Our college English professor, Manfred Weidhorn, wrote a laser sharp response that was published in the letters today in the Record:
Dinesh D'Souza says that without life after death we are doomed, but with life after death we can serenely enjoy purpose in our lives.The letter was published together with three others, two that had a point and one that did not a make a whit of sense.
Not so fast.
We get a sense of identity from the infinite number of choices we make — Republican or Democrat, steak or pork, chocolate or vanilla, Yankees or Mets. Does anyone think that these earthly preoccupations will still concern us in heaven? Of course not. So there goes our identity and continuity.
We are rather likely, so religion tells us, to merge with that ocean called God, which means we become egoless, something very different from what we are now.
The bottom line is, therefore, that even if you are a believer, death means the end of life as you know it — no less than it does for the atheist.
Fair Lawn, Jan. 1
Believer's faith is more than blind
Dinesh D'Souza writes that "the atheist's denial of life after death, like the believer's affirmation of it, is ultimately a faith-based position." ("Life after death: What does the evidence show?" Other Views, Jan. 1). Although it is true that faith is involved, that faith for the Christian is not blind but is based in both substance and evidence, as the New Testament author of the Letter to the Hebrews explained.
This substance is that the New Testament is the most well-supported record of history based on both the number of extant manuscripts (24,000 partial and complete copies) and their proximity to the actual events themselves. The earliest manuscript copy of the Gospel of John that we have in our possession was written less than 100 years after the events occurred.
By contrast, the earliest extant copies of manuscripts of Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesion wars — the authenticity of which I suspect is hardly ever questioned — are dated at 1,300 years subsequent to the actual recording of the events.
Based on the overwhelming manuscript evidence, believers can approach the New Testament with something more substantive than blind faith.
When the Old Testament writer of Psalms explained that it is the fool who says in his heart, "There is no God," he was not implying this denial was due to a lack of evidence but instead due to a conscious choice of the will to deny what the evidence supports.
Butler, Jan. 1
I believe it was Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher, who did not believe that morality in the masses could be sustained without relying on something beyond us. Therefore, he said, if there were no God, he would have to be invented.
Although it is, without argument, much more comforting to believe there is an afterlife where you will be rewarded for your good deeds in life by being reunited with your favorite people and live in pure bliss, it does seem incongruous if you give it too much thought.
So I have adopted the scientific approach with a little metaphysics thrown in: Matter can be neither created nor destroyed; it just changes shape. Our physical shell will cease to exist in the form we are familiar with, but the energy, the soul, will go on, somewhere in some form.
So I guess Voltaire was right — I have indeed made up my own self-comforting scenario. As John Lennon wrote, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night."
Ridgewood, Jan. 2
"Life after death: What does the evidence show?" (Your Views, 1/1/09) contained several inaccuracies.
There's a giant leap of logic made when the writer puts the word Christian in front of "idea of eternity." How does talk of multiple universes lend any credence to a theistic interpretation of an afterlife? It may suggest some afterlife might be possible. But where is the evidence that Christians got it right?
Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. You don't go about your day believing people are out to get you and prove it by saying, "Well, there's no evidence, so it might be true." That would be crazy.
Dinesh D'Souza also misstates the argument of near-death experiences. When you go through the trauma of nearly dying, your brain floods with all types of neurotransmitters. This is obviously going to have some major effect on your consciousness. When someone's brain chemistry is screwed up to the point it causes hallucinations, we don't generally use what the person sees as evidence of anything but the fact that the brain chemistry is screwed up. You may as well argue that the voices a schizophrenic hears are accurate.
Elmwood Park, Jan. 1