Goffs School Religious Studies

Topic 2 – Death and the Afterlife

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Christian beliefs

  • Christians believe in an eternal soul that will live on when the body dies.
  • Jesus told his followers that to believe in Him leads to eternal life.
  • Christians also believe Jesus rose from the dead (the resurrection). For some, this belief means that there is life after death.
  • Most Christians believe in heaven and hell. If you are good, you go to heaven; if you are bad, you go to hell.
  • God acts as a judge and decides who will go to heaven and hell.
  • Heaven is often depicted as a place where the good live with God. In the Bible there is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Like a shepherd separates sheep and goats, God separates the good from the bad after death.
  • Many Christians believe hell is an eternal place of torment and horror. In the Bible it says hell is ‘a lake of fire’. Therefore, hell is often depicted as a fiery place where the ‘fallen’ live in pain and misery.
  • Other Christians do not believe hell is actually a place. They may see hell as living without God. Perhaps hell is a state of mind.
  • Roman Catholics believe in purgatory. This is a third state. It is in-between heaven and hell and is a process of purification where people who have sinned (done wrong) can make up for their wrong doings before finally being admitted to heaven.

Buddhist beliefs 

  • Buddhists believe in Karma. This is a Sanskrit word for action. It suggests that all actions have consequences.
  • A person’s karma (or the consequences of their actions) will effect what happens to them in this life and the afterlife.
  • This is sometimes referred to as ‘what comes around goes around’. If you do good, good things happen, but if you do bad, bad things happen.
  • Bad karma is often called the ‘three poisons’. The poisons are greed (represented by a cockerel), hatred (represented by a snake) and delusion/ignorance (represented by a pig). These produce bad karma and can lead to misery in a person’s next life.
  • Buddhists believe in rebirth. This is the idea that you will be reborn in another life.
  • Some Buddhists believe in the six realms of rebirth. These are six types of lives you can be reborn into.
  • The Six Realms include: the realm of the gods, the realm of warriors, the realm of humans, the realm of animals/beasts, the realm of hungry ghosts and the realm of hell. You do not stay in these realms of ever. You can work your way out of them.
  • Some Buddhists see this idea of six realms as metaphorical. It is not real. Each realm represents a state of mind. For example, getting drunk could be seen as behaving in the animal realm as you become less civilised. Becoming greedy for money or drugs could be seen as the realm of hungry ghosts. Some Buddhists might say that rebirth is actually ‘rebecoming’ a different person in this life. Only the consequences of your karma live on, not you personally.
  • Buddhists also believe that if you stop producing bad karma and become enlightened; you will enter the ‘state of nirvana’. This is a state of happiness where a person is not reborn in any realm.
  • Buddhists are very different to Christians. They do not believe in an eternal soul or that a supreme God judges you after death. Although they believe in rebirth, all souls are impermanent and will disappear one day.

Other beliefs

  • Some people believe in ghosts and spirits. These are often thought of as lost souls. They have not gone to ‘the next life’, but haunt the living.
  • Some people believe in spiritualism. This is the idea that dead spirits can communicate with the living. The dead may want to communicate with us. We should not be scared of this.
  • In a Spiritualist Church a medium will communicate with dead spirits. They act as a communication channel between the living and the dead.
  • Some people believe in reincarnation. This is the idea that your soul can be reborn; perhaps as another human or as an animal.
  • Some people claim to have had a ‘near death experience’. These are experiences that people who are close to dying claim to have. They include a ‘seeing a light at the end of a tunnel’ or ‘looking done from above’.

Scientific/atheist beliefs

  • Although many scientists are religious, science has not proved that there is life after death. There is no empirical evidence that it exists. We cannot verify (test) claims of life after death.
  • Some doctors say near death experiences are due to the patient being full of drugs or due to a lack of oxygen.
  • Humanists do not believe in God or eternal souls. They are atheists. They say the afterlife does not exist. However, we should still be good as this life on earth is the one that matters.

Christian Attitudes towards Abortion

  • Most Christians are against abortion as it is seen as taking life.
  • Abortion goes against the ‘sanctity of life’. This is the idea that we are all made in God’s image are special and holy.
  • Some see abortion as murder.
  • Most Christians believe life begins at conception. The soul enters the fertilised egg. This is called ‘ensoulment’.
  • The Catholic Church says abortion is a sin. It is taking what God has given and is not allowed under any circumstances.
  • Some Protestant churches, such as the Church of England, say abortion is only allowed if the women (mother) has been raped, it is incest or the mother of child’s health in in serious danger.
  • Many Christians believe in forgiveness and those who had abortions may be forgiven by God.

Buddhist Attitudes to Abortion

    • It is a basic Buddhist belief not to harm living things – ahimsa. This rules out abortion for many Buddhists as the embryo represents life – it is a living thing.
    • The 1st precept says to avoid taking life. Abortion is taking life.
    • The 3rd Precept is too avoid sexual misconduct, which could lead to an unwanted baby or abortion.
    • Karma has to be worked through and having an unwanted baby might be part of that karma. Your suffering is your karma.
  • However, some Buddhists believe we have to be conscious to be fully human. Perhaps a ‘baby’ is only so later in pregnancy. This may mean early abortion is allowed.
  • Buddhists believe in the Five Skandhas (or aggregates) and they believe we are made up of: Body and form, Sensations, Awareness of feelings/sensations, Reactions to feelings/sensations and Consciousness
  • .Only when one is conscious is one fully human or a person. This will only happen later in Pregnancy, which means abortion  may be OK in some circumstances.

Christian Beliefs about Euthanasia

    • Most groups of Christians have stated that they are against active euthanasia (except Dutch Protestant Church).
    • They believe that God makes life and He is the One to end life too.
    • Humans are made in the ‘Image of God’ and we should not ruin that image.
    • Euthanasia can be viewed as murder and breaks the 6th rule of the 10 Commandments.
    • People are created with worth and to kill someone like an animal is wrong. Animals do not have souls, humans do.
    • People should be offered care (not death) in their suffering. Christians believe in the hospice movement.
    • A hospice is a place a person can go to die and be cared for by nurses. They die with medical and spiritual support. A Christian hospice may offer prayer and access to a priest or vicar.
    • Jesus performed miracles, a miracle could occur.
    • Some Christians (but not all) understand passive euthanasia as showing compassion in the way Jesus showed to people.
  • Some Christians may argue that euthanasia is the most loving thng to do. Jesus said to love your neighbour as yourself and perhaps you would want to die in certain situations
  • The Golden Rule is where Jesus said ‘do to thers as you would do to yourself’. Perhaps if you were in pain you might want to die and end suffering too.
  • Christian ‘situation ethics’ suggestes you should look at each situation individually before deciding what is the right action. This was suggested by the Rev. Joseph Fletcher. It can be used to defend euthanasia.

Buddhist Attitudes to Euthanasia

    • It is a basic Buddhist belief not to harm living things – ahimsa. This rules out euthanasia for many Buddhists.
    • The 1st precept says to avoid taking life. Active euthanasia is takinbg life.
    • Karma has to be worked through and suffering (in dying) might be part of that karma. Your pain is your karma.
    • Death should be made as comfortable as possible though. Buddhists believe in hospices like Christians do. Many temples look after the dying.
    • The motive for any action is important in Buddhism – if the action is purely about avoiding responsibility rather than for the interests of the person concerned, then it is wrong. Perhaps euthanasia is OK if the intention is right – ‘Right Intention’.
    • The state of mind someone is in at death is important – if someone is anxious it will shape their next rebirth in a negative way, where as acceptance will shape it positively. Perhaps the person’s state of mind will be better if they are allowed to die.
  • The Dalai Lama has said euthanasia is acceptable if in pain. The Dalai Lama leads most Tibetan Buddhists.

Islamic Beliefs (Muslims)

Afiter life

Most Muslims believe in resurrection of the body. They believe that when you die, you stay in the grave until the Last Day, when God will bring the world to an end. The dead will be raised with resurrected bodies and meet with the living for a final judgment. God will then judge people on whether they have been good or bad Muslims; the good will go to heaven for ever, the bad will go to hell for ever. All these teachings are found in the Qur’an.

This belief makes Muslims aware that everything they do is known to God and will be used by God to decide whether to send them to heaven or hell. Therefore their behaviour is affected by their beliefs about life after death.

A few Muslims believe that because the Qur’an says that you will go straight to heaven if you die on pilgrimage toMecca, people have an immortal soul. They believe that this soul will be judged by God when you die and you will go to heaven or hell then.

Muslims’ belief about life after death and their response to evil as a test from God, give their lives meaning and purpose.

Islamic attitudes to abortion

Muslims believe in the sanctity of life; it can only be given and taken by God. For this reason, and the fact that God says in the Qur’an that you should never kill your children, many Muslims believe that abortion should never be allowed.

Other Muslims believe from the Hadith and decisions of Muslim lawyers that abortion is allowed up to 120 days of pregnancy because after that the foetus becomes a child. Of these, some only allow abortion if the mother’s life is threatened, others would accept the British law on abortion.

Islamic attitudes to euthanasia

The Qur’an bans suicide and declares that no soul can die without God’s permission. These beliefs in the sanctity of life lead Muslims to forbid any form of euthanasia.

Muhannad said that a Muslim soldier who committed suicide because he was dying a painful death on the battlefield would not be allowed into heaven.

Muslims believe life is a test from God and so, if you use euthanasia, you are cheating by trying to speed up the test.

For all these reasons, Islam does not allow euthanasia. However, very recently Muslim lawyers have agreed that life-support machines may be switched off when there are no signs of life.