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The Afterlife

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THE AFTERLIFE

Bailey Miller
Cultural Anthropology
Dr. Su Il Kim
December 1, 2014

In many cultures there is the idea of religion and its ever changing. Even in similar faiths, such as all the derivatives of Christianity, there is variation in their beliefs. In Roman Catholicism their belief in salvation and the afterlife is that it must be earned by being part of the church community, basically meaning that a Roman Catholic would only gain entry into the afterlife if they attended church [Stewart]. In Baptist churches they believe that only those who believe, who have been baptized and also believe Christ is their savior may enter the afterlife [Buschart]. On the other hand there are the non-Christians, sometimes referred to as pagans; though in this age the term is more used for polytheists who aren’t Hindu believers or ancestral worshipers. In my own religious beliefs, Wicca, the afterlife varies based on the god or goddess being followed. In Greek based Wicca there is an afterlife and depending on how your soul acts in that life varies on where you’ll be sent [Marks]. In Cherokee following paganism, how my mother follows, they do not believe in a literal place like heaven but more that when a person dies they go on as ghosts, wandering the earth [The Tradition Belief System]. Then there are the non-theistic groups like agnostics and atheists. Agnostics tend to vary from person to person on death and the afterlife so it’s hard to tell what they believe [Agnostics]. Atheists do not believe in an afterlife.
Taking a focus on Roman Catholicism is quite intriguing. While they believe their practitioners do go onto an afterlife, they also believe that human beings are riddled with sin. But the exception to that is those who believe in Christ wiping them of their sins are allowed into Heaven. In Roman Catholicism they believe in three places they could end up in after their death: Heaven, Hell or Purgatory [Baptist Vs. Roman Catholic]. In the Book of Revelations heaven is described as being a temple where the good willed and good in life can serve their god for all eternity on his throne, never feeling hunger or thirst again [Heaven Bible Verses]. Also in the Book of Revelations it states that those who do not believe, the cowards and the sinners would be cast down to a “fiery lake of burning sulfur” [Heaven Bible Verses]. I believe this to be a description of what hell is in the Roman Catholic view. In Matthew purgatory is briefly mentioned as a metaphor of a court [Heaven Bible Verses]. How it’s put is basically the place where a practitioner is put on the stand and viewed for their sins and made to “pay every last penny” [Heaven Bible Verses] before their sentencing. In the Book of Revelations it states that when god arrives on earth in the end of days, all souls in all planes will be taken to heaven, even those from hell and those alive on earth [Heaven Bible Verses]. Roman Catholics also believe Mass is very crucial in gaining their right into heaven. During Mass practitioners are “awed by the presence of the Divine” before being returned to their daily lives [Stewart].
In Protestant, also known as Baptist, beliefs their views on the afterlife skew just the slightest from Roman Catholicism. While they believe the same about Heaven and Hell they do not believe in Purgatory. Baptists are known for baptisms among their following. Baptism is in layman’s terms is a cleansing of the soul and acceptance of Jesus as the savior for which the baptized is saved from hell no matter what happens after [Baptist vs. Roman Catholic]. But it’s very particular as to the age of the baptized. Baptisms heard about now are on infants but in the Baptist faith it is really the opposite. They actually oppose baptisms on infants because the right of baptism is meant for those who know and are letting Jesus into their souls [Buschart]. Baptists prefer young children or even adults to go through the right of baptism. Baptists do not believe in Mass but do have church services for their practitioners. In this belief system to secure a believer’s soul into Heaven all that needs to be done is to be baptized and accept Jesus as their savior only once [Buschart].
In Greek Based Wicca there are two places one could go after dying: Elysium or Tartarus. Elysium was the land granted only to the warriors or good doers who never committed treason against another human being; while Tartarus was for the evil or damned men and women who hurt or even killed another human being [Marks]. There are some who believe that it is possible to get trapped during sorting in Hades and doomed to roam forever there [Marks]. Many Wiccans believe in different gods and different reasons for being taken to the land for the good but there always seems to be a place for the damned and a place for the good. Wiccans don’t really have consensus on if there is a place in between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Though in the ancient belief system of the Greeks the dead only lived on in peace if the living remembered those who had past [Marks]. In basic Wicca it is believed that there are five elements that constitute our everyday lives: fire, water, earth, air and spirit. These elements all have their own symbolic creature to go with them; they basically help the soul on its path to eventually joining the dead. Most practices of Wicca consist of both a masculine and feminine pair of deities along with the symbolic creatures of the elements. The two I follow myself are Gaia and Uranus, the first pair of deities in Greek mythology. These pair of masculine and feminine deities, unlike monotheistic religions, do not require anything to be taken to a place of peace other than good deeds on humanity and the respect of the earth.
In the traditional route of native beliefs, in the beliefs of my own ancestry in the Cherokee Tribe, their belief in the afterlife varies drastically from any other religious systems. While the Cherokee believe there is life after death, they believe that the spirit starts off as a spirit or ghost [The Traditional Belief System]. The Cherokee believe in a “good is rewarded and evil is punished” [The Traditional Belief System] system. They also believe in what ordinary people call fairies. The Cherokee call them the little people and they can influence the soul’s journey if their annoyed by anyone [The Traditional Belief System]. Cherokee also believe in three worlds where all souls live both living and dead. There is the upper world, the lower world and the center, which is where the living reside [The Traditional Belief System]. Though I am unsure about exactly how souls get to these other worlds I am assuming that it is based on their deeds in life; whether they are good or bad it decides where they will end up. The Cherokee also believe in a sort of enlightenment of the soul that is rarely accomplished by humans. It is said in Cherokee legend that only the owl and cougar attained this heightened enlightenment since it is a difficult thing to accomplish. This enlightenment of sorts is a purification and sacredness of the soul [The Traditional Belief System]. The Cherokee teachings also have similarities to Wicca in having both a masculine and feminine entity for not so much worship but as a deity to learn its teachings from.
Agnostics are very hard to get a real grasp on their beliefs because it varies literally from person to person. Though what I’ve noticed in my research of it is there seems to be a consensus that views of the afterlife are independent of religious views [Agnostics and Death]. Though the basis of agnostic belief is that there is a higher power at work and it’s not a set in stone type of religious beliefs [Agnostics and Death]. From what I’ve seen agnostics can believe in the science of death that there is no afterlife and range all the way to believing in reincarnation of the soul [Agnostics and Death]. Reincarnation is widely believed in many religions so it’s not uncommon to believe in it. Though agnostic is a very tricky thing to research and study thoroughly since it is a belief system based on simply that, what you believe could or couldn’t be true. Also from consensus it seems to be that a lot of them don’t know what will happen after death [Agnostics and Death]. That’s a very normal thing to believe as well since no one really does know what happens after death. Many have speculated on what happens, many have tried to prove what happens after death is a spirit manifestation but since “ghosts” are hard to get steady data from it’s really a toss-up.
Atheists have to be the most unique of all spiritual beliefs because simply theirs is a lack of any belief in spirituality. Atheists seem to be the party poopers of the bunch since they discredit all beliefs into making them more scientific and having written and tested proof that has been peer reviewed to even be considered as plausible information [Cornish]. Almost all the evidence used to prove some sort of supernatural forces at work have been disproved by all science societies [Cornish]. Atheists believe that there is no life after death like how it’s said in many other religions, but more as there are small hints of life still going on in the moments after death before the life-form eventually dies completely. All the evidence the church or other religious societies have given for proof of a soul has been complicated by modern medicine and what we know of the human body. One theory of how a soul is created is by fertilization of an ova, meaning if the ova is divided into two separate beings does it divide the soul or does it mean there someone is given more than one soul [Cornish]. Atheists have perfected the art of believing that life is finite and fleeting and just what it is [Cornish]. Also they believe that the body dying is a natural process and that it is what it is, just death of a living organism. There is science to prove their beliefs so that’s what they understand. Many atheists are thought out to be mean spirited or “of the devil” to Christian followers since they are godless people who believe the truth of the world. In the words of William Shakespeare, “Cowards die many times before they are dead. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders which I yet have heard it seems to me most strange that man should fear, seeing that death – a necessary end – will come when it will come” [Cornish].
Many religions have either passed down stories or science facts to prove their afterlife concepts and there seems to be some overlap even in them. It’s quite interesting to see so much overlap in the idea of afterlife. Through the few I’ve gone over there is the overlap of both a place for the bad in the world and a place for the good. There is also the idea of a soul which is quite interesting to see. Also many of these religions are vastly different in their origins and their beliefs but ultimately come down to the same things, that there is a place to go after you’ve moved on, that you won’t be left lifeless, unless you’re an atheist, and never ending up anywhere. Truth is no one actually knows what will happen after we die and that’s a terrifying thought, but its something we have to live with, an unspoken truth of the world. In the words of J.R.R. Tolken, “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory” [Quotes About the Afterlife].

Works Cited
"Agnostics And Death - Agnosticism." Faithology Religion Forum. Accessed December 2, 2014.
"Baptist vs Roman Catholic Beliefs." Baptist vs Roman Catholic Beliefs. Accessed December 2, 2014.
Buschart, David. "Library (Baptist)." Afterlife and Salvation. Accessed December 2, 2014.
Cornish, Keith. "An Atheist's Perspective on Death." Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc. Accessed December 2, 2014.
"Heaven Bible Verses." BibleStudyTools.com. Accessed December 2, 2014.
Marks, Joshua. "The After-Life In Ancient Greece." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed December 2, 2014.
"Quotes About Afterlife." (259 Quotes). Accessed December 3, 2014.
Stewart, Cynthia. "Library (Roman Catholic)." Afterlife and Salvation. Accessed December 2, 2014.
"The Traditional Belief System." The Traditional Belief System. Accessed December 2, 2014.…...

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