Unitarian Universalist Views On Life After Death

Hey, gang. I got this inquiry from a college student who is doing a research paper comparing Jewish and Unitarian Universalist views of what happens after death. I figured, why not ask the PeaceBangers? You’re as diverse a bunch as there is!

Have at it in the comments!

My first question is do you believe there is some form of life after death?
My second question is if you do not believe in life after death; what do you believe happens after death?
My third question is many hold to the belief in life after death as a way of seeing their loved ones again. If there is no life after death what are ways to keep “alive”  the memory of loved ones?
My fourth question Is there a form hope or relief to this life? [I had no idea what the heck Brandon meant by this so I asked him. He responded, 

For many people life can be miserable, meaningless, or worthless. For them the idea of an afterlife could provide a sense of comfort,hope, and relief. If there is no afterlife then is there some alternative that would provide a sense of escape or relief from the burdens of life for people?

Help a student and do some deep theological reflection at the same time! Thanks.

10 Replies to “Unitarian Universalist Views On Life After Death”

  1. The questions seem to assume that we don’t believe in life after death. I guess mostly UUs don’t. I’m just not sure myself. Scripture is really muddy on the subject – reading Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” made it even more muddy! So many words for various ideas of the afterlife in the NT, so many ways they have been translated and interpreted! What do they all mean? I have no certain or even uncertain hypothesis. All I have is hope. I do hope that there is grace for everyone beyond death – and that it will bring us closer to God and to those whom we loved on earth. I do hope that we can bring as much of that grace here on earth to all who are suffering (and there IS much suffering). So I guess my theology is wrapped up in the Lord’s Prayer – praying for this life to mirror our hopes for what heaven is like. No clear picture of what/where/when that is, but faith that it is good.

  2. Is there life after death? An equally puzzling question could be posed: What has happened before our life’s frame of reference and will happen after it? Some may assign great meaning to the various answers that questions such as these evoke, and some may not. My own take is that we cannot and will not know the true answer until we slip the bonds of this life, so our time and energy here are best spent ruminating on what we can do in the here and now.

    Currently the evidence I have available to me suggests that there is not an afterlife in the traditional sense that humanity teaches. Biologically we can prove (as much as anything can be proved when there are few or no known absolutes) that the vast majority of our personality and individuality resides in the brain, and that brain activity eventually ceases upon death. My working hypothesis is that when death occurs, hypoxia in the brain causes increased neural activity and a massive hormone rush that speeds up perception in a way that produces the so-called near-death experience. We suspect that time is perceived relatively by different people in different situations, and I consider it likely that we can experience a seeming eternity in the window between death and the time brain activity ceases. Obviously this is subject to scientific verification and open to reinterpretation given further evidence.

    Given this stance, the best way I’ve found to honor the memory of loved ones is to heed their wisdom and to act in ways that honor their memory. There are many and various ceremonies that pertain to this practice, such as Halloween or Día de los Muertos that we can take part in to remember and honor our departed loved ones. These need only have the spiritual implications that we place upon them, and can provide healing and joy to those who choose to celebrate them.

    Similar to honoring the dead, the best way I’ve found to improve this life is to live it to the fullest. Live responsibly but don’t be too sparing when indulging yourself. Spend it improving life for others, as those who do the same may bring some joy to you in return.

  3. I have no confidence in what the Bible says. I side with Joseph Campbell, who says that it’s silly to think that our little egos are constructs that will continue throughout eternity. He believes that what we consider our individual lives are merely bubbles on the surface of life.

  4. 1+2: “Life after death” — that assumes consciousness after death. Since we’re not even conscious, really, when asleep (and certainly not when comatose), I find it highly unlikely. Whatever consciousness is, I suspect that it get broken down to its components and recycled, just as the matter that is (oh-so-passingly, even while we’re alive!) our bodies is.

    3+4: “Look upon my works, ye mighty…”. We can’t. Not forever. Probably not even for very long. Only by (my) work can I even tell you the *name* of my great-great-grandfather. My father didn’t know that name. And that’s almost all we know of him. Rather than “memory,” I prefer the objective of creating a better, saner, kinder, more just world… where people are (and are able to be) aware that they exist as they exist because of the millions and billions of people who struggled to create that world, whose names and identities won’t be known; a great cloud of witnesses (metaphorically speaking), to whom that world is accountable for how it lives. That’s the only way I can see that gives the suffering meaning and value–that redeems it.

  5. 4. Yes; Nobel Economics Prize laureate Amartya Sen has observed that the problem with using “utility” (a mental state that might include hope or relief) as a measure of folks’ welfare is that when you ask the destitute, they’re able to come up with many more small things they’re grateful for or delight in, than do the well-off. They’re not economically better off than others – they’re much worse off – but they report more positives. They have found a way of being in the world – with presence, or spirituality, or however we want to name it – that gives hope, comfort and relief.
    3. Loved ones live on in those they have touched, shaped, taught, or otherwise affected.
    2. After death, one is dead. And one’s legacy is alive.
    1. “Life after death” is an idea that leads from paradox to paradox. By definition, after death one is dead. So what is meant by “life” in that context? One solution is a concept of a separate body and soul – the soul “lives,” and that’s different from life in the body but still life. Fine: where does it live? And on we go. If there is a “post-existence,” is there a “pre-existence”? (As in, perhaps, the prologue to John’s gospel?) When an idea behaves this way, we’re not dealing with an idea, but something emotional. No amount of logic or story helps. It remains paradoxical, because the point isn’t life or death, it’s permanence and what that means to us and why we long for it. And so we circle back to the destitute who find something precious in small mercies and graces. Believe whatever you want about life after death, any story or scheme is only peripheral anyway. But how are you coping with your experience of permanence and impermanence, creation and entropy, significance and smallness?

  6. I was raised in the United Methodist church and was planning to become a minister. I served as Youth Intern at one of the largest churches in Dallas from age 18-20, with more than 400 “young souls” in my care. Over and over, I was presented with challenges that began to test my faith. One example that has stayed with me over the years is a youth asking me “My best friend’s Buddhist. The bible says she’s going to Hell. Is that true?” I found myself torn between what I really believed and what I knew was supposed to be the answer. I recognized that I did not, actually, believe in Hell. Also, I didn’t feel a personal relationship with Christ, much less salvation. And, having a pretty firm foundation in Christianity, I was more interested in studying Buddhism and other alternatives to find MY answers.

    A Hare Krishna friend led me to the UU church at age 23, after years of searching for where I fit. It is comforting to me, that we all have original ideas and feelings on these issues, and we’re on the right path for us, as individuals. There I figured out what I believe (though, I’ll admit, it’s ever-evolving).

    I believe death is the end of living, simply put. I do not believe we go on as anything physical. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we become worm’s meat (as Shakespeare said). That is upsetting to my family members and friends who have been raised to believe there is an afterlife and that they will see their loved ones again. They seem to need that belief, cling to it, as if their life depends on it. And, for them, I guess it does (in theory). Since I don’t believe we continue on, I’ve come to accept that this is my one opportunity to do what I’m here to do. And this is my one chance to love the family and friends I’ve chosen.

    What we leave behind is a legacy. I was taught in school that a legacy is left in one of 3 ways.
    1) children, physical offspring who will carry on our family lineage, etc.
    2) great works (of art or science, etc.) that others will remember us by
    3) great deeds that our friends, family, students, neighbors, etc. will remember
    That may not be enough for my Christian loved ones who believe there is eternal life. They believe that their sweet, departed grandmother will greet them in Heaven, and bring them to meet Christ, and their spirits will forever be bound. They believe that, and are entitled to that belief. I, however, do not.
    I came to recognize, at age 20 when my internship ended, that I had beliefs of my own. Although I feel Jesus was a great teacher, I have never believed he is my savior. I don’t believe I need a heavenly savior. And I believe there are multitudes of great teachers, sages who help us find our way as individuals, and each is as important as the others. It doesn’t worry me that my life is going to end one day (likely in the next 50 years). It motivates me; it lights that fire under me to make every day and every act meaningful (but it’s not that kind of fire, it’s not based out of any fear). This is the time I have been given. Today, and every day, I will share my love and my respect for every being and every belief, and be the best me I know how. And I sleep quite soundly as the hours tick past.

  7. Yes, I believe in life after death.

    I like to think my soul – the eternal essence of who I am – will move on to an Otherworld for a time of rest, reflection and reunion, before returning to this world to continue the work of learning, growing, and helping others to learn and grow.

    I know my body will be absorbed into the Earth and later reconstituted into countless other living things. Perhaps my consciousness will similarly dissolve into the universal consciousness and either live on there or be reconstituted into other conscious beings.

    Perhaps I really have no distinct eternal essence and my consciousness will end when my brain activity ends. Even then, I will still live on in the people I touched and the communities I helped build.

    Mainly, though, I trust in the love and goodness of the Divine and I believe that whatever comes after death will be good for me and for everyone else. I’m OK with not knowing exactly what that will be.

  8. i agree with mr. beedle, the proper ordering of these four questions is the reverse of how they are proposed.
    4. For many of us things like relief, hope, and comfort keep poping-up on their own. i’ve noticed that many people with inescapable burdens remain joyus and bring out optimism in others. The question of where such “breaks” come from is probably best answered by “Chemistry”, but that is not the sparkly answer most want. Dress it in ribbons if you must, but to demand others share your particular key to meaning is, meanspirited.
    3. Nothing happens after you or i die. Why should it? No reason to be a greedy pig about it. It is done, you’ve had your chance. Enjoy it now.
    2. Keep love alive? i think if i’ve done things properly that will just follow. To be truthful i imagine that will be the case. However, i need to bolster that by picking up the pace today and making certain that i love now.
    1. An afterlife is a risky proposition at best, just read “Sum.” Why should we think that anything everlasting should be a good thing. i suspect such a thing would be trick-bag, a confidence game, and a waste of time.

  9. My first question is do you believe there is some form of life after death?
    Of course, I do. However since life, death, and life after death aren’t defined in these questions, I may believe the same as some of those who are saying “no.
    My third question is many hold to the belief in life after death as a way of seeing their loved ones again. If there is no life after death what are ways to keep “alive” the memory of loved ones? I do not believe that folks will “see” their loved ones again. Why bother having life if death is just the same thing repeated again (unless life after death is defined as being re-incarnated)? the second part is that my “loved ones” will live forever in me, and I already have seen myself live on in others.
    My fourth question Is there a form hope or relief to this life? Even in the most horrific life, there have those who can find joy and even beauty; and even in what seems to be the easy life, there are those who suffer mightily. One should spend more time trying to be like the first, group. What do they have that the second do not (disclaimer: not saying bad situations are good, and shouldn’t be changed it they could be).

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