Faith Reclaimed

FaithReclaimed

Last week (12th-14th July), a group of Year 8 students attended the Faith Reclaimed Conference, a pilot initiative aimed at creating confident ambassadors who are able to represent and educate their peers and teachers about their faith. Led by local social activist Ruth Ibegbuna (Twitter), the Reclaim Charity’s aim is to develop youth leadership in the local community and to inspire grassroots social change.

With established initiatives in the Moss Side community, and schools local to Manchester, the charity is expanding following an awareness of the existence of a general misunderstanding and ignorance towards certain people of faith within our nation. Starting with Islam, the Muslim ambassadors from Altrincham Grammar School for Girls took part in activities that ranged from sing-a-longs, to exploring prejudices they have faced, to creating a range of Continuing Professional Development courses for students and teachers.

The immediate aim is for the students to create a range of resources and feel confident enough to deliver a lesson to the school. The greater aim is to reduce ignorance towards Islam and other faith communities, and to inspire young people to tolerate, accept and promote the wide diversity of beliefs that exists in the United Kingdom and world today.

Speaking about the conference, Ruth stated in her email to Mr Davenport that:

“In short, it was wonderful.  The girls had an incredible time and contributed so well.  They are walking ten-foot-tall about all […]

Parents are very happy with the work the girls have done and in two weeks there will be a website, demonstrating all that they have learnt.

Thank you so much for supporting this initiative. it was powerful and, as the girls have said, extremely timely; as all expressed personal fears around Islamophobia and UK reactions to terror attacks.”

We look forward to working with the Reclaim charity in the future, and helping with more inspirational initiatives in the local area, and cannot wait to be educated by the students present at the conference.

The importance of this life and life beyond death

This essay is taken from one of our Year 13 Students on the importance of this life and life beyond death for religious and secular people. In our current year 13 course, we explore and examine various religious and non-religious ideas on life, death and beyond.

A01 – Examine the importance of the present life and life beyond death for religious and secular people. [45 marks]

Often beliefs about the afterlife have a significant impact on the way in which people choose to live their present lives, regardless of secular or religious perspective. Within religion the view is generally held that there is an afterlife, for which we should aim to prepare for in this life, to lesser or greater degrees depended on the nature of such beliefs. However, the majority of secular views, with the exception of Kant’s deontological theory and Spiritualism (both arguably bordering secular and religious in nature), do not believe in an afterlife despite their desire to. These perspectives can have a profound effect on the believer’s present life, of course dependent on how strong one’s convictions are. Strong introduction, and I like that you have addressed the grey areas of spiritualism and kant.

Firstly, the secular perspective held by Humanists. They believe that there is no afterlife however much they want there to be one. Humanists therefore believe that we should live as virtuously as possible despite the lack of reward or punishment and that morality is important for the here and now despite the fact that one day we will no longer be. Dick McMahan, an American humanist said ‘A humanist is someone who does the right thing even though she knows that no one is watching’, a quote which epitomises this idea that ethical living in the present life is important regardless of an almighty judge, karma or afterlife. The benefits from a humanist perspective are simply those resulting in your present life such as feelings of satisfaction, enjoyment or gratification that result from being ethical and the benefits that you can see as a result in the lives of others such as through charity work. For humanist’s the importance and meaning of the present life is something not to be discovered but rather created for ourselves. This idea is used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar when Cassius says ‘Men at some time are masters of their fates. /The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves’. By this understanding there is no one all-encompassing and profound meaning to life, but rather we all find our own meaning. From their view that this is our one and only life, they believe that the time to be happy is now, the time to discover, to achieve etc. All we can hope for is to live a fulfilled earthly life. Stephen Fry, a famous humanist said; ‘Taste every fruit in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully’.

In the same vein, Nihilist’s would agree that there is no afterlife, however, they do not take the view that we should live ethically for the sake of benefitting society, they take much more of a ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) attitude. It can be noted then that the belief in no afterlife and thus no real consequence for our earthly actions has a great effect on the present lives of Nihilist individuals as they tend to adopt a lifestyle whereby they please themselves, sometimes at the cost of others, but aim to avoid being reprimanded by societal constructs and being brought to account for their actions. It is generally an unethical lifestyle and often leads to crime and lack of reverence for laws as they believe that nothing really matters. Famous Nihilist’s include Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre and Kierkegaard. For example, Camus said in his book The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt that “If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.” Therefore, it can be argued that the Nihilist view of the present life is bleak, but contrastingly, it could be said by ethical nihilists, to give the present life a heightened importance as it is our one and only life so we should live it the full and please ourselves. They hold that one should accept life as it is and work with it because life itself has limited significance. There is no point trying to create or discover a meaning to life because there isn’t one and this is a waste of time. Instead you should put your efforts into abandoning societal convention and rules and becoming a strong and independent individual; an Ubermensch.

Similarly, to the philosophy of Nihilist philosophers, existentialists believe that there are no moral laws written into society or the structure of the universe, in direct contrast to the Natural Law Theory of Thomas Aquinas, and instead, people have to choose for themselves what they should do. Just like Nietzsche, existentialists would argue that humans are the pinnacle of Darwinian evolution and we ‘stand out’ from the rest of the world. Sartre held the view, like Nietzsche that people tend to live in ‘bad faith’, this is living in a state of self-deception and mindless obedience to societal norm. Instead, he argued that we should aim to live authentically, as this is the only life we have and so we should use it how we wish. He said that ‘existence precedes essence’ and therefore, as ‘we are the authors of our own existence’ we should live in the way we want to and create from life whatever we desire. Thus, in existentialist philosophy, there is no human nature and no concrete way or purpose to which we need to conform in this present life. Contrasting to Nihilism, existentialists such as Sartre and Heidegger, assert that meaning can be made and developed in one’s lifetime, in line with humanism and rather unlike the beliefs of Nihilists such as Nietzsche who protest that a quest for meaning, even self-created meaning, is pointless and futile. The lack of belief in an afterlife, but the assertion that the present life can have purpose if we choose to give it one, presents a view of the current life as one that is analogous to that of a blank canvas, almost giving it more importance as we are in complete control of our own outcomes.

The purpose of life for Alain de Botton a modern philosopher and founder of The School of Life, is similar to the purpose that humanists find. De Botton says that the meaning of life has been effected by the decline in religious belief or ‘death of God’ as Nietzsche put it, in the way that life had a meaning given by God; to worship Him etc. When God ‘died’ so did this meaning. Instead we have replaced religion with science and science projects the meaning of life through the lens of evolution. The purpose of life it to survive- its futile and hollow. This is very much in keeping with Dawkins suggestions in The Selfish Gene. De Botton concludes that there are three purposes to our existence; communication, understanding and service. He argues that our nature is isolated and by extension, our best moments are when we connect with others. Understanding; we get pleasure from connection confusion and making sense of chaos. We can thus find meaning through trying to answer the worlds complex system of puzzles. Finally, service. De Botton says that trying to alleviate pain or suffering on earth gives us a sense of fulfilment and so we should strive to do this more. Similarly, Aristotle said the final cause of human life was to be fulfilled, happy and rational; Eudaimonia. Therefore, the importance of the present life is great as it is one in which we can become happy and feel pleasure and become the best versions of ourselves that we can. This view being only made more distinct by De Botton’s lack of support for an afterlife, thus unlike the Kantian view, we can only become fulfilled and achieve our purpose in this life.

Bridging the gap between secular and religious beliefs are those of Kant and Spiritualists, not to be confused as similar lines of argument, only that they are similar in their nature as both secular and yet containing elements of religious attitude. Spiritualists believe that life continues after death and that spirits can and do communicate with living humans. Spiritualist’s hold that the soul continues to develop after death only within a spirit body and our individual responsibility does not stop at death. Spiritualists also believe that what goes around comes around and that if you sow badness then you will reap badness. The compensatory or retributive effects of this karma-like law operate in both this world and the spirit world therefore placing importance in both the present and future life.

In his secular theory of ethics, Kant postulates a life after death on the basis that there has to be an afterlife for his moral argument to work. He said that there must be an afterlife where morally good people will be rewarded- the summum bonum (highest good). Kant said we ought to achieve summon bonum so that means we can achieve it as ‘ought implies can’ for Kant. Since we can’t always achieve this highest good on earth, we must be able to achieve it in an afterlife. Kant also says that we should do good and live ethically in this life simply because it is our duty to do so, not because we are using morality as a means to an end- to get into heaven. Therefore, from Kant we can conclude that it is important to do good in this life for the sake of goodness and that, even if it seems to go unrewarded now, everything will be reconciled in a most perfect afterlife.

Contrasting the above views that there is no life beyond the present one is the view of religious people within the Western and Eastern traditions. Within Christianity, the Pietist Christian denomination understand that the afterlife is the goal of this life and we are merely exiles on Earth and heaven is our true home, where we will rest from suffering when we die. Although not a Pietist Christian, C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death”, seeming to advocate this view that the true home for Christians is in heaven, not earth. The Pietist movement advocated living in constant hope of heaven and putting up with hardship in the belief that God is pleased when his creation adopts a submissive attitude. Most Pietist Christians took no interest in the present life, a stance that brought about a lot of criticism and turned many people including Karl Marx against religion. Although this movement is no longer commonly accepted, Monks were influenced by this line of thought and believe that we should sacrifice as much as we can in order to obtain a place in heaven. These beliefs of submission and acceptance of the current condition for the hope of heaven are thought to have arisen out of Christian persecution by the Romans.

Other Christians mainly argue that although the afterlife should be recognized by all, Earth is our home and when we die we will pass on but this does not mean that we shouldn’t try and make Earth as harmonious and ‘heaven-like’ as possible whilst we are alive. This is a more modern understanding centring on the view that God is on Earth and as it is his creation, Christians should try to make it as good as possible. This is because Christians believe that this world is a gift from God and as humans we were made special, ‘imago dei’, meaning that we were endowed with the capacity to think and enjoy the pleasures of life. For this reason, life is seen as a sacred gift, to be enjoyed and appreciated, not to be disposed of or wasted in waiting for heaven. John 10:10 ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’. We were given life by God in order to enjoy it, but also Genesis speaks of another God given purpose for all humanity; stewardship. ‘Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ Genesis 2:15. Therefore, most Christians would argue that the present life is important in the sense that it is a gift from God for us to enjoy and make the most of, but also in the way that we were given this present life with the job of taking care of the planet for God and creating his kingdom on earth.

The importance of the present life is further highlighted by God’s love for humanity despite our faults. In light of the sinful nature of humanity salvation is brought by Jesus, the incarnation of love for humanity, showing that God loves and accepts the human form, so life as a human is special. John 3:16, ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not die’. Most Christians hold that this life is a linear, leading towards judgement, death and beyond. Judgement will be on faith and works together and critically, humans cannot save themselves. If the sole way to get into heaven was through good action then it would put us in complete control of our judgement, challenging God’s omnipotence. Thus, Jesus is made the key to eternal life, not simply being good. Salvation is based on personal and public belief in Jesus as God’s son who was raised from the dead. Salvation is a gift from God and it is undeserved; it can’t be earned. This puts importance on the present life for Christians as it shows that actions in this life, but crucially, the beliefs that accompany said actions, lead to either eternal damnation in hell away from God, or eternal life with God in heaven. Christianity suggests ways in which followers can achieve the end they desire. The customs and practices of the religion aid this relationship and the moral guidelines help a believer to achieve the best result after death. For example, going to church, charitable work such as Christian aid, prayer, worship, reading the Bible, evangelising.

As another Abrahamic religion, Islam teaches that after death we will be judged based on our actions in this life, similar to the view held by most Christians. It could be argued then that in Islam this life is preparation for the afterlife in that this life is where we prove ourselves worthy for heaven through doing good deeds and submitting to Allah. In this sense, it can be said that we are exiles on earth preparing for a perfect life after death. If one believes in an afterlife such as this, it could be said to give more value to this life as it makes it imperative that we act well and according to Allah’s will in order to avoid the ‘fiery pit’ that is hell. Heaven is the reward for acting well in this life and hell is the punishment, therefore creating an incentive to do good deeds and live morally. People would be fearful of doing wrong based on the descriptions of hell found in the Qur’an, and the prospect of this as a consequence for wrongdoings. Islam literally translates as ‘submission’, relating to ideas about obedience to Allah. Therefore, the purpose of life for Muslims can be said to be to submit to the will of Allah and live in allegiance to Him. Muslims can demonstrate their submission through fighting selfish desires, learning the Qur’an by heart, overcoming feelings of envy and abiding by the five pillars. Therefore, within Islam it can be said that the beliefs about the afterlife translate heavily into the present life in that, Muslims will want to submit to Allah and comply with the guidelines in the Qur’an and the five pillars, in order to avoid hell and to live in peace in paradise after death.

In contrast to the Christian and secular beliefs, Hindu’s hold that life and death are parts of the cycle of Samsara (suffering) and our aim is to escape this cycle. Within Hinduism they believe that after death you will be reincarnated dependent on your karma- your balance of good acts and bad acts, to either a state closer to achieving moksha, or one further away. Therefore, the way that a Hindu might live their present life is altered in that one would aim to do good deeds to collect good karma as well as trying to separate oneself from the material world by not getting attached to materialistic possessions or desires. However, Hindu’s also believe that your consciousness and memories do not transfer into your reincarnated state, thus, you could take the stance that actions in this life are in effect not of importance as you yourself will not know the consequences of your actions. However, this is not the stance taken by most Hindu’s, the majority would strive to become disillusioned from earthly desires and instead live a prayerful and spiritual life so that after death, they can be reincarnated one step closer to, or achieve, Moksha- oneness with Brahman (the divine reality).

In the Buddhist tradition, the view is held that Buddhists should aim to live a good life in the hope that they will become at peace with the world and return to be at one with the energy that ultimately fuels the creation. The Buddha said ‘There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path’, meaning that you should not waste your time in this life waiting and hoping for reconciliation for suffering after death, you have to instead actively seek happiness and peace through meditation and charitable actions to try and reduce suffering. An attempt to be detached from materialism is also present in Buddhism as it is in Hinduism, the idea being that they don’t grow any kind of solid root in Earth as the ultimate aim is to escape the cycle, not to remain ingrained within it. Due to their belief in Anicca- non-permanence, Buddhists believe that there isn’t any kind of soul that continues after death and rather that we all part of this ultimate energy to which we return on achieving Nirvana. Therefore, the Buddhist belief that Earthly life is a cycle of suffering from which we should escape to a higher level of understanding and ultimate peace- enlightenment, causes Buddhists to live simple lives with an emphasis on meditation and charity.

Often beliefs about the afterlife have a significant impact on the way in which people choose to live their present lives, regardless of secular or religious perspective. Within religion the view is generally held that there is an afterlife, for which we should aim to prepare for in this life, to lesser or greater degrees depended on the nature of such beliefs. However, the majority of secular views, with the exception of Kant’s deontological theory and Spiritualism (both arguably bordering secular and religious in nature), do not believe in an afterlife despite their desire to. These perspectives can have a profound effect on the believer’s present life, of course dependent on how strong one’s convictions are. Strong introduction, and I like that you have addressed the grey areas of spiritualism and kant.

Firstly, the secular perspective held by Humanists. They believe that there is no afterlife however much they want there to be one. Humanists therefore believe that we should live as virtuously as possible despite the lack of reward or punishment and that morality is important for the here and now despite the fact that one day we will no longer be. Dick McMahan, an American humanist said ‘A humanist is someone who does the right thing even though she knows that no one is watching’, a quote which epitomises this idea that ethical living in the present life is important regardless of an almighty judge, karma or afterlife. The benefits from a humanist perspective are simply those resulting in your present life such as feelings of satisfaction, enjoyment or gratification that result from being ethical and the benefits that you can see as a result in the lives of others such as through charity work. For humanist’s the importance and meaning of the present life is something not to be discovered but rather created for ourselves. This idea is used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar when Cassius says ‘Men at some time are masters of their fates. /The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves’. By this understanding there is no one all-encompassing and profound meaning to life, but rather we all find our own meaning. From their view that this is our one and only life, they believe that the time to be happy is now, the time to discover, to achieve etc. All we can hope for is to live a fulfilled earthly life. Stephen Fry, a famous humanist said; ‘Taste every fruit in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully’. Excellent. Well examined.

In the same vein, Nihilist’s would agree that there is no afterlife, however, they do not take the view that we should live ethically for the sake of benefitting society, they take much more of a ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) attitude. It can be noted then that the belief in no afterlife and thus no real consequence for our earthly actions has a great effect on the present lives of Nihilist individuals as they tend to adopt a lifestyle whereby they please themselves, sometimes at the cost of others, but aim to avoid being reprimanded by societal constructs and being brought to account for their actions. It is generally an unethical lifestyle and often leads to crime and lack of reverence for laws as they believe that nothing really matters. Famous Nihilist’s include Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre and Kierkegaard. For example, Camus said in his book The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt that “If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.” Therefore, it can be argued that the Nihilist view of the present life is bleak, but contrastingly, it could be said by ethical nihilists, to give the present life a heightened importance as it is our one and only life so we should live it the full and please ourselves. They hold that one should accept life as it is and work with it because life itself has limited significance. There is no point trying to create or discover a meaning to life because there isn’t one and this is a waste of time. Instead you should put your efforts into abandoning societal convention and rules and becoming a strong and independent individual; an Ubermensch.

Similarly, to the philosophy of Nihilist philosophers, existentialists believe that there are no moral laws written into society or the structure of the universe, in direct contrast to the Natural Law Theory of Thomas Aquinas, and instead, people have to choose for themselves what they should do. Just like Nietzsche, existentialists would argue that humans are the pinnacle of Darwinian evolution and we ‘stand out’ from the rest of the world. Sartre held the view, like Nietzsche that people tend to live in ‘bad faith’, this is living in a state of self-deception and mindless obedience to societal norm. Instead, he argued that we should aim to live authentically, as this is the only life we have and so we should use it how we wish. He said that ‘existence precedes essence’ and therefore, as ‘we are the authors of our own existence’ we should live in the way we want to and create from life whatever we desire. Thus, in existentialist philosophy, there is no human nature and no concrete way or purpose to which we need to conform in this present life. Contrasting to Nihilism, existentialists such as Sartre and Heidegger, assert that meaning can be made and developed in one’s lifetime, in line with humanism and rather unlike the beliefs of Nihilists such as Nietzsche who protest that a quest for meaning, even self-created meaning, is pointless and futile. The lack of belief in an afterlife, but the assertion that the present life can have purpose if we choose to give it one, presents a view of the current life as one that is analogous to that of a blank canvas, almost giving it more importance as we are in complete control of our own outcomes. Very detailed and clear; of course you wouldn’t write in such depth in the examination, your focus throughout is consistent and clearly answering the question.

The purpose of life for Alain de Botton a modern philosopher and founder of The School of Life, is similar to the purpose that humanists find. De Botton says that the meaning of life has been effected by the decline in religious belief or ‘death of God’ as Nietzsche put it, in the way that life had a meaning given by God; to worship Him etc. When God ‘died’ so did this meaning. Instead we have replaced religion with science and science projects the meaning of life through the lens of evolution. The purpose of life it to survive- its futile and hollow. This is very much in keeping with Dawkins suggestions in The Selfish Gene. De Botton concludes that there are three purposes to our existence; communication, understanding and service. He argues that our nature is isolated and by extension, our best moments are when we connect with others. Understanding; we get pleasure from connection confusion and making sense of chaos. We can thus find meaning through trying to answer the worlds complex system of puzzles. Finally, service. De Botton says that trying to alleviate pain or suffering on earth gives us a sense of fulfilment and so we should strive to do this more. Similarly, Aristotle said the final cause of human life was to be fulfilled, happy and rational; Eudaimonia. Therefore, the importance of the present life is great as it is one in which we can become happy and feel pleasure and become the best versions of ourselves that we can. This view being only made more distinct by De Botton’s lack of support for an afterlife, thus unlike the Kantian view, we can only become fulfilled and achieve our purpose in this life.

Bridging the gap between secular and religious beliefs are those of Kant and Spiritualists, not to be confused as similar lines of argument, only that they are similar in their nature as both secular and yet containing elements of religious attitude. Spiritualists believe that life continues after death and that spirits can and do communicate with living humans. Spiritualist’s hold that the soul continues to develop after death only within a spirit body and our individual responsibility does not stop at death. Spiritualists also believe that what goes around comes around and that if you sow badness then you will reap badness. The compensatory or retributive effects of this karma-like law operate in both this world and the spirit world therefore placing importance in both the present and future life.

In his secular theory of ethics, Kant postulates a life after death on the basis that there has to be an afterlife for his moral argument to work. He said that there must be an afterlife where morally good people will be rewarded- the summum bonum (highest good). Kant said we ought to achieve summon bonum so that means we can achieve it as ‘ought implies can’ for Kant. Since we can’t always achieve this highest good on earth, we must be able to achieve it in an afterlife. Kant also says that we should do good and live ethically in this life simply because it is our duty to do so, not because we are using morality as a means to an end- to get into heaven. Therefore, from Kant we can conclude that it is important to do good in this life for the sake of goodness and that, even if it seems to go unrewarded now, everything will be reconciled in a most perfect afterlife.

Contrasting the above views that there is no life beyond the present one is the view of religious people within the Western and Eastern traditions. Within Christianity, the Pietist Christian denomination understand that the afterlife is the goal of this life and we are merely exiles on Earth and heaven is our true home, where we will rest from suffering when we die. Although not a Pietist Christian, C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death”, seeming to advocate this view that the true home for Christians is in heaven, not earth. The Pietist movement advocated living in constant hope of heaven and putting up with hardship in the belief that God is pleased when his creation adopts a submissive attitude. Most Pietist Christians took no interest in the present life, a stance that brought about a lot of criticism and turned many people including Karl Marx against religion. Although this movement is no longer commonly accepted, Monks were influenced by this line of thought and believe that we should sacrifice as much as we can in order to obtain a place in heaven. These beliefs of submission and acceptance of the current condition for the hope of heaven are thought to have arisen out of Christian persecution by the Romans. Great analysis; it is clear you have understood this aspect of Christianity.

Other Christians mainly argue that although the afterlife should be recognized by all, Earth is our home and when we die we will pass on but this does not mean that we shouldn’t try and make Earth as harmonious and ‘heaven-like’ as possible whilst we are alive. This is a more modern understanding centring on the view that God is on Earth and as it is his creation, Christians should try to make it as good as possible. This is because Christians believe that this world is a gift from God and as humans we were made special, ‘imago dei’, meaning that we were endowed with the capacity to think and enjoy the pleasures of life. For this reason, life is seen as a sacred gift, to be enjoyed and appreciated, not to be disposed of or wasted in waiting for heaven. John 10:10 ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’. We were given life by God in order to enjoy it, but also Genesis speaks of another God given purpose for all humanity; stewardship. ‘Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ Genesis 2:15. Therefore, most Christians would argue that the present life is important in the sense that it is a gift from God for us to enjoy and make the most of, but also in the way that we were given this present life with the job of taking care of the planet for God and creating his kingdom on earth.

The importance of the present life is further highlighted by God’s love for humanity despite our faults. In light of the sinful nature of humanity salvation is brought by Jesus, the incarnation of love for humanity, showing that God loves and accepts the human form, so life as a human is special. John 3:16, ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not die’. Most Christians hold that this life is a linear, leading towards judgement, death and beyond. Judgement will be on faith and works together and critically, humans cannot save themselves. If the sole way to get into heaven was through good action then it would put us in complete control of our judgement, challenging God’s omnipotence. Thus, Jesus is made the key to eternal life, not simply being good. Salvation is based on personal and public belief in Jesus as God’s son who was raised from the dead. Salvation is a gift from God and it is undeserved; it can’t be earned. This puts importance on the present life for Christians as it shows that actions in this life, but crucially, the beliefs that accompany said actions, lead to either eternal damnation in hell away from God, or eternal life with God in heaven. Christianity suggests ways in which followers can achieve the end they desire. The customs and practices of the religion aid this relationship and the moral guidelines help a believer to achieve the best result after death. For example, going to church, charitable work such as Christian aid, prayer, worship, reading the Bible, evangelising. Good to use such examples.

As another Abrahamic religion, Islam teaches that after death we will be judged based on our actions in this life, similar to the view held by most Christians. It could be argued then that in Islam this life is preparation for the afterlife in that this life is where we prove ourselves worthy for heaven through doing good deeds and submitting to Allah. In this sense, it can be said that we are exiles on earth preparing for a perfect life after death. If one believes in an afterlife such as this, it could be said to give more value to this life as it makes it imperative that we act well and according to Allah’s will in order to avoid the ‘fiery pit’ that is hell. Heaven is the reward for acting well in this life and hell is the punishment, therefore creating an incentive to do good deeds and live morally. People would be fearful of doing wrong based on the descriptions of hell found in the Qur’an, and the prospect of this as a consequence for wrongdoings. Islam literally translates as ‘submission’, relating to ideas about obedience to Allah. Therefore, the purpose of life for Muslims can be said to be to submit to the will of Allah and live in allegiance to Him. Muslims can demonstrate their submission through fighting selfish desires, learning the Qur’an by heart, overcoming feelings of envy and abiding by the five pillars. Therefore, within Islam it can be said that the beliefs about the afterlife translate heavily into the present life in that, Muslims will want to submit to Allah and comply with the guidelines in the Qur’an and the five pillars, in order to avoid hell and to live in peace in paradise after death.

In contrast to the Christian and secular beliefs, Hindu’s hold that life and death are parts of the cycle of Samsara (suffering) and our aim is to escape this cycle. Within Hinduism they believe that after death you will be reincarnated dependent on your karma- your balance of good acts and bad acts, to either a state closer to achieving moksha, or one further away. Therefore, the way that a Hindu might live their present life is altered in that one would aim to do good deeds to collect good karma as well as trying to separate oneself from the material world by not getting attached to materialistic possessions or desires. However, Hindu’s also believe that your consciousness and memories do not transfer into your reincarnated state, thus, you could take the stance that actions in this life are in effect not of importance as you yourself will not know the consequences of your actions. However, this is not the stance taken by most Hindu’s, the majority would strive to become disillusioned from earthly desires and instead live a prayerful and spiritual life so that after death, they can be reincarnated one step closer to, or achieve, Moksha- oneness with Brahman (the divine reality).

In the Buddhist tradition, the view is held that Buddhists should aim to live a good life in the hope that they will become at peace with the world and return to be at one with the energy that ultimately fuels the creation. The Buddha said ‘There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path’, meaning that you should not waste your time in this life waiting and hoping for reconciliation for suffering after death, you have to instead actively seek happiness and peace through meditation and charitable actions to try and reduce suffering. An attempt to be detached from materialism is also present in Buddhism as it is in Hinduism, the idea being that they don’t grow any kind of solid root in Earth as the ultimate aim is to escape the cycle, not to remain ingrained within it. Due to their belief in Anicca- non-permanence, Buddhists believe that there isn’t any kind of soul that continues after death and rather that we all part of this ultimate energy to which we return on achieving Nirvana. Therefore, the Buddhist belief that Earthly life is a cycle of suffering from which we should escape to a higher level of understanding and ultimate peace- enlightenment, causes Buddhists to live simple lives with an emphasis on meditation and charity.

It is thus clear to see how varied the beliefs about the afterlife and the effects that these differing beliefs have on the present life are. It is perhaps due to the nature of the question as ultimately conceptual and metaphysical that such diversity arises as of course, we have no solid empirical backing to any of these assertions, all we are doing is attempting to rationalise our existence on earth without coming up with a definitive answer as such a thing is beyond our capabilities. In a sense, it is then necessary to adopt an anti-realist approach and accept that the only truth we can find is within our own convictions. A thorough examination, you have clearly studied beyond the material in lessons and this is worthy of an A*. See my additional comments, do you mind if I permit others to read this? If so, I will email it to them once you have given me your final copy. Well done.

 

A02: “The purpose of this life is to prepare for death”. [30 marks]

 

Dependent on your beliefs about the existence of an afterlife, beliefs about the purpose of this life alter. For religious people this life is often seen as a preparation for the next, for atheists it is often thought that this is our one and only life and so spending it in preparation for death is futile. Some go as far to say that this life is purposeless, in preparation for death or otherwise. For me, the purpose of this life cannot be preparation for death due to the conjecture and indefinite nature of the speculations about what lies ahead, if anything. Therefore, it is more important to live morally and happily in this life being the one that we know for definite (as definite as we can be anyhow) exists.

Taking a Nihilist understanding there is no purpose to life other than to experience as much pleasure and do whatever you desire whilst avoiding being reprimanded. The purpose of this life cannot be to prepare for death because we cannot know anything beyond the physical and material, and what the physical and material shows is that at death we decay. Life is purposeless and brutal so our soul aim should be to please oneself and ‘carpe diem’- seize the day. This view has been criticised by ethicists in that it often leads to an unethical and immoral way of living which can often lead to unhappiness in the sense that doing good gives us a sense of fulfilment and happiness. Although the stance is maintained that this life is not preparation for death, people such as Alain de Botton and existentialists would maintain that there is a purpose, it is to be happy and often this comes from elements of sacrifice or acting morally. Despite being in agreement with the Nihilist perspective that conjecture about the nature of an afterlife is futile and thus cannot fuel any purpose for this life, I would be more inclined to side with the existentialist view that rather than abuse this life suiting only oneself, we should aim to be moral and limit suffering as far as possible in order to be happy.

Further support for this stance can be seen in the view of Humanists, who argue that there is no purpose to life other than that which we gift it. Purpose is found and given by the individual, it is not one all-encompassing profound Aristotelian final cause but rather, we dictate our own fate. Therefore, from a humanist perspective the purpose of life cannot be to prepare for death because there is no purpose. Life is to be lived to the full and not wasted in contemplating what we can have no knowledge of. For me, this is the only logical way to view a purpose for life due to the vast number of possibilities and freedom that we have. Our choices evidently effect our character, and repeated choices over time cause us to develop into the person that such choices dictate, for example, if one was to continually prioritise oneself over others then over time, one would become selfish. In the same way as we can choose who we want to be, we can choose our own purpose as we aren’t made in any specific way for a specific job, we are equal in our creation and thus can choose how we live our lives, there is not a purpose that is given, and it is certainly not to prepare for death.

By contrast, within religious doctrine the view is generally held that this life is a preparation for death. For example, in Christianity it is mostly believed that if we don’t spend this life doing good deeds, living according to God’s will, evangelising and worshipping God, then we will not go to heaven. Heaven being a place without suffering and fellowship with a most loving God and the alternative a place away from God, often depicted as a pit full of demons and controlled by the devil, but some take a more idealist reading and protest that hell is simply a place without God. Based on this belief, the present life would be a preparation for death in that whatever is done in this life will affect your fate after death. Life on earth is like a trial whereby we either prove ourselves worthy for a place in heaven or don’t. Christians would then say that in spending the present life living in faith and according to the will of God as stated in the Bible, you are not wasting your life as Nihilists argue, but rather fulfilling your purpose. However, in my view, this leads to a life in fear of judgement and a pressure to do good because you are being watched constantly. If you are doing ‘good’ deeds for a place in heaven then surely this is selfish? Therefore, a life lived in preparation for death, is to me, a life wasted.

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) maintained that the purpose of life is to achieve fellowship with God after death, it is our telos. And we can only achieve this by living well and virtuously. The emphasis for actions in this life can then be seen to come from beliefs about death and beyond. Contrastingly, some modern Christians would argue that this life is not solely in preparation for death, but as a gift from God, it is important that we enjoy our lives now, take care of one another and alleviate suffering as far as we can, not because it will get us into heaven after death, but because it is what God designed life for- for living. This modern understanding of Christianity is one that holds more merit than the previous, and results in a similar outcome to that of the humanist and existentialists perspectives that I have a bias towards, only that this view stems from a religious foundation.

In opposition to the above perspective was that of the Branch Davidians who believed that the end of times was immanent and that in order to escape the tribulation and war that is prophesised in the Bible, they should commit suicide. Many of them did exactly this and their leader also ‘helped’ those who were unsure by setting fire to their homes. In this sense, the present life was seen by the Davidians as a preparation for death to such an extent that it was deemed only as a barrier to the perfect afterlife and so, by killing themselves they removed this barrier. Similarly, within Islam the idea of martyrdom is present. This is the view that if a Muslim dies protecting the Islamic faith or working for Islam then they will go straight to paradise. This belief is thought by some to have been one of the chief causes for suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. It can then be seen that the present life is simply a test of faith in preparation for judgement and an ultimate, perfect, eternity in paradise with God.

In conclusion, within many religious doctrines the belief is held that the present life is merely a preparation for death in the sense that death brings judgement based on the way that our earthly lives have been spent. But it can also be seen that as a gift, this life holds its own purpose separate from the weight it holds in our judgement. Perhaps it is best, due to the uncertainty of accusations about life after death, that one takes more of a view like that of Pascal in his wager. If we live well and avoid sinning on the off chance that there is a mighty all-powerful judge after our deaths, then we will gain a good life, and a place in heaven, but if there is no God to judge us after death, then at least we still lived a good life. Alternatively, if one lives in a Nihilist vein and there is an almighty judge, then you wouldn’t have lived a good life, and you would be sent to hell, you lose the most. In my view, we should live good lives, not necessarily Christian ones as Pascal is suggesting, but good, moral lives for the sake of our present life having a sense of fulfilment, happiness and community cohesion. I would argue then that life has a purpose of its own beyond any speculation about an afterlife, and that is to be happy, balanced and fulfilled now.

Strong analysis, once again. Your arguments do fit the question but I think you could be more passionate in the way you present them. It seems more that you are ‘toeing the line’ with a balanced argument and I think you should clearly state which side you are arguing for in your thesis (best not to use ‘I’ but still state your opinion). Then refine each paragraph to include connectives that emphasis this passionate idea ‘Despite this, the argument suggested by…. strongly suggests that…’ Etc. And perhaps have a conclusion that really hits your POV on the head, because I’m unsure of your actual opinion.

 

A02: “The purpose of this life is to prepare for death”. [30 marks]

 

Dependent on your beliefs about the existence of an afterlife, beliefs about the purpose of this life alter. For religious people this life is often seen as a preparation for the next, for atheists it is often thought that this is our one and only life and so spending it in preparation for death is futile. Some go as far to say that this life is purposeless, in preparation for death or otherwise. For me, the purpose of this life cannot be preparation for death due to the conjecture and indefinite nature of the speculations about what lies ahead, if anything. Therefore, it is more important to live morally and happily in this life being the one that we know for definite (as definite as we can be anyhow) exists.

Taking a Nihilist understanding there is no purpose to life other than to experience as much pleasure and do whatever you desire whilst avoiding being reprimanded. The purpose of this life cannot be to prepare for death because we cannot know anything beyond the physical and material, and what the physical and material shows is that at death we decay. Life is purposeless and brutal so our soul aim should be to please oneself and ‘carpe diem’- seize the day. This view has been criticised by ethicists in that it often leads to an unethical and immoral way of living which can often lead to unhappiness in the sense that doing good gives us a sense of fulfilment and happiness. Although the stance is maintained that this life is not preparation for death, people such as Alain de Botton and existentialists would maintain that there is a purpose, it is to be happy and often this comes from elements of sacrifice or acting morally. Despite being in agreement with the Nihilist perspective that conjecture about the nature of an afterlife is futile and thus cannot fuel any purpose for this life, I would be more inclined to side with the existentialist view that rather than abuse this life suiting only oneself, we should aim to be moral and limit suffering as far as possible in order to be happy.

Further support for this stance can be seen in the view of Humanists, who argue that there is no purpose to life other than that which we gift it. Purpose is found and given by the individual, it is not one all-encompassing profound Aristotelian final cause but rather, we dictate our own fate. Therefore, from a humanist perspective the purpose of life cannot be to prepare for death because there is no purpose. Life is to be lived to the full and not wasted in contemplating what we can have no knowledge of. For me, this is the only logical way to view a purpose for life due to the vast number of possibilities and freedom that we have. Our choices evidently effect our character, and repeated choices over time cause us to develop into the person that such choices dictate, for example, if one was to continually prioritise oneself over others then over time, one would become selfish. In the same way as we can choose who we want to be, we can choose our own purpose as we aren’t made in any specific way for a specific job, we are equal in our creation and thus can choose how we live our lives, there is not a purpose that is given, and it is certainly not to prepare for death.

By contrast, within religious doctrine the view is generally held that this life is a preparation for death. For example, in Christianity it is mostly believed that if we don’t spend this life doing good deeds, living according to God’s will, evangelising and worshipping God, then we will not go to heaven. Heaven being a place without suffering and fellowship with a most loving God and the alternative a place away from God, often depicted as a pit full of demons and controlled by the devil, but some take a more idealist reading and protest that hell is simply a place without God. Based on this belief, the present life would be a preparation for death in that whatever is done in this life will affect your fate after death. Life on earth is like a trial whereby we either prove ourselves worthy for a place in heaven or don’t. Christians would then say that in spending the present life living in faith and according to the will of God as stated in the Bible, you are not wasting your life as Nihilists argue, but rather fulfilling your purpose. However, in my view, this leads to a life in fear of judgement and a pressure to do good because you are being watched constantly. If you are doing ‘good’ deeds for a place in heaven then surely this is selfish? Therefore, a life lived in preparation for death, is to me, a life wasted.

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) maintained that the purpose of life is to achieve fellowship with God after death, it is our telos. And we can only achieve this by living well and virtuously. The emphasis for actions in this life can then be seen to come from beliefs about death and beyond. Contrastingly, some modern Christians would argue that this life is not solely in preparation for death, but as a gift from God, it is important that we enjoy our lives now, take care of one another and alleviate suffering as far as we can, not because it will get us into heaven after death, but because it is what God designed life for- for living. This modern understanding of Christianity is one that holds more merit than the previous, and results in a similar outcome to that of the humanist and existentialists perspectives that I have a bias towards, only that this view stems from a religious foundation.

In opposition to the above perspective was that of the Branch Davidians who believed that the end of times was immanent and that in order to escape the tribulation and war that is prophesised in the Bible, they should commit suicide. Many of them did exactly this and their leader also ‘helped’ those who were unsure by setting fire to their homes. In this sense, the present life was seen by the Davidians as a preparation for death to such an extent that it was deemed only as a barrier to the perfect afterlife and so, by killing themselves they removed this barrier. Similarly, within Islam the idea of martyrdom is present. This is the view that if a Muslim dies protecting the Islamic faith or working for Islam then they will go straight to paradise. This belief is thought by some to have been one of the chief causes for suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. It can then be seen that the present life is simply a test of faith in preparation for judgement and an ultimate, perfect, eternity in paradise with God.

In conclusion, within many religious doctrines the belief is held that the present life is merely a preparation for death in the sense that death brings judgement based on the way that our earthly lives have been spent. But it can also be seen that as a gift, this life holds its own purpose separate from the weight it holds in our judgement. Perhaps it is best, due to the uncertainty of accusations about life after death, that one takes more of a view like that of Pascal in his wager. If we live well and avoid sinning on the off chance that there is a mighty all-powerful judge after our deaths, then we will gain a good life, and a place in heaven, but if there is no God to judge us after death, then at least we still lived a good life. Alternatively, if one lives in a Nihilist vein and there is an almighty judge, then you wouldn’t have lived a good life, and you would be sent to hell, you lose the most. In my view, we should live good lives, not necessarily Christian ones as Pascal is suggesting, but good, moral lives for the sake of our present life having a sense of fulfillment, happiness and community cohesion. I would argue then that life has a purpose of its own beyond any speculation about an afterlife, and that is to be happy, balanced and fulfilled now.