Sunday, June 14, 2015

Two big problems with the Orthodox Jewish view of the afterlife

There are at least two big problems with the Orthodox Jewish* view of the afterlife.

*By "Orthodox Jewish view" I mean the popular, mainstream opinion that involves some kind of reward and some kind of continued cognizance after death.

In no particular order:

(1) While I find the idea of it every bit as comforting as you do, I must admit there don't appear to be any grounds for the expectation that some great reward is waiting for us after death. For starts, the Bible doesn't mention it. In fact the good books bids us to  keep the commandments not for the sake of the afterlife, as if we were Christians, but for the sake of this life. Again and again we're promised that following the law provides benefits in this world. In Tanakh, nothing at all is said about the next world. Moreover, no one has come back from the dead to reveal what awaits us. The whole thing sounds like a Santa-Claus story: Behave and you'll get a nice present. I hate to be a Grinch - and like, I said, I take great comfort in the thought the some part of us continues after death, and that all the wrongs will be made right - but I can't help but wonder why we're so certain the story is true. Where's the evidence?

(2) And if some part of us does continue after death, the next question is this: how? My brain is the source of my mental life; my consciousness, emotions, and will are all products of neural processes caused by those coils of grey matter contained within my skull. When I make a decision, or walk across a room those are all physical events both caused and experienced by other physical events, namely the firing of my neurons inside my brain. In short, when the brain stops working, my thoughts and memories will cease to exist. So what part or me will continue into the afterlife?

(2a) And I'll go one step further... even if you can somehow show me exactly how my thoughts and memories might survive after my brain stops functioning, you have one last puzzle to solve. Our minds work differently at different ages. Teen-aged DovBear was impetuous and ignorant. By the time I'm in my 80s or 90s all of "me" might be lost to a fog of dementia. In between, there were eras when I thought and acted in ways that were very different from how I thought and acted during other periods. Which "me" will survive my death? Demented 90 year old DovBear? Pre-blogging Dovbear who knew nothing about anything? Or one of the dozens of other DovBears?

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