Morality Without Afterlife


#1

I have been reading the old testament lately, and a passage from Ecclesiastes has had me thinking:

"The wise man has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness; and yet I perceived that one fate comes to all of them. Then I said to myself, 'What befalls the fool will befall me also; why then have I been so very wise?' And I said to myself that this also is vanity. For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise man dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind."

It appears that the ancient Hebrews had no concept of an afterlife, or at least not one where any significant conscience remained. From reading the old testament, it appears that following the law was done primarliy for earthly rewards and to avoid earthly punishments. Obeying god's law meant that the nation would live in prosperity, while disobeying it would lead to their literal destruction while on earth.

This has me wondering if one would still feel compelled to follow these laws without an idea of an afterlife. The idea of literal destruction by god for disobedience no longer seems as imminent to many religious. So my question is, if you knew that your death meant the end of your conscience, would you still feel compelled to follow the moral laws of your religion? If so, why?


#2

[quote="Stillness, post:1, topic:319909"]
I have been reading the old testament lately, and a passage from Ecclesiastes has had me thinking:

"The wise man has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness; and yet I perceived that one fate comes to all of them. Then I said to myself, 'What befalls the fool will befall me also; why then have I been so very wise?' And I said to myself that this also is vanity. For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise man dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind."

It appears that the ancient Hebrews had no concept of an afterlife, or at least not one where any significant conscience remained. From reading the old testament, it appears that following the law was done primarliy for earthly rewards and to avoid earthly punishments. Obeying god's law meant that the nation would live in prosperity, while disobeying it would lead to their literal destruction while on earth.

This has me wondering if one would still feel compelled to follow these laws without an idea of an afterlife. The idea of literal destruction by god for disobedience no longer seems as imminent to many religious. So my question is, if you knew that your death meant the end of your conscience, would you still feel compelled to follow the moral laws of your religion? If so, why?

[/quote]

Because a well structured moral society is better for yourself and those around you and most importantly your offspring. Even if there is no God living a good christian life properly would make this planet a better place.

Isn't that worth it?


#3

It is a little more complicated than following moral laws.

Ultimately,one must conduct oneself in such a way that every action, one's entire life is an expression of total love for God; we must also love ourselves and our neighbors equally.
Loving, we gain in love and come ever closer to He who is love. So in the end it doesn't matter because we can already know Him in life.

For most of us, with respect to eternal life, thankfully there is purgatory.


#4

[quote="Stillness, post:1, topic:319909"]
I have been reading the old testament lately, and a passage from Ecclesiastes has had me thinking:

"The wise man has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness; and yet I perceived that one fate comes to all of them. Then I said to myself, 'What befalls the fool will befall me also; why then have I been so very wise?' And I said to myself that this also is vanity. For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise man dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind."

It appears that the ancient Hebrews had no concept of an afterlife, or at least not one where any significant conscience remained. From reading the old testament, it appears that following the law was done primarliy for earthly rewards and to avoid earthly punishments. Obeying god's law meant that the nation would live in prosperity, while disobeying it would lead to their literal destruction while on earth.

This has me wondering if one would still feel compelled to follow these laws without an idea of an afterlife. The idea of literal destruction by god for disobedience no longer seems as imminent to many religious. So my question is, if you knew that your death meant the end of your conscience, would you still feel compelled to follow the moral laws of your religion? If so, why?

[/quote]

For Rabbi Hillel as well as for Rabbi Jesus, the moral laws as recorded in the Torah can all be divided into love of G-d and love of neighbor. Indeed these two most basic laws are really one and inseparable. For Judaism, the concept of an afterlife underwent an evolution and there are suggestions of such in the later writings of the Hebrew Bible. Still, in ancient times, some Hebrew movements did not believe in an afterlife (Sadducees, for example), while others did (Pharisees, for example). Modern Torah (Orthodox) Judaism follows Pharisaic tradition in its belief in an afterlife, and so does Conservative Judaism to a very large extent. Reform Judaism is divided on this issue. However, for ALL Jews, speculation about personal salvation in an afterlife is not of primary concern, while moral behavior which reflects the love of and for G-d, according to the Law, is the focus. Doing what is right and good sets us free and enables us to live a life according to G-d's will.


#5

My sister is an avowed atheist and one of the most charitable and giving persons I know. The list of things she does quietly, without fanfare for the poor, dying and disabled is too long to go into. But she lives her life like a saint in so many ways. Why? She feels compelled to serve others. Not only does she devote an incredible amount of time and energy to serving others, she has done this since she was a young adult. And she is very careful to keep this fact quiet.

Her current profession is hospice nursing - she directs a large hospice agency for a hospital, and still takes on her own patients, though she needn't. She conducts weekly prayer sessions and "debriefings" for her staff, though she doesn't pray herself (she uses the quiet times to "meditate" and "think loving thoughts." She loves serving the dying, and she respects all their individual religious beliefs, yet she herself doesn't believe in an afterflife. How could this be?

She is available 24/7 for patients and staff who need a shoulder to lean on. She goes without sleep, and shoulders everyone's pain gracefully. Yet she doesn't believe that suffering serves any purpose. So why?

Apparently, belief in any earthly reward or afterlife reward doesn't play into her decision to live her life for others.

I know some "Born Again" Christians who are the most selfish people I know. Why?

Only God knows why.


#6

G-d bless your sister, sojo! She is doing G-d’s will on Earth.


#7

Please do not take what I’m about to say in the wrong way. I think that it is admirable that your sister cares so well for her patients; hospice care can be tough. However, her actions, from a purely non-afterlife point of view, make no sense. If there is no afterlife, then why is she not out partying all night? If there is no afterlife, then we should be all taking in all of the pleasure that we can now because we may be dead tomorrow and then will feel nothing.

On the other side of the coin, I think that her actions are a good example of the natural law working in her. The natural law helps us reach our final end, union with God. “The natural law is written and engraved in the sould of each and every man, because it is human reason ordainig him to do good and forbidding him to sin… But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our feedom must be submitted.” (CCC 1954) Even your sister, who does not believe in God, does the will of God by the promptings of the natural law.

I will pray for your sister.


#8

“Eternal Life” has little to do with one’s concept of an afterlife…Eternal Life is the quality of life we NOW live…it has little to do with what comes in the 'here after". Living a good life IS the reward in and of itself…if I only life a good life because I fear “hell”…I’m not living a good life in the first place…I am simply following rules…I have taken out a “fire insurance” policy…but my house may still catch on fire, pokicy or not.:slight_smile:


#9

That is very profound, Quaker. Thank you for posting that.


#10

It would make no difference to you if you knew that good life would not last? If it would be entirely forgotten?


#11

[quote="Stillness, post:10, topic:319909"]
It would make no difference to you if you knew that good life would not last? If it would be entirely forgotten?

[/quote]

If that is the way it is in God's creation, that this is the only life, yes I be ok with it....how could I not be ok with it since it is God Himself that has determined it to be so?

It certainly would make no difference how I live my life now. For centuries our spiritual forebearers had NO concept of an afterlife....yet they still obeyed and worshipped YHVH.


#12

forgotten in time perhaps, but eternal in God’s vision of His creation


#13

[quote="Stillness, post:10, topic:319909"]
It would make no difference to you if you knew that good life would not last? If it would be entirely forgotten?

[/quote]

I've forgotten a good chuck of my life already. Many events are gone. It doesn't bother me. I just accept that the present isn't meant to stay with us forever.


#14

Much has been written about Ecclesiastes, with little clear concensus on it's ultimate message. The writer, known as Qoheleth, is searching for meaning in life, and seems not to reach a conclusion. To me, this search, and the rhetoric questions in the book, are profound. And the failure to find an answer is telling.

As Catholics, we know the answer, and Qoheleth's search for meaning is fulfilled in the person of Jesus and the meaning that following Him brings to our lives.

Without Jesus, frankly I think we are all stuck, just as Qoheleth was. We fail to see any meaning to life, and despair that even the wise man, like the fool, turns to dust. Without Jesus, I would find no meaning in life and am pretty sure that I would not care less about morality (other than as a practical means to exist within society).


#15

I doubt I could do anything good without God though, I'd be hopeless.


#16

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