Sunday, January 9, 2011

The belief in "After Life" and "Non-Action"

Firstly, their really isn't an after life or any evidence suggesting that there is one, so this post isn't about whether the belief is correct or not but whether it has practical implications.

I was raised in a very strict religious environment. Early childhood was always about "doing" the right things to please the higher gods. I really have nothing against traditional value systems which for the most part, work way better than anything that the rational human mind has been able to conjure up. 

My real problem was with the belief that you had to "do" something to improve your afterlife. It felt unnatural to me that there was this constant burden of doing things to improve your future. It felt like it was a more materialistic and modern understanding of the concept of an afterlife. For me personally, the afterlife was a wonderfully romantic idea. It was a place where your material needs would finally be fulfilled and there was no need to run after "the good life". The quranic stories about the after life were very mesmerizing. Rivers of milk, honey and wine would flow through the most beautiful gardens that one could think of, with seventy-three virgins at your service all the time and with plenty of boy servants. 

Now the problem with the whole concept was that you had to do something to get there. This smelled more of capitalism than anything romantic I had in mind. The afterlife was supposed to be a gift, free of cost, given to you because you proved yourself as a noble soul. It wasn't a formulaic conception where doing a certain things would get you certain things in the afterlife. 

Reconstructing the Concept of an After Life

Trying to figure out the essence of the whole concept, I would reconstruct the idea from scratch. Why would mankind need such a concept in the first place? The only answer I could think of is that an afterlife is there so you could subtract things from your real life. The extra material need could be transferred to the other life. Man naturally has an incessant lust for women. The requirement for extra women could be transferred to the afterlife and this requirement would only be fulfilled if you subtract it from your real life. Similarly, you can transfer wealth to the next world and reduce the burden of wealth in your present life. 

"Hell would be full of rich people"

An afterlife is more of a balancing act and there is a desperate requirement for it. Some are born poor and some are born rich, some are destined for greatness while others die in wretchedness. There is this need to level off this inherent unjustness done to us by the gods. 

Afterlife is subtractive, NOT additive

The idea of an afterlife is essentially "subtractive". It calls on the lesser beings to do less, rather than to do more. It is essentially focusing on the negative advice. It tells us not to cheat, not to lie, not to hurt people, not to accumulate wealth, not to treat parents harshly etc. Everything is in the negative. Most of the ideas that are dealt with are related with the randomness that one has to suffer through in life. We are all blessed with parents, but most of us end up hating them. Similarly some of us are destined for poverty, whether we try or not. Justice and reward in the afterlife helps us both psychologically and practically. Without this negative advice, there is nothing that could stop us from ourselves. It empowers us and controls are lust for wealth, power and sex. 

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