Justice, Heaven, and Hell
If God does not intervene in our daily lives, what justice is there in this world? Actually, the large number of injustices pretty much prove that God does not intervene. Does this leave us without any hope of natural law providing justice on Earth? Hardly.
Praying to God for justice on Earth is simply looking in the wrong place. God is a personification of absolute and permanent natural law, not a shortcut around it. Thinking that natural law can be bent is vanity on the part of the petitioner and/or a scam on the part of the priest. But there is justice in this world if we look in the right place. Society can intervene. If its laws and customs reward people for doing God's work, and tax those who selfishly serve only themselves, life in that society will be good.
Furthermore, no bad person ever got away with anything without the implicit permission of everyone in the vicinity. If the majority of people consider themselves to be responsible for the behavior of their neighbors, crime is impossible, and people who begin to stray will get the help that they need to get back on track. All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. Knowing this, we can no longer consider people doing nothing to be good, since they are the instruments of evil. Good people do not let evil triumph — they do something to prevent it.
So if we are to pray for intervention, we should not pray to God. Rather, we should pray to our family, friends, neighbors, and leaders. With an understanding of human nature, and with a willingness to work together to serve the greater good, we can change the rules, such that good people are rewarded, and minor transgressions are forgiven, thereby instantiating a higher set of social principles. In so doing, we get closer to God. He is everything, and the more factors we take into account, in the development of a more sophisticated society, the better we understand Him.
In nature, the life of the individual is fragile, but the community can be very robust. Why have humans come to dominate the face of the Earth? Is is because we are physically stronger than all other animals, such as lions, tigers, and bears? No, it is because of the strength of our communities, where working together we can overcome any obstacle. To the extent that we understand this, and build this into our laws and customs, the community gets stronger. Those individuals who serve the community then become as robust as the community itself, because the community protects them.
So there is very definitely intervention, love, security, justice, and forgiveness in this world, and this is good. And these are all quite natural. Unscrupulous people typically justify their actions by showing evidence of ruthlessness elsewhere in the animal kingdom, and the naïveté of our existing science is ill-prepared to disagree. But that does not mean that ruthlessness is validated by natural law. That just means that our social sciences are still quite immature. The laws of nature prescribe a healthy lifestyle for everybody, and therefore in no respect do they justify people hurting other people.
And what of the justice of the so-called Judgment Day, and of the afterlife that follows? Most religions have such concepts, but science seems to preclude them. Actually, nature does give us an afterlife, but it is not at all like the common notion.
Typically, people think of the afterlife as a different dimension of reality that we enter when we die. There isn't any physical proof of this, which is by definition of course, if it's a different dimension. So what are we believing? With no information about it, we can only build an image of the afterlife from bits and pieces taken from this dimension. But then we're not imagining a different dimension at all — we're imagining this dimension. Hence belief in an afterlife, as a different dimension, is actually not humanly possible, and that's by definition.
And yet there is an afterlife, and not in another dimension that cannot be proven to be real. Rather, the afterlife is in this dimension, and it is very real. As Confucius taught us, our souls live on, in the only meaningful way possible, in the hearts and minds of future generations. It is how we are remembered that keeps our spirits alive. If we have done good work, we will be remembered fondly. If we have done bad things, we will be despised. Heaven is fame, while hell is infamy. And if we really haven't accomplished anything at all, we will not be remembered, and we will quietly simply slip into limbo.
Of course, there are different kinds of fame. Entertainers are famous, but this does not mean that they will be remembered much after their eras have passed. On the other hand, Jesus will live forever, as one of the kindest and wisest people to ever walk the face of the Earth.
As we "live on" in the hearts and minds of future generations, are we conscious? Do we know that we are still alive, or is consciousness specific to the body that hosted it?
Scientifically speaking, there is no objective evidence of consciousness, so this is a question that science cannot answer. If we are to tolerate pure speculation on the topic, it's possible that when we influence people (perhaps even while we are still alive), our spirits spread into those we influence, and they are conscious in those hosts. In other words, our spirits get cloned. In quiet contemplation we can all hear the voices of people who have spoken to us. Neuroscience tells us that these are just auditory sensations that have been preserved in long term memory, but it cannot tell us whether or not consciousness was transferred along with the words. Only subjectively can such a determination be made. And therein we find the confirmation. Once we have influenced others, we can then think of them, and imagine what they are doing, thinking, and feeling, in a way that was not possible before. This means that they have become a part of our consciousness, and that means that our consciousness has become a part of them. Thus our spirits have spread into new hosts, joining with the spirits of other people who have influenced those hosts.
Despite the speculative nature of this concept, it highlights a useful fact, that we are the sum of all of those who have influenced us. In contrast, Hindu and Buddhist traditions (among others) maintain that our souls are reincarnated as many times as is necessary to learn all of the lessons before finally slipping off into Nirvana. This implies that learning is linear. In reality, our knowledge increases exponentially as ideas from varying sources accumulate in us, and a sort of "society of mind" construct, wherein the agents are tidbits of knowledge passed down through the generations, seems more accurate. (Here the Buddhist concept of dependent origination is useful.)
Of course, sometimes the influence that we have on others is not good. Then we must share the sorrow that our influence brought them, as we now feel what they feel. Better to have a good influence on those around us, that we may share the joy that it brings to them. Fortunately, good influences tend to propagate better than bad ones, because evil spirits are more likely to be rejected by new hosts. So in time, only the healthiest spirits will persist. Imagine the joy that Jesus feels, having planting seeds of goodness in billions of people, some of whom don't even consider themselves to be Christians. That's the joy that we can all experience, with kindness and compassion for those around us.
In purely scientific reasoning, the closest that we can come to an eternal afterlife is to remember that the past, present, and future occur simultaneously, depending on the perspective of the observer, and in our minds, we can perceive the future right now. If we know that we are doing work that will benefit future generations, it pleases us now, to know that they will be pleased then. This is real, and it is tangible. We know it's true, because we can feel it. So we can definitely experience an eternal afterlife, while we are still alive. And if we devote our lives to community service, we will be filled with the wholesome and reassuring feeling that we are loved, now and forever more.
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