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Death be not Proud

The Problem of the Afterlife


Mark Corner

Might people one day live for ever? Would they want to? What sense can be made of ideas commonly referred to in terms of an ‘afterlife’? What about notions of Heaven and Hell, of Purgatory and reincarnation? And in what sort of state are human beings expected to be during this ‘afterlife’ – immortal souls or resurrected bodies (and does either notion make sense)? What about the fact that any ‘afterlife’ concerns not just the fate of individuals but of society (‘communion of saints’) and even the physical universe itself?
This book tries to survey some of the existing arguments about life ‘after’ death, with chapters on material from Christian tradition (particularly the New Testament and the Early Church) and from the philosophy of religion. It then attempts to reach its own conclusions, drawing on Kant and Barth in order to suggest that death is to be overcome rather than survived.


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Preface ix


Preface We tend to talk of an ‘afterlife’ or ‘life after death’, thereby supposing that it will be a time like our own. We also talk about the ‘next world’ or ‘going to heaven’ or ‘the world above’, as if it is in a space like our own. It is easy to see what is wrong with such notions; it is not so easy to avoid them and at the same time to speak intelligibly of what (following the poem by John Donne, which is taken as the title of the book) might best be called the overcoming of death. This is the aim of the present work, and if it fails in its object then at least it may have managed to speak intelligibly, so that others can pick up the baton and go further. It is divided into five sections, which may be brief ly summarised as follows. Part One provides general observations about death, before Part Two moves into a theological milieu with discussions of Heaven and Hell. Part Three examines some of the arguments about ‘immortality of the soul’ and ‘resurrection of the body’ from a theological perspective, probing some of the biblical and post-biblical material. Part Four looks at the way in which philosophers of religion have approached the subject, and Part Five attempts to provide my own understanding of what it might mean to overcome death when it clearly cannot be ‘lived through’. Precisely because such an arrangement may seem something of a hand-...

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