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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 Seven A Tale of Two Deaths 109


Chapter Seven A Tale of Two Deaths How, then, does this ‘fallen creature’ on the remote edges of reality make sense of its own chances of reaching Heaven? Earlier chapters have laid stress on the ‘distance’ between the human person and God. Humans die; they grow tired of the world they live in, though they recognise a moral responsibility to improve it as far as they can. When they think of an afterlife, they struggle to imagine what Heaven is like. Their imaginations work more ef fectively over Hell, but the most important point about Hell is the confrontation it forces upon us with what we truly are. Indeed both Heaven and Hell can be seen in these terms: the human person is open to a reality which purges. The more the love of God becomes apparent and unavoidable, the more the sinner is overwhelmed by regret. The Beatific Vision both thrills and burns. In this sense it is both Heaven and Hell. Any stress upon the moral component of human existence has, if it views that moral obligation properly, to include a determination to work for a better society. Some theologians believe that this would be a society not just incrementally but radically dif ferent from our own. In his fascinat- ing study Radical Christianity, for instance, Professor Rowland presents Jesus as a man who rejects the use of money. He tells his disciples to take none on their journeys, he has to ask for a coin in order...

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