Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.
In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.
Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.
The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)
The East-West question has accompanied and shadowed us all since the end of World War II. On this question I cannot agree with the great majority of those around me. Not that I have any inclination toward Eastern communism, in view of the face it presents to the world. I decidedly prefer not to live within its sphere and do not wish anyone else to be forced to do so. But I do not comprehend how either politics or Christianity require or even permit such a disinclination to lead to the conclusions which the West has drawn with increasing sharpness in the past 15 years. I regard anticommunism as a matter of principle an evil even greater than communism itself.
Can one overlook the fact that communism is the unwelcomed yet—in all its belligerence—natural result of Western developments? Has not its total, inhuman compulsion which we complain of so much haunted from remotest times in another form our avowedly free Western societies and states? And was it then something suddenly new and worthy of special horror when communism presented itself as a doctrine of salvation blessing all men and nations and therefore one to be spread over the whole world? Are there not other systems of this kind and tendency?
Further, could we really intend to help the peoples governed by communism and the world threatened by it, or even one individual among those suffering under its effects, by proclaiming and seeking to practice toward it a relationship exclusively that of enemies? Have we forgotten that what is at stake in this “absolute enemy” relationship, to which every brave man in the West is now obligated and for which he would give his all, is a typical invention of (and a heritage from) our defunct dictators—and that only the “Hitler in us” can be an anticommunist on principle?
Who in the West has even once taken the trouble to think through from the Eastern and particularly from the Russian standpoint the painful situation which has arisen since 1945? Were we not rather happy, and with good reason, over the Soviet contribution to the conquest of the National Socialist danger? Was it not the leaders of the West who toward the end of the war conceded and guaranteed the Soviet Union a determining influence in eastern Europe? Taking into consideration all that had happened since 1914, was the undoubtedly exaggerated need for security by which the Soviet Union tried to fortify itself and to hold the things offered it so completely incomprehensible? With what right did we begin after 1945 to speak forthwith of a necessary “roll back”? When the communists on their part took measures against such a roll back, was it inevitable to view this as an offensive military threat to the rest of the world?
Did we give the Eastern partner any choice? Did we not provoke him by erecting a massive Western defense alliance, by encircling him with artillery, by establishing the German Federal Republic—which seemed to him like a clenched fist pushed under his nose—and by rearming this republic and equipping it with nuclear missiles? Did we not challenge our former partner to corresponding countermeasures of power display and thus in no small measure strengthen him in his peculiar malice? Did the West finally know no better counsel than to put its trust in its infamous A- and H-bombs? And did it not serve the West right to have to realize that the other side had not remained idle in regard to such weapons? Was there no better diplomacy for the West than the one which now maneuvers the world into what seems a blind alley?
Moreover, what kind of Western philosophy and political ethics—and unfortunately even theology—was it whose wisdom consisted of recasting the Eastern collective man into an angel of darkness and the Western “organization man” into an angel of light? And then with the help of such metaphysics and mythology (the fact of an Eastern counterpart is no excuse!) bestowing on the absurd “cold war” struggle its needed higher consecration? Were we so unsure of the goodness of the Western cause and of the power of resistance of Western man that we could bring ourselves to admit only senselessly unequal alternatives—freedom and the dignity of man as against mutual atomic annihilation—then venture to pass off just this latter alternative as a work of true Christian love?
To the madness (I cannot call it anything else) outlined above I have been unable to accommodate myself in any way in all these years. I think that out of fear of fire we are irresponsibly playing with fire. I think that the West, which should know better, must seek and find a better approach to the necessary confrontation with the power and ideology of the communist East. Possibilities of a worthily, circumspectly and firmly guided policy of coexistence and neutrality were more than once offered to the West in past years. More honor would have accrued to the name of the “free world” had it taken up these possibilities; also, more useful and more promising results would have been achieved than those which stand before us today.
In particular I think that the Western press and literature instead of meeting the inhuman with inhumanity should have put to the test the vaunted humanity of the West by quietly observing and understanding Eastern individuals and relationships in their dialectical reality.
And I think above all that the Christian churches should have considered it their commission to influence by superior witness to the peace and hope of the kingdom of God both public opinion and the leaders who are politically responsible. The churches have injured the cause of the gospel by the manner, to a great extent thoughtless, in which they have identified the gospel (in this Rome is no better than Geneva and Geneva no better than Rome!) with the badly planned and ineptly guided cause of the West. The cause of the gospel cannot from the human perspective be healed for a long time by even the best ecumenical and missionary efforts. The churches have provided Eastern godlessness with new arguments difficult to overcome instead of refuting it by practical action.
Are we moral because we believe in God, or do we believe in God because we are moral?
Frans de Waal argues in his latest book that the answer is clearly the latter. The seeds for moral behavior preceded the emergence of our species by millions of years, and the need to codify that behavior so that all would have a clear blueprint for morality led to the creation of religion, he argues.
Most religious leaders would argue it’s the other way around: Our sense of what’s moral came from God, and without God there would be no morality.
Capitalism and Greed
Christianity has been tried for more than eighteen hundred years. Perhaps it is time to try the religion of Jesus.Dr Milman, Dean of S Pauls
According to the Reverend W D P Bliss, T G Shearman pointed out as long ago as the 1880s that around 0.05% of the population, own 60% of the wealth of “this land” (the USA). Today the distribution of wealth is if anything far worse.
A book by Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett was published in 2009. It is called The Spirit Level, the metaphorical title referring to measuring the level of equality of a society, as the various subtitles added to different editions suggest, or explain:
- Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
- Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
- Why Equality is Better for Everyone
The authors compared economic data with social inequality indices such as the Gini Coefficient to show that wealthy societies like the USA and the UK were very unequal in how the wealth was distributed among their people. It led to very bad data in respect of problems such as “homicide, infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancies, emotional depression and prison population”.
People’s wellbeing and their social cohesion were high in countries that were less wealthy but in which people felt wealth was more fairly distributed—for instance Finland, Norway and Japan. That sharing is a deep instinct is suggested by academic social studies—usually involving game playing—which show that people will pay to reduce inequality, and that even infants have an innate sense of fairness.
Of course, not everyone has the same abilities. When economics is driven by competition, so that the rule is everyone for themselves and each company for itself, some must succeed and others fail. Though sad and apparently wasteful, we are told the benefit is that the strong, the smart, the shrewd, and the perceptive will rise in the social hierarchy. Capitalist Christians who are often utterly appalled by Darwin’s theory of evolution, suddenly call upon him to explain the way capitalism works for the good of us all. They call it social Darwinism.
In fact, it is often the selfish, the unscrupulous and the dishonest capitalists who succeed best, and this outcome is the result of the basis of the system—competition. The competitive system encourages people of poor character to do well, and because it does encourage them, they may end up as millionaires or billionaires, though many, perhaps most, are no better than criminals!
The avaricious man is like the barren sandy ground of the desert which sucks in all the rain and dew with greediness, but yields no fruitful herbs or plants for the benefit of others.Zeno
Stanford Assistant Professor, Krish Seetah, and researchers from Reading University studied the archaeology of the Baltic region—a region that includes modern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and parts of Sweden and Russia—in the years from the 12th century to the 16th century, when the Teutonic Order, a Germanic brotherhood of Christian knights, waged war against the last indigenous Pagan societies in Europe.
Fighting under the guise of religion, the warriors exploited the Baltic’s pristine forests and rich fauna to foist an urban, Christian way of life on Pagan tribes that viewed many elements of Nature as sacred. Within a few centuries, the Teutonic warriors led a major ecological and cultural transformation that snatched the Pagan Baltic tribes into the fold of European Christendom. Professor Seetah said:
Pagan groups did it differently from the Germanic Teutonic Order.
The team found evidence that the Baltic Pagans ate dogs, but they abruptly stopped doing so after the Teutonic invasion, one assumes because the western European Christian knights had no taste for dogs as food, and imposed their will on the natives.
The Teutonic Order owed much of its success in conquest to their horses, whose strength and stature allowed them to bear armor and weaponry, unlike the Pagans’ smaller horses. In the Southern Crusades in the Middle East, it was the Arabian horse, stronger and swifter than the European breed, that led ultimately to the Islamic crusaders’ victory.
Increased reliance on local animals for supplies inevitably led to the extinction of some species, including the aurochs, an ancestor of modern cattle. The relatively rapid disappearance of species marks a dramatic shift in how the indigenous Baltic culture perceived the natural world. A belief in the interconnectedness of the land’s flora and fauna gave way to the more exploitative, Christian view of nature.
The research team compared Teutonic castles—massive forts whose construction required the clearing of vast expanses of forest—to the less intrusive, more organic pagan settlements. Medieval castles formed the backbone of the new Christian states because they were for the security of the class that had conquered in the period of tribal movement around Europe that lasted a millennium from the fall of the western Roman empire. Today they appear as crumbling, moss-grown relics resembling modern urban centers which flourish then fall into dereliction, as an inspection of many of our inner cities will show.