Feature photo by Yousuf El-Jayyousi
Religious affiliations help shape lifestyles
[dropcap style=”simple” size=”4″]H[/dropcap]undreds of years ago, challenging the thought of the afterlife was a cry for execution. From 1636 to 1638, Puritan Anne Hutchinson dared to challenge the ways of the Boston church, and her ideas got her banished from the New England colonies. From the time of Muhammad to hundreds of years after, Muslims sought to force conversions to Islam, and Christians fought back with the Crusades.
For thousands of years people have fought over which religion should hold power and why. Now, in the United States at least, the First Amendment protects citizen’s religions and gives them freedom to decide their own beliefs.
One of these beliefs is whether or not one believes in the afterlife.
Arguing against the reality of death is unreasonable, but what happens after someone or something stops breathing is up to interpretation. Junior Erica Mingus, a Mormon, believes after death comes a temporary life. As a spirit, one awaits resurrection, and after that period the spirit will be reunited in its own perfected, immortal body. Then the resurrected will be judged by God and live forever…
“If you’re going to be Mormon, you kind of have to be all in,” Mingus said. “Basically, my whole life is wrapped around my religion.”
Mingus attends church every Sunday for three hours, has a group activity on Wednesday nights and meets with her church every morning to have a Bible study. Although the afterlife isn’t a constant thought in the back of her head Mingus said she thinks about it whenever someone she knows passes or someone mentions death. When Mingus’s family friend died in another state and she wasn’t able to attend the funeral, she still felt close to him when she saw pictures or videos of him.
“[quote]”[Feeling closer] helps me understand more about the afterlife and that life after death is not just something people have to wish for,” Mingus said. “It’s a real thing that we are all able to experience.”[/quote]
Likewise, junior Tim Rhodenbaugh, who practices Christianity, believes the afterlife is real and if one accepts Jesus as their Lord and savior, they will go to heaven. Rhodenbaugh’s personal beliefs are the same as what is written in the Bible, he said.
“Christianity and following Jesus affects everything I do,” Rhodenbaugh said. “Whether that’s how I treat people or how I deal with having a good or bad performance on the cross country [or] track course.”
Although Rhodenbaugh is a devout Christian and has a strong spiritual side, he doesn’t actively revolve everything he does around where he will go after he passes. Instead, he lives for now and does his best to follow Christ in the present day.Also a Christian, Nick Newton, a chapter director at a local Christian youth program known as K-Life, is clear about God’s intentions after death. One of two things will occur: one will either be in the presence of God for eternity, Heaven, or will not be in the presence of God for eternity, Hell. Because of the undeserved favor Jesus had granted Newton, he said, he walks with, worships and serves Jesus daily.
“Jesus paid the price for me, the price that I rightfully should’ve paid,” Newton said. “I find that the only appropriate response for me is to worship and thank the God of the universe for His mercy and love that He has so clearly shown towards me.”
Newton said he does not follow his religion out of fear of judgment when he dies, but out of the love he has for his God. Mingus, Rhodenbaugh and Newton all give back to their religion with devotion in one way or another. Although none of them single out the afterlife and act with their focus on what happens after death, each comes across life after death at one point or another. For Mingus, she finds the afterlife more comforting than influential.
“Knowing what I know about the afterlife makes death a lot easier,” Mingus said. “I know that I will to be able to see [someone that passed] again, while most people believe that once someone dies they’re gone forever and they will never see them again.”
Distance from religion allows for deeper spiritual beliefs of the afterlife
[dropcap style=”simple” size=”4″]W[/dropcap]hen junior Isabel Thoroughman thinks about life after death, she does not imagine a white-marble staircase leading to the heavens, nor the dark shadow of the grim reaper looming over her, nor a crossroad between a paradise and a hell. Because Thoroughman is non-religious, her beliefs about the afterlife aren’t pre-determined or widely believed, mostly because she came up with them on her own. So when she thinks about an afterlife, it’s unique to her.
“I like the idea that after we die, our souls leave our bodies. I think that some souls have lived for a long time, [others] have lived through multiple lifetimes, and some are newer to our world,” Thoroughman said. “So when we die, our souls leave our bodies and go wherever souls congregate, and when they’re needed again, they’re pulled back down to earth into a new life. I don’t necessarily know or believe this is what happens 100 percent, but it’s the idea I prefer the most.”
Tricia Tiller of Banner Ministries UK said people such as Thoroughman, who are not affiliated with any religion, still believe in an afterlife because those concepts have existed in human nature for centuries.
“It is not necessary to learn, be taught or to be raised somehow to know about a spiritual aspect to life; it is inbuilt… For millennia, people all over the world have participated in religious ceremonies relating to death, the underworld and life after death, Egypt being one good example,” Tiller said. “Even further back, the most ancient cultures had ceremonies to send the dead upon their way, despite not really understanding what that meant. Also, all cultures have experienced things like ghosts. I can’t speak for other people. I can only guess that nobody likes to think of their life as meaningless, forgotten and ending without anything further.”
To expand on that idea, Mathew Harris, an assistant professor in religious studies at Indiana University, discussed his own presumptions. He said because humans are acutely aware of their own death, they find it comforting to envision going to some form of a ‘happy place’ after death.
[quote]“There’s a saying that human beings are the only animal that knows it’s going to die. That’s a powerful thing, and often an unsettling thing. We cannot imagine not-being,” Harris said. “Belief in an afterlife gives structure and meaning to annihilation. It can help to imagine one’s loved ones, friends and even pets in a ‘better place’ and to imagine an end to the suffering and sorrows of this world.”[/quote]
When it comes to dreaming about a life after death, Thoroughman said her belief in spirits was quite easy to imagine. The concept sprouted in her childhood, which she found with the help of two influential sources.
“My mom’s always been very spiritual. We’ve had discussions about this, too. She let me believe whatever I felt was true after opening me up to multiple ideas. And when I was in about fifth grade I read the book ‘A Dog’s Purpose,’ which is kind of a base for my belief, actually. I’ve just never believed in a heaven or hell,” Thoroughman said. “[Believing in the afterlife gives me security] that I’m existing now, but more than that, that I have a past and future farther than I know, that I have past experiences even if I don’t know about them. I don’t usually think about this, but that even after I die I can still go on to affect people.”
While Thoroughman gains security through believing in the afterlife, Harris argues people mostly believe in the afterlife to find their purpose in their actual lives. Through believing in rewards or consequences in the afterlife for what one does now, Harris said, shapes how a person acts throughout their life.
“Benefits [of believing in the afterlife] I would say, can be a sense of purpose, some way of understanding oneself in the world, a feeling of being part of a longer legacy, of having a sense of eternity and feeling secure in one’s fate. Drawbacks include power and manipulation,” Harris said. “If you can convince people that certain attitudes or behaviors will compromise paradise or even damn them, you carry a good bit of power over them. Also, these ‘good’ attitudes and behaviors can be divisive, leading people to dismiss or exclude others because they are not ‘worthy’ of the company.”
No matter why she believes what she does, Thoroughman is just glad she had the freedom to explore everything for herself and advises others do the same.
“I think it’s important to figure out what your values are, and that usually leads to figuring out your religious or spiritual beliefs, but it’s not a necessity to a good life,” Thoroughman said. “I think you should just be open to ideas on the afterlife and whatever suits you.”
Hinduism built through karma
[dropcap style=”simple” size=”4″]T[/dropcap]he idea that one’s soul is reborn after death can seem like a comforting thought. Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion, teaches that a person’s karma, or actions, will affect his or her next life. Senior Yash Khanna, however, directs his focus to the present moment and makes sure that he is good to those around him without fixating so much on how his karma will affect him after death.
“I do not think much of my afterlife at this stage of my life. I will live my life to the fullest and act as morally as I can and do good for the world,” Khanna said. “In terms of worrying about the afterlife, I have no worries. I just need to fulfil my Dharma and have good karma … and the rest will handle itself.”
Bad karma is not collective; rather, each action has its own deserved reaction. Vijaya Buddhirau, chair of the Education Committee at the Hindu Temple of St. Louis, described the idea as Newton’s third law of motion because a good action cannot reverse the effects of a bad one. One way to elicit bad karmas is to disobey the 24 Dharmas, or principles, of Buddhism, which include non violence, honesty and selflessness. Not following those principles can prolong one’s life and death cycles.
“Hindus believe that just as death is certain for everything that is born, rebirth is certain for everything that is dead,” Buddhirau said. “[Your] shape, knowledge, personality, riches or poverty and health or illness [in the next life] depend on your current karmas.”
For Khanna, acting morally does not include following a set list of rules. It simply means treating those around him with fairness and respect. “Bad” actions can refer to any obviously immoral activity, from lying to murder. Although he doesn’t really think about his past lives, Khanna believes he must not have committed many sins to be reincarnated as a human and not somewhere lower on the food chain. As for his next life, the ambiguity does not leave him in a state of ease.
“…I still have this life. It is not that after I die, I will be reunited with my parents or sister in the next life; this is untrue. If I die now, I lose what I have now,” Khanna said. “Dying is still as scary as it would be for someone who does not believe in reincarnation. Facing death is always scary and is not alleviated by knowing that you will be reincarnated.”
Reform, traditional Judaism differ in beliefs
[dropcap style=”simple” size=”4″]U[/dropcap]nlike many world religions that each have one central idea of an afterlife or lack thereof, like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, Judaism has two opposing opinions on what happens to the soul after the physical body dies. A professor of Jewish studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel said there are conflicting ideas about the afterlife depending on the denomination.
“Many traditional Jewish thinkers do not concern themselves much with life after death or claim it does not really exist,” Ariel said. “For other progressive Jewish thinkers, it [the afterlife] is very real.”
One in three American Jews identify as Reform, according to The Times of Israel, and while this denomination has taken no official position on the afterlife, there is a distance between the thinking of Reform as opposed to the teaching in traditional. While this is not the only thing separating traditional Jews from Reform Jews, Ariel considers the topic to be the most debated difference. Traditional Jews attempt to follow the Torah to a T, but the more progressive Reform Jews pride themselves in their interpretation of the Torah.
Those who practice traditional Judaism, such as sophomore Gillian Lancaster, believe there is no life to experience after death.
“Our obligation is to be here on Earth,” Lancaster said. “We’re taught to perform acts of kindness to repair and perfect the world while we’re here. There is no afterlife.”
Junior Matt Lazinger, who practices Reform Judaism, said the afterlife is a huge part of their core values. He said he finds comfort in knowing that their life is not over after death.
“We do not really know if there is a life after this one, but if there is, surely it will be dependent upon the life we have lived,” Lazinger said. “I’m not taking any chances.”
Christians seek heavenly life after death
[dropcap style=”simple” size=”4″]T[/dropcap]hinking about the afterlife can be a daunting idea. For senior Yoojin Jeong, the thought is exciting, but not knowing where she’ll end up is also frightening, and most people would probably agree. The afterlife in Christianity is more than just two destinations that determine how one lives the rest of their life. Christians get their view of the afterlife from the Bible, the sacred book that is composed of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Scriptures of the Church, Woodcrest theology teacher Phil McCarty said. To him, the afterlife is about the body being different than it is now.
“The body we have now suffers decay and will eventually die, but the new body we receive will last forever,” McCarty said. “Many Christians think of a place called heaven when they think of the afterlife. It is a beautiful place where there is no more suffering or pain.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Christians believe in Hell, and 85 percent believe in Heaven. Stephen Davis, Yale University Professor of Religious Studies said in practice, there are many different beliefs on the afterlife among Christians. In part, he believes the beliefs are influenced by different interpretations of the Bible that touch on the subject of death. While most Christians believe in an afterlife, the path to get there is differently disputed by many.
“If you truly believe in Jesus, and if you show love towards others, I think you could go to heaven,” senior Yoojin Jeong said. “But at the same time, just showing love towards someone else doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s not a simple thing; there’s more meaning to [the afterlife] than just heaven and hell.”
Once an individual has made it to heaven, Davis said one should eternally act to glorify God. But in its simplest form, Christians view it as a broken relationship.
“It is God who has made the sacrifice for us in order for us to be reconciled,” McCarty said. “In the afterlife, those who have reconciled with God will be able to live with God for eternity as separate beings who can fully love and be loved by God. This is what God has been after all along.”