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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 Three The Moral Quality of Life 33


Chapter Three The Moral Quality of Life Williams’ position, outlined in the last chapter, is more controversial than that of Swift. Most of us would grant that we’d grow weary of a life in which we became increasingly infirm and senile. However, the idea that we might tire of a life which we could still live to the full is more questionable. Yet we can all agree that life is a matter of quality and not merely – or primarily – of quantity. In an impassioned disquisition On the Shortness of Life, the Stoic philosopher Seneca argues powerfully that ‘life is long if you know how to use it’,1 but short if you don’t. Too many people waste their lives, he argues. Some of them become slaves of wealth and ambi- tion, which rarely satisfies even those few who achieve what they strive for. Even the great emperor Augustus, ‘to whom the gods granted more than to anyone else, never ceased to pray for rest and to seek a respite from public af fairs’.2 Others overwork in the expectation that they will ‘start living’ at some point in the future, perhaps when they retire, only to be struck down before they can do so. Putting things of f, says Seneca, is the biggest waste of life. It denies us the present by promising the future. ‘The great- est obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what...

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