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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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Chapter Two More of the Same? 17


Chapter Two More of the Same? Whether or not the sort of developments outlined in the previous chapter in terms of cryonics or anti-ageing treatments are plausible, would we be pleased with their results? Do we really want to live forever – or even for an extremely long time? It might seem that this is something we would relish. After all, we have a strong instinct of self-preservation. Danger rarely raises a yawn, while to be saved from death brings gasps of relief and a new appreciation of life. Suicide is rare, and frequently provoked by intolerable conditions of health or life. Therefore it would appear that we love life and want as much of it as we can get. This is the point at which Miguel de Unamuno seems to arrive in his Tragic Sense of Life: What we really long for after death is to go on living this life, this same mortal life, but without its ills, without its tedium and without death. Seneca, the Spaniard, gave expression to this in his Consolatio ad Marciam (xxvi); what he desired was to live this life again: ista moliri. And what Job asked for (xix 25–7) was to see God in the f lesh, not in the spirit. And what but that is the meaning of that comic conception of eternal recurrence, which issued from the tragic soul of poor Nietzsche, hungering for concrete and temporal immortality?1 Unamuno thinks that what we desire is this life with a...

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