“Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
Corinthians 15: 3-4

Human beings from the beginnings of time have struggled with the reality of death. In order to understand this universal phenomenon, they have recurred from myths to religious resources. Actually, “religions throughout the world have sought to place our lives in a greater context and prepare us for a possible life after death. Some offer hope of an eternal life, some put forward the idea of death and rebirth, while other pose the threat of eternal damnation.” As Douglas J. Davies states in his book Death, Ritual and Belief, the idea one has about death has to do with the culture and religious beliefs that person has. The same statement can be applied to the concept of life after death. Although questions such as: Does life after death exist? Do we reunite with our beloved ones? are perennial questions that have troubled human beings since the beginning of times. The answer will depend on the religious beliefs and the worldview that person holds.
This paper will examine several religions which hold different views regarding life after death. A special consideration will be given to Christianity and the theological implications of resurrection. Also, the phenomenon of Near Death Experience will be briefly explored to examine the spiritual development on the lives of those persons who have experienced it.
Gary Doore in his book What Survives? Contemporary Explorations of Life after Death provides an interesting anthology of different views concerning the afterlife. Doore recognizes the difficulty of arriving at a universal consensus because there is a contradiction between dualism (body and soul) and materialism. Religions, including Western and Eastern contemplate the existence of the soul but materialism denies the existence of any continuation of self. The implication of these beliefs, state Doore, “can influence the quality of one’s present life and one’s relationships to other people and the world...what we believe about death and beyond can have an enormous impact on how we live in the here and now.” Basically, the concepts of afterlife among most religions are Resurrection and Reincarnation or Transmigration. We will start reviewing Resurrection among Judaism, Islam, and especially, Christianity.
According to Brian Innes, the concept of resurrection, which is “the return to life of the bodies of the dead,” existed in antiquity. Previous religions considered this event limited only to the gods and it was highly related to the cycles of vegetation. In fact, one of the first religions to introduce human resurrection was Zoroastrianism. This religion was originated in Iran and it is still practiced by “more than 100,000 Parsees in India.”
One of the religions which holds several concepts concerning the afterlife is Judaism. Because of this, it is very controversial. Although there is not an uniform idea of what happens after one dies, Jon Sawyer states “that with some methods of interpretation almost any verse in the Old Testament can yield up support for the concept of the resurrection of the dead.” Innes adds that in early Jewish literature resurrection was mentioned in the Book of Daniel: “’And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake..some to everlasting life, Dan some to shame and everlasting contempt.”’ Eliezer Segal agrees with Davies in the inconsistency of the concept of afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. He argues there are segments that teach that “immortality would be achieved through the continuity of future generations rather than in a supernatural afterlife...[other segments ]...give a different impression, that seem to refer to at least a limited kind of afterlife.” Furthermore, there is the mystical movement called Kabbalah which proclaims that the “transmigration of souls (gilgul) was the normative afterlife doctrine, a notion they often combined with belief in the preexistence of souls.”
Conversely, with the Jewish Reformation after the Enlightenment, many beliefs concerning reincarnation were discarded, and many “liberal Jews shared the conviction that immortality of the soul is rationally demonstrable.” This concept was shared by many liberal Protestants as well. But, although this idea propagated during the eighteenth and ninetieth century, in modern times Judaism focuses more in the present world, where the relationship with God exists based on the commitment to humanity. The Jewish purpose is to do great things in this world and not to expect “supernatural retribution in a World to Come.” As it has been stated above, due to the lack of uniformity in Judaism concerning the afterlife, one cannot dismiss any of the different concepts, at the same time that one cannot state for sure which is the most common belief. What is real is that Jews give great importance to their deeds in this world.
According to Islam, life continues after death as the dead resurrect in the Day of Resurrection. Furthermore, the Qur’an supports also the concept of a Day of Judgment. The Qur’an repeatedly states how the dead will respond for their deeds in this life at the Day of Judgment. If the deeds were good they go to Paradise and if they were evil they go to Hell. But, there is hope for people who repent, because God will intercede for them. Although the depiction of Hell is terrible, there are more images of Paradise, where eternal bliss awaits for the righteousness, What’s more, the emphasis is actually in the afterlife: “‘The enjoyment of this world is little; the world to come is better for him who fears God’” As we will discussed later on, the end of times is portrayed in a similar manner in Christianity. And we also find the similarities of concepts with resurrection, Paradise and Hell.
With such emphasis on life after death, the Qur’an teaches that “this worldly life is a preparation for eternal life after death.” This idea promotes the desire on Muslim people of behaving according to God’s will. If a person lives his/her life getting ready for life after death with the conviction of meeting God and living in Paradise for eternity, that person probably will evolve spiritually and lead a life filled with hope. If, by contrary, that person did not follow the commands of the Qur’an, most probably will receive death in fear for the punishment he/she will receive in Hell. Muslims state when a society follows these principles is a “peaceful society, free of social and moral evils.”
The third of the Western religions is Christianity. As Christians celebrate Easter throughout the world, they commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But this event is more than a commemoration, it is the reaffirmation that “there is no greater evidence for the existence of life after death than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Actually this is the core Christian claim about the afterlife. This dogma was originated by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. As Paul is being asked by some disbelievers about the resurrection of Jesus, Paul responds: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (I Cor 15.12-14). During Early Christianity, people expected the second coming of Jesus very soon after His resurrection, and shortly after, “the end of the old world, and a general physical resurrection along the lines of original Jewish belief.” But, during medieval times this belief was radically reconstructed when people started to wonder about physical resurrection. With the Reformation in the sixteenth century and the development of different groups the idea of the afterlife held by “orthodox Christianity...[has been ]... the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.” Consequently, this is the way Christians have understood their faith concerning the resurrection of Jesus throughout time. What is important for the believer is the hope of eternal life.
On this past Easter Sunday, the priest beautifully preached about the resurrection of Christ and what does that mean to the lives of Christians. First, he stated that as Christ died for us, He cleaned us from our sins, as Paul states: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (I Cor 15.22); In his sermon, the priest also confirmed that because Jesus resurrected there is the promise of eternal life for those who believe in Him; therefore our fear for death is vanished. One can understand the theological implication this belief has on Christians. Life continues in eternity, if one follows the Christian doctrine.
But, what about the people who did not follow Jesus? What does the afterlife mean to them? Christianity teaches as Islam that there is the Final Judgment and those who did not believe in God or accepted Jesus as his/her Savior, would go to Hell. This is a place that in the medieval times was depicted as the most horrible place, but the origin of this belief is in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Revelation. As stated above, only Islam of all the religions compares to Christianity in the description of Hell. Many people fear death and one of the reasons might be “the fear of God.” In modern times though, people have shifted their concept of Hell. They do not picture it as a physical place. Instead, “some [people] may decide to reject God’s love finally and that...it would carry with it the rejection of God-given life. It would mean the ‘second death’ of the dead. It would be for that one, the end.”
In conclusion, what makes the resurrection of Jesus important is the effect it has caused on people and how significant it continues to be in our lives. We, as our ancestors, still need his Spirit and the belief on a glorious future. Ultimately, Easter Sunday is the yearly commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. It has a spiritual meaning for Christians because it reinforces the idea of immortality, of hope for eternal life. Based on the tradition, as Jesus resurrected, we will also resurrect. Taking it metaphorically is a promise of conquering the death of our daily life into a life with Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is the liberating process of God for humankind. The message of Jesus is universal and eternal. He taught about love and compassion. He showed to us the way to find God, which is goodness.
After reviewing Resurrection in the Western Religions we examine now the concept of Reincarnation in Hinduism and Buddhism. Reincarnation, according to Brian Innes, is the “rebirth of the soul after death into a new physical body.” This belief is an important concept in “some two-thirds of the modern population of the world...[among them] Hindus, Buddhists and even some western cults.” According to William Phipps almost a billion people in the world “believe in reincarnation (also called transmigration)” He adds that “the individual self or soul” once is released from the physical body stays in a realm where it gets punishment or reward to start based on its previous actions. Hinduism proclaims that “life is constantly recycled” According to the Hindu faith people perform different actions throughout their lives, these actions are the responsible for karma “’the moral law of cause and effect, by which the sum of a person’s actions is carried forward from one life to the next, leading to an improvement or deterioration in that persons’ fate.’” Furthermore, Hindus, and even ancient Greeks believed that reincarnation can happen even into an animal. The concept though, is slightly different in Buddhism, because this faith states that there is not a “separate personal identity-each of us being only a succession of continually changing physical and mental states-yet it accepted that human beings live many lives.”
Then, what is the spiritual significance of reincarnation? As Phipp claims, the belief in reincarnation have tremendous spiritual significance. Because the situation in one’s life is due to one’s actions, states Phipp. there is no God to blame. Furthermore, says Phipp, people who believe in reincarnation have a moral imperative in the way they lead their lives, because the future life will be based on the present. Moreover, Doore adds that one of the reasons people might choose not to believe in the afterlife is their “moral and spiritual laziness.”
Finally, the experience of Near Death will be analyzed. I decided to include this theme in a paper about the afterlife, because “literally hundreds of reports of...NDEs have been published in recent years.”
Near Death Experience
Over the last twenty years studies concerning the phenomenon of near-death experience have greatly evolved (61). Panoramic Memory Recall is a phenomenon present in such studies, but this is not a modern occurrence, since remote times, people have believed that at the moment of death “one’s whole life flashes instantaneously before one’s eyes or through ones’ mind” Even in Platon’s time, NDE is mentioned in his famous literary work, The Republic. Although, NDE is controversial, reportedly 8 million Americans have experienced it, and “between 20 and 30 percent of the NDEer population experiences panoramic vision. This is actually a high percentage. But, what is the spiritual implication of this occurrence? Very significant if some of these people report “a sense of being judged or held accountable for their lives, at least sometimes by an apparent higher spiritual presence” There have been many suggested explanations for this event, from neurological problems to mystical, but what makes them important are “the feelings and emotions that patients report during the near-death experience.” According to Innes, the most common experiences these subjects share are: Calm; Out of the Body Experience (OBE); The Black Tunnel, which surprisingly is not a “daunting experience...but [for some an] ecstatically exciting.” The Being of Light, sometimes this Being is a sacred person like Jesus or the Virgin Mary. These Beings are like guides in the afterlife. Another common view is The Garden, which is a beautiful place; The Life Review, which can be very meaningful in giving insight to people in how they have lived their lives until that moment; The Vision of Knowledge which gives the people a glimpse of “’another realm of reality, in which all knowledge seems to co-exist beyond time and space.”’ Also, these people report Meeting Others, like friends and family. This report can bring hope to people in reuniting with their beloved ones after death; and finally, The Return, which actually is rejected at the beginning by many of the people experiencing Near Death.
There is has been many studies in trying to explain this phenomenon, but in reality, what makes this experience meaningful is the spiritual effect it has on people. Believing in the existence of a Higher Being could promote a sense of hope on people who do not believe in life after death. Moreover, NDE does not contradict any of the afterlife concepts, being resurrection or reincarnation. But, unfortunately death is something we do not know. Western society is used to the scientific approach. People need facts to believe in the unexplainable. But, indeed because it is unexplainable, we can only rely in our faith. If we are Christians, Muslims, and in some cases, Jews, we believe in resurrection; if Buddhists or Hindus, we believe in reincarnation. What makes it meaningful is the effect of such belief on how we lead our lives and how we prepare to die. If it is true that we will face our life’s panorama, let’s be confident that ours will be a meaningful and fulfilling life.
After examining the different concepts of afterlife, we agree with the statement at the beginning of the paper, that ”all major religions express the belief that the actions of the living, good and bad, will be assess after death and that they will determine what happens next.” In reality it does not matter to which religion or belief system we belong to. As human beings we all share this natural event, death. The only motivation we have to lead a spiritual and fulfilling life is the faith and hope in the afterlife.
My goal with this paper was to explore life after death, and at a deeper level the dogma of resurrection. If it appears rationally difficult to accept, it really does not matter, what is important is the Christian faith. If people stop believing in the traditional core of Christianity, its foundations could shake. It also exists the possibility of interpreting the message of the New Testament metaphorically, as proposed by many authors, among them Rudolph Bultman. He states that this perspective could motivate Christians to understand the underlying meaning of Christianity and to follow the ethical and loving principles stated by Jesus. As a traditional Christian, I want to literally believe the story of Jesus: That He was the Son of God and that He died for humankind; resurrecting three days after. These are the principles on which the Christian faith is built upon.
After pondering about the different perspectives and faiths, I feel impelled to agree with M. Scott Peck as he states in his book, Denial of the Soul: “Dying, is both the greatest of life’s learning opportunities and...a journey into the unknown...but God knows what it is. Still, there’s something more. Only our bodies are mortal and temporal.”


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Davies, Jon. Death, Burial and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity. New York, NY:
Routledge. 1999
Doore, Gary, ed. What Survives? Contemporary Explorations of Life After Death. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. 1990
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Cassell. 1999
Innes, Brian. Death and the Afterlife. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. 1999
Peck, M. Scott. Denial of the Soul. Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia
and Mortalitiy. New York, NY: Harmony Books. 1997
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Author's Bio: 

Ligia M. Houben is an author and consultant. She is a national and international inspirational speaker. She obtained her B.A. from the University of Miami in psychology and Religious Studies and a Masters Degree in religious studies and gerontology from Florida International University. Ligia also has a Graduate Certificate in Loss and Healing from St. Thomas University and is a Certified Grief Counselor, a Certified Addiction Counselor and a Certified Thanatologist: death, dying and bereavement. She created a system called "The Eleven Principles to Transform your Loss" based on her new book Transforma tu Perdida. Una Antologia de Fortaleza y Esperanza (Transform your Loss. An Anthology of Strength and Hope). Ligia also facilitates groups, offers workshops and does life transitions consulting with families and individuals. She is also a certified NLP coach and a certified hypnotist.

Ligia has appeared in TV and radial shows talking about transitions including older adults, divorce, death and dying, domestic violence and stress and depression in the workplace (CNN espanol).