What happens after someone dies? What is the afterlife like? Is there an afterlife?
These were questions panelists tried to answer Thursday in the University Student Union’s Grand Salon during a public lecture called “What Happens When We Die? The Afterlife in Judaism, Catholicism and Hinduism,” which was hosted by the Jewish Studies Program.
Normative, conservative and orthodox Jewish people would have differing answers for these questions, said one of the panelists, Rabbi Janet Offel. Reform and conservative sects, which constitute 90 percent of all Jews, would say that there is no afterlife.
There is no doubt that Judaism focuses on life, Offel said. While there is not too much emphasis on death in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people were said to escape from being slaves from ancient Egypt, a culture in which people spent their lives preparing for death.
In the Hebrew Bible, King Saul was said to seek out the Witch of Endor and ask her to call forth his friend Samuel who was in Sheoul, which is all that is known of the Jewish afterlife, Offel said Offel. Samuel then came forward and was very upset that he had been called back.
Offel said that the reason there is not a lot of emphasis on the afterlife in Judaism is because “we’re afraid and that stems from scientists saying that we are just organisms.”
Unlike Christians, who look forward to the afterlife, people of the Jewish faith believe in a world that is yet to come, not in an afterlife, Offel said. If people are bad, they will have a bad life in the world to come. Similarly, good people will have good lives in that world.
Redemption can be found by people who followed the Noahide laws, even if they are not Jewish, Offel said. These include not stealing, not committing murder and adultery, setting up judicial systems, believing in only one God and not being cruel to animals.
Alexis Navarro, who has taught about Catholicism as a professor at Immaculate Heart College, said that heaven is when Catholics choose God as a metaphor for good over evil. It is a belief of all who were created by God and that all want to enjoy his eternal presence.
“It is our faith in Jesus Christ that compel us all to move into the afterlife,” Navarro said. “We don’t know for sure that what the church teaches is true, but we do know that we have God’s time, and this definition of time itself is both trans-temporal and trans-spatial.”
Those who do not choose God and instead choose themselves will go to hell, Navarro said. Since no one would make that choice, this would be a very lonely place to visit.
Phyllis Herman, who teaches about South Asian religions, said that in India life and death are tied together, and that the world was created by sacrifice, which is considered a controlled act of destruction. This is currently practiced by sacrificing vegetables and animals.
If anything, ancient Indian texts teach that the cycle of death and rebirth should be stopped, not sought after.