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Death be not Proud

The Problem of the Afterlife

Series:

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 Five Where There Is No Death II – Hell 67

Extract

Chapter Five Where There is no Death II – Hell The previous chapter concluded with the suggestion that the form of our present existence, for all its moments of pleasure, is one of exile – the exile of the banished. Such a view entails that heaven can perhaps be glimpsed on earth, but it cannot be created on earth by simply purging the latter of its failings and injustices. Yet if that is the argument to be made, then what room does this leave for eschatology, for the idea of a return of Christ to a perfected world which, according to the Beatitudes, the meek are to inherit? This very important question will be tackled in the third chapter of Part Two. Before that, however, it is important to examine the other alter- native fate from which not even death may remove us. For just as death dies in Heaven, so it also appears to die in Hell. The ‘problem’ of Hell The problem is easily stated. On the one hand, it seems clear that a God of love would not condemn people, however bad they have been, to ever- lasting torment of some kind. After all we don’t do that ourselves. In most ‘civilised’ countries even the worst crimes are met with fixed jail sentences. Even when ‘life means life’, it is couched in terms of tens or hundreds of years – the rest of a person’s life but not ‘forever’. And even those countries which apply capital punishment are doing something...

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