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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
Over the course of history, man has always pondered the existence of an afterlife. Does life exist after death? Many people harbor beliefs that the essential part of a person’s identity and consciousness continues after this physical world into an afterlife, either in heaven or hell, based on whether a person has lived in an ethical way or not. It is commonly assumed that a person’s descent into hell or ascent into heaven will be for eternity with no chance of escape or transition.
Heaven, according to most religious beliefs, is a place where one transcends into paradise. This is in complete contrast to hell, which is universally considered to be the most abominable place and is full of suffering. The higher place of heaven and the lower place of hell are the only accessed during the afterlife. Depending on the religion that one follows, hell or heaven are places of bliss or torment that usually harbor no possibility of escape. However, with religions that have a cyclic history, heaven or hell can be an intermediary place to exist between incarnations of the soul. Often hell is in a different dimension or below the Earth’s crust, whereas heaven is usually above the earth, for instance, be the clouds. The word heaven was actually derived from much earlier beginnings, developed from old English, whereas the word for hell has been around since 1875, stemming from a proto-Germanic language.
The punishment that a person receives in hell, according to most folklore, is usually correspondent to the sins that one has committed during their life. A lot of the time the distinctions can be specific, for instance, damned souls suffer for each of their sins that they have committed, whereas, at other times they can be more generalized, sinners are condemned to a specific chamber of hell or a particular level of suffering. In a lot of religions e.g. Islam and Christianity, hell is thought of as a painful, hot, harsh and tumultuous place where suffering is inflicted on the sinners. In other cultures and religions hell can be portrayed as a cold place, for example, Tibetan Buddhists describe how to have either an extremely hot or extremely cold climate.
In complete contrast, heaven usually corresponds to a reward for being a good person. According to most folklore, heaven is usually equal for everybody, so every person enjoys the same level of eternal, unlimited benefit and bliss. In some cultures, heaven is a terrestrial world that has ties to the world, yet most religions present it as a place high above the clouds where the soul is reborn. In other cultures, the soul can be resurrected in different kinds according to a person’s karma, i.e. the good balance overall when considering cause and effect.
As we live in the world, everybody has a different outlook on life. Many people are content with life, yet they are concerned about what happens to them after they die. Numerous people also talk about a belief that the human condition exists after they die and so believe that their life on earth is important for their life after death. Many people think that humans are destined to an afterlife depending on their personal actions and behaviors on earth.
There have been many theories about how heaven works and operates. A lot of people harbor the thoughts that individual’s actions will lead to their existence after death, just in case life after death exists. This claim has made a lot of people come up with various arguments to support their ideas, however, a lot of scholars and scientists dismiss the idea that destiny has become predetermined by God. If heaven and hell were a test of a person’s actions, how could this concept make sense given that God had already knowingly predisposed and predetermined a person’s life? There could not be a test If God already knows what the outcome will be.
Scholars have also pondered the representation of heaven as a large place, much larger than hell. Hell has often been represented as a small and overcrowded place. It is thought that these representations show that a heaven is a place where there are abundant possibilities for people. In heaven often they have a lot more than all would wish for, and so this requires more space, whereas in the hell this is the opposite and so it is a smaller place.
Throughout different folklore and religion, there has been some debate as to how a person is perceived to be either in heaven or in hell. Does the person enter either of those kingdoms harboring the physical body of the time that they died at or do they get a choice? Perhaps, someone starts the afterlife transported to a physical body that they have always admired or wanted to have. It could also be the case that you enter into the body of a completely different person, or as other religions preach, that you could enter the body of an animal as well. Often in religion, heaven is a place for spirits to exist, whereas help features physical and more solid bodies. This representation is often the case because spirits have more freedom and lighter, so they can wander around in the afterlife with greater ease.
Within the scientific community, the overwhelming consensus is that heaven and hell do not exist. A person having faith is not seen by the scientific community to constitute evidence. Faith can be important for people, however, just because something is important, it doesn’t mean that it exists. Physicists and scientists have often pointed out that the universe has not needed an omnipresent creator to exist. We can try and explain why we got here, although it is highly unlikely that we will be able to answer this question. There is no “why” in how we got here; rather we arrived here by chance alone. Often the backlash against the idea is that there is no heaven or hell comes from people who say that science and religion are two very different things. Religion is a structure of belief and no amount of science can disprove it, therefore, people can have their faith in heaven and hell. Just because you can’t disprove something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. While science and religion often don’t go together hand in hand, this argument is rather a fallacy. There is the infinite number of things that you can’t deny, for instance, you can’t disprove the existence of a flying spaghetti monster going around the sun – does this mean that we should believe in such a monster? It is highly unlikely that the future will see cooperation between scientists and fundamental religious believers because of the difference in thinking something based on evidence, and accepting something based on faith.
Why have so many cultures adopted ideas of heaven and hell? It is often the case that these ideas have emerged because of humans in comfort with death and existential crises. People have conjured up these ideas because it gives their life purpose, and also allows for a chance to exist if they have not made the right choices or have been unfortunate in their life. Professor Stephen Hawking has likened the belief of heaven to a fairy story for people afraid of death, and there is some truth to this. From the point of view the vast majority of scientists, the brain is rather like a computer that will eventually stop working when its components fail. As with normal computers, there is no afterlife when they break down. In terms of dealing with existential crises, heaven and hell can serve as some sort of coping mechanism, yet there is no evidence that either of them exists. Just because books and texts say that these things subsist doesn’t offer any proof as to whether they do.