One of the big questions asked by the (excellent) movie I reviewed for Aleteia this week, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is what exactly would simians be like if they suddenly gained the self awareness of a human being? Well, The Onion wondered the very same thing a while back…
Okay, making an ape cry shouldn't have been that funny, but… it was.
Still, if only the idiot scientists had thought to mention the possibility of an afterlife to poor old Quigley, then maybe the big fella wouldn’t have taken things quite so hard. After all, as it says in I Thessalonians, “We shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.”
Of course, these guys are probably the type of scientists who would never have introduced such an idea anyway because they likely hypothesize that the whole idea of Heaven is nothing but a fairy tale humans developed centuries ago for the express purpose of combatting their fear of death. Well, it’s true that there is no empirical evidence to support the idea of Heaven (or the fairy tale theory either, for that matter), but since we’re talking about the soul, how could there be? But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate, rational reasons for believing in an afterlife. Philosopher Peter Kreeft (my go-to guy for these kind of things) has a pretty impressive list of them at his website.
Still, even if you accept the possibility of an afterlife, there’s still the question of why the Christian belief is the right one. As critics are quick to point out, the biblical concept of Heaven changes drastically from Genesis (where it’s virtually nonexistent) to Revelation (where it’s pretty elaborate). For Catholics, though, this really isn’t much of a problem at all. As apologist Dave Armstrong explains on his website,
“Many doctrines develop from the Old to the New Testament. The inclusion of the Gentiles into the Covenant People of God is a development. The New Testament (particularly, Pauline) understanding of the relationship of the Law, Jewishness, and grace to salvation is a development, as is baptism (as the continuation of circumcision, in terms of an initiatory rite). Angelology highly developed in the inter-testamental period. And so did the doctrines of the afterlife… We have kernels and tantalizing hints in the OT (which is why later Judaism definitely adopted conscious eternal existence for both the righteous and the wicked, and a form of purgatory as well). Christianity came down firmly on the apocalyptic and Pharisaical side with regard to eschatology… It is argued that hellfire and consciousness after death was first believed by the Greeks, not the OT-period Jews. But truth is truth, wherever it is found. The ancient Greeks developed classical logic, too, which everyone now utilizes, including -- very much so -- the Apostle Paul and Jesus Himself. So we are to reject logic because the pagan Greeks figured it out rather than the ancient Hebrews, who were not at all of that mindset?”
So, for us papists, it’s no surprise at all that peoples throughout the ages would come to believe in some kind of afterlife for the reasons given by Dr. Kreeft. And it’s no big deal that it took a while to develop a clearer understanding of the notion because we accept that divine revelation was gradual on the topic (just why God works that way is another post for another time). And we’ve come to believe in our particular version of Heaven, what the Catechism describes as “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness,” because it’s the one Jesus revealed to us. I mean, we believe the guy was God incarnate, so why wouldn’t we take his word for it? Those are pretty good credentials.