Almost half – 49 per cent – of those surveyed earlier this year by the Institute of Education, University of London believe that there is 'definitely' or 'probably' life after death. Only 31 per cent have said that they believe in God, either without doubts (13 per cent) or with some doubts (18 per cent).I think it's mostly due to wishful thinking and a reluctance to accept that death really is the end of us or that there's no chance of being reunited with those we've lost. For most people, belief in an afterlife is reassuring. You might say that it's natural to deny death. We are mostly emotional beings, rather than coolly intellectual ones, when it comes to facing it. The prospect of an afterlife doesn't appeal to me, but nor does it bother me that so many people expect one; after all, there's no way of proving them wrong. Why should I care, as long as they don't try to foist their opinions on me, or as long as someone I care about isn't unhealthily preoccupied with the hereafter? There's nothing new in this. People have believed in various forms of afterlife throughout history. Some were based on a sort of template offered by a religion - a Christian afterlife will be different from a Muslim one, for example - while others were based on folk traditions within a tribe, which were religious in a different sense. Ancestor worship, for example, is based on the notion that our ancestors are aware of what's happening in the present, and that they have some influence over our lives.
In 21st century Britain, however, a belief in an afterlife seems to be generally vaguer and more personal; everyone has his or her own version of what to expect, with little detail. Many nominally religious people I've met have similarly vague beliefs. They're not interested in orthodoxy; they'll talk about some sort of "higher power" that's essentially good, and the importance of caring and compassion. No harm in that, is there? The new agey, 21st century sort of afterlife is a nice place. Hardly anyone imagines that he or she will go to hell. Before you go to hell you must be judged, and few expect that to happen.
Wikipedia on an afterlife
Photo: 'Guide to the Afterlife for the Custodian of the Property of the Amon Temple Amonemwidja with Symbolic Illustrations Concerning the Dangers in the Netherworld' - an ancient Egyptian papyrus depicting the journey into the afterlife, from Wikimedia. Click on the image to enlarge it.