Bringing together non-believers …
○○ By Bill Flavell
The idea of a soul and an afterlife is very ancient indeed, certainly thousands of years older than Christianity. And it is not hard to imagine how the idea emerged.
Let’s imagine we are alive more than 20,000 years ago. The people we live with are active: they breath, laugh, talk, hunt, eat and many other things. But one day, for one of our clan, perhaps following an injury or for no apparent reason at all, everything stops. They become unresponsive; they can’t move, they can’t even follow you with their eyes and they become cold to the touch.
Nowadays we understand dying. We understand the cascade of failures that leads to the cessation of metabolic processes. And we understand that, with no chemical energy and a brain that has shut down, the body becomes inert and motionless. It is physics and chemistry. But at the dawn of our species, our ancestors would have thought differently.
When a person dies, it looks as exactly like something has left the body, rather like a house whose inhabitants have moved out leaving it cold and still. But watch a person die and you will see nothing leave. That gives rise the the idea that something invisible, as the wind is invisible, must have left.
It is simple to say what has left the body. The personality has left–the laughter, the talking, the ideas and the activity and then just a small step to figure that these things must still be somewhere. So, perhaps, the invisible personality of the fallen relative is watching you, as you gaze upon his vacated body?
Before long, someone is inventing stories about where these invisible personalities go and even specifying the goods they will need on their journey. Thus we see the emergence of rituals where the deceased are buried with chattels the spirit will need in the afterlife. Over the millennia, these stories were embellished and enhanced and, eventually, became woven into the religions of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Of course, this is speculation. I cannot show that it’s true but it is a credible possibility and one that I find far more likely than the fanciful stories our ancestors invented 20,000 or more years ago.
None of this is remarkable. What is remarkable is that, in the age of the global village, of space exploration, neurosurgery, television, the Internet and air travel, I am in the minority. The majority of people on Earth continue to believe the speculative myths our long-dead ancestors invented.
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