Is there an afterlife? (an updated version)

No says Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist: “Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them live longer, safer, and happier.”

I would like to know how he knows so much. Human beings are sentient meaning we feel and perceive things we cannot prove. Neither we nor the smartest scientist can prove or disprove the existence of an afterlife. We who believe in an afterlife know very well that just maybe, it’s not real. Even those who say they have no doubt must occasionaly have pangs of uncertainty.

We are not delusional. We can believe in an afterlife because while there is no absolute proof, neither is there a contradiction to prove us wrong.

I was raised in a church by my mother but as an adult I’ve had little to do with any church. I’m proof that one does not necessarily need a church to appreciate the value of the Bible, especially the King James version. Abraham Lincoln read the King James Bible which is written in the most beautiful English. As a result his speeches sounded like the sort of English spoken in that august book. As a result of that Lincoln gave speeches that held audiences spellbound. Religious belief, especially belief in an afterlife, is far from any sort of delusion and certainly is not malignant.

To the contrary, belief in an afterlife enables people to better deal with their grief when a loved one dies. Managing grief is a major ordeal. Believing that someone has gone to heaven and that we might see them again helps us get through.

I’ve reached the age where I no longer go to very many weddings. I mostly go to funerals. I’m beyond those young years where our own death seems so far away we need not even think about it. Now it’s so close it’s impossible not to think about it.

If I die first, will I see my wife again when she dies? A few decades ago when we were dating I decided she was my closest friend, so I wrote a holographic will leaving her all my earthly possessions, such as they were. I described her as the friend I hoped to see in heaven.  Strange words from me since I didn’t then and probably don’t now believe in God anyway.

But since then things have happened that should make me reconsider. Praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem was one such thing. Thinking about 4,000 years of Judaism is heavy, man. I’m not Jewish, but I’m a sentient being.

Will I see my lifelong friend, from high school to the present, who died a couple of years ago? We were exactly the same age, I only one month older than he. We each knew the other more precisely than anyone else on this planet. I don’t know if I’ll see him again, probably not. But I feel better when I think that maybe, just maybe, I will. There’s nothing delusional or malignant about that. It’s a coping mechanism for sure, but it’s also much more. It’s the way we cherish good memories, while we wish they hadn’t been abruptly stopped.

Hell, I wish I could see again all the dogs and cats I’ve ever owned.

Belief in an afterlife is essential. A good friend’s wife died about a year ago. Within a couple of months his beloved dog had to be put to sleep. Of course, we don’t equate the two but it was a double set of circumstances he had to deal with. I comfort him by telling him that fido is up there with Sally. It works to some extent. It’s a way of thinking a bit beyond the here and know.

So there, Mr. Pinker. You deal with your grief (we all get some sooner or later) in your own way and I’ll do the same.

The featured image of a dog consoling his grief-stricken master is a painting titled “Fidelity” from 1869 by Briton Walker.

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