Waiting for God

Life after Death

Nobody knows what happens after we die and Waiting for God does not pretend to have answers.  We can shed some light into different belief systems, and offer what science can say about it.  Humans like to know, so for us death is scary.  It is unknown, just like God.   What do we know? 

1 – Everybody dies.  It is a certainty that none of us can escape.  

2 – All major religions believe in an afterlife, and only 16.3% of the global population does not affiliate with religion, the majority of whom live in China. (Pew, 2012).  

3 – Science can only report on what it can measure, and death is almost impossible to measure

A 2018 UK study highlighted that spiritual matters are an important consideration for people as they begin preparing for death (Choudry M, 2018).  It is at the end of our lives where we start to ask what happens next?  

What does religion say?  

Religion, for the purposes of this article, is an institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs and practices that aim to transcend the human toward the supernatural or spiritual.  It is humanity’s way of moving forward in our evolution or toward our destiny.  Humanity is diverse, and the details of our religions reflect that.  Almost 80% of humans follow five major religions, and despite the differences, there are some profound similarities.  They preach right living through love, compassion and acting with integrity while warning about the deleterious outcomes related to greed, selfishness and lack of community.  They speak of where humanity started and where people are headed after they die.  Religions are the institutions where those who are called spend their days pondering existence as it relates to a higher power.  If you need a kidney transplant you go to a doctor, if you want to know where you end up when you die, you need to go to a religious scholar in that field.  No religion is without their scholars. 

The world’s major religions are:  Christianity (31.5%), Islam (23.2%), Hindi (15.0%), Buddhist (7.1%), and Jewish (0.2%). As noted, there are differing views on specifics, but also have similarities.  This could be because the missionary nature of Christianity along with its global spread in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries has brought it into contact with all other major religions. (Britannica, n.d.).  

So what do these religions believe with respect to the afterlife?  Each religion has a different view of the afterlife, but all teach that we came from the divine and when we die we will return there. 

Christians, Muslims and Jews believe in the soul, which survives death.  Each individual must answer for the good and bad they perpetuated in human form. Hindus do not believe in the soul per se, but rather a similar concept where the eternal atman, the divine part of a living being, longs to return to the Universal Soul (Brahman). Buddhists view individuals as a transient combination of the five aggregates (skandhas); matter, sensation, perception, predisposition, and consciousness. (How The Major Religions View the Afterlife, n.d.).  Christianity, Islam and Judaism believe in one life that returns to God.  Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation until a utopic end state is reached.  Hinduism has many gods and their beliefs align well with quantum physics.  Buddhist do not believe in God or gods.  All see life as eternal. 

What does Science say? 

Science is a method that relies on measurement and repeatable experimentation.   Science looks at how things work, not the why.  There are many things that science attempts to answer, such as “where are we from” but we are stuck at a few nanoseconds after the Big Bang.  The language of science is the language of the physical universe:  mathematics.  There is no scientific language for the metaphysical.  We cannot measure love between parent and child, but we know it is there and we can describe it with words.  Words are not the language of science.  Words are the language of human experience.  

Death is a human experience. And several people have almost experienced it, or more aptly put, have had Near Death Experiences (NDE).  There have been enough people talking of what happened to them when they were considered clinically dead that it has become an area of interest in several reputable universities.  There is even an International Association for Near-Death Studies.   

NDEs occur in roughly 17% of people who nearly die (Zingrone NL, 2009) and are most often life changing.  This is true for all demographics (educated and non-education, adult and child, across all nations and nationalities), and while every one is unique to the individual, there are common elements that can be teased out, such as seeing and hearing apart from the physical body, passing into or through a tunnel, encountering a mystical light, intense and generally positive emotions, a review of part or all of their prior life experiences, encountering deceased loved ones, and a choice to return to their earthly light (Moody, 1975).  Those who experience these have no doubt that what they experienced is real, but many scientists remain unconvinced as there are potential biological explanations.  Other researchers assert that the totality of what has been observed cannot be adequately explained based on physical brain function (Long, 2014).  Like religions, scientists have varying views.  Like believers, those with NDE are convinced. 

For a more detailed and interesting overview of NDA’s, read The Science of Near Death Experiences in the Atlantic. 

A recent study looked at over 2000 survivors of cardiac arrest and found that those who were interviewed had memories from the time when they were clinically dead (Parnea, 2014). This study was considered groundbreaking for showing that consciousness could exists outside the brain. There is also evidence that consciousness is part of the spacetime continuum and is founded in quantum mechanics (Sorli, 2010). A recent study by Jack Tuszynski and Aristide Dogariu has shown that microtubules within our neurons interact with the quantum sphere.  When we are unconscious, these microtubules cease to function.  When consciousness is returned, the microtubules pick up where they left off and we return to the person we were with memories and personality intact.  Their work built off decades of research by others in the field such as Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose.   This is relevant to suggest that our souls may live outside of our physical reality, but that is all it can suggest.  

Concluding remarks

Spirituality matters as we prepare to die.  What happens after death is left to tradition, experience and belief.  Science can only peripherally inform, at least at this point in time.  Most people believe in one of five religions, and respecting those beliefs in an important consideration. 

Major religions have been pondering the return to “God” for thousands of years.  Science has been looking at this for considerably less.  Science is limited to what we can measure and repeat in an experiment.  Science claims facts, but there are facts that are yet to be known.  Just because it cannot be shown scientifically does not mean it does not exist.  There are so many things that we thought were crazy a century or even decades ago, and now we embrace them – acupuncture, the plank-length, quantum physics, the list goes on.  It is important to question and learn through the scientific method, but it is dangerous to assume that only science can explain, and there is much related to death and the life thereafter that simply cannot yet know. 

Humans are expansive and experiential, and those who have experienced near-death are convinced of a life beyond. So many who have had NDEs are radically transformed.  They believe in something bigger than themselves.   They see family members, walk with God, and feel incredible peace and love.  

Life after death is a spiritual matter.   Religions, whether we accept them or not, are the structural and theological grounds where humans seek to understand our place in the universe.  Humans are spiritual, and religion is where we focus our spiritual understanding.   That is where we must look for answers to help our loved ones transition to the afterlife.  And for those who are atheists, we can fall on what little science has to offer.  

  1.  Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the Old Testament and the same One God. 
  2.  Those who refute did not experience NDEs firsthand.
  3.  It is widely accepted by scientists that the brain is the only factor in human cognitive awareness.
  4.  1.6×10-35 meters, under which all known physics falls apart.