“The Truth about Evidence Concerning Eternal Life”

by Dennis Bradford

in intellectual well-being

What kind of evidence is there about eternal life?  [Please don’t confuse this question with the related one about immortal life; see the two previous posts.]

My answer:  There is knowledge, not just opinion, about it.

Those who have directly experienced it know that it is qualitatively different and incalculably superior to everyday life.

Whereas immortal life is supposed to be a continuation or more of the same, eternal life isn’t.  Immortal life, if it is real, is only available after death; on the other hand, eternal life, if it is real, is only available in the present moment.  We live our lives in the present moment.

In my view, the fundamental difficulty about immortal life is that it is based on confused, irremediably flawed thinking about the nature of individuals.  Specifically, it depends upon the adequacy  of  a  “substance” ontology.  It assumes that individuals are, or have, separate “selves” [“substrata”].

Let’s assume, at least for the moment, that a nonsubstance ontology, which many thinkers including the Buddha or Hume have argued for, is correct.  Let’s assume that individuals are empty of separate “selves.”  If so, that’s a sufficient reason to let go of the idea of immortal life.

If you were raised with an uncritical acceptance of the idea that you are a separate self and that that separate self is immortal and you let that idea go after it fails to withstand examination, you may feel disappointed–or even upset or afraid.  Actually, as Nietzsche argued, your mood should improve rather than deteriorate.  Why?

Because letting go of attachment to immortality dissolves an obstruction to living well.

Any focus on immortal life is, since it is focus on death or non-life, not a focus on life.  Letting go of attachment to immortal life permits full focus on life, on living well in the present moment.

How could eternal life be qualitatively better than everyday life?  What, exactly, is it?

It’s ineffable.  How could one clarify participation in the domain of timelessness?  It cannot be conceptualized, understood by discursive thinking.

The reason is that conceptualization isn’t up to the task.  A concept is a principle of classification (separation, sorting, division, categorization).  We understand conceptually by dividing objects according to their similarities and differences.  Obviously, it is logically impossible for conceptualization to understand unity.  Separation cannot grasp nonseparation.

To know timelessness is to experience it directly, something like the way you occasionally experience a headache.  When you directly experience a headache, you know that you have it.  It doesn’t even matter if you are asleep and dreaming—it’s still a pain!

To experience eternal life directly is to have the unitive experience.  It’s a direct consciousness of the unity or interconnectedness of everything.

If you haven’t had that experience, you just lack evidence concerning it.  If you have had that experience, you have knowledge of eternal life.

That’s amazing, isn’t it?  Though it’s impossible to know that immortal life is real, it is possible to know that eternal life is real.

Be Sociable, Share!

ConsultingPhilosopher.com

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg April 23, 2012 at 6:42 am

Well Said, my man, well said. Or did I ?

BigTuna August 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Excellent post. I never realized the distinction between immortal life and eternal life.

You state that experiencing Unity through direct insight is knowledge that eternal life exists. What is your response/ thinking when individuals cite evidence of near death experiences as evidence of immortal life or of a soul?

I understand that you do not think that propositions concerning immortality are intelligible. However, I would like to get your thoughts on near death experiences and the fact that some people would consider near death experiences as evidence of a soul, God, etc. since you consider personal awakening experiences to be knowledge of Unity. There are of course differences between having a near death experience and an awakening experience. (One being that you presumably do not have a clear mind if your are near death!).

Dennis E. Bradford, Ph.D. August 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Near death experiences1 are similar to drug-induced experiences; they may even be caused by abnormal brain chemistry. Since the notion of a soul is unintelligible, they provide zero evidence for the immortality of one. They may be interpreted in many ways, including as glimpses of Being.

Leave a Comment

*

Previous post:

Next post: