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Major World Religion’s View of Afterlife
The topic of afterlife and what happens after someone dies is a much contested issue among believers of a certain faith. As there is no way to prove what happens, there are many different theories and beliefs about the afterlife. Even more significant, is the role that a belief in an afterlife plays on an individual. While often overlooked, what a person believes about their eternal fate will affect how they live their life. This is why understanding the major religions views of an afterlife can help comprehend the cultures and societies of the regions that practice them. The view of the afterlife matters in today’s world.
The major divide among the major world religions on after life is on the concept of reincarnation and heaven. Many of the Eastern religions believe more in concepts of reincarnation, while the Abrahamic religions focus on heaven and hell. Each of these views does impact how followers of these religions will seek to live their life. In the Hindu religion, the belief about reincarnation is stressed, as Hindu’s believe that when someone dies they will take over another form in the physical world. The soul in immortal, and the body is a type of shell simply holding the soul. The goal for Hinduism is to eventually escape reincarnation, based on the theory of Karma, and be reunited with the gods as an enteral spirit (Gray). Jainism is a similar religion, based on the same origins as Hinduism, and has many of the same general beliefs as Hindu’s concerning the afterlife.
Buddhism, another one of the popular Eastern religions, also has a few similarities to Hinduism in its views of the afterlife. They believe that a person is reincarnated after death and will continue in this cycle until Nirvana, or the state of perfection, has been achieved. Buddhists do not believe in a soul, or in a non-material being that is contained in a physical body. Rather, they see humanity as a collection of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. These are the aspects reincarnated in the Buddhist belief, until Nirvana has been achieved (“Dharma Data: Rebirth”).
While Buddhism and Hinduism are generally described as Indian religions, Daoism and Confucianism originated in China and are relatively similar in their beliefs about the afterlife. These two religions emphasize living in the present more than waiting for an afterlife. They are concerned most with living in harmony with the universe, and that achieving this state of harmony is effectively “heaven.” These two belief systems stress that death is simply going from a state of being to non-being, and that one simply ceases to exist in the known universe (“Life After Death: Taoism”).
Shintoism has its origins in Japan, and takes a relatively negative view of death. Shinto believers say that when someone dies they go to a place called “yomi” which is an underground world with a river separating the living from the dead. Those who die can be remembered by loved ones, but they do not have an overall concept of paradise after death, which is somewhat unusual of the major religions. Sikhism is another religion where the view of afterlife is sometimes hard to find or clearly understand. There are multiple views of its existence and ways to achieve, but it is the majority view that an afterlife world exists in Sikhism. Some believe actions determine the whether or not a person achieves paradise, while others view this as metaphorical. However, Sikhs do believe in reincarnation and the eternal nature of a soul (Gill).
While the Eastern religions mostly all have some form of reincarnation or cyclical nature of time and the afterlife, the more common (at least for Western countries) Abrahamic religions do not. Judaism believes in the afterlife and in the resurrection of the dead. There will be life after death, but this will not occur until the coming of the Messiah. Once the Messiah has arrived, there will be peace and perfection, and all evil will be cast from the world. God will reward those who have done good and followed his commands, but will punish those who did not (“Jewish Concepts: Afterlife”).
Christianity is similar to the Jewish belief in the afterlife in that there is life after death which includes the physical resurrection of the dead. However, there are multiple interpretations of how the end times and heaven will occur. The traditional Christian doctrine teaches that every individual has an eternal soul, and that upon death will be judged according to what they have done. By the grace of Christ, those who believe in Jesus will be freed of their sin and allowed to enter paradise in newly resurrected body for all eternity. Those who do not believe will be cast into hell forever, and live in a state absent from God. Generally, the Christian view of heaven is humans living with God in a state of perfection in constant worship and praise.
Islam’s view of the afterlife also uses the concept of heaven and hell. They also believe in a spiritual and physical resurrection on the last day. God will come down to the earth and everyone who has ever lived will be resurrected and judged by God according to what they have done. Humanity will be judged based on what they have done according to living by the truths of the Qur’an. Both heaven and hell are eternal, and heaven (also known as paradise) will be a place of material and spiritual pleasure for all (Mufti, 2006).
Finally, there has been a development of several modern religions which vary dramatically in terms of their views of the afterlife. Modern religions have mixes of paganism, reincarnation, and heaven concepts depending on which one of the many new religions one follows. For example, scientology is one of the more modern religions in existence, and they involve both concepts of reincarnation and heaven, although there is no official doctrine regarding the afterlife (Rastogi). Therefore, most new religions have some similar concept of the afterlife that can be found in one of the major religions described above.
While the view of an afterlife appears to be an abstract concept with no real practical value to currently living in the world, this is not true. Because the afterlife is often tied to works done on earth, there are many examples of this belief coming out in the world. Here in the United States, Christianity is the dominating religion, especially in Florida. Certain practices like attending church and following the Ten Commandments are often brought up because it could have some effect on the afterlife. Furthermore, for Christians who believe in actively working in the world to transform it according to Christ’s will, they will stress missions and evangelism throughout the entire world. This attitude is extremely prevalent in America, and it is rooted in the afterlife. The Christians want to save as many people as possible before the end times.
Rastogi, N. (n.d.). Where do Scientologists go when they die? Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/08/the_afterlife_for_scientologists.html
Gray, J. (n.d.). Paths to the Afterlife in the Hindu Faith | Immortality Project. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.sptimmortalityproject.com/background/paths-to-the-afterlife-in-the-hindu-faith/
Buddhist Studies: Rebirth. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/dharmadata/fdd47.htm
Life After Death: Taoism. (2012, June 21). Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://lifeafterdeath.com/life-after-death-taoism/
Gill, R. (n.d.). Afterlife and Salvation. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.patheos.com/Library/Sikhism/Beliefs/Afterlife-and-Salvation.html
Jewish Concepts: Afterlife. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/afterlife.html
Mufti, K. (2006, January 30). Belief in Life after Death. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/38/
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