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Tuesday, April 04, 2006 

Thoughts on the Soul

marcguyver asks: "What do you think happens when you die and do we possess anything 'eternal' in our body, i.e. a soul? ... I am hoping and believing that this is not the end."

I mulled this question for a few days (then I disappeared into my busy life, sorry).

I grew up being told something very interesting. 'I am special because I have an eternal soul. I can look forward being reunited with loved ones and lasting forever in a very special place (as long as I eat my peas and do what I'm told).' Doesn't this, on the surface at least, seem like a lovely, positive thing that anyone would love?

In college, even though I had long left behind the Catholic church's dogma, I searched for the soul. I read widely, from Buddism to new agey stuff. Shouldn't there to be something to "a life after death" as it seems to be such a common theme across many cultures? Great question.

Part One: do you really want to live forever?

Would living forever really be such a good thing? Books such as Lord of the Rings and Interview with a Vampire do not make me look forward to joining some eternal place. These books are by two theists, Tolkien & Rice is famously a newly reconverted theist. stardust1954 pointed out Twain's Letters from the Earth, a hilarious non-theist take on the question.

But... if you love science fiction at all, try one of my favorites: Hyperion, but trust me on this, if you don't buy book #2 you will regret it. (It does contain some pretty explicit sex scenes, so I'm not sure you'll want to share it with a young teen.) Did I remember to tell you to get #2 if you do pick it up? You'll never wish Heaven on anyone after reading these two books.

I have more thoughts, on the mechanics of the soul, RSN.

What do you think happens when you die and do we possess anything 'eternal' in our body, i.e. a soul?

I think we go to live in the memories of those: who love us or who hate us. In the memory of those who love us we are in a state of heaven. In the memory of those who hate us we are in a state of hell.

abranches - that is a really cool way of thinking about it.

Freethoughtmom - most religions center around death and afterlife. People want to live forever, but it isn't going to happen. By making oneself believe in an afterlife isn't very helpful, however since I have seen christians break down worse than non-believers at funerals and news of fatal illness diagnosis etc.
Belief in an afterlife is wishful thinking, people want to find a way to outsmart nature. Reason and rational thinking tells us that is not possible. Hoping for an afterlife is denying the nature of things and the inevitable.

Thinking that we somehow 'live on' in another place is just hubris magnified. It's also (as Freethoughtmom said) a means of control. Be good & you'll go to heaven, if you don't behave you'll go to Hell.

All BS of course. When you die you're dead. Game over. No refunds.

It's all about fear and control.

Thanks for the Twain.

When we lived in Colorado, we were visited weekly by a Jehovah's Witness. At this point in our lives, we were more agnostic than anything else. I also didn't have the guts to tell this guy to leave us alone, but we never invited him in.

Anyway, I was outside gardening one day, and when I say gardening, I mean completely covered in dirt, sweating, and I had been working all day in the yard (LOL, this was pre-kids) and it was obvious when he showed up that I was quite exausted.

He knew that I was an avid gardener (everyone in the neighborhood did) and he said, "See, wouldn't you love to spend eternity gardening? When there is paradise on earth, you could garden forever."

I looked at him with after taking a long gulp of water, and had water dripping off of my muddy chin, and told him that as much as I love to garden, I would much rather go to hell than garden for an eternity. Hehehe! I even got him to laugh at that one.

I certainly wouldn't want to live forever. Somedays I wonder if I'll make it through the day.

Well FreeThought,

I for one am looking forward to 'Eternity' with the Father.
Sadly, now that you've shown me how to get to heaven (eating peas) I'm afraid I'm not going to make it! :O)

have you ever read Discworld's explanation of what happens after death?

who says that death is compulsory

even the bible has at least two people who never died (Enoch and Elijah), and if you are Roman Catholic then you will probably add a third (Mary)

quantum immortality is one possible conclusion from the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (the one with infinite parallel universes, where every possible permutation happens somewhere) - all the possible places that you cease to exist exist, but you can never observe them since you would have to exist to do so, therefore you can only observe your continued existance, and so from your point of view you never don't exist.

Obviously this doesnt extend the same privelege to anyone else - so all your friends will die around you - and as you get older the odds on continued survival decrease, so ever more unlikely things become more likely to happen than your survival. But since your survival is guarenteed by many worlds QM - the older you get the more things deviate from physics and become supernatural - like. So, the odds on a world of ghosts, or heaven, etc. may be statistically low, but its fairly likely to happen.

There is a realistic human fear of death. Once we could engage in rational thought we realized not just our fear was real but there really isn't anyway to prevent it from eventually happening. Some people, are so unable to accept the reality of death they promote an alternative. When you are dead you are dead, up until that time it is comforting to think otherwise.

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  • I'm the freethoughtmom from New England. Welcome!
  • The word rational means having the ability to reason. Reasoning takes time. Giving yourself the space to think is practically a luxury in our society.

    My father is a logical engineer, my mother a caring nurturer. My handwriting with my dominate hand resembles that of my father, the other, my mother. I feel lucky to have both sides to draw from.
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