Tuesday 16 January 2024

Understanding Modern Man's indifference to the question of an afterlife (from my own experience)

It seems hard to explain why modern people are so indifferent to, uninterested in, the question of an afterlife - continued existence beyond death. Yet I felt that way myself for many years. So I can understand it. 

I think it is because the assumption of death as annihilation of the self is, by now, so completely assimilated by our culture, so deeply built-in to our assumptions (at least from adolescence) that there has been an inversion of perspective by comparison with Mankind through known history.  

Historically; Mankind always assumed that something survived death - although there was vast disagreement about what survived and how. The fact that it was unavoidable made the afterlife a subject of of intense interest, and concern - especially insofar as the nature of this afterlife (how pleasant or unpleasant) could be affected by what we did in this mortal life. 

Nobody needed to argue if or how an afterlife was important, because it was simply assumed. 

But Modern Man sees things from a perspective of assuming that there can be, indeed will be, annihilation at death; and the expectation of an afterlife is expected to prove itself to be truer - and more desirable than - our taken-for-granted, confident expectation of annihilation. 

But the belief in annihilation after death is rationally impregnable - once established; as is the case with all kinds of nihilism. Once we assume nothing - then nothing can overturn that assumption; because whatever is tried, is itself regarded as ultimately nothing. 

In the end, extinction at death and nihilism generally can only be overcome by intuition; by a kind of innate revulsion at the artificiality and malignity of assumptions that go against our inbuilt nature; that contradict everything we come into the world already knowing.

For me, there was a sense of absurdity at my own stubborn desire to hold onto nihilist assumptions that offered nothing but a continual sense of violation of spontaneous values; nothing but the offer of utter annihilation at the end of a futile life in a purposeless universe. 

Why was I clinging so tenaciously to these assumptions which offered me literally nothing?

Once I had asked this question, the answer was obvious. 


whitney said...

I just read a series of lectures by Cardinal Manning and he refered to the modern world as experiencing credulous unbelief. It is a good term, they do take it on faith and, yes, I was once there with you also.

agraves said...

I know a number of "religious" Christians/Catholics who regularly go to services and listen to the minister/priest talk about heaven and hell, followed by a heavy request for funds to repair their buildings. Recently I asked a serious church attendee, who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers, whether she believed in life after death. Her response was "I don't know"! It looks like church services do not educate the faithful about the history of post mortem states, hahaha! You might as well discuss the reality of Dracula or some such horror that they cannot even discuss it. With out some education about the matter they simply will not entertain the possibility. They are like crazy sheep wandering around their holding pen waiting for the end, maybe they actually hope for obliteration.

Bruce Charlton said...

@w - Nihilism is something that we are socialized into at an early age; and which we are prone to adopt because of the modern, detached, consciousness. It can be overcome in a moment, whenever we desire to do so - but our world view is structured upon negations, and that seems "reality". Perhaps we need to be taken to experience the extremity of the incoherent contradiction of "believing-in" nothing, in order to be able to drop it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - Mainstream Christianity got very confused about this, to the point of regarding the desire for resurrected eternal life as selfish, childish, unworldly.

This is related to the downgrading of the Fourth Gospel - where resurrection is the core, much repeated, teaching of Jesus - and something that anyone can have primarily by wanting it, by having faith in Jesus, by following Jesus - the Good Shepherd who desires to save every sheep (if only we will allow it).

Historically, Christianity preferred to focus on the church and pro-social behaviours during this mortal life. Eternal life was and is little discussed and hardly conceptualized or explained. Instead, fear of hell was the bargaining chip.

The usual historical decision to emphasize the double-negative in this life as a matter of Not breaking the Laws, and of each man as a suppliant begging for mercy from God's judgment (which defaults to Hell) is another factor.

Why think about eternal life if it is so very uncertain? We would (it seems) be unwise to presume on salvation for fear of offending and angering that kind of God (one who has apparently set up our human nature and the world such that life is like an obstacle course full of booby-traps - with a mis-step leading to eternal torment.

Then the situation was made even worse by the strong association of more positive conceptualizations with the hedonic (this-worldly) lies and apostasies of Liberal "Christianity" - which was/is motivated by encouraging sins, and preventing the repentance of sins - so that we end-up *not wanting* Heaven.

(Heaven is a choice, damnation is the rejection of Heaven - a self-exclusion - and apparently very common, if people believe what they say.)

So traditionalists hold fast to the old falsehoods, rooted in a conceptualization of God as at best incomprehensible in His values, and at worse a vengeful tyrant who demands total obedience Or Else.

While those who refuse to accept this anti-Christian parody of God's nature either leave the Christian churches, or drift into this-worldly parodies of religion.

Alexeyprofi said...

I think the idea that death is the end of consciousness can be disproven logically, but it's a long work. Current idea is that consciousness is a product of a working brain, and that when brain dies, it's fades into nothingless

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - "I think the idea that death is the end of consciousness can be disproven logically" - As you go on to say - it all depends upon your assumptions; and for most people nowadays (and for the entire official public discourse) assumptions exclude the possibility of consciousness surviving death.

Except, I suppose, the people who believe consciousness is no more than a dynamic pattern of processing, and therefore it could be downloaded onto a computer... or suchlike.

Greg said...

The notion that the mind is in the three pounds of meat called the brain is what is indoctrinated into us from an early age. Once you free yourself from that ridiculous dogma, the afterlife is not only possible it is inevitable. I suggest looking up the works of Rupert Sheldrake for the best theory on this subject outside of the religious explanations.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Greg - Rupert Sheldrake is indeed worth reading:


but he self-identifies as a Christian, and attends what I would euphemistically call a liberal Anglican church ("liberal Christian" is an oxymoron in my book)

His arguments are, however (as you imply), more rooted in a kind of classical deism (with Aristotelian as well as Platonic aspects), rather than Christian assumptions. As such, he makes a strong logical case - but most mainstream materialists including professional "scientists" reject his conclusions anyway, since they assume his conclusions *cannot* be true.