Harold R. Estes, Jr.
Maine State Prison
DEATH AND AFTERLIFE
OLD TESTEbiENT, DEATH AND AFTERDEATH
PART I FACTS
PART II FEELINGS
PART III SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE
There was no simple uniformity in the concept of death and afterlife that was characteristic of the thousand years of history involved in the Old Testament traditions. Such concepts are inevitably involved with history and thus are inseparably related to the nature of the society itself, The characteristics of its social relationships, and the nature of its operating system of values
The Old Testament furnished the foundations for the eventual construction of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Drastic changes in the concepts of death and afterlife took place within the course of biblical history. Since the customs and ideology associated with death and burial are resistant to change, drastic changes in beliefs and practices imply equally drastic causes
There is no concept of immortality or life after death within the Old Testament. Shaped by God from the earth and animated with the "breath of life" , at death the person becomes a "dead breath" and the body returns to dust. At death people descend to Sheol where the dead are dead. The deceased are inert, lifeless, and engage in no activity, The deceased is "gathered to his ancestors" usually placed within the family tomb. The dead are equal, including the stitlborn, within the abode of the dead. The language of the Old Testament indicates no concept of the human makeup survived death, the "normative belief".
The aspects of Old Testament "normative belief" are connected to the emergence of Israel. Chaos reigned over the civilized world at the transition from the late Bronze to the Early Ironage and vast cultural, religious, and linguistic changes took place. In order to establish the kingdom of Yahweh, early Israel did away with the expensive ritual customs of royalty. The early Israelites were village farmers and shepherds, Israel did away with these rituals or "royal cult of the dead" for two main reasons, Local cults could only serve to elevate locally parochial concerns to prime importance and jeopardize the larger unity. These also tended to substitute ritual and superstition as a determinant of behavior in place of historically based concepts of cause and effect relationships within history itself
An important feature of early Isaelite religion was the development of historiography as a major form of communication. Some elements of royalty rituals remained such as the burial with grave goods even though the rational for the praatice ceased to be legitimate. Some old age customs and beliefs continued despite the drastic changes broughr with monotheistic Yahwehism
Biblical opposition to wirchcraft, necromancy, and various forms of omenology that were highly developed in ancient pagan systems is based on profound conviction of the rationality and predictability of human experience. This in turn was based upon the blessings and curses that constituted important parts of the biblical covenant tradition. Obligations voluntarily accepted in the covenant were enforced, not by power structures, but by a conviction that obedience must result in well-being, long life, health, prosperity, and peace. Violations of these obligations would result in war, famine, disease, and death. Both benefits and ills were acts of Cod that mortals could not control. Blessings and curses were firmly tied to the ethical behavior or misbehavior of human beings. Any ideology or technology that promised well being by other than ethical conformity to covenant obligations was treason, punishable by death. Israelite ideology through Yahweh' 5 inexorable rule affirmed a discernable order and rationality in both nature and history furnishing the foundation for development of all Western Civilization
With the destruction of Judah, biblical tradition concerning life after death was placed in a new context. When a social system is destroyed ideas, customs, doctrine, and ethical and moral standards are no longer binding as the social system no longer exists. Under these conditions a freedom to reexamine old ways exists. The larger portion of the Old Testement was born at this time. Within the misery of exile, the old formulas that the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded did not hold true. In clamity, as in death, the good and evil plus the great and small are equals. The divine order of justice was not predictable or reliable within the framework of human historical existence. Faith in God and obedience to devine command could not be founded on this unreliable doctrine
The problem was solved by projecting the realization of divine rewards and punishments to a dimension other than normal earthly experience and history, In Daniel 11:2 occurs a statement affirming the resurrection of the dead with reward and punishment dealt after resurrection, This transition takes place in two stages. The first is apocalyptic where affirmation of a future that radically contrasts with the normal course of human and natural events occur. Violence and hopelessness was not intended by God. The emphasis on patience in suffering "waiting for God" , and the maintenance of religious and noral integrity in the face of powerful temptations to give up is paramount. The second stage is esahatological and takes place in the unseen world of eternity, of heaven and hell, as it eventually became in postbiblical thought. The blessings and curses became systematized in their external realization in the next world. This is described by postbiblical Judaism and Christianity.
It does not overwhelmingly surprise me that the uniformity of the concept of death and afterlife ultimately fails the test of time, All religious beliefs and concepts will always evolve and change through time according to changing social situations which themselves are subject to time. As a product of culture, religion or even a lack of it, defines the culture itself by its social applications. Religious concepts are resistant to change because a society socializes its young at the earliest possible age by pounding doctrine and dogma and its values and morals into fragile young minds which then close around these concepts and then seal up. These young minds soak up beliefs as if they were the natural reality they espouse themselves to be. A religion usually has been passed down through many if not countless generations and is a tangible link with the ancestors. To believe as the ancestors did is to have a type of communion with them. For drastic changes in a belief system to take place, a catastrophic event usually occurs which tests the faith a culture is built upon.
In order to establiah itself as the dominant religion Yahwehism was required to defeat and overwhelm the old belief systerri in order to prevent serious challenges to the faith. Yehwehism and later Christianity have always vehemently denounced competing or upstart cults. One never knows when a cult will suddenly arise and fill an emotional vacuum resulting in a threat to the emotional ties a belief holds on a believer. Both Yahwehism and postbiblical Christianity started as minor beliefs that caught the popular "imagination" and grew to be the dominant religious force in Western Culture. Christianity evolved out of Yahwism as a result of social changes resulting in hardship. Although ultimately evolving into Christianitys many factions, these still have at their core the concept of monotheism. A belief system, not spiritual reality, monotheism and the religions it has spawned are just passing social orders that will continue to evolve through time. The new belief system will surely borrow from and build upon the vanquished faith. All religions are social contracts and as such are subject to change as social conditions change through time
It is interesting and a vindication of my own broad thesis that attempts to span huge tracts of timeE that we still place grave goods wEEh the dead at burial. People today still habitually bury the dead with personnel items such as watches5 wedding rings, pictures, and all manner of material objects absolutely useless to the dead. One person has even been buried with his automobile. What are the dead supposed to do with these nan made objects? Even though Yahwehism taught that life after death was an unreality, the followers innately knew this was not true and "grandfathered" this tradition into the new belief system, continuing to pass down the practice to this very day
I feel psychology plays an important role in religious belief. Psychology is what enables religion to exist. Psychological manipulation using the instilled fear of devine retribution both in the next life and this one in the form of social sanctions plus peer pressure induced love for a non-existent E E£Ebles thE C. .bM:rEh to turn its back and be confident that the believer will "keep the faith" and control his own "thoughts" while at home and carrying out his own business. In this way also the church makes the believers business church business. It is the use of psychology disguised as spiritual reality that enables reinforcement of morals and values over the personnel desires of the individual outside the parameter of authoritative religious authority. In to many cases religious authority understands the faith is but a social contract devoid of any spiritual quality and themselves guilty of violating moral standards and value codes they themselves espouse as God's divine will. In most of these cases these violations are hidden as they constitute legitimate threats to the belief system and unity
It is interesting to understand how the reward system of blessings and curses changed when the social circumstances it operated within was radically altered. In order for the faith to survive at all, the psychological benefits of following this belief system was switched from a reward while alive to a reward after one's death. Now suffering could be tolerated by the knoEEEledge that all would be put right in heaven. All a believer had to do was *to "wait for God". In the meantime obedience to GodEs word or law would guarantee a place in the next world at the right hand of God. All this is social dynamics, absolutely devoid of spiritual quality, and constitutes a fiction orchestrated by religious authority adapting to changing social conditions in order to survive
I feel that Yahwahism and its later evolutionary form Christianity are an example of psychological manipulation masquerading as spiritual reality that provides the glue that binds a culture together in the firm grip of unreality. Our religion is no more sophisticated than any other whether big or small. Our religion has evolved from religions in the past and as a result still retains some aspects of those remote religious beliefs. Our distant ancesters belief in their religion was just as strong as the strongest believer today. Religion itself is the result of an evolved intelligence that turns upon itself, attributing the occurrences within the natural world to a fictitious entity created by the minds of men and is comparable to a comic book hero, both of which equally lack substance. Social creatures in the animal world, of which we are a part, depend upon each other for the groups survival. Although we depend upon each other for our own survival we attribute the fruits of cooperation to a fictitious entity we manufacture within our collective imagination instead of our felloE human beings. Each culture possesses its own unseen entity that is responsible for the goodness of life and one responsible for the negative side of life. This blinds humanity to the intrinsic worth of each being, creating imaginary barriers that are enforced with brutal reality, both emotional and physical. It is us beings based in both spiritual and physical reality that are important, not the product of collective imagination devoid of either physical or spiritual quality. This collective imagination can onE survive as long as favorable cultural and social circumstances exist
From a spiritual perspective religion is not relevant to the existence of either life or afterlife. Religion is created within the framework of life, within the psychology of the mind, which itself is a product of the physicality of the body. Life occurs and is prompted by and was also originally created by God where religion occurs as a result of life and evolved social intelligence. Religion is irrelevant as it is a creation of physical rationalization. which in itself is not only of devoid spiritual quality but effectively blinds one1s spiritual"eyes"
Methods or traditions concerning the burial of the dead are also not relevant to spiritual reality. When the body dies it has no more of a spiritual significance then a granite boulder or a paved road or any other inanimate physical object. A dead body has no more significance than a discarded worn out spacesuit as the body is only a vehicle that enables a soul to experience this world from within the world itself. The dead would be best served if the body was returned to the natural environment by way of simpleEburial within a single shroud or wooden box instead of spending resources on an elaborate comfortable coffin for a supposed but quite imaginary eternal sleep reminiscent of the elaborate burials of the ancient Egyptians. The placing of burial goods in the form of personnel affects may comfort the emotions of the living but are of no use to the dead either in this world or the next. To the soul mass is mass and the universe is structured and expanding To the soul an atom is an atom whether from a tree or picture, ring, or mountain top. All Eerceived forms occur in time and since the soul exists out of time, material forms are irrelevant
The explanation why the Old Testament did not emphasize life after death is that the religion itself was intent on controlling the living through the psychological bait "blessingE and cursesT' . From a spiritual perspective "blessings and curses" do not exist as they would constitute an hindrance to a souls life experience- God and otir souls exist out of time and possess a clear awareness of our individual lives from begnining to end. This spiritual perspective not only reveals what our senses perceive but also every atom that contributes to the makeup of our physical existence within every moment of time as we continually take in and eliminate the sustenance which ultimately is the mass that make up our very physical selves. We perceive in the moment, otherwise we could not distinguish where we begin and end within the environment we are a part of
We are not alone, God as represented by our souls is Eith us at all times Ehile our physical consciousness cxperiences this world and its separateness. As we perceive only froni moment to moment we cannot understand what is actually happening which is frigbtning. Fright is a physical emotion necessary for physical survival and as such is not spiritual. Fright is one emotion among rany that blinds our spiritual consciousness, driving us to seek reliJ)ious comfort, the comfort of the spiritually blind. Cod does not need to bless as we are a part of Cod. God does not curse as this life is only an experience in a perceived separatness which does not actually exist. God woild never hurt his children nor another soul caust harm to another soul. To hurt is a physical concept born out of thr- physical need to compete for resources to survive physicallE within this world
Ritual and superstition results frori the spiritually blini thrashing around intellectually and emoEionaliy attempting to reconnect to a perceived loss of direct communior with an unseen entity commonly thought of as God. The list of assorted forms of ritual and superstition are endless and wil continue until it is realized we have lost nothing but have gained a life which benefits both our souls and God- Cultures need not complicate physical life by imposing religious social practices that are often difficult and destructive which only separates one from spiritual reality
Cause and effect are a product of time as they happen within time. All material of the universe is relative and once disturbed causes other disturbances. This is a physical reality that effects both large compilations of mass and also small bits of mass and even energy which mass is ultimately formed from. This includes the small amounts of mass and energy that are the essence of our nervaus system and brain. Cause and effect on a *social level and a naLural level are the same if reduced to the basic energy that constitutes the universe. Social cause and effect is a product of evolution and results from the interaction of the mass and energy that makes up ourselves, the nervous system and brain specifically. All is ultimately the expanding ever changing energy of the universe an(t is subject to or slaved to time and space. All is devoid of spiritual reality. Superstition and ritual are emotional based while cause and effect are. natural based. Since emotions are ultimately natural based all are relative in the physical but not spiritual
The Israelies may have developed historagraphy but communication has promoted the perceived distancing from God from its very beginning. Examples from this era is Country Western music which is emotion based enabling one to experience intense emotions if only in their imagination which can result in addiction. Pornography which enables one to experience sex within the imagination without actually engaging in the act which can cause an addiction. Religion allows one to experience a perceived relationship with God within the imagination while avoiding actual introspection by accepting a mere belief which can cause an addiction. All these are a product of social communication which distances one from both the spiritual and natural reality by the required use of imagination in the place of reality based interaction in the physical. Human beings have socially evolved in a way that prevents us from actuaEly living li?e by adopting a fantasy that is presented as life. Life represents a separation trom God but a fantasy life implies an even greater separation from both ourselves and God. The "saving grace" may be science which is based within physical reality but science operates within parameters set by society that a scientist dare not cross for fear of losing credibility
A remarkable bit of insight demonstrated by the ancient Israelies as they included the stillborn as an equal to the living upon death. Actually the fetus is an equal to the living while alive within the womb. Being able to perceive, to possess a physicat sense is a prerequisite for life and anything alive possesses a soul. Since a fetus is alive by way of its physical senses, it is spiritually equal with all other forms of life. Laws made by man, which are social conditions within a social contract occur in time and cannot alter either physical or spiritual reality. Bxtsting within a womb does not preclude any form of life, human or otherwise, from having a- natural claim to life. A sperm and egg is the beginning of most life forms and are the source of all of us It is witkin the womb that we develop the physical ability to survive within th£. physical environment. Within the womb millions of years of evolutEon occur within a few shorn months. Nothing physical is automatic hut is the result of eons of evolution. It is advances in agriculture and medicine that has caused overpopulation enabling life no be perceiEed as cheap, it is not. Life is fragile and can easily be terminated by either physical causes or catastrophic natural events
No individual is required to be either good or bad within this life in order to earn a ticket no "paradise" or to be banished no hell for Eisbehavior. The concept of good and bad result from the competition for resources and the accepted social ways to accomplish these goals. No individual has to "wait for God". We are never alone nor could we be even if so desired. The fullness of tEe spirituality of God is usE but within life we are restricted by our physicality from fully experiencing it. God does not bless the perceived righteous nor does he punish the perceived wicked. These are mere social concepts absent 6f spiritual reality. God is aware with the love of understanding, we need not be afraid of our spiritual heritage.
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