Bertrand Russell and other philosophers, including Corliss Lamont, mounted a formidable attack against immortality by using what we can call the Argument from Dependency. Basically, Russell argued that our personality (including habits and memories) is so dependent upon our brain that when our brain (and body) dies, our personality must also die.
St. Paul has a response to Russell. According to St. Paul, Russell is in part right — we do need to have a body in order to have a personality. However, St. Paul believes that we will have a body in the afterlife — the power of God will resurrect our body and we will live again.
The evidence for this is very Christian — St. Paul cites the resurrection of Jesus Christ as evidence that death will be conquered and we will live again. In I Corinthians15, St. Paul mentions the numerous eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus. There were over 500 eyewitnesses — most of whom St. Paul says were still alive as he was writing. One of these eyewitnesses was St. Paul himself:
I passed on to you […] that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.
Last of all he appeared also to me.
(1 Corinthians 15: 1-8; Good News Translation)
Please note that St. Paul does not use philosophical arguments to prove that we are immortal — his evidence is empirical: eyewitnesses. Another thing to note is that many people distrust eyewitnesses; most of us have read detective novels in which an eyewitness made a mistaken identification. Still, there were a vast number of eyewitnesses in this case, including St. Paul himself.
Also note that the resurrection is central to Christianity: The resurrection of Jesus is the most important thing in Christianity, and Easter is — or should be — more important than Christmas. According to St. Paul, “[…] if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe” (1 Corinthians 15: 14; Good News Translation).
Yet another point to make is that the resurrected body will be different from our Earthly body. Here on Earth, we have a physical body; in the afterlife, we will have a spiritual body. According to St. Paul,
[…] When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body. […]
(1 Corinthians 15: 42-43; Good News Translation)
“What I mean, friends, is that what is made of flesh and blood cannot share in God’s kingdom, and what is mortal cannot possess immortality.”
(1 Corinthians 15: 50; Good News Translation)
Immortality has been controversial in the history of Humankind. Even in the early books of the Bible, immortality is not something assumed. In Jobthis question is asked:
If a man dies, shall he live again?
(Job14:14; English Standard Version)
However, in Daniel (a late book in the Old Testament), we read:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
(Daniel 12:2; English Standard Version)
Even in the New Testament, immortality is regarded as controversial. The Pharisees believed in resurrection, but the Sadducees did not.
It’s interesting to note that in some early religions even when there was a belief in a life after death, this life after death was not regarded as desirable. The Homeric hero Achilles said in The Odysseythat it is better to be the living slave of a poor farmer than it is to be a dead king in the Underworld .
Fortunately, Christian immortality is regarded as being much better than this.
One other believer in immortality must be mentioned, if only as a contrast to St. Paul. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that each human being is an immortal soul trapped in a mortal body. To Plato, death represented the release of our immortal soul. When Plato’s teacher, Socrates, died, he told his friend Crito, “Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it, and don’t forget.” Asclepius was the god of healing, and a cock was offered to him when someone was healed of a disease. In other words, Socrates was now healed of life, and so he offered a cock to Asclepius. This is reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s epitaph: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I am free at last.” However, as a Christian, Dr. King believed in Paradise.
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