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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 Thirteen The Identity Problem 207


Chapter Thirteen The Identity Problem The last two chapters have focused upon some of the philosophical objec- tions to the notion of ‘immortality of the soul’. However, it is well known that Cullmann, despite his belief in an intermediate state, was firmly drawn towards the idea of ‘resurrection of the body’. Part Three suggested that many believers in ‘resurrection’ think of the doctrine as providing a ‘with one bound he was free’ way out of any philosophical dif ficulties. It is easy to see why. For with the belief in ‘resurrection of the body’ we at last appear to avoid the problem of the ‘intermediate state’. The body dies and then at the end of time when the resurrection comes, God recre- ates us from whatever ‘pennyworth of powder in a skull’ we have become. Any ‘in between’ period is of no consequence. Resurrection of the body is uninterested in transition stages or anything that happens in time after our deaths. Of course there are some (like Cullmann himself ) who wish to com- bine bodily resurrection with some kind of intermediate state. However, we might argue that they are wrong to do so and that there is no need for such a state. Let it be said that at death we are burnt or rot, that we have no conscious existence, that we are no more aware of ourselves than a brick or a tree. This does not, the argument goes, rule out the final resurrection when time and history...

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