I don’t mean to get too morbid, having two death-related posts in a row. But the topic of life after death seems appropriate in the wake of a funeral. A recent article in Newsweek indicates that though a majority of us still self-identify as Christian, many Americans are swinging towards Hindu ideals when it comes to perspectives on religion and the afterlife, with 24% of Americans now believing in reincarnation. Though different faiths or perspectives have different definitions and ideas about these categories, the major categories of belief for the afterlife seem to be heaven/hell, reincarnation, some kind of a “spirit world,” or nothing at all.
One thing about the Newsweek article definitely applies to me: I think all religions are basically the same thing. I think they have the same goals, just different ways of getting there. And, apparently like the majority of Americans, I still self-identify as Christian, or sometimes even as Catholic. This is primarily because I was raised Christian and have been educated in Christianity, and it was easier for me to do a comparison of the religion I know to the other religions than it was to switch all together based on the details of each religion, which I probably wouldn’t subscribe to anyhow. Also, I consider myself a “cultural” Catholic, meaning that Catholicism is such a part of my family history and my being that I couldn’t extract it if I tried. And obviously, there are elements of Catholicism that I still believe. I guess I just figure that if it is all the same to me, why should I waste my time fighting it? Anyhow, I’m not going to get any more into the nuts and bolts of my personal faith; I simply provide the above as a basic background for my beliefs.
Another disclosure of belief: I believe in ghosts. Call me crazy, but I can’t not believe in them. Well, if I didn’t believe in them, then I would just have to believe that I am, in fact, crazy (I’m not gonna argue that this could be true!). I have never seen a ghost, and don’t know if I really care to start. However, there have been numerous occasions where I have heard them. Again, I won’t go into this right now, but just know that it is something I believe.
As a Catholic, I was raised to believe in Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. Even as a kid, the idea of Hell didn’t jive with the image of the just and loving God described by Jesus. So, I guess you could say that I never did believe in Hell. I believe that we metaphorically “put ourselves through hell.” I kind of still believe in Heaven and Purgatory. I think that Heaven is simply another plane of existence. I think that people can have glimpses of it while they are still here. I think that some people (Christ, Buddha, Yogis, etc.) spiritually live there while they are physically alive. This concept of Heaven is not really a locality but a state of being. People that have reached that state don’t really leave this planet, they are just invisible to us. So, I guess that I think that some “ghosts” are really just visions into that other plane. Purgatory might be another explanation for ghosts. Maybe some people aren’t ready to move on to the “Heaven” plane at the time of their physical deaths, so they just hang around here, on the physical plane of existence, until they are ready.
Though my concept of Heaven jives pretty well with faiths that subscribe to reincarnation, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I have read some pretty compelling evidence for reincarnation; particularly the trials that potential reincarnates of the Dali Lama pass. However, I wonder how or why we would get into new bodies. Do we get to pick? Why would we do that? Are we being punished? Are ghosts just people who chose not to get reincarnated, but aren’t yet enlightened? I’m not sure what to think. Maybe this is an idea that my Christian upbringing just won’t let me get my mind around. Or maybe, though I love life, I just really want to believe that I won’t have to come back here when I’m done. Maybe I’m worried I’ll get bored.
After all, I am a child of a scientific era. The society that I have grown up in is technologically advanced and grounded in scientific method. Everything must be proved before it can really be believed. I have also spent a significant amount of time in academia, which I think inadvertently tends to promote skepticism. Though I have already disclosed that I believe in a god of some kind, because of the era I’ve grown up in, I am still naturally skeptical. Being a creative type, it’s easy for me to paint all sorts of colorful pictures of what could happen when I kick the bucket. It is harder for me to subscribe to them. It takes a big leap of faith for me to…well, you know. Have faith. Sometimes it takes considerable faith for me not worry that when we die we just…die. And overall, sometimes it is just easier for me to believe that I really am nuts for thinking any of this.
I am interested to know what you think: Am I crazy? What do you think happens to our souls when we die? Do you even believe in souls?