Saturday, January 21, 2006

Life after Death, Part 1

Whatever people in a culture tend to believe about this question will have consequences for society. That the consequences can be good or bad (suicide bombings come to mind) is clear enough. What isn't so clear is the net balance of benefits and costs. Before getting into that question, maybe we should pause to consider where our beliefs about life after death come from and why they persist, if they do.

Beliefs about life after death seem to have roots in four sources.

1. Habit - You pick up certain ideas, probably from church, and they become part of your habitual way of thinking about the big issues of human existence.
2. Socialization - the process through which we learn whats considered "real" or "true" by our society.
3. Peer groups - support for certain ideas, such as life after death being fiction, provides another source for our ideas.

Last but not least is the mass media. We have television preachers telling us about hell and heaven and our immortal souls. Enough exposure to that sort of thinking is likely to take hold of our imaginations and change our thinking. Then there are the spiritual gurus and "experts" spreading ideas about reincarnation, higher planes of existence, and the spirit world.

These four sources for ideas about life after death combine to create a social environment in which certain ideas are allowed to flourish. Our ideas about life after death then have consequences for society, or for other societies.

Next time: What are the social consequences of certain ideas about life after death?


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