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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 Seventeen Summary and Conclusion 261


Chapter Seventeen Summary and Conclusion Summary The first part of this book argued a case that, while to some people it may seem little more than common sense, provides a useful background to later theological analysis. To begin with it examined whether we might live indefinitely rather than die. Having questioned the plausibility of all the ways in which this might be so, the book then considered, in Chapter Two, whether even if we could live indefinitely, we would desire to do so rather than to die. The third chapter moved on from consideration of whether we could possibly enjoy living forever to the question of a moral dimen- sion to human life. Discussing life simply in terms of the possibilities of endless pleasure ignores the question of whether it is supposed to educate or discipline us in some way – whether we like it or not. The discussion in these three chapters opened the way to a consid- eration of key theological terms concerned with the ‘afterlife’ – Heaven and Hell (and Purgatory) in Chapters Four and Five and eschatology in Chapter Six. The issue of how we could possibly relish living indefinitely clearly inf luences the way in which we can understand Heaven; the sense of moral obligation in life is developed in particular through an understanding of Hell and Purgatory. Both the discussion of Heaven and the discussion of Hell, however, presented them as more than a simple extension of our lives here on earth. Heaven as the exile’s...

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