The dual purpose of the afterlife
The afterlife is either a place where you are rewarded or punished according to how you lived on earth or it is a place of rest and contemplation before returning to life to continue learning until you’ve learned enough to reach oblivion aka nirvana.
Either way, it makes life a dress rehearsal or endless summer classes until you achieve eternal bliss or oblivion.
So, why can’t death just be the start of oblivion and avoid the messy inconsistency of an afterlife at all?
Partly, because without making death seem scary in some way – the authority structures have not way to ensure that you are compliant with the behaviours said authority wants you and us as a group to behave in – largely, they want us to ensure that the authority structure is maintained.
Because people will generally not behave in specific manners unless they are tricked, forced or bribed when the behaviours are clearly outside of their self interest.
Now, it is in my interest to obey the civil laws to maintain the degree of freedom that my society wants, to avoid pain and punishment – however, this is not why I obey the civil laws.
I obey the civil laws largely because they are in line with my values – partly because the values of the society I was raised in form my beliefs – which is why there’s a diversity of societies and belief systems – they are after all geographically dependant – and my values are also based on my experiences, education and my individual nature.
So, if the law against murder was removed from the criminal code, it does not mean that I would run out and being to murder people willy nilly. The idea is actually revolting – which is why it takes a lot of training in military and police settings to break the social norm in people against murder and say that murder of complete strangers when you are both in uniforms is okay, but not when you’re in a public or private setting in street clothes.
The purpose of claims for an afterlife is the only leverage that religions have in cultures that are not governed by said religion. Fear of punishment is the tool of religion and political beliefs.
You would have no need to fear punishment in a secular society with clearly articulated civil laws – however, there has yet to be such a society so far in human history – if you did not break the rules of said society. Democratic countries are made up of people with religious and political agendas, and the civil laws are influenced by these beliefs and as such, areas of law while appearing secular are too often driven by religious or political ideologies and worse, are enforced by people who are driven by said ideologies.
This is why the demographics of prison systems do not reflect the demographics of the general non-imprisoned population. Prison is a mixture of people with criminal anti-social behaviour and people with behaviours that have been criminalized by ideology. Worse, often people who are in prison are members of stigmatized groups, usually ethnic or economic minorities, who are unable to access equal legal representation to majority groups and these minority individuals are generally sentenced with longer punishments for the same offence as a majority individual. They tend to be punished fro both the crime and their group affiliations.
The reason that prison relates to the afterlife, especially in the USA, where there is a strong religious sentiment of “kill or punish them all and let god sort them out”. The problem with this is that the person who is asserting god’s supreme justice never seems to understand that they are in fact, sending people to the final reward well ahead of schedule and that they are somehow exempt from that same justice, despite their own actions falling far short and deserving of punishment in kind.
Because of this belief, based on no factual evidence, that true justice occurs after death, there is little incentive to identify and prosecute the correct individual and instead send to prison a look like because the entire group of individuals is guilty of something and they will all be punished again in the afterlife – that it matters little what torments we subject these guilty by association individuals to in the actual life. Since we have the concept of double jeopardy in civil law, if we really accepted that people will be properly punished after death – then prison and the criminal justice system is a complete waste of time and serves only to provide employment to the special few and provide some measure of punishment to the deemed guilty – a kick before they are down for the count. So to speak.
Afterlife as reward or punishment.
Given the prison evaluation above, how can the afterlife make sense if this is the purpose?
If I am a good person and am awarded with heaven – and part of that is being reunited with all my lost loved ones – what if one of those loved ones is deemed hell-bound?
How can my heaven be complete without my beloved scoundrel family member if they are in hell? Do I get an ideal copy of this loved one for my heaven while the real loved one is on hell?
Certainly, my heaven would not include eternal torment for anyone I loved.
Even in this life, parents of criminals still love them and want their criminal loved one to live well and happy and not be in jail, despite their crimes. Even full well knowing what the crimes are – many parents are not in denial of their offspring’s criminal activity – especially in mafia or other crime families.
If heave is being reunited with lost love ones – even if they are all good and well meaning people – is heaven really a perpetual holiday gathering of family and friends?
Many of us do not look forward to that happening now on a long weekend, even for part of an evening, just to say hi to everyone, have a drink and then head out to celebrate the holiday with non-family. Can it be heaven if you can’t leave the party?
Or, is the perpetual party where everyone is after death and it’s heaven or hell depending on your personal preference? Because I know people to whom being stuck in the same room with their family for an hour is an eternity of hell. Man, you’d want to die all over again to be stuck in that situation for all actual eternity.
Perpetual Learning afterlife
So, what if the afterlife is perpetual learning with or without a rest recess as most religions posit.
Perpetual learning sounds heavenly to those of us who enjoy learning – but learning to achieve what – eventual nirvana or oblivion?
This would be hell for people who dislike and actively avoid learning – ironically, these are the religious believers. We can tell because religion provides all the answers you know, so why do you need to keep learning when all the lessons are handed to you just because you believed?
For those of us who enjoy learning and want to learn – learning until you can achieve oblivion makes the learning pointless. Learning only has meaning when you can apply and build on lessons. Never ending life means there’s no urgency to learning, no final buzzer to say that the time is up. When time is endless, time looses meaning.
A moment is eternity and eternity lasts a moment. One is as good as the other. It is because there is a time limit that learning and life has meaning.
Imagine a TV channel where an endless number of people were playing a sports game – no uniforms to know who is playing against who, every kind of ball, net and goal indicator on the playing area, which is drawn in several geometric lines and people running, walking, throwing, kicking and carrying the balls everywhere, and the scoreboard flashes random numbers, letters and pictures – and there’s no timer to let you know the units of game time or the end of the game. Watching for a few minutes gives you the same understanding as watching continuously for a year.
Life matters because it’s what we can know that we have and life has a limit to make what we do in this life matter in this life.
People who posit that there is any all power, all knowing god who gives life meaning not only have to ignore a lot of cognitive dissonance like how can here be free will with an omnipotent god who sees and knows everything, or why a loving god would allow so much suffering – are living life small and in fear of their petty and vindictive god. It is because the idea of a god is so inconsistent with life, that religion must not be questioned, for asking questions is the undoing of religion and of god – if you are intellectually honest and unafraid of the answers.
Our lives have the meaning that we each give our own life.
It is because life is limited that is it value and things that are valuable have meaning and worth. Having a limited supply of something makes each item in that supply more valuable than a person who has an endless supply of the same items.
It’s diminishing returns – this is why it’s alarming that the majority of the global wealth is controlled by 2% of the global population. That 2% needs religion and politician ideology to keep the wealth to themselves, rather than share it so that everyone has an equitable share of the wealth – especially given that the wealth is created by everyone’s labour. So, the way for the supply of items that you have has value, is if you have very little and so it’s valuable to you; or, if you have the entire available supply, so you have the only stockpile and no one else has any. This way, having 1 billion of a thing regains value if no one else has any.
Life matters because it’s finite and you have a limited amount of actions and acquisition of items and learning – so, what you chose to accumulate – material or intellection or emotional wealth – in relationship with the people you encounter over your life – is up to you.
Life is value all on it’s own
Give your life – and yourself as a consequence – the value you see it as having.
It is a difficult thing to understand that value comes from within and not without.
People who determine their value based on external factors – be it a god, a parent or other people and worse – other people’s values – are doomed to be unhappy and make their own life a living hell. Which nicely explains why religious believers are so keen to recruit – as if having population numbers make those beliefs more valid.
The only difference between a religion and a cult is the duration of time and number of members. The other differences are trivial – but life doesn’t have to be so.
I am told by believers that I encounter on line that hell is the absence of god. I would say that hell is the absence of value and when you determine your value by external criteria, like a god, then you are absent of value and in a funny way, your god.
But determining your own value, you are in effect, being your own god and can then experience heaven. Experience nirvana, a balance of everything, on demand in the here and now.
And, you only have to have an existential existentialist crisis to achieve it – nothing to buy, nothing really to read – heck, with the internet, the reading is pretty much free.
There no cost to you except putting in the work and time. For you, for your own benefit.
Then, life becomes very purposeful and meaningful with clarity. The unexamined life truly is not living, it’s merely marking time and usually unpleasantly.