Having lost the love of my life in February, I’m still devastated by her unexpected death and feel desolate despite putting on a brave face, as was her wish. Life has become bereft of any meaning unless, of course, I discover a raison d’être which has so far escaped me. My wife’s companionship of 60 years has simply faded away from its terrestrial presence, to an afterlife which baffles the most enlightened people I know.
Yet I feel her watchful eye is constantly hovering in my vicinity, guiding every move I make and giving me the strength to cope with life on my own until the day I too will join her in what true believers describe as the paradise reserved for the good-doers in this spiritual world. It is a place no human being since creation has tangibly been able to identify.
Belief in life after death is increasing, despite a fall in the number who believe in God. Research suggest that growing feelings of entitlement may be fuelling the idea that there is some kind of afterlife. A recent study of 59,000 people found the number of atheists trebled between 1972 and 2014. The biggest decline in believers was seen between 18 and 29 year olds. Despite this, overall belief in the afterlife has increased from 76% to 79%.
‘It was interesting that fewer people participated in religion or prayer but more believed in an afterlife,’ said Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. ‘It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality – thinking you can get something for nothing. The large decline in religious practice among young adults is also further evidence that millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are the least religious generation in memory.’
Doctor Twenge suggested that the growing belief in the afterlife might be explained by the famous ‘wager’ of Blaise Pascal the seventeenth-century French mathematician. He made the argument that it might be wise to behave as if God existed, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage in believing otherwise.
Similar findings to the US research have been seen in Britain. A 2012 survey at the Institute of Education found that 49% of Britons born in 1970 believe there was definitely, or probably, life after death. Yet only 31% said they believed in God.
The San Diego researchers found that women were more likely than men to say they believed in heaven and those with a degree were less likely than others to be godly. A YouGov poll released last year found that 33% of Britons do not believe in God or a greater spiritual power of any kind, while 32% do. The remainder either believe in a higher power but not a God or don’t know what they believe. In 2012 the polling group found that 37% believed in God and 29% were atheists. Previous research has found that roughly seven out of ten Americans believe in a heaven where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.
Mormons are the religious group with the greatest belief in heaven at 95%, while black Protestants follow closely behind with 93%. Only 88% of white Protestants believe in heaven, while for Catholics the figure is 85%. Among Muslims, 89% believe in heaven, while just 40% Jews believe in an afterlife. Women are more likely than men to say they believe in heaven and people with a degree are less likely to believe in heaven than those without a degree.
On deep reflection, however, my own conviction is now rock solid. I believe an afterlife awaits us where our loved ones who have already departed are anxiously looking forward to the day we gracefully join them to celebrate an eternal life in total harmony. Amen.