If there is a new and better life after this one, that changes our attitude toward the present. Many argue that such a belief undermines our concern about this world. Concerns about society and posterity that drive political involvement would lessen. After all, death will remove us from the this-worldly consequences. Sects that believe in the near end of the world, sometimes do not see dire events like wars and earthquakes as problems to solve. Instead, they see such things as reasons to rejoice, signs that kingdom of God is about to arrive.
Dale Allison, in Night Comes, is aware of this objection. But, he points out that unbelief in anything beyond this life may also lead to cynicism and meaningless hedonism for some. As Paul said about unbelief in the resurrection, we may decide just to enjoy life for tomorrow we die (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Also you can show that people who have a strong belief in life after death often do a great deal to help the suffering in this world. Allison talks about William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army. His belief in last things did not pull him away from trying to lift up the suffering in this world,. It drove him toward social ministry.
A visit to a website promoting a speculative Second Coming timetable also brought up exhortations to volunteer for prison ministry, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity and other kinds of community service.
People who have Near Death Experiences often change their ways in this life to show more love and compassion to others.
So the facts on the ground do not necessarily show people turning away from this life because they believe in a future one.
The deeper problem for contemporary people is the suspicion that belief in an afterlife is a projection, an imaginary construction. We project our desire to survive death onto reality. Such belief is an egocentric fantasy. At the root of the idea of projection is the philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach. Allison quotes him as saying, “Faith in the future life is nothing else than the faith in the truth of the imagination” (p. 81).
Allison is not afraid of believing in the truth of imagination as long as you don’t think your imagination gives you precise, literal information. He points out that most of what Jesus said about the future came in parables—the product of Jesus’ imagination. Things like myths, parables, folk tales, and novels all try to say something true. The fact that they use imagination does not negate their truth. Such stories may convey truths in terms of value and meaning.
Allison suggests treating the last things in the same way many of us have come to treat the first things. That is, many Christians today no longer look for historical or cosmological data in the creation stories in Genesis. But we still look for truths about God and his relation to the world and to human beings. So with texts about the future. The Bible does not contain history written ahead of time. It models reality without giving us a literal description.
We may use an orbital model of an atom or a bulging rubber sheet to represent the curvature of space-time. These models do not give us an actual picture of an atom or of space-time. But they do helpfully evoke reality.
That is all I have for today. Allison dealt with some modern complaints about believing in a future life. In my next post I will share his more positive case for why we can and should say more about the last things.