The Life of the World to Come

The Life of the World to Come : Near-death Experience and Christian Hope

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Critics of religion have argued that Christianity's success stems from its promise of eternal life, that people become Christian at bottom merely to cope with their fear of death. Contemporary theologians and philosophers, highly sensitive to this charge, tend to skirt the issue of life after death. To speak of the afterlife is at best to engage in wishful thinking, at worst to descend to the level of pop religion, encounters with angels, and UFO abductions. In The Life of the World to Come, however, Carol Zaleski asks the question, "Are we rationally and morally entitled to believe in life after death?" and answers with a spirited and emphatic "yes." Drawing on a rich and varied array of sources ranging from Plato to St. Augustine to Heidegger, from the samurai warrior code to New Yorker cartoons to conversations with her young son, Zaleski not only brilliantly defends the right of Christians to believe in a life after death, but she illuminates the real value of imagining what that life might be like. It is important to spiritual maturity, she says, for the believer to be able to imagine a state of complete fulfillment, of oneness with God. And a vision of the ideal society, the heavenly communion of saints, is essential to the ordering of both our own lives and the society in which we live. Zaleski organizes her defense into three parts corresponding to the three great hours of the Divine Office, the cycle of prayers that is the heart of monastic life: Lauds at dawn's first light, Vespers at twilight, and, with the coming of night, Compline. In this liturgy of darkness and light, sleeping and waking, Zaleski discovers a poignant awareness of the ever-presentness of death in life and life in death, an awareness that we sadly miss amidst the medical and technological wonders of modern life. The timeless prayers and rituals of classical Christianity, she finds, are not a distraction from life, but a way of orienting oneself to life. Zaleski stresses the importance of the testimony of near-death experiences for Christian thinking about the afterlife. While these experiences do not by themselves provide objective evidence of life after death, she says, neither should they be dismissed as wishful thinking merely because research shows them to be influenced by cultural expectations. Zaleski asks "If God, the unknowable, wishes to be known, what other recourse does God have but to avail himself of our images and symbols, just as he has availed himself of our flesh?" This book will inspire, challenge and console readers seeking to confront their own hopes and fears of death and the afterlife with dignity, rather than despair or denial. Candid, surprising, and profoundly wise, it will fascinate anyone intrigued by the strange and wonderful phenomena of near-death experience and the beauty and mystery of the unknown.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 107 pages
  • 144.78 x 213.36 x 17.78mm | 272.15g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 2 halftones, 1 line drawing
  • 0195103351
  • 9780195103359

About Carole Zaleski

About the Author: Carol Zaleski is the author of Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times. She teaches world religions and philosophy of religion at Smith College.show more

Review Text

Three sharp, provocative lectures on the origins and restorative values of a belief in "individual survival after death," by the author of Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experiences in Medieval and Modern Times (not reviewed). Zaleski (World Religions and Philosophy/Smith Coll.) draws on her extensive research into the near-death experience to illuminate how our modern refusal to contemplate mortality (and thus to consider its aftermath) has left us ill equipped to deal with this ultimate reality. "If we do not permit ourselves to form images of personal and collective existence after death," Zaleski argues, "then we have no way of testing who we are or of sounding our deepest ideals." Zaleski draws on the theories of ancient and medieval philosophers about the afterlife; offers clear, shrewd interpretations of Christian dogma (demonstrating just how subtle and surprising such dogma is), and uses both ancient and modern accounts of near-death experiences to identify the specific ways in which a belief in survival is nurturing and necessary. The result is a persuasive case for the solace and stimulation to be found in a frank contemplation of death and whatever may follow it. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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