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Religious Views on the Afterlife

The term afterlife means different things to different religions and so one specific definition is not possible. Generally the term refers to life after death and so there are varying perceptions of what experiences are obtained after the physical body has ceased to exist. The beliefs in the afterlife offer an explanation of how a person's consciousness lives on after death. It is difficult to garner direct evidence of exactly what these experiences are, therefore beliefs in the afterlife are grounded in the fundamental beliefs of the particular religion and the cultural beliefs surrounding the religion. As Cross aptly explains it is a topic with little hard facts but there are traditional beliefs held by each religion.

The indication that there has been a belief of some form in the afterlife came from anthropologists' accounts of the burial rituals of early man. In those times it was noted that worldly objects such as food and weapons were included in the graves of the deceased suggesting that there was some form of life after death. This practice was not observed to be confined to specific religious beliefs. However, despite this commonality in a belief in some form of afterlife, different religions have specific terms for the part of the human that survives death. In Christianity, Islam and Judaism it is referred to as the soul. Hinduism calls it the atman. Buddhism is the one religion that does not believe in the afterlife as these other religions do. They believe that the spirit of the person is re-incarnated. The belief in what happens to the soul after death also varies with religion, but there is a general belief that the way one lives his or her life will affect the afterlife.

The belief in the afterlife has been associated with the idea of heaven and hell or variations of such ideas to influence the way people lived their lives. This is illustrated by Cross who summarized the responses of individuals representing different religions- an evangelist pastor, an Imam, a catholic nun, a rabbi and a philosopher- given on a radio program. The underlying belief was that whether a person led a good or bad life determined the quality of his afterlife. Whatever the religious beliefs, the idea is to encourage everyone to lead a morally upright life on earth.

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