last thought affects the afterlife experience. The death of a righteous man, unlike the death of a wicked one, is easy and passes with minimal suffering. After death, an individual goes to heaven or hell, depending on the karma (Flannelly et al., 2012). However, staying in heaven or hell does not last long, only until the moment when one enters a new birth, which also depends on the previous actions., A person can be born a pig, a dog, a tree, a stone, etc. While Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are talking about eternal life after the Last Judgment, Buddhists and Hindus talk about the possibility of getting out of samsara and reach an eternal bliss.
Concerning the issue of death and life after death being analyzed in five religions, it is essential to mention that in these religions this topic is quite similar. Christianity regards death as resurrection and the continuation of the earthly life. In Islam, death is a transition to the next existence in hell or in paradise. In Judaism – a natural process in which Sunday is possible with the coming of the Messiah. In Buddhism and Hinduism, it is considered as a rebirth. Moreover, the death of righteous people or people with good karma and the demise of sinners are viewed differently. Righteous fall asleep and depart from the material world, while the decease of sinners is linked with horror and despair in hell or the next life. Thus, despite the fact that the idea of death and life after death in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism differs, they all have a common idea – death is only a continuation of life.