Where Do We Go When We Die?
What Happens When You Die?
Have you ever wondered what happens to you when you die?
If you’ve never thought it before—and this might be tough to hear—you’re not going to live forever.
Try not to feel bad. We’re all in the same boat. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, one day you’re here and the next you’re gone.
Maybe you’ll live to a ripe old age and pass peacefully in your sleep. Maybe you’ll be mowed down by a runaway bus on your way to work tomorrow. No matter how it happens the results are the same. Dead is dead, and it is one thing we all have in common.
It’s a depressing thought for any mammal but we humans are a particularly sentimental species and tend to attach a whole lot of emotional baggage to this death thing. We miss people terribly when they are gone, and we hope that people will miss us when it’s our turn.
We have oodles of ceremonies and traditions to lament those who have passed, but when the last mourner has left the building and the caterers are packing up the uneaten quiche we can’t help but wonder about two things:
- Who gets all my stuff when I’m gone?
- Is death really the end of it all?
The idea that someday we simply won’t exist anymore is hard to stomach. Most cultures hold on to some kind of hope that we live on after we die, but the form in which we persist varies depending on who you ask.
There are countless theories about what happens to us when our corporeal bodies cease to function. Where do we go when we die, why do we so need to cling to the notion that life will go on beyond the grave, and who is right anyway?
Nobody really knows, of course, but some people seem to have ideas. So, buck up! Death may not be the end, at least if any of the theories presented here are true.
It's unfortunate that the major religions and philosophies of the world can't agree on what happens beyond the grave. Until they do please choose your afterlife option from the list below:
Heaven or Hell?
The most common belief is that death opens the door to a new beginning. After we’re gone from this world we are whisked away to a better place. The version of this “better place” most of us are familiar with is Heaven or something like it.
Heaven can take many forms, depending on the belief system, but it’s always pretty awesome. You want to go to Heaven, of course, so if you believe in it you’re likely to live your life in such a way that you conform to whatever rules your belief system has imposed on you.
It's an interesting idea held by many major religions. Perhaps even more interesting is that some people who experience near-death experiences return with stories that appear to support the existence of Heaven.
If you are dead, it’s hard to think of somewhere you’d rather be than Heaven. The idea of an ultimate reward for your toils on this Earth is very appealing. It’s a great solace to people, especially those living lives of suffering, that one day they may move to someplace where their wounds are all healed, and they can be at peace.
On the other hand, by the account of most major religions, getting into Heaven is hard work. Some belief systems are super harsh about the kind of life you need to live to make it into Heaven, so much so that it seems like most of us are doomed.
If you believe in Heaven you also have to worry about that other place: Hell. You know, where all the folks who haven’t been so good in their lives are tossed. You really have to watch your step, or else you’re cast down into eternal torment for your failures.
It doesn’t help that much of what’s expected of us seems to fly in the face of human urges and instincts. Then again, if it were easy everybody would be in Heaven.
So maybe Heaven and Hell don't make much sense to you, but you still don't like the idea that you simply cease to exist after death. Great news: You might have a chance to come back and do it all again!
Some cultures believe people are reincarnated as other people; others believe you could just as well come back as an animal. Like the Heaven/Hell model, reincarnation is usually a type of merit-based system.
For instance, in Hinduism, the form you take when you come back will be influenced by your Karma in your previous life. If you were a good person your next life will be better than the last.
On the other hand, if you went around cutting people off in traffic or if you allowed your children to run wild in restaurants you may come back as a slug.
Hey, we’ve all made mistakes, and we all have regrets. Many of us feel like life has passed us by. It’s nice to think we could get another shot at it, and make fewer mistakes the next time.
Maybe we learned from our failures, and we get to keep trying until we get it right. The idea of this sure feels better than just sitting around thinking we wasted our lives.
However, it's tough to work out the logic if it all. If we’re reincarnated it does not seem like we get a choice of who or what we come back as, and we don’t seem to remember what happened in our last life. So what's the point?
If you can't remember who you were in a former life, and what you did wrong, how are you supposed to fix it? Why make someone a slug if they can’t remember what they did to become a slug?
Still, the idea of going back and doing it all again sounds amazing. We all dream of starting over and making better decisions, and being better people.
Wayward Spirits and Ghosts
When we die we may have the ability to come back, but not as reincarnated souls. We may get to come back as spirits. In other words, we get to haunt people!
It might sound like a lot of fun, but roaming the earth until the ends of time as some wayward spirit surely has its drawbacks. For one thing, many people believe ghosts are stuck here against their will, either because of something they did wrong while alive or because they aren't following through some requirement of the afterlife.
Beliefs in a spiritual life after death are often entangled with fragments of Christian belief, even though there is really no canonical reason to think such a thing. The belief in the paranormal and ghosts also opens up just about any possibility one could imagine for the afterlife.
Some of it may sound corny, but maybe this open-mindedness hits closer to home than many of the more dogmatic theories.
At first glance, it seems like it would be a blast to run around haunting people. Surely you can make a list right now of people you’d like to torment. In a way, it’s refreshing to think we live on as spiritual energy.
For the living, it’s nice to think past loved ones are watching over us, or even remain with us in our homes. Also, with the abundance of ghost hunting shows these days, we still have a chance to be a star, even after death!
Then again, we don’t know the rules. Why are ghosts trapped here on Earth? What holds them? Are they tormented, or are they happy? Plus, many paranormal researchers acknowledge the presence of inhuman (demonic) entities that may be able to exert some type of control over human spirits. Strong spirits may bully weak ones.
Yeah, being a ghost sounds like a lot of fun, but it could really be an afterlife filled with constant torment and longing.
Maybe when we’re gone from this world, that’s it. Game over. The end. Most atheists and even some religions hold this point of view.
Bleak, you say? Perhaps in a way, but from their perspective it allows one to experience the real point of living.
The “spiritual” rewards of this life should not be some kind of tokens you save up for the next world, in hopes of earning something better than you have now. Treating people well, doing the right thing, and living morally all without the expectation of reward is the true meaning of life. It’s liberating, but a little too scary for most.
In many ways, the lack of belief in an afterlife frees us from some of the conventions of society. Some people assume that means atheists and other nonbelievers see themselves free to commit any evil act they wish, but that’s usually far from the case. Most people with such beliefs prefer to choose to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing, not because of some specter of religious damnation hanging over their heads.
For other people, this way of thinking lacks the emotional and spiritual support they need to make it through this rough world. Life is hard. People get sick and injured, physically, and emotionally. People experience loss and hardship. Without the hope of something better in the afterlife, it’s a stark world for many.
This begs the question: Is the belief in the afterlife a valid means of psychological comfort, whether it’s real or not; or is it simply a pacifier for those unwilling to look at things logically? It’s a tough question, but belief in something better means a lot to some people.
Live Your Life to the Fullest! (Until You Are Dead)
So, where do we go when we die? Obviously there are so many varied theories and beliefs about what happens to us after we are gone from this world. They can’t all possibly be true, can they?
So, the real question is this: Is it possible that all of our theories about the afterlife, even the ones supposedly backed up by major religions, are simply stories passed down by generations of people who were frightened by the idea that death meant eternal nothingness?
It's alarming to think that after death there simply is no more. It’s more comforting to believe that our loved ones are still around after they pass away, either living in some kind of paradise, watching over us here on Earth, or maybe reincarnated as some really cool animal or Hollywood celebrity. And it’s kind of nice to think we might have that to look forward to as well.
On the other hand, maybe there is a reason we have so much trouble imagining a state of nothingness. Could it be some kind of internal cue that there is more to this universe than we may realize? The essence that is a living thing surely has some kind of energy to it that can’t be so easily extinguished. Might this human life just be the start of our journey, the infancy of our existence?
In short, nobody knows. So what do we do? Well, we could sit around worrying about it, or we can get out there and live our lives as best we can. The doorway to almost every version of the afterlife seems to have one common theme: Be a good person. If we treat other people well, take care of ourselves and the world around us, how can we go wrong?
Maybe that’s the lesson after all. And if not, if we end up as worm food and it turns out there is nothing happening after death, so what? We’ve lost nothing.
But, the good news is, someday we will know the truth about what happens, wherever we go when we die.
Your Opinion: Where Do We Go When We Die?
Where do YOU think we go when we die?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Luther Urswick