Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Life after Death, Part 2

What are the social (and personal) consequences of belief in some form of afterlife? Could terrorism, lack of economic development, and crime be connected to belief in an afterlife, or lack of belief? Perhaps.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that beliefs can have consequences for society. This post just explains some of the details relevant to belief in life after death.

Here's something you may not have considered: Belief in an afterlife may interfere with the development of social institutions that could improve conditions for vulnerable members of society. What!?!

Well, if we are just passing through this life on the way to a higher plane of spiritual development then the poor, frail, and disabled are just experiencing conditions that are unpleasant but transitory. This belief could be associated with belief in destiny or in a divine order of things. If a supreme being decides who is poor or disabled maybe there is no point in worrying about creating social institutions to take better care of them.

Belief in an afterlife could reduce our desire to deal with political and environmental crises as well. I once heard someone say about a nuclear war: "What's so bad about it? We'll just die, go to heaven and live forever." (OK, that's not really a direct qoute, but it captures the spirit of what he said.)

Could belief in an afterlife really lead people to become suicide bombers? Religious leaders in the Islamic world use the belief, among other beliefs, to create social conditions that help them recruit suicide bombers. Belief in an afterlife can encourage people to become suicide bombers. Yes, some of those people would still blow themselves up without belief in an afterlife. I'm guessing that those people would be much harder to recruit!

Belief in an afterlife could also be good for a person in many ways. You feel more "nromal" for sharing an important belief with other people. You can get social support from these people, especially in a religious community of any kind. You may also become more calm, self-disciplined, and industrious (ever heard of Calvinism?). After all, this life is just a phase.


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