Through almost all of human history, and still in most of the world, it seems obvious that when the body dies - something survives - the 'soul'.
Beyond that basic insight, there is massive disagreement concerning what specifically happens to the post-death soul - Heaven, Paradise, Reincarnation of many kinds, Nirvana, the Underworld... but that basic belief in soul survival is all-but universal.
Except among Modern people in The West. We do not believe there is a soul; and we do believe that death is the absolute and final extinction of a human individual - indeed we believe that a person may be extinguished during life, when their brain is sufficiently or specifically damaged.
Why is this? The answer is clear: modern people cannot believe in life-after-death because they do not really believe in life. They/ we don't believe, they/ we are not really confident and sure, that anything at all is ever really alive.
Not even (or especially not) our-selves.
Modern people are very unsure whether there is any real difference between the living and the dead - or, if there is a difference, then they cannot define it. They know that 'science', technology, mathematics etc. regards everything the same way, and everything as dead.
If 'life' is about chemistry, as everybody in the mainstream of modern culture seems to think; then it is not really alive! After all, chemistry applies to everything equally - with no distinction between alive and dead. Nothing chemical and specifci happens at death, and yet biology cannot define the moment of death, the dividing line between life and death.
(Neither can biology define exactly when a specific new life arises during development; neither can biology define exactly when life arises during the presumed history of evolution.)
Even New Age spirituality agrees - because for them life is about energies, and frequencies of vibrations - which means physics, which means dead things...
In sum, because we treat everything the same, whether it is living or dead - and because that 'same' is to treat everything as dead... then modern people cannot believe in life.
(Of course, they/ we cannot either believe in consciousness or free will - it seems pretty generally agreed that these make no scientific sense, and therefore consciousness and free will don't exist, are not real.)
Since we moderns find that in practice we cannot draw an objective line between living and dead; we fall into the obvious nonsense of regarding everything as dead (including the person making that staement).
The only solution is to accept what we all came-into this world believing - that everything is alive, but in various ways and to various degrees.
And when we re-recognise that everything is alive, we will recover the obvious, commonsense, once-universal knowledge that biological death is a transition of the soul.
Death is not an extinction of the soul, not the end of the soul; but the trans-form-ation of the soul - from one form into another.
Then we can return to our proper concern and conversation - which is to discover what really does happen to the soul at death... What are the possibilities, what are the options?
Deep down I don't believe something in me is *worth* surviving, that is, I don't believe there is a dimension or aspect of my life that is worth continuing.
I never understood triumphant, happy-looking atheists. I find my atheism very depressing. I think if I could believe there is something really worthy in me and most people, I would not be atheist.
This is really what the New Agey stuff also boils down to. I mean, look at stuff like Force in the Star Wars. It is sort of an impersonal, inhuman spirituality. God as a concept is far more anthropomorphic. God as a concept effectively means The Absolute, The Infinite, The Biggest Thing Ever, is in some way similar to humans. Which would make humans quite worthy. And that is precisely hard to believe.
@Att - Because God is our loving creator, and every person is unique; God will not compel you to be conscious after death.
Although your soul will survive - since it is indestructible; because you do not regard your-self as worthwhile - after being offered The Gift of Jesus of everlasting creative life, resurrected, in a loving family environment; and after you have declined this offer - you will become unaware of your own survival. You will Be but Not Know that you Are.
This is an easy matter for our loving creator to arrange.
Death is not an obstacle to belief in immortality of a soul.
What is the soul of a human? I'd say it is the "thing" inside every one of us that creates thought and consciousness.
If such a definition is accepted, it has to be noted that decay that comes with age is not limited to the body, but also affects the mind.
Talk to somebody suffering from Alzheimer or something similar. You'll notice that there is much less thought or mind left than usual. If you knew the aging person before the decay of the mind set in the change is often striking.
So the mind cannot be an immortal soul. I know that a "mind" can age and decay while the body is still alive.
What do you think is the soul? Is it the consciousness I feel inside my own mind and can sometimes "feel" in someone else when we exchange thoughts? If so, how can I observe it decaying? If it is not a conscious center or well of thoughts, what is it? The "character" of a person? Some are agressive, some are charitable, some are Kind - I assume that such character traits are also part of the "soul", but these too change during life.
My writing shows a perspective that is much too materialistic. Of course, even a newborn baby has a soul. I still have a soul even if I'm totaly drunk. But I still presume that the soul changes as a person ages. How so if it is immortal?
I'd be grate to reas you thoughts on this.
@Karl - The soul can't be defined (it is too fundamental a unit of reality for definition).
I will describe what it is in terms of my understanding of the reality of creation (which is essentially that of the Mormon/ CJCLDS teachings).
I am using soul as one possible name ('spirit' is another) in the following sequence.
Before our incarnation we were immaterial souls; then the soul was incarnated, and integrated with a mortal body. After death of the mortal body, the soul survives - and is then (potentially) resurrecated with an immortal body.
(I tend to think that the post-mortal, not-resurrected soul is probably to some extent an incomplete, maimed being; since it had been integrated with the body.)
That's not much to belief or disbelief. I think that a soul has consciousness. If not, the soul of an evil person could not suffer in hell. Suffering is only possible if there is consciousness, an awareness of self.
There doesn't have to be much of it. A newborn baby has a soul. It does not have much of a mind, but I am sure it is capable of hapiness and suffering.
Moreover, I belief that the baby has no choice in developing character traits. Some people are naturally more agressive or pedantic or whatever than others. The specific mixture of character traits is a large part of what defines a man.
I assume that the soul is the "seed" or "core" of a man's personality.
That core can be observed when we interact with others, even with someone who has Alzheimer. This, I believe, is the soul.
@Karl - Well, that definition would not contradict materialist accounts of the human being - so I do not regard it as valid.
One short answer to the question posed is because most modern people's picture of the world is too small and we have a tendency to buy into over simplified models of reality. An example analogy would be most people's simplistic notions of what causes various economic or health issues. Few who speak of such things recognize the multifactorial nature of such complex systems. I'm talking about a lazy habit endemic to less mature minds. We must counter the natural tendency to reduce.
So considering this idea vis a vis the afterlife, we can see that modern people lazily believe in materialism because it is easier to grasp than a more complex model for what we are. Atheist types lack imagination in insipidly insisting the sould doesn't exist because minds are affected by physical factors. How stupid and ridiculous. As if it couldn't be more complex than that. There is a pretty obvious model that is only slightly more complex but fits the facts quite well: video games. Think about it. Don't these atheist intellectuals play video games? The obviousness of it suggests to me they may not be honest.
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