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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 Six Eschatology 87


Chapter Six Eschatology ‘Eschatology’ literally means the doctrine of the ‘last things’, the final events that bring the curtain down on salvation history, namely the end of the world, the last judgment and the separation of the ‘sheep’ and the ‘goats’ into eternal life and damnation. In the discussion of Heaven and Hell in the last two chapters, these final events have largely been conceived in indi- vidual terms, concerning the fate of the individual soul after death. It is understandable to view God’s judgment in terms of the individual’s relation to his or her Maker. The imagery of each individual being held to account for his or her deeds and misdeeds is firmly entrenched in our imagination. Will this name or that be written in the Book of Life? Who are the few that are chosen from the many that are called? Will not each individual be weighed in the balance and found wanting or otherwise? Insofar as divine judgment draws upon courtroom imagery, we think of individuals in the dock, to be found righteous or unrighteous. In the literary imagination it is individuals whom Dante encounters on his journey with Virgil in The Divine Comedy, it is Faust who makes his private pact with the Devil. In the mediaeval imagination it is over individual souls that the angels and demons do battle at the deathbed of a man or woman. In the philosophical imagination, too, there is a careful stress upon individuals as the seat of conscience and...

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