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Coming into terms with the death of a family member or a close friend poses a challenge to anyone. In such a time people ponder on the various mysteries of life and death in particular. Ancient and modern societies or religions have held varying opinions on life and death. The ancient religious traditions such as the Egyptians and Mesopotamians believed that the body unified with the soul after death. These cultures therefore embarked in body preservation such as mummification as a preparation for the journey in its afterlife. Nearly all cultures believe in life after death which takes various forms such as reincarnations, and life in hell or heaven. Religion and culture play a vital role in solving the questions surrounding death and afterlife. The aim of this study is to analyze how such cultures and religious beliefs have influenced the people’s viewpoints on death and afterlife.
In the ancient Egyptian society, death symbolized the beginning of another facet of life in the afterlife. Shaw (62) argues that the strong belief in the life after death in this society ensured that the dead were accorded respect and helped in their journey into the afterlife. The vast pyramids and artifacts with inscriptions on the afterlife indicate the society’s strong belief that life exists after death. The Egyptian society also believed that the body would be able to drink and eat a fact that ensured that one was buried with his world possessions.
In the ancient Mesopotamia, death was dreaded. This society believed that the soul was immortal and thus continued to live among the people after death. Chaiwutikornwanich (1015) posits that the Mesopotamians strived to live a righteous life on earth since life after death would be influenced by ones good or bad actions. Skeletons from around 2900 BC in the Mesopotamian society have been found holding items such as pots and bowls an indication that the society believed they continued living after death (1016). Kselman (123) argues that the Mesopotamians ensured the dead were provided with a proper burial. This society believed that even the bodies of the enemies could rise up and torment the living if they weren’t buried properly. Ancient Mesopotamia literature notes of Ishtar a goddess who had to give up her passions before she could be allowed to meet with the queen of the underworld (Shaw 62). [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Christianity which consists of various beliefs such as Protestants, Catholics, and Baptists hold a common belief in the afterlife. The way the individuals conduct themselves on earth is embedded on what one expects in the afterlife. Nichols argues that Christians believe that they will go to heaven and be with God after death (23). Death is at sometimes regarded as a time of joy although sadness engulfs those left behind as they will forever miss their loved ones. Christians hold the belief that those who lived a sinful life will be condemned into hell in the afterlife. According to Catholic teachings, the spirit progresses to heaven after purgation for those that repent and confess their sins (54).
Islam shares some common beliefs with Christianity and ancient religious societies in that the present life acts as a preparation for the next face of existence. According to Scheffler and Niko, Muslims believe that death is merely a transition from one world and into another (65). Johansson alludes to this opinion noting that death represents a journey through a different aspect of existence (185). According to the Islamic teachings, three things are said to continue helping the dead in the afterlife; knowledge which a person had taught, charity given, as well as prayers that are offered by a righteous child on behalf of the dead (Scheffler and Niko 76). This is a strong indication in the life after death. Johansson argues that in Islam the body of the dead is washed and covered in a clean white clothing as symbol of purity as the soul embarks into its next life (45). Additionally, the body is laid facing Mecca as members engage in prayers and fasting on behalf of the deceased.
According to Cannon (123), after years of working with terminally ill patients, she argues that religion and culture strongly influence the peoples’ beliefs on death and afterlife. The process of death has been noted as a mere separation of the physical body from the soul. This study noted that individuals do not die alone but rather there are guiding forces that help in to the transition of death. There also exist accounts of a transition between death and afterlife as noted in Hinduism. Shaw argues that death in Hinduism is spiritually regarded as the soul awaits rebirth and reincarnation (70). [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
In Hinduism, death is regarded as a natural process where the soul separates from the physical body. Shaw posits that after death, the soul is believed to travel for some time into another world before returning to the earth in its new journey (71). Cremation that is common with the Hindus is meant to prepare the elements that form the body to return to their respective spheres while the separated soul is returned to the world. Kselman (128) argues that cremation places among the Hindus are important in ensuring that the soul attains its sphere and in most cases avoids the journey through the afterlife.
The final outcome of death remains the same in all cultures despite the variations in what death is and what happens after. Scheffler and Niko argue that in some cultures, death is represented in various forms such as old age, illness, and even sleep (105). On the other hand, some cultures regard death as a total cessation of life. There are notions of continued interactions with the dead in some cultures while in others, nothing occurs after death.
Faced with the dilemma of explaining death and afterlife, people have always relied on religion and ancient beliefs in explaining the concept of death and what happens to those who die. However, in all these religions and cultures, death is itself not the end but a beginning of a new journey either in heaven or right here on earth. For example, the Hindus envision life as a cycle between life and death that is believed to be continuous. Individuals therefore exits and reenters this cycle multiple of times. On the other hand, whereas Christians believe in life after death, they hold the perception that death occurs only once.
The various religions and cultures posits to the changing of the physical body when one dies into a spiritual form. The body is thus spiritually regarded among all the cultures irrespective of the manner in which the dead lived. For example, the Muslims preserve and wrap the body in clean white linen as a symbol of purity in the next life. Similarly, the Christians also regard the body in a spiritual manner where anointing of the dead is done in some denominations. The body may also be taken to a chapel as a sign of last respect that seeks to reunite the soul with God. In a similar manner, the ancient traditions regarded the dead as sacred.
Irrespective of the meaning of the death, each culture or religion offers notions on how death should occur. Death due to old age is celebrated in a majority of the cultures as it symbolizes good death. Whereas some of the cultures fear death, others approach it with confidence as it symbolizes attainment of a higher sphere similar to God. For example, the Hindus believe that the souls of the departed acquire a higher status and through cremation, one is relieved of the treacherous journey of attaining this status.
There exists a strong conviction in life after death in all cultures and religions that are defined by the actions that the individuals observe while alive. Muslims have been seen to observe Quran teachings such adhering to fasting, charity, and prayers that helps one to avoid punishment on the Day of Judgment. Similarly the Christians believe in hell and heaven where the righteous will be rewarded with an eternal life in heaven. This indicates that despite leaving the body, the soul continues to live. The ancient cultures also posits to the existence of life after death notably in Egypt where the kings were buried with their earthly possessions. This ensured that the dead had a smooth transition into the afterlife.
In all the religions and cultures, there exists a transition period between death and the afterlife. There is compelling evidence in the ancient cultures that the dead embarked on a journey before they could reach their afterlife. These cultures often ensured that the dead were buried with food, drinks and other items that they could continue to use before they reached their next life. In a similar manner, Catholics and Muslims continue to pray for the souls of the departed for a smooth journey into the afterlife. According to Islam teachings prayers for the deceased more so from a righteous child are believed to influence life in the afterlife.
People who have experienced near death experiences have often told of encounters with some of their departed relatives while others argue that they were received by angels. This is supported by Christianity teachings where the soul departs from the body and awaits the day of the judgment. The ancient societies also posit this idea noting of the encounters of the departed with several gods in the underworld. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
This research sought to analyze how religion or cultures influence the peoples’ beliefs on death and the afterlife. Although death is the same in all cultures and religions, varying opinions the meaning of death and afterlife exists. However, these cultures and religions allude to the fact that death symbolizes a new beginning for the departed in the afterlife. People strive to life a righteous life in order to be rewarded with a better life after death either here on earth or in heaven. Such religious beliefs therefore fill in the void on what constitutes death and the afterlife.
Cannon, Dolores. Between Death and Life: Conversations with a Spirit. Dublin: Gateway, 2003. Print.
Chaiwutikornwanich, Apitchaya. “Belief In The Afterlife, Death Anxiety, And Life Satisfaction Of Buddhists And Christians In Thailand: Comparisons Between Different Religiosity.” Social Indicators Research 3 (2015): 1015. Academic OneFile.
Johansson, Jens. “The Importance Of A Good Ending: Some Reflections On Samuel Scheffler’s Death And The Afterlife.” Journal Of Ethics 19.2 (2015): 185-195. Academic Search Premier.
Kselman, Thomas A. Death And Afterlife In Modern France. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Nichols, Terence L. Death And Afterlife : A Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich: Brazos Press
Scheffler, Samuel, and Niko Kolodny. Death And The Afterlife. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press, 2013. Discovery eBooks. Shaw, Garry. “A Matter Of Life And Death: The Popular View Of Ancient Egypt As A Culture Obsessed With Death Is Challenged By Two Exhibitions, Which Argue That Funerary Objects Were As Important In Daily Life As They Were In The Afterlife.” Apollo639