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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 Eleven Philosophical Investigations of the ‘Afterlife’ 179


Chapter Eleven Philosophical Investigations of the Afterlife Part Three argued that despite Cullmann’s perhaps surprising interest in an ‘intermediate state’, there were strong arguments against one. This view was maintained through an examination of the biblical evidence and the post-biblical development of ideas like Purgatory. The last chapter concluded that part of the problem with belief in an intermediate state is that it implies things going on much as they were before, at least in terms of their continuing within the spatio-temporal world as we know it. If, as Jesus says, we shall be ‘like angels’ in Heaven, then Heaven cannot be viewed in terms of a prolongation of the param- eters of this life. To say that life is followed by ‘afterlife’ makes much the same anthropomorphic error as saying that Heaven is ‘above’ the earth and Hell is ‘beneath’ it, or that Christ came down from Heaven like a benign meteorite and ascended again like a rocket. In 1995 an academic book appeared called Beyond Death: Theological and Philosophical Ref lections on Life after Death. The title of fers us both the idea of ‘beyond death’ (spatial) and ‘after’ death (temporal). Lionel Blue launches his ‘introductory ref lections’ by declaring ‘although you cannot speak of an after-life, you can talk about a beyond-life’.1 He also declares that ‘after-life’ is a contradiction (a point he might have made to the editors before they chose their title). Yet Blue’s own description of the ‘beyond-life’ is woolly and it is arguable...

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