This book, R. Dworkin, Religion Without God (2013), provides a thoughtful glimpse of post-death for all humans and the question of what is after death, if anything.
This is the final and unfinished book before the author’s death. It is provocative, but with a sense of being both hopeful and unfinished. It is a short book, with an index, and some endnotes.
The book title “Religion Without God” is deceiving. The author argues for a religious atheism without god in addressing the border areas of human understanding. For the author, a god is optional and both religious theists and religious atheists share a common spiritual path. The concept of god that is criticized as wrong and unnecessary is the Sistine Chapel god with a strong body, specific location beyond human sight, and active interventionist management of human affairs. The author’s emphasis is on human insight and discernment of right conduct as individuals and communities within this life before death.
The subject of conditions beyond death is of particular interest in the final chapter of this book. The author reviews several post-death options proposed by historical religious and secular traditions, including:
- Better: After death, humans move to better conditions, after judgment, than whatever life conditions they had in this life experience (Heaven in most religious traditions or worse and painful conditions (hell/purgatory) after judgment.).
- Same: Humans stay alive and, more or less, intact forever.
- Achievements: Humans live on after death through their achievements in this world (legacy, fame etc). (Human achievements live on after a person’s death.)
- New Lives: Humans live on after death through return to earth, living in another form. Reincarnation (with new brains, but no memories) provides a way to retain the personal soul/essence/spirit in some form.
- Memories: After death, humans live on in the memories of other living persons (family and friends).
- History: After death, humans live on in the collective memory in the history of communities. (i.e. FDR, Lincoln, Burr, Hamilton, G. Kahn)
- Things: After death, humans live on in the objects (art objects) or institutional changes or writings that endure (pyramids, novels, statue of liberty, democracy, empire etc.).
- Elements: All humans live on in the existence of fragmentary, independent, irreducible energy quanta, as described by physics, at liberty and floating until the end of the universe (Physics).
- This Life: Humans have only the opportunity now of a life well-lived and achievements within this lifetime. This whole life option is open to all humans. Individual lives have intrinsic value. Humans do not live on in any form after death.
- Snuff: After death, the human is subject to total obliteration and snuffing. Humans do not live on in any form after death (This is often labeled as Naturalism.)
Author’s Conclusion: The author’s conclusion is similar to that of the historian of the western tradition ideas of heaven and hell in B. Ehrman, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (2020). The author’s conclusion, written in the final chapter of his life, included:
- Evasions: These after-death options (Options 1-8 above) are silly evasions, except Options 9 and 10 above.
- Unknown: The existence of, or conditions after, death are currently unknown and currently unknowable (partially or fully).
- Trust: Humans engage as a matter of trust in the intrinsic and enigmatic good, and good consequences, of good conduct in a well-lived life in this cosmos (with or without gods) (Option 9).
- Universal: The challenges in this life and trust for what happens next are shared equally by the theist and the non-theist alike. It is the universal human challenge and trust.
- No Fear: We need not be afraid. There is no evidence of after-death pain and suffering. Fear is a cultural creation. Many better humans have endured it.
- Antidote: Trust (faith) is the mitigation of any down-side of a new and large experience, like death. Trust is not easy, but it is the core of faith. All is well at the end.
- Inclusive: Human current, partial understanding includes a currently unclear grasp of the Laws of Nature Plus (Plus is something that is additional, experiential, real, which is analogous to our current, partial understanding of dark matter, dark energy, the destination through blackholes, or the creation of gluons.)
- Materialism: The challenges in this life and trust for post-death are not available to the naturalist. (Option 10 above in which all is matter and all other options are fiction constructions by the human mind.)
- Current Solution: Immortality resides in Option 9 above and is the only currently imaginable, credible remaining result.
Quakers: There is no mention of Quakers in this book. Quaker leaders and authors have shown little interest in post-death conditions, relying on a general cultural sense of justice, universal salvation, and divine mercy. Quakers avoid thinking about death matters unless brought to their attention by events in their personal lives or their community. By default, Quakers appear to follow a bland form of whatever is current speculation in dominant cultural wisdom.
- What are the elements of a more truthful (without falsehoods) understanding of post-death conditions?
- What does the Quaker tradition offer as notable insight into post-death conditions?
- What do Quakers say about conditions after death?
- Religion Without God , Ronald Dworkin: (Harvard University Press, 2013), Chapter 4 discusses death and immortality.
- Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, Bart D. Ehrman, (Simon and Schuster, reprint edition, 2020)