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immortality


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Though not a specifically Christian doctrine, the hope of immortality is an integral element in Christian belief. In pre-Christian times Greek philosophers had inferred the existence of the soul before birth and its survival of death, and had regarded the body as a prison-house from which death brought the release of the soul into a fuller existence. Early Hebrew thought about the next world hardly went beyond the conception of a shadowy existence in Sheol, but in later pre-Christian Judaism a greater sense of the reality of the future life developed. The essential shape which the doctrine assumed in Christianity arose from the fact of Christ's Resurrection. No longer was our highest destiny seen as the survival of an immortal soul, but as a life of union with the risen Christ which would reach completion only with the reunion of soul and body. Since the late 18th cent. the traditional arguments have been challenged, notably by I. Kant; he held that it was beyond the competence of ‘theoretical reason’ to establish the soul's immortality or otherwise, but he argued that it could be established on the ground of moral experience, i.e. through ‘practical reason’. The abiding character of the moral law and the manifest injustices of the present life were a sure index that there was a purer life in which these injustices would be remedied. A similar line of argument has been adopted by many modern apologists. See also resurrection of the dead and conditional immortality.

Subjects: Biblical Studies.


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