Reasons for Belief in Afterlife

(Thirty-Second Sunday, Year C)

People commonly conceive the history of thought as a gradual liberation from spiritual (religious) explanations to material (scientific) ones. While that view contains some truth, it oversimplifies. The earliest philosophers, like Heraclitus and Democritus, were materialists in the sense they tried to reduce reality to a single substance. It took a questioner like Socrates to uncover their naivete.* Plato and Aristotle subsequently developed more complex philosophies which included spirit and matter, mind and body.

Jewish thought shows similar development. The earliest books of the Bible exhibit little interest in an afterlife. They concentrate on achieving prosperity in this life; the only immortality they imagine is being remembered by their descendents. The Sadducees, who based themselves on Moses (the first five books of the Bible) clung to that more conservative viewpoint. Although they believed in God, they were materialists as far as their view of man. To advance their position they often used ridicule. We see an example in today's Gospel: Some afterlife if seven husbands have to fight over a single wife! (Lk 20:27-38)

Jesus easily deflates their reductio ad absurdam because he has a more complex view of the human person. The resurrection will involve not a mere extension of physical existence, but a heightening of spiritual capacity (become "like angels"). Then he cites a verse from their common authority, the Pentateuch. Exodus 3:6 refers to the Lord as "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob." Belief in a personal God demands belief in the afterlife. How could his care for us stop at the grave?

The Sadducees had hidden motives for denying the afterlife. They were the elite among first century Jews. Their comfortable life came from collaboration with worldly powers. The Pharisees, who religiously were closer to Jesus, resisted the dominant culture. Often they did so at a great price. We see an example in our first reading - a valiant mother who encouraged her seven sons to accept torture and death rather than deny the covenant. (2 Macc 7:1-14) Their belief in the resurrection gave them such strength.

Some two centuries later another man also offered the supreme sacrifice. He did so not just because of his hope in the resurrection, but to make it possible for us.


*In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton has a delightful chapter in which he acknowledges that materialism can explain everything. However, as he points out, it does so only by leaving out almost everything important. For a short list of what materialism (naturalism) leaves out, see my review of Reason in the Balance.

Carl Sagan, Moral Law and After Life

Spanish Version

From Archives (32nd Sunday, Year C):

2013: Returning First Fruits
2010: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
2007: Putting God First
2004: Take Courage
2001: Reasons for Belief in Afterlife

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies C

Report on Earthquake Relief to Sacuaya (October 22, 2001)

Bulletin (Excommunicating Pro-Abortion Politicians, Archbishop's Respect Life Statement)


Darwin's Dangerous Idea (reflection on PBS' Evolution Program)

Parish Picture Album

(October 2010)

Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)

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Resources for Geography of Faith

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

KRA's & SMART Goals (updated November 2013)