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Climbing the stairway to heaven

A NEW study by the Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan “fact tank” in America, called Religion Among the Millennials has found that despite fewer than 20 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 attending regular church services, about three-quarters of them believe in an afterlife – about the same rate as older generations.

In our growingly secular society the concept of the afterlife may have more credibility than the means to get there.

Linda McWilliam is a specialist palliative care chaplain at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane. She said death raised questions of the meaning and purpose of life, but these days it was not talked about often.

“Previous generations spoke about death easily, however in contemporary society the subject tends to be avoided if at all possible.”

She said many people tended to seek out or believe in a divine power when they were facing an extreme threat, such as the end of their life.

“Others will begin to question their existing belief system in a God due to the nature of their suffering.

“At one time people seemed to think that saved souls would float around on clouds playing harps.

“Probably the dominant view today is the immortality of the soul.

“At the point of death the soul or spirit leaves the body and goes to the place where it lives on eternally.”

And what of previously held concepts of purgatory and limbo?

Kenmore Uniting Church minister Rev Heather den Houting said there are many understandings of the afterlife.

“Protestants usually dismiss the idea of purgatory,” she said. “It was a doctrine that was developed by the church to explain what happened to people who had not necessarily been bad, but had not had last communion or observed the appropriate religious rites or were sufficiently purified.

“The reformers dismissed it as doctrine because it is not biblically based.”

In his book A Lodging Along The Way retired Uniting Church minister Rev Ron Ramsay explored the notions of experiential knowledge, life after life, near death experiences, what happens to someone who has committed suicide and the possibility of after death communication.

While these topics may spark strong reactions, they are important enough not to dismiss.

A 1992 Gallop poll said that over 22 million people in the United States alone remembered having a Near Death Experience (NDE).

A 2005 Roy Morgan phone survey concluded that 8.9 per cent of the Australian population had experienced a NDE.

With such a large portion of our society experiencing these life changing events the Church would be wise to address them.

Logan Central Multicultural Uniting Church minister Rev Dr Apichart Branjerdporn said humans die as a physical and a spiritual being.

“The whole person does not die, only the body.

“The soul lives on, either to await resurrection or to enjoy its natural immortality free from the bodily life.

“The New Testament speaks of Christians as sleeping rather than dying.

“Jesus died that humans may live.

“Therefore for those who are in Christ death has been transformed, so being dead is more than sleeping.

“Our goal as humans is to live a long and full life and to die in peace.”

Photo : Photo by Alyson Costa