The afterlife question

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Now and again, I find myself at the Internet doorstep of www.beliefnet.com.

I find it an interesting, if somewhat perplexing, website. The website was established in 1999, went bankrupt early in 2002, was re-posted six months later and has been bought and sold twice since its original debut. Progressive Christian Jim Wallis is a frequent contributor but so is the atheist Sam Harris. (Harris is an interesting choice to be writing for something called Beliefnet. Harris' passion for being a non-theist is a kind of belief system, I suppose. It is belief in non-belief.)

The other day, I checked in to find a menu option entitled "Belief-O-Matic." Respondents were invited to answer 20 questions about concepts of God -- e.g., the afterlife, human nature, the origin of evil and suffering. Answer the complete set of queries and I was promised to be informed what religion I practice -- or what religion I should be practicing.

Dutifully, this writer went through the list posting responses to all questions. A few were straightforward and my answers came quickly. For example: "Are there human incarnations of God?" My reply: "Yes, just one -- Jesus Christ." Other questions caused me to think for awhile -- and one of them merits your scrutiny in this column.

The question was, "What happens to humans after death?" I pose this to you and give you a list of possible answers. Which of the following will you choose? You are encouraged to select just one of the following:

* Souls are judged immediately for a foretaste of heaven or hell. At the final judgment, all will be resurrected and judged for heaven or hell (or, for punishment and/or purification before heaven.)

* Death results in unconsciousness until, at the final judgment, the righteous will rise to heaven while the wicked on earth are destroyed; the righteous will return to paradise on earth for eternity.

* Souls don't survive death. All the righteous will rise at the final judgment for eternity in heaven or paradise on earth. The wicked will remain dead.

* The soul's spiritual development continues so that all may eventually experience the indescribable joy of uniting with God (or Universal Spirit, et al.); hell is the torment of remoteness from God.

* Rebirths occur (continually, or until uniting God or the ultimate reality, or attaining eternal bliss).

* There is definitely an afterlife, but the specifics cannot be known or are unimportant -- most important is one's conduct in life.

* There is no spiritual existence beyond life. Or not sure. Or not important.

* None of the above.

I had to think long and hard about this one. My answer would surprise my childhood Sunday school teachers, I reckon. The certitude of most of the answers was appalling, given the paucity of detail about life after death in the Bible. Ergo, I chose the one reply for which I felt most comfortable -- which happened to be third from the bottom.

Beliefnet promised to tell me what faith group I should be part of after processing my 20 answers. Turns out I'm a Protestant Christian, something I already knew. Still, it was nice to get verification. If you have the slightest interest, check out the quiz and see how you do. And in recognition of Veterans Day, may God continue to bless those who wore (and wear) the uniform, the WWII contingent of which we continue to lose at an alarming rate each day.

Dr. Jeff Long teaches religious studies at Southeast Missouri State University and is administrator of the Foundation and assistant director of marketing at Chateau Girardeau Retirement Community.

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