Religions and the afterlife

(from – Brunetto Salvarani) - One scene that left its mark were the coffins on military trucks during the pandemic. What hides the discomfort caused by that vision: a question of rites, of relationships and memory?
Faced with an invisible but pervasive and potentially omnipresent enemy, in just over a moment we were all suddenly catapulted into one world risk society, forced to redefine agendas and invited by circumstances to radically review ours modus vivendi and our priorities, discovering us - more than we already knew - defenseless, exposed, lost. On the existential and psychological as well as social and economic level.
The massive contagion caused by the virus has thrown us into a planetary panorama in which languages ​​taken from the medieval imagination and apocalyptic fears have re-emerged; favored the eruption of death into homes and families, as a very real presence or as a constantly looming bogeyman; and, simultaneously, forced us to redesign extremely delicate passages such as the management of mourning in the absence of the deceased's body and the piety natural towards the dying.
In such a framework, there is no doubt that the military columns departing from Bergamo in search of a space to accommodate the bodies entrusted to them have risen to the symbolic image of the pandemic experienced in our country: the media-based reiteration of the news also played a role, in a time when we were all at home, rather stunned in front of the screens, TV or our devices.
It was repeated, rightly: deceased who left without a handshake, without a prayer, without being able to enjoy a collective reworking of mourning. All true, but I wonder if what happened could not be a precious opportunity to rethink our rituals in art from the beginning, difficult, of leave (and when I say our, I allude to both religious and civilian), with the aim of making it eloquent for Churches, faith communities and societies devoid of memory and unable to produce germs of the future, barricaded as we are in our own small way Here and now.
We repeat ourselves: we're on the same boat, but in reality we look with anguish at the drifting of our personal tiny life raft ...
The fact is that, in the face of death, I have the impression that public discourse is increasingly aphasic and helpless. The case of the famous Sardinian village of Porto Cervo is emblematic, main center of the Costa Smeralda, without cemetery: inaugurated in the sixties of the last century as a fun space par excellence, the possibility of dealing with death and the dead is not expected.

The hidden death
Which, in the last few years, the religious monopoly in the funeral culture is gradually eroding, in favor of a professionalization and privatization of the ceremonials related to the end of life, with the wildfire enlargement of the farewell houses the funeral-home, while on the tombs the classical Christian symbolism is frequently accompanied or replaced by others, coming from a generic natural religiosity.
The funeral should be the time when the dead evangelize those who remain on this side; instead, during the farewell rites applauds the deceased, scroll his images on video, and we find out, one more time, unable to live in silence, loss and emptiness.
I would say that the management of death would have a great need for an unprecedented tradition, of a new and renewed The art of dying of which the work in progress is not perceived today. That, we flee before the same funeral rites and symbols, replaced by increasingly depersonalized practices, mass-produced sweetened by the representation kitsch of a fake customization: an always the same representation, reassuring, authoritarian in the lexicon and ritual gestures often trivially repeated without reflecting on it.
- What is the image of dying after sunset of the "newest"?
According to one of the fathers of cultural anthropology, the Polish Bronislaw Malinowski - was the 1925 - «among all the sources of religion, the dead, supreme and final crisis of life, is extremely important ".
He presented it as the enigma that induced conscious human beings to become religious or animistic, to see a soul in all existing things and to believe that the soul could be emancipated from death itself, until adding: "Death is the entrance into the other world, not only in the literal sense. According to the majority of theories on primitive religion, much of the religious inspiration, if not all, is derived from there; and in this the orthodox opinions are completely correct ... Death and its denial, immortality, they always made up, and still constitute, the central theme of future human expectations ".
Among the most obvious aspects of Christianity, and among those historically most popular, there has always been the prospect of being able to find a better life in the afterlife. Indeed, the younger generations keep alive the memory of an almost totally centered Christian preaching, one side, on the ultimate and definitive realities e, other, on the scenarios perennially looming over the daily life of post-mortem, Latin sayings hindmost (the term originates from Sirach 7,40). In Latin, the word last does not refer, as you might guess, All newer things, but at last things, the final and final ones.
That, death, judgement, inferno, paradiso, but also the purgatory that, indeed, technically it is not a part of the Catholic catechism - and indeed represents an ecumenical stumbling block (the Orthodox Churches, eg, they do not believe in the existence of purgatory, and severely read the Catholic choice to place it among the possible outcomes of the post-mortem) –, for long centuries, have been placed constantly (and dantesque) before the eyes and minds of the Christian faithful as real places, located from time to time really in the abysses underground or above, in the clouds in the skies, used as bogeymen always able to arouse pungent worries in devotees, concerns and fears of all sorts.
Probably also due to these fears daily agitated in catechesis for children and homilies for their parents, the talk about hindmost with time ended up being discredited, so much so that today silence seems to reign over it, an oblivion, if not even a real removal, more or less desired and more or less included in its scope.
Mind you, the phenomenon goes beyond the boundaries of what were in the past Christian lands: they are religions as a whole, a bit all and a little everywhere, who find themselves in a discreet embarrassment today, when they are forced to do it, to talk about the afterlife with some knowledge.

Dying in religions
As the philosopher Roberto Mancini writes: «Many are willing to believe in a God imagined as a supreme entity, few believe in happiness and salvation. Many fear hell, few hope for the resurrection. That, instead of welcoming real life, we skirt it from outside, wounded by the paradoxical nostalgia for what we have never discovered yet ". Evidently, it is a very serious matter, and to be addressed with due attention (and sensitivity).
- About dying, what are the most significant differences between the Jewish-Christian tradition, Islam and Eastern Religions?
It is evident that between western culture and religions (in which it is permissible to insert the so-called monotheistic religions) and the Eastern ones have developed diversified - and almost mirror - visions of pain and death.
On the one hand, in Christianity and western culture, dying was perceived as a unique drama, a tragedy that has no equal. Death is the end of man, and even if Christianity invites us to think about the resurrection and new life with Christ beyond death, a sense of failure remains unfailingly in the Christian, of a loss that produces anguish e, at times, despair.
You are unable to bear the thought of death, and he often referred to the fact that, if it caused fear to Jesus himself who prayed to the Father, if it had been possible, of remove the cup (Lc 22,42), it is not clear why it should not frighten even his followers.
From the eastern point of view, what would be lacking on the Christian horizon - on this side - is a broader vision: in the thought of Christianity such a situation of suffering would have occurred, perceiving death as absolute evil because an excessive value was given to the individual, to the person, until it flows into a absolute anthropocentrism which tends to peril dangerously into an absolute egocentrism (it is noteworthy that Pope Francis himself, in the encyclical of 2015 Praised, you speak of an "excess of anthropocentrism" in today's culture, al n.115).
Now, if everything focuses on man, prince of creation, it is logical that, at the moment when human existence suffers a check on such enormous proportions, such an event is felt in a tragic way, like an irreparable catastrophe. The more man is emphasized as the point of convergence of everything that exists in the universe, the more his individual disappearance will appear as unnatural and dramatic.
Across, a second attitude that the Christian - but more properly the western man - assumes towards suffering and death is an understandable one refusal attitude. Death cannot be accepted: it is a radical nonsense, rather, the non-sense par excellence, so we resort to stratagems capable in one way or another of making it seem that death does not exist, or it is just an accident in the course of an illness.
today, generalized hospitalization of death, from this point of view, it should be considered an expedient to eliminate its mystery. Edgar Morin writes: "Christianity is the last religion of salvation, the last one to be the first, the one that will express more forcefully, with more simplicity, with more universalism, the call to individual immortality, the hatred of death. It will be determined only by death: Christ illuminates what concerns death, lives on death ... ».
Eastern religions, and most traditional religions, they live in aother dimension. The suffering, the pain produced by pain, death are reworked in a other horizon. The cosmocentric vision that predominates has in fact favored the birth of a different mentality, according to which man is part of the universe and must be included in all other existing realities.
There is not only man on earth, and his tendency to stand above every other earthly reality is precisely his most serious mistake, which necessarily leads him to the dead end of suffering.
The various forms of Buddhism, particularly, they believe that the culmination of pain for man derives from his attachment to life, and that there is no way out for those who delude themselves into exiting the ocean of suffering, accentuating their individuality: life is pure evil, insofar as it manifests itself as an attachment to one's self.
Eastern man, unlike the western one, believes that - until importance is given toego – we will not be able to get out of the spiral of pain and desire: and this very different view of life also leads him to a different view of death. That will not be read, therefore, like a tragedy, but on the contrary as a liberation, so much so that the religious man must learn to die already in this world.
The detachment from life, therefore, is the hallmark of man religious and of the saint in Buddhism. This is why death and pain will not be understood as moments of shock, but fundamental milestones in the long run dharma of salvation. The samnyàsin in Hinduism or the bodhisattva in Buddhism they are emblematic figures of this detachment from life which already corresponds to a real death, but where you also enjoy one appeasement total, since the ego has been definitively overcome and now only the totality exists, the cosmos, the Atman, that is, the universal breath of life.
Pain and death, in that conception, they are nothing but natural facts not to be exorcised, but almost to be invoked in view of the final liberation. Exemplary is a prayer from the Hindu tradition, taken from Upanishad and datable around 700 a.C., that reads: "From not being let me come to being;/ from darkness let me come to light;/ let me reach immortality from death ".

Body and resurrection
- The gospel speaks of the resurrection of the flesh.
It is not unusual to find it, in the texts of the Church Fathers, references to Christians defined as those who are not afraid of death (aphoberoi thanatou). A relaunched topic, few years ago, by Pope Francis, in one of his morning homilies in Santa Marta, the 22 November 2016, in these terms: "I don't like to think about these things ... but it's about theme-truths of human existence: death and fear of dying ".
Fear that can vanish, he had continued, if you remain faithful to God, thus warning against the deception of thealienation of living, that is, "as if one should ever perish", instead exhorting to think about what "trace leaves our life".
On closer inspection, according to the biblical scholar M.E. Boismard, «The divine revelation concerning our victory over death was progressive ... We should not be surprised to find that Paul was able to change his positions having better understood, illuminated by the Spirit, the actual data of the problem. Let it be said in passing, Paolo seemed nicer to me the day I realized he was afraid of death, despite being convinced that leaving his body he would find Christ. Death does not perhaps contemplate, in spite of everything, a laceration of our being?».
The fact remains that there is no more critical and lacerating theme for the first Christian movement - but we could broaden our gaze and admit it, for ever Christianity - the problem of death and resurrection, especially of the resurrection of the flesh. «but if Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain and you are still in your sins " (1Cor 15,17): in this Pauline consideration resides, in fact, the centerpiece of the Christian creed.
If the resurrection of Jesus had not been given, in all probability Christianity would never have been born: the Christian faith originates from that empty tomb, that however, in itself, it does not prove anything. moreover, the fact that symbols par excellence of the Christian almost immediately became the cross and the crucifix has a paradoxical flavor: that risk hiding the heart of Jesus' message, his resurrection from the dead.
Unlike many previous and coeval philosophers, in his preaching Jesus does not propose to elaborate any theory on death (nor on the afterlife), nor have the gospels chosen to transmit his reactions to the deaths that could be said normal (with the exception of that of his friend Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Marta and Maria, which causes him emotion and upset, Gv 11,33).
In him, some, there is no stoic type behavior, that look on the characteristic reality of those who tend to proudly despise the event of death; what if, on the one hand, he does not appreciate the noisy expressions of pain, on the other, he seems to have given in to the emotion of the loss of a brotherly friend, Lazarus himself. Such an emotion, but, it has a much deeper source than pure and simple feeling, insofar as it is born where the same life that God is: Jesus is therefore in a position to proclaim his surprising dominion over death with words and deeds.
The analysis of the New Testament data leads to a single resolutive message: God is present here and now, and he never abandons the people who spend their trust in him. Jesus is present on earth, to love her tenderly and intensely: if with parables he reveals himself as a poet of creation, it is not because you naively dream of an ideal world that would ignore suffering and death, but insofar as it perceives and intends to announce to its interlocutors the constant eruption of life and what it calls, following the tradition of Israel, kingdom of God in Here and now. A kingdom that has an unprecedented and unexpected extension, and goes from the afterlife to the afterlife, from the future to the hour, more like event that how sign.
About the resurrection, it must be said that the best theology is reflecting on it, bravely trying to reread that great mystery in the coordinates of our time and our cultural sensitivity: is what is proposed, eg, the Galician theologian Andrés Torres Queiruga, to which you can refer to to verify it the question to about (Rethinking the resurrection, Computing 2007).
The early Christians grasped that event as the seal that God - that God who is love (1Gv 4,16) - decided to definitively place the existence of Jesus, that, in turn, it had been deeply marked by love. Why, as Luciano Manicardi points out, «If Jesus is risen it is not because of a divine nature, but above all because his human life, very human, limited, who has known suffering and finally death, it has been a life of agape, of love to the point of giving life ».
- Some traces of the theological reflection of the last century with the theme of dying can be recovered?
One could speak of it as a real flashback, so much to say that we would no longer be facing a "dead gora", as it seemed, but, on the contrary, to the outbreak of unrest of theology of the twentieth century (if anything,, we should ask ourselves why, to such a lively and potentially stimulating theology, there will be no parallel recovery of interest at the popular level).
In reality, given that the Christian reflection on the afterlife can only be - for intuitive reasons - an insistent one work in progress across the board and never definitively sold out, the first news about it, on the theological side, it is the passage from an eschatology understood as an argument about the ultimate things (the traditional treatise the last, as a rule in conclusion to theological studies) to an eschatology addressed systematically and directly connected to the history of salvation.

After death
The second surprise is that, insospettabilmente, in the season of modernity, of science and technology increasingly central to the daily life of western humanity, of what will happen to every man in post mortem, and what will happen to the whole world at the end of time, he resumes discussing with passion by academic theology: up to inaugurate a phase of reflections destined to last a long time, and to involve some of the best minds of the various Churches. On two lines, basically, on which the theologians, alla fine, tend to agree.
On the one hand, the christocentrism absolute of eschatology: the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the historical event par excellence, e la parousia it will be nothing but the definitive unfolding of the same resurrection in humanity and in the cosmos; but an initial participation in this event takes place as of now, through the action of the Spirit.
On the other, his anthropocentrism: eschatology is not intended as a physics or a topography of the future (the Novissimi are not spaces or environments!), but like the encounter with the risen Jesus who, in due time, it will involve all man and all humanity. The change in sensitivity is evident: from consideration of the final events, of the last things considered in themselves, to privilege the ultimate reality as such, so the whole human history is now seen in the perspective of its final future.
Among the many theologians cited here, I limit myself to recalling the powerful reflection of the Swiss Hans Urs von Balthasar, defined by Henri de Lubac "the most cultured man of our time", who will return to the eschatological question several times. What moves him to deal with it is, in the first place, the belief that the task of freeing eschatology from cosmological representations and the domain of the figurative would no longer be deferred for theology, in the certainty that it has not yet exhausted to fully explore Augustine's consideration that "our place, after this life, it is God himself ».
And it is still he who declares openly, already in 1960, that in the eschatological office, "Despite the curtains still lowered and the sign: Temporarily closed due to reconstruction, there is intense activity in development "; rather, «Makes overtime».
The plan chosen by von Balthasar to begin his (heavy, undoubtedly) purpose is the anthropological one: in the sense that it seems to him necessary to start from God and the Trinity so that the value of the statements on eschatology capable of speaking to the man of today and to the current culture emerges firmly.
In fact, argues in a decidedly inspired passage: «God is the ultimate end of his creature. He is heaven for those who earn it, hell for those who lose it, the judgment for those who are examined by him, purgatory for those who are purified by him. He is the one for whom all that is mortal dies and that rises for him and in him ".
Every element of the Novissimi, secondo from Balthasar, it's not one space born a place, but an anthropological situation, a specific dimension of the relationship between God and man.
It is worth noting that, in the last years of life, von Balthasar will be involved - after publication in the 1984 of an article of his that appeared in theRoman observer, newspaper of the Holy See, entitled Small catechesis on hell - in a rather harsh discussion that will feature both specialized journals and individual theologians.
Here von Balthasar chooses to reaffirm with conviction that, alla fine, it is legitimate hope for everyone: "Love can only hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such an unlimited hope is not only allowed in a Christian way, but commanded ».
- How to compose the modern dream of eternity and the "say the death" of faiths to understand life?
In the last decades, Western culture has developed a series of theories that, in magazines, could be traced back to the working hypothesis of a post-mortal man.
This is what he claims, among others, in a book from several years ago, the historian Aldo Schiavone, starting from the exceptional progress made by the technique, History and destiny (Einaudi 2007). His thesis is that western civilization would have led us, through the extreme, vertiginous stretch of its path, on the final edge of a threshold beyond which a passage so full of risks awaits us, but also of extraordinary opportunities.
From that edge, the experience of the relationship between past and future - the relentless arrow of time - would appear suddenly in a completely new form, which requires an exercise of reason and realism, capable of separating forecast and apocalypse, and to completely revolutionize ourselves.
The irradiation of the technique, in fact, it is now total and generalized, and involves the whole of our experience to the maximum: from politics to work, up to the construction of individual personalities. A scenario in which our generations are very likely, and even more those of our children and grandchildren, they might even be the last to deal with the experience of death in a generalized way, in the terms in which our species has met her so far, culturally elaborated through an effort that lasted thousands of years: «I mean death as an inevitable event, spontaneous and indeterminate, which is always produced in a way (relatively) unexpected and sudden - although sometimes long and tormentingly prepared and expected. The deadly, In short, as did natural absolute, enigmatically symmetrical to the opposite naturalness of being born completely removed from our control and our power of evaluation and choice ".
Of post-mortal society, indeed, therefore, it has been debating for some time. One of the key contributions to the ongoing debate is offered by the Canadian sociologist Céline Lafontaine, significantly titled, in the Italian translation, The dream of eternity (Medusa 2009).
It is Lafontaine who coined the expression post-mortem, in reference to our company. From his point of view, undoubtedly suggestive, the notion of post-mortality it would concern the ostentatious will to win - thanks to the advancements of the technique, in fact - death, to live without growing old, indefinitely prolonging existence.
A scenario in which the increased average life expectancy granted to women and men of the present time are mixed (especially westerners) and the successes of a medical-scientific research that increasingly faces death as a disease to be removed and eradicated, and which currently makes listening to the word of death increasingly rare and difficult.
That, emblematically, the same term death it seems expelled from common language: who dies, today, It's disappeared, the flew to heaven, the it went out, or he passed away and it is no longer among us, is missed the passed away, e così via.
Euphemisms in which, on the one hand, the attempt to collectively exorcise an experience that frightens and that - as already mentioned - we no longer know how to deal with rituals and family and community management which until a couple of generations ago were the common response to a situation perceived as equally evident normal; while, on the other, likely, it is precisely the effect of post-mortal society, so death is no longer an eloquent story, able to make people think and reflect (not even on the slope, trivial but so undeniably true, of the popular saying "today to me, tomorrow to you »...).
The impression is that we no longer have any willingness to listen to his call to deal with ours natural finitezza; with the unrepeatability and definitiveness of our choices and actions.
The goal of my book - After - is in this key: denounce the lack of reflection on what is traditionally defined eschatology up to the times, within the framework of a culture of postmodernity and for a now post-metaphysical Christianity.
We are - I believe - at the beginning of an unprecedented path also for the different religions, in what Pope Francis likes to define a change of era, even more than an era of change.
Among the possible slopes, I am fascinated by the suggested working hypothesis, three quarters of a century ago, by the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, from the place of captivity where he was forced by Nazism, he found the courage to put his finger on the wound, thus inaugurating an unpublished chapter in the Christian reflection on the afterlife.
Behind his correspondence contained in Resistance and yield, written in a dramatic moment of the European crisis of the twentieth century, radical questions emerge that we should ask ourselves. Christianity still makes sense in a situation where the ancients last they seem absent? What message remains? Christianity may exist not religious available to modern man?
On closer inspection, we are in the heart of a paradox: in spite of the fact that on the basis of the words and gestures of Jesus the Christian religion was born, it is increasingly evident that his message does not necessarily propose a religious reading of reality. Indeed, i vangeli non narrate the foundation of a new religion, but the generation of a new humanity. in the here and, and not in the afterlife. In fidelity to the earth, even before the sky ...
As Bonhoeffer himself wrote, in a letter dated 30 April 1944 addressed to friend Bethge: «For me, the discussion on human limits has become absolutely problematic ... I would like to talk about God not on the limits, but in the center, not in weaknesses, but in strength, therefore not in relation to death and guilt, but in the life and good of man. Reached the limits, it seems to me better to keep silent and leave the unsolvable unsolved ... The Church is not there where human capabilities fail, to the limits, but it is in the center of the village ».

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