Every belief system offers an explanation for what happens to us when we die. Whether we believe in a ‘Conventional Religion’–traditional religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, or Christianity–or take the viewpoint of a ‘non-believer’–those who don’t follow/believe in traditional religious ideologies–they all provide insights about what awaits us beyond the grave and detail the level of importance our lives have.
A Quick Overview:
For simplicity purposes, I’ve generalized each of the above belief systems to include several denominations relevant to the core message they serve. For example, Christianity includes Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, etc. because they believe in the teachings of Jesus, with some variance. On the other hand, the non-believers include Atheists, Agnostics, Spiritualists, etc., because they go against the beliefs of traditional religion but disagree on some key points (we will argue the definition of religion and go into more depth on some of these at another time).
The type of Christian sub-category followed will influence what one believes in, but generally speaking, Christians believe in different states of being or physical destinations called heaven, hell and perhaps, purgatory. They may believe in all three, or only one, but the teachings assure us of an existence after the one we experience here on earth.
At the very basic level, those who practice Hinduism or Buddhism believe in a form of re-incarnation. The teachings of Hinduism indicate that our physical bodies are temporary but the soul is indestructible and eternal. Once we die, our souls are re-incarnated into a newborn body where we can begin the cycle of life once more. Hindus believe the deeds of this life, whether they be good or bad, are rewarded or punished in the next and the death/new-life cycle is repeated until we reach enlightenment. We know this process as Karma.
Buddhists support the idea of re-birth. Instead of coming back as newborns, the continuities of our lives are reborn instead of the actual person. This will occur until we reach Nirvana (super enlightenment), where our hearts will enter a state of pure bliss and our souls will be relieved of our physical lives.
Lastly, we have some of the “non-believers.” Atheists don’t believe there is anything but dirt beyond this life. Agnostics believe in the possibility of a god but don’t subscribe to the beliefs within any of the conventional systems. Spiritualists assert the existence of spirits and a separate plane in which these spirits exist. They are not bound by the rules of a god and can communicate with the living (ghosts and the like).
Again, these are all extremely general descriptions but the necessary basics for this post are covered.
Some spiritualists argue that this life will determine the state of being we’ll exist in during the next. The same can be said for the majority of organized religions which help provide insight for achieving a moderately satisfying state of peace during our current lives, and guidance to a better one when our time here is up.
Hindus believe life’s importance comes from doing good so they can live a better life than the one they are currently living. Buddhists believe they can find enlightenment through the many forms they possess (again, depending on what form of Buddhism is practiced) and forgoing all physical desires until they reach Nirvana, or existential enlightenment. Christians often believe life is a gift, or sometimes a test, from God–they live their lives to serve their creator and do good by humanity so they can enjoy their own form of enlightenment in heaven, instead of facing endless torment in hell. Lastly, Atheists and other similar non-believers think this life is the only one and once we’re dead, that’s it. Definitions of what it means to live a complete life and morality arguments aside, they live the best life they can believing there’s nothing else beyond it.
Each ideology has their own take on the importance of life. Some say non-believers appreciate life the most because they are not confined by the rules set by theology and are free to experience life as they please. They have the most urgency amongst any other belief system because their lives, both physical and existential, are the shortest with no promise of any other form of existence.
Others may argue that some non-believers are misguided and cannot appreciate life without the purpose and fulfillment received from embracing a religious or spiritual ideology. Without religion, non-believers are often viewed as aimless wanderers who simply exist.
Some Buddhists and Hindus I’ve spoken with claimed their only issue with Christianity lies within a small, speculative difference–Christians don’t have to strive for enlightenment, live justly, or find completion in their lifetimes to achieve an existential reward. According to some people’s perceptions of the Christian mindset, Christians are more conscientious of the fact that this earthly life is temporary and of the forgiveness their savior will grant them, so they don’t have to live by the rules expected of them. Basically, it is believed Christians don’t have to seek enlightenment in this world but can still obtain eternal bliss. Therefore, this life means less to a Christian than it does to other forms of religion (these thoughts are from some of the nicest people who have nothing but good things to say about all religions…simply a critique and defense of their own beliefs). It is not to say Christians aren’t guided by positive existential influences, but imagine having to live this life over and over until you got it just right; instead of just the one.
This brings me to my final thoughts/questions…
I cannot argue life’s importance to the individual and I will not say life is more important for one religion, belief, or person than it is for another. For the majority of us, life is precious and it needs to be cherished and lived to our definition of enlightenment or completion. The purpose of this post was to shed light on some of these basic ideologies and explore where life’s importance comes from.
Why is life important to you? What beliefs are your perceptions based on? We want to hear from you! Be sure to add your comments/questions below and ‘share’ with your friends!
As always, there will be more on this subject in the future.