Do we survive death?

You hear frequently that theists believe that when they die their spirit and soul will leave their carbon based bodies and meet God, where he’ll judge you on your actions during your life. Practically every religion throughout history has had some belief in some form of afterlife, where the remaining consciousness leaves the body and ventures into a spiritual existence, or reborn into another life. This is especially believed in Indian cultures that practise Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Hinduism. This can either be a reward, or a punishment depending on how they conducted themselves in their previous life. Abrahamic religions, that consist of the Baháʼí Faith, Islam, Judaism and Christianity believe in the dark and the light, the good and the evil. They all have their versions of Heaven, and Hell, where varying degrees of suffering and reward are subjected to the deceased depending on their level of sin during their lives.

“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.” – Pope Francis

As you can read above, Pope Francis said in 2013 that be believed that atheists would enter Heaven if they lived their lives following their conscience. If an atheist adopts a humanist approach and lives a kind and virtuous life, surely any compassionate god would forgive them if it turns out Heaven does exist? We are approaching 8,000,000,000 on this planet, and some are by nature good, and some aren’t; but theists and non theists are individuals with different personalities, desires, morals and ethics. So how can an afterlife, or a Heaven be a personal experience for everyone? Is it an irrational concept to imagine an eternity as a spirit?

What will people do forever?

Surely it would get boring as I’m sure there are no bars, social clubs, sporting events or holiday companies.

Why would anyone use this life to plan for that?

“Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Is our body mortal but our soul or spirit immortal? Personally I think that when we die it’s like turning a switch off and once brain activity ceases we are no more, but over thousands of years, various cultures and religions have questioned what happens after death. Is the afterlife no more than just wishful thinking and is it just to give people hope in that death might not be the end? When people have supposedly died, and they’ve claimed to have seen a tunnel of light, surely this is just electrical activity of the brain and if you were truly on your way to judgement, would you even remember after you’re brought back to life?

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” – Carl Sagan

Moral responsibility vs moral ignorance

Every day, without fail, there are narrow minded religious apologists claiming that their god provides morality, and some argue even further and claim that their god provides objective morality, or absolute morality, and quite frankly it’s embarrassing and a tiresome debate as they simply refuse to accept that morality is evolutionary and a social construct. Morality is knowledge, and it’s knowledge about recognising the difference between right and wrong. Doing something right is about promoting happiness, good will and treating others with respect. Doing something wrong is promoting distress, lack of compassion, understanding and empathy. As a social species we gain knowledge through experience and through the senses. We have emotions like a conscience that informs us when we’ve done something wrong, and with that usually comes remorse and regret. In future we tend to avoid the same actions as our conscience can haunt us and make us feel awful, even if the action was unintentional.

Everyone must have heard a religious apologist asking how a non-believer can make the claim that Hitler was objectively evil, or how torturing a baby is wrong. You really have to ponder the mental reasoning that they are devoid of to contemplate questions like that, and even provided with evidence that morality can be acquired, studied and observed through various philosophies and ways of life, they either claim that without god you’ve no moral framework, or if they are being backed into a corner, they suggest that we borrow the morality that was given by YHWH through Jesus, or Muslims claim through Muhammed and Allah. If they truly believe that their gods supply them with a moral framework then by all means let them live their lives the way they see fit, but don’t claim a moral superiority because you believe that an non-theist by default is nihilistic, narcissistic and a sociopath.

Moral ignorance is simply not understanding whether something is moral or not, and this is why theists, especially of the Abrahamic flavours, make the claim that you need god. But who’s to say that the opinions of the said god that’s written down in scripture is factually moral? Their argument usually comes in the form of god is perfect, he has perfect thoughts, so his morals are perfect. But is there any proof of this claim? First off, the burden of proof lies with them, as they make the claim that without god’s absolutes a moral framework can’t be established, but they not only have to prove beyond doubt that their god exists, but that what he claims are morals are actually morals, and not just commands that he wishes for. Wanting something because you are a megalomaniac who will kill if you don’t worship him, or dare to worship false idols, isn’t what I’d consider an appropriate agent for supplying a moral foundation, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Moral ignorance, as an example is your neighbour is grooming children, but you don’t inform the correct authorities as you’re unaware what’s going on, so this is no fault of yours; but, what if you know that they are grooming children, but you’re unaware that it’s morally wrong? Do any of the religious scriptures suggest that it’s morally wrong to groom children? At a guess, I’d suggest not, but as a human being, who’s educated in social groups, we are inherently aware that it’s wrong in a number of ways. The first is it’s a child, so straight away a law has been broken as they are underage, and without the ability to understand what consensual means. Secondly, you are taking advantage of their naivety, and innocence and they more than likely aren’t even aware of what’s truly happening, and thirdly you are inflicting abuse against their rights as a human being, and will no doubt make them a future victim who will be left scarred from their tormentor.

Are we expected to adhere to moral standards? I’d argue that it’s our moral responsibility, and as ethical agents, we are obliged to apply good will to every decision we make that may affect, or influence another person. This is where consideration, and another person’s well being comes into play. If you witnessed someone have a seizure and inevitably begin convulsing, and despite knowing the recovery position, you just idly stand by watching, are you complicit in allowing that person’s death, and displaying an example of a moral failure? Of course you are, humans are hardwired by emotions, and upon seeing this you may panic, lose your calm and become flustered, but it’s natural to feel these emotions as you’re instinctive primary concern will be to try and save that person, even if they mean nothing to you. You do it because you’re expected through good will, regardless of the hope of reward, like Emmanuel Kant discusses in the Kantian theory.

“David Hume, 18th century Scottish philosopher, argues that actually our emotions can play a role in our moral makeup (as opposed to the Greco ideology of sole reason). For Confucius, benevolence — acts of kindness — is the prime virtue. Additionally, Confucian protégé, Mencius, in one of his books, utters, “Benevolence is the heart of man, and rightness his road” – Source

There are many theories, and philosophies surrounded ethics, morality and living a virtuous life.

Buddhism focuses on the ‘Four Noble Truths‘, which are;

• The Truth of Suffering;

• The Truth of the Cause of Suffering;

• The Truth of the End of Suffering;

• The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering.

The Four Noble Truths are reached through the ‘Noble Eightfold Path‘, which are;

• Right Understanding;

• Right Thought;

• Right Speech,

• Right Action;

• Right Livelihood;

• Right Effort;

• Right Mindfulness;

• Right Concentration.

Stoicism isn’t too dissimilar to Buddhism, as it too is about reaching a virtuous, noble life, and they follow the ‘Four Cardinal Virtues‘, which are;

• Wisdom : Includes excellent deliberation, good judgment, perspective, good sense.

• Justice : Includes good-heartedness, benevolence, public service, fair dealing.

• Courage : Includes bravery, perseverance, authenticity, confidence.

• Temperance: Includes orderliness, self-control, forgiveness, humility.

Stoics primarily focused on what is virtuous, and not concerning yourself with what’s beyond your control, and having the ability to distinguish between good, bad, and indifference. The good being the Cardinal Virtues, and the bad being the direct opposite of them, foolishness, injustice, cowardice, and excessiveness.

Aretaic ethics, (virtuous) is an area of philosophy that many of the wise of Ancient Greece discussed, which focused around the areas of;

• Honesty;

• Courage;

• Compassion;

• Generosity;

• Loyalty;

• Fidelity;

• Fairness;

• Restraint;

• Wisdom;

• Principles;

• Ethics;

• Nobel;

• Righteousness

These were all the things that they considered to be essential to successfully function within a social community.

“Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved.” – Aristotle

Liberalism is perhaps one of the most important social and political philosophies, as it covers the area of equality, and since many religions are oppressive, and disregard equality, then they stumble in their delusional world that they somehow have the moral high ground. Liberalism obviously focuses on liberty, and freedom, but also covers areas like;

Individual rights: human and civil rights;

Freedom of religion;

Freedom from religion;

• Secularism;

Democracy;

Gender, sexual and racial equality

These are social foundations that heavily influence the humanistic philosophical approach, where the focus is on the agency and value of humans as individuals and as a whole, using reason and empathy towards all sentient life. In the U.K humanism is a recognised, registered charity and are involved in many areas of reform which include;

Education

• Human rights: blasphemy laws; gender mutilation; forced marriage; freedom of speech; and pro-choice: abortion rights and assisted dying.

Animal cruelty

Secularism

Scientific method

Progressivism: morality; economic reform; efficiency and social welfare

Climate change and global warming

All the above examples are all adhering to a system of values and principles of conduct that’s expected for a society to flourish for the overall greater good, and I’d say the virtuous source of morality that comes from the Ancient Greek schools of thought are probably the most influential, particularly the Aristotelian views:

‪The ultimate end of human action is happiness. 
Happiness consists in acting in accordance with reason. 
Acting in accordance with reason is the distinguishing feature of all the traditional virtues.‬Source

‪Ultimately it seems that most philosophies are enforced by the use of reason, and reason is the ability to think, and form judgements using logical and rational understanding. I’ve already mentioned the Kantian theory, but at its basic level it amounts to this simple process:‬

‪You ought to do your duty (simply because it is your duty). 
Reason guides you to this conclusion.” ‬Source

Does religion affect intelligence?

I have seen this claim floating around social media for some time now, so I thought I’d address it. There have been a number of studies done by psychiatrists to suggest that as a whole, religious people score lower on intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, but with that said, there are some extremely intelligent religious people. The problem that religious people have regarding IQ tests is their lack of logic and reason, as they accept dogma and rely on intuition, and blindly believe everything is God’s plan so there’s no need to question it. But does performing poorly on an IQ test accurately ascertain intelligence levels, or are religious people wired up differently? If that person was to break free of the shackles of their faith, would they think differently and apply critical thinking more often?

In an article published in the Frontiers of psychology the results of an online survey was published where a 30 minute test was issued to atheists, agnostics and theists, and theists scored the lowest, and the scientists running the study suggested that religious people lacked cognitive skills. Below is an excerpt briefly explaining the concept of general intelligence, but I highly suggest that you visit the article it comes from, and it can be found here.

“General intelligence refers to the ability to reason, deductively or inductively, think abstractly, use analogies, synthesize information, and apply it to new domains.”

Religious people rely on instinct, and often instead of seeking the truth, they wear blinkers and focus on their Biblical, Torah, or Qur’an narratives, and if anything conflicts with their religious texts then the majority dismiss it, and a perfect example of this is creationism, especially young Earth. There are religious people that have the ability to rise above instinct and apply cognitive skills, but they are usually in relation to some form of science ie: ‘Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Francis Bacon, Emmanuel Kant and Georges Lemaître‘. Whilst they were all highly religious, they were able to separate their personal religious beliefs from their scientific studies, but they are exceptions.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

It’s naturally human to be curious and to question, and intellectually curious, and not relying purely on instinct. Some may argue that religion has no effect on intelligence, but I’m afraid it does, and I apologise to anyone religious that’s reading this. People who are considered smart, aren’t gullible, they use reason, logic and apply rationality to a problem, and use critical thinking skills and scepticism and require evidence before reaching a conclusion. Many religious people don’t apply these methods and instead adopt faith and belief. And whilst this may be comforting to be at one with their god, they are missing out on a world of possibilities. Take evolution as an example. There are many areas where evidence is in abundance, natural selection can be easily proven with bacteria and antibiotics, there have been early human remains found that suggest we have changed to adapt to our surroundings, but religious people think their god made everything, and some are so blindly adamant that there’s no room to question the possibility that they may be wrong. This is partly through brainwashing and their family and society are to blame, but being so susceptible to supernatural stories instead of understanding the reality we are in is sheer lunacy and incredibly ignorant.

“In classical Greece and Rome, it was widely remarked that “fools” tended to be religious, while the “wise” were often skeptics.” – Live Science

Is religion a sign of lower intelligence or is it the inability to open your mind to possibilities? Why build a church where people can pray to heal the sick, when hospitals are needed where professional doctors are trained to repair what praying can’t affect. Does a sailor pray for the wind to change, or does he learn to sail? Imagine being at a sporting event and the two teams both have religious people praying for victory. One team wins comfortably and their supporters are confident that god heard their prayers and helped their team win, but does that mean that he favoured their team over the other?

Take religious belief in morality. Their god’s words on what’s moral and what isn’t just so happens to conveniently match what they think, so instead of thinking for themselves and using empathy, reason and compassion they are just copying what their god allegedly thinks. If their holy book said that it was morally sound to kill kittens on Monday at 3pm, they would happily slaughter kittens as it’s their god’s will. But that’s going too far I hear you cry, but read the Torah, there’s plenty of reference to sacrifice. Oh, and god wants your money, kids!

“Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.” – Sigmund Freud