Afterlife

To readers who cling to religious beliefs and ancient scriptures to keep themselves sane and inoculated against despair, I caution—please avoid this essay, if anyone can; if faith is fragile and belief not deeply rooted, why not watch a YouTube video or play a computer game?

What sense is there in exploring ways of thinking (and being) that might push the personality to unravel; that might introduce dissonance into the deepest recesses of the mind; that might, for example, induce lunatics—like  suicidal lemmings—to throw themselves off cliffs of certainty into the swarming froth of oceans that want only to swallow them whole, to drown them in unfamiliar worlds of sea monsters and dark, incomprehensible dangers; to flood their lungs with the knowledge that every true thing they’ve ever learned is a lie?

Some of the smartest folks who have ever lived believe that we cannot die. No one dies; everyone lives—forever.

Some of these people would say that every person reading this essay right now is living in an afterlife; it’s an afterlife that began a very long time ago and will continue, in one form or another, forever.

OK. I warned you. Let’s get on with it.

First, some caveats. Paragraphs of caveats. The evidence seems overwhelming: all scripture in all religions was written long ago by savants who lacked—by today’s standards—education. Scripture writers knew almost nothing about almost everything, except for those experiences unique to their personal histories, which they sometimes wrote about. Old texts written by ignorant (but smart) men are the parchment-scrolls that religions always use as the foundational pillars of their creeds, doctrines, and world views.

It turns out that almost all religions promote the belief in an afterlife; the problem is that their ideas about afterlife make no sense; they don’t stand up under the scrutiny of a dispassionate examination by scholars using the methodology of science.

The Jesus of Christianity said He was God—imagine that. He was born to save the world, not judge it (as so many haters hoped he would), and to demonstrate to all the earth the sacred truth of the Bible, which says plainly that God is love.

The problem is, Jesus didn’t write anything down. A few of his male friends quoted what he said in short tracts they wrote, which were gathered together decades later into a collection that is now referred to as the Four Gospels of the New Testament.

We have to take their word. They were ordinary people; working people. They lacked credentials. Their little books, from a scholar’s perspective, are primitive and clumsily written. Their stylistic errors give their writing authenticity to a modern eye, but their understanding of theology seems confused, child-like, and kind of messy.

The value of the Gospels comes from the effort of the authors to quote from memory the amazing things Jesus said. Given the ignorance of the writers, their quotations have a miraculous lucidity, which adds weight to what they left to history.

The person who saved the New Testament for the scholar’s ear is the apostle Paul, a contemporary of Jesus whose letters make up the largest part of the volume of the New Testament; they delivered the credibility demanded by the cynical eyes of intellectuals and sceptics of all eras. Paul was a bona-fide biblical scholar—he trained under Gamaliel—and was arguably the greatest theologian who has ever lived. He met Christ only once—on the road to Damascus; it was a few years after the resurrection; Paul was, in fact, planning to arrest and kill Christians.

Paul’s encounter with Jesus left him blind. When his eyesight returned, he directed his training and skills to the spread and growth of the new religion (then called THE WAY). Under his leadership, Christianity became a spectacular success during his lifetime. It remains the world’s largest religion.

Since for me, Jesus is God, I don’t take any other religions seriously, though the non-Christian scriptures I’ve read are interesting—much of the writing is intelligent and enlightening. What is unique about Jesus is that he said he had a personal knowledge of the afterlife—it was real, at least for Him.

What is also true—his friends and family didn’t grasp fully what he was talking about, most of the time. His inner circle (the Bible calls them disciples) followed their shepherd around like a flock of sheep, by most accounts. His reasons for doing the things he did were incomprehensible to them—right through to his crucifixion and resurrection.

Even after His resurrection, they remained mystified. During meetings they expressed a joyful disbelief. After all, no one ever survived crucifixion. Once the process started, it was a one way journey into Hell.

Survival was something that just didn’t happen. Jesus’s friends didn’t understand. Modern folks can’t help but garble what they think they know about what His friends thought they heard and saw.

If those closest to Jesus couldn’t grasp His Truth, why should modern people expect to do any better? Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to expect a modern person to have more insight than Jesus’s closest confidantes—his family and friends—who lived with him for many years and knew Him best?

Anyway, this essay is about the afterlife; it’s about what some discerning people think about it, how it might work, how people may want to plan for it, and how to protect ourselves from the terrible consequences of not understanding it properly; of not taking it seriously.

This essay is going to shock some readers; especially Christians who are under the mistaken impression that they have everything figured out, because they once read and memorized John 3:16, for example, and they pray everyday.

I am probably going to take some readers into an unfamiliar landscape—one that Jesus could not have described to primitive people. I don’t want to alarm anybody. Some readers might experience fear; a few may wobble off-balance as they feel the ground shake beneath their feet.

My intent is to strengthen the resolve of believers to make whatever changes are necessary to secure the future of humankind. Jesus said that he was sent by God, His Father, to save the world, not judge it. He suffered on the cross, so that those who belong to Him won’t burn in Hell, which is our destiny apart from the love of a friend who had the desire and courage to rescue us.

Jesus said that God is love, and that all people are evil. Humans—everyone of us—are haters, whether we are able to admit it or not. Wherever it is that God lives, it is no place for ordinary people; it’s off-limits to haters. People can’t live where God lives, unless they are born again into a new life that reshapes who they are at their core.

People, many of them, hate the very idea of God. They have no fear of the consequences of God’s love for the orphan and widow, the oppressed and downtrodden, the crippled and the malformed, the prisoner and the tortured, the blind and the deaf, the possessed and the mentally tormented; they have no fear of hell—though the reality of hell lies on every side, they don’t see it. It doesn’t exist. It’s not something they feel compelled to fix. In modern minds—most minds, probably—the idea of hell is an absurdity; it can’t exist. 

To be literally true, what Jesus is quoted by his friends to have said must make sense and be aligned with the reality that we observe when we look up into a night sky full of stars or gaze into a drop of pond scum teaming with microscopic life. It can’t be any other way. His words will always align with the facts we know to be true, which we sometimes discover by doing science; by living life; by suffering; by knowing people. If they don’t, then we’re missing something—I would argue that it’s always something important.

Jesus spoke truth to people who thought that stars were the light of Heaven shining through pin holes in a tarp that covered the night sky; to them, mental illness was demon possession; ailments were caused by sin. Jesus cured the anguished; healed the broken; he spoke gently, with compassion and loving sorrow in his heart; but it was frustrating, possibly exasperating; it wore him out most of the time.

In AD 30, truth sounded like lunacy to most people, because everyone was ignorant and worse; people were evil—every single one. No one knew what was real and what was pretend. Everyone was crazy, by modern standards. Rulers executed people for speaking truth, and today, some still do. Every thinking person knows it’s true.

OK. Enough caveats, already. I want now to move away from the religion of two-thousand years ago and move boldly toward the understanding of reality that the disciplines of the sciences provide. I want to explain what very smart people (some of whom do not think of themselves as religious) imagine is the afterlife, how it might work, why it’s important, and how culture and society might be better fashioned to give every person the best chance to live lives free of despair and suffering.

Although this part of the essay will abandon religion and embrace science, the intent is not to cause believers to stumble; it is to wake believers from a slumber that threatens to make them impotent before the challenges to faith that are devouring America, certainly, and many other parts of the modern world.

I want readers to think about how these ideas resonate with the words of Jesus—with His Truth—which is at odds, as often as not, with the religions of today, which by their works alone war with God’s love for human beings; war with the earth where all people must live; war with the plants and animals that God gave to folks for their comfort and good stewardship.

This essay offers a speculative view of science that aligns with the words of Jesus as quoted by the people who knew him best. It is very possibly dead wrong.

How could it not be? The smartest people not only don’t know what exactly is true, but truth itself, some humans have argued, might be unknowable. To his friends Jesus said, no, that’s not quite right—you will know the truth; and the truth will set you free. Set us free from what?  Well, maybe religion, for one thing—and, hopefully, the fear of death, for another.

Speculation about truth by a pontificator? Well, readers can believe it or not. If faith is fragile, my advice is to stop right here. Hasn’t everyone read enough? Does anyone really want to learn anything new?

Who would ever endeavor to move out of their comfort zone? Does anyone believe that fate is certain; that the future of humankind might depend on how people behave, how they organize themselves, how they treat the most miserable among them, how they lift up the lowest rung of people, who Christ loves?

Some of the smartest psychologists, philosophers, and scientists—Noble Prize winner Erwin Schrödinger, who discovered the quantum wave equation, was among the first—agree that it’s possible that consciousness might be a fundamental and foundational property of the universe. The smartest human ever, John von Neumann, wrote technical papers about it. Taking this view helped him to resolve many of the most aggravating paradoxes of quantum theory. Follow-on research by other brilliant scientists revealed that the problems of understanding consciousness seemed to become less daunting, as well.

I have written several essays about conscious-life and the sciences, which take readers on wild rides into the weeds of knowledge. These essays, some of them, are mind-blowing masterpieces. Click on the links at the end of this essay to take in more background and deeper understanding. Trust me. It will be fun.

This essay will gloss past the technical details of the science of life (because they can be found in related essays on this site). But I can begin by reminding readers that Schrödinger (and now others) believed that conscious-life was something that people plugged into, much like folks today plug their televisions into a cable box or connect their computers into a wireless modem for internet access.

People who think like Schrödinger are convinced that consciousness is imbibed by life forms; it’s something life-forms drink like living water; it isn’t located inside brains, although it is most likely processed there, possibly by dedicated but as yet not understood structures like the claustrumor maybe in tiny, sub-cellular structures called microtubules. No one knows.

When a computer breaks down and is dumped in the recycle bin, the internet doesn’t stop broadcasting. Cable news doesn’t stop when a television breaks down, either. People buy a new computer, a new television; they keep watching; they keep playing.

Consciousness doesn’t stop when a human body dies. It keeps broadcasting—from its source. When a baby is born, it is thought by some to be hooked into this foundational consciousness that the universe itself depends on to exist and continue; like a child connected to her mother by placenta and umbilical cord, life continues uninterrupted; conscious life continues; life goes on.

Another way to think about it: imagine that people are swimmers in an ocean of consciousness—the ocean doesn’t depend on them. Swimmers who submit to the waves and the undertow and the currents—which together are too overwhelming to be controlled by anyone—find themselves floating along; sometimes they are tossed by the waves; sometimes the current pulls them in a direction they don’t want to go; sometimes the undertow sucks them under. Those who don’t fight the ocean do its will—automatically.

Whether they are living or dying, joy-riding or hanging-on terrified, the drowning swimmer rides the ocean and does its bidding. Those who fight—who depend on their own strength and will—exhaust themselves against the surf and drown in a frantic fit of futility, washed up on a random sandbar like rotting seaweed, separated from the sea and baking into dust under a blazing sun.

What happens when we die? Jesus said that our bodies count for nothing. If I’m understanding Him and properly applying the views of Schrödinger (and others), then our bodies have no value except as temporary storage devices for a piece of consciousness that is not, it turns out, entangled at birth with the foundational consciousness of the universe.

When the umbilical cord is cut, the newborn gets disconnected somehow. The mother expels the placenta, and the baby cries. Getting re-entangled might be a physical process that can preserve our lives and tie our destiny to that part of reality that is eternal and foundational. The Apostle Paul called entanglement reconciliation in his second letter to the Corinthians.

People who aren’t accustomed to thinking this way, might find it unnatural and unusual. Take a few on-line courses in quantum mechanics to absolve these notions, anyone who is experiencing them. Read some of the related essays in the list at the end of this post.

When Jesus said to people more primitive than us that he was the way, the truth, and the life—that no one can come to God except through Him—maybe he might better have described a concept like entanglement to a modern audience. Who really knows? Even modern people don’t understand physics; not most of them anyway. Jesus did say this: Because I live, you also will live. Some day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

I know this: If consciousness is foundational to the physical reality of our universe; if—as Neumann argued in a technical paper—process operators he named I, II, & III are required to bring forth the universe we observe, then the consciousness that makes us feel alive must be entangled (or reconciled, as Paul put it) with one of these operators to enable anyone to survive and persist past the death of their body.  

Can anyone imagine a scenario where tiny bubbles of conscious-life that were never able to successfully entangle themselves to God might be regurgitated at death into new persons, as some eastern religions profess?  It would be a better fate than going to Hell, right? Maybe not.

In a world where most people live in deprivation and physical suffering, it is almost certain that a bubble of conscious-life that once occupied the body of a billionaire, for example, would by chance alone come to rest more often than not in a body debilitated by malnutrition, parasites, and disease.

If people thought that they were going to be born again physically into circumstances dictated by the statistics of a random distribution, they might not be so enamored by the privilege and prerogatives of power and wealth. Laissez-faire systems, capitalism and oligarchy, might be feared like the ancients feared Hell.

Maybe people—if they knew that they were going to be regurgitated into the world they expended their lives to build—would take more time to think seriously about what to do with orphans and widows, the oppressed and downtrodden, the crippled and the malformed, the prisoner and the tortured, the blind and the deaf, the possessed and the mentally tormented, because, after all, in that universe—in that place where there is no Christ—it’s who they will be someday, chances are, in the afterlife.

Billy Lee