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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 Sixteen Overcoming Death 249

Extract

Chapter Sixteen Overcoming Death The position outlined by Kant in Chapter Fifteen makes room for a real- ity which we cannot define, a reality which, in his terminology, may be ‘thought’ but not ‘known’.1 The assertion that there is something which both must exist (to explain appearances) and yet about which we can say nothing in order to describe its nature, is picked up in Barth’s theology in order to assert a similar approach on behalf of the theologian, the ‘God- talker’ whose subject-matter is such as to refuse to be ‘possessed’ by mere words.2 For Barth the theologian is one who both tries to make room for God and at the same time acts as a destroyer of idols, those mental construc- tions with which we all too easily claim to be able to define the indefinable. We cannot ascend some intellectual Tower of Babel and pluck God down from Heaven to be incarcerated in a definition. This is the intellectual hubris of the mental image maker, the one whose idols are not carved in stone or bronze but are dreamed up by the human mind. It is the mental 1 Of course the argument is not simply that Kant’s thing in itself can be identified with God. But he does draw a distinction between what he calls ‘pure’ and ‘practi- cal’ reason. The belief in free will is an example of the postulates of practical reason which Kant regards as essential to theism. In appearance, the will is...

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