Counting on an Afterlife?
Who doesn’t want more ice cream? Sure, I get it. No one wants to die. I don’t want to die. Big deal. I’m going to die. So are you. So is everyone you care about including that adorable kitten who just shredded your favorite chair.
Ah, but there’s always a work-around.
And one of the great workarounds in all of recorded history is the notion of an afterlife. If you think about it you have to agree that whoever came up with it was some kind of evil genius. Yep, so what if this go-round is filled with drudgery, pain, unfair labor practices, and lousy health care insurance? You get to go on to eternal life after this one, so no problem.
And, boy, has nearly all of humanity eaten that one up.
To be clear, those old Jewish mystics stumbling in from forty years in the desert weren’t inventing anything completely new. The Babylonians had been telling everyone since 1750 BC that we continue “to exist as (we) did in human life, but in a much less energized form”. As shades of our former selves we could meddle in the affairs of the living and even have some limited communication with them, but mostly the dead lived in the earth in a “some dark, cavernous world”.
Clearly, however, the idea of an afterlife of blissed out floating among the clouds with angels and saints for company would be far more attractive (for some people anyway). Add to that the spice of getting to send all those nasty people to hell — you know, the ones who park illegally in handicapped parking spaces — and you’ve got a winning system.
While history nerds are still arguing about why the Emperor Constantine chose Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD but let’s admit that the offer of a cushy afterlife had to have been a major selling point. With an average life expectancy of roughly forty years — and those forty years were no picnic, let me tell you — the whole heaven/hell set up was bound to be popular. So your parents sold you and your siblings into slavery to avoid starvation? You could suck it up and endure knowing that your Eternal Reward was promised as long as you did what the fella in the funny hat told you to do.