Death is one of the most persistent problems faced by us human beings--and by the religions of the world. Of central concern is what happens to individuals when they die.
There are many ways the central questions of what happens after death can be answered. Three such possibilities are: (1) "Eternal life" in full fellowship with God and other people--a belief that in Christianity is tied to the concept of resurrection, however that might be understood. (2) Reincarnation--the "transmigration" of the soul after death into another form of existence, human or otherwise. (3) Complete cessation of existence--except for the memories that linger in the minds of family, friends, and acquaintances.
It is obvious, I think, that all three of these possibilities can't possibly be true. It is possible that all three are wrong and that the truth of what happens after death is something distinctly different from all three. If someone adopts any one of the three possibilities given above, though, logically that means the rejection of the other two.
I bring this topic up in order to make a point about relativism or religious pluralism. As I indicated in my posting on September 5, when there are conflicting truth claims (as there often are), one possible response is to say that both (or all) are (somehow) true and there is no need to choose between them. This kind of thinking is usually linked to the idea of relativism, the concept that truth depends on the social location and philosophical perspective of any given person.
But does relativism work for a concrete question, such as about what happens after death? Could it possibly be true that if a Christian believes in conscious, personal life after death that will be what he or she will experience whereas if Buddhists believes in reincarnation, that is what they will experience? That seems highly unlikely. While perceptions of reality may, and do, vary greatly, reality is not shaped by perceptions.
Some may say that we don't know what happens after death, so we shouldn't make any strong statements about the subject and just let everyone believe what they will. Of course it is true that we don't know with absolute certainty, and of course people should be free to believe whatever they think is right.
But what is the basis of the Christian belief in eternal life? And what are the consequences of such a belief in comparison with the other two mentioned? Don't the basis and the consequences make the Christian view worth witnessing to and commending to other people, regardless of what position they might hold?