Implications of an Afterlife on Being Good

This idea formed in my head months ago when the news was full of eulogizing for Nelson Mandela. Many people wished him smooth passage into the afterlife, which is a common sentiment and perfectly reasonable from a “good people get rewarded for being good” perspective. I think the idea is pretty insulting, which probably sounds kind of weird, so let’s talk about that.

I received a friendly kick that brought back the idea from Amy’s Do Better Challenge post when she mentions only having the one short life with which to do all the good you can in the limited time you have. And I do think that’s a big motivator to be a kind, ethical person. And even though it may give someone else comfort to think I’m still around somewhere else when I’m gone I really don’t want anyone to think that. But talking about me seems egotistical, so back to Nelson Mandela.

From our modern perspective it seems nearly universally agreed that Mandela was a great human being. I totally agree with that, but I want to go into a few details about why. Back in the early ’90s when the apartheid regime was in the process of being shown out the door many US politicians considered Mandela to be a terrorist. And I think this is something that gets swallowed up in our present day post G.W. Bush v. terr-ists eye rolling, but this was not for no reason.

And that’s what I think is incredible. He started out with a Gandhi-inspired nonviolent movement, lost hope in an alternative to armed and violent resistance, and when he thought the time for that had passed gave it up. It is hard, maybe impossible, for me to imagine the anger that must accompany life under an unfair and oppressive institution like apartheid. But that someone could lead others to take up arms to topple it, then lead those people to lay them back down when it was no longer necessary BLOWS. MY. MIND.

That is a life story that needs to be preserved. And maybe my concern is misplaced, but the heaven / afterlife narrative seems to make maintaining that legacy Not My Problem. So when someone I admire or respect dies I don’t want to pass the buck to God that they’re seen to properly. The onus should remain on me to celebrate what they did for me and for others and make sure it isn’t lost or forgotten. And if I affect someone in that way I hope they keep that effect alive instead of putting it in the trust of some ethereal being.


About apfergus

A coffee sipping, bike riding, (newly) ballroom dancing, cardigan sweater enthusiast, and astrophysics grad student looking at the highest energy cosmic rays.
This entry was posted in Existential Quandary, General Miscelany, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

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