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One of the most profound, deeply affecting questions we face as human beings is the matter of our mortality—and its connection to immorality. Ancient animist ghost cultures, Egyptian mummification, late Jewish hopes of resurrection, Christian eternal salvation, Muslim belief in hell and paradise all spring from a remarkably consistent impulse to tether a triumph over death to our conduct in life.
In After Lives, British scholar John Casey provides a rich historical and philosophical exploration of the world beyond, from the ancient Egyptians to St. Thomas Aquinas, from Martin Luther to modern Mormons. In a lively, wide-ranging discussion, he examines such topics as predestination, purgatory, Spiritualism, the Rapture, Armageddon and current Muslim apocalyptics, as well as the impact of such influences as the New Testament, St. Augustine, Dante, and the Second Vatican Council. Ideas of heaven and hell, Casey argues, illuminate how we understand the ultimate nature of sin, justice, punishment, and our moral sense itself. The concepts of eternal bliss and eternal punishment express—and test—our ideas of good and evil. For example, the ancient Egyptians saw the afterlife as flowing from ma'at, a sense of being in harmony with life, a concept that includes truth, order, justice, and the fundamental law of the universe. "It is an optimistic view of life," he writes. "It is an ethic that connects wisdom with moral goodness." Perhaps just as revealing, Casey finds, are modern secular interpretations of heaven and hell, as he probes the place of goodness, virtue, and happiness in the age of psychology and scientific investigation.
With elegant writing, a magisterialgrasp of a vast literary and religious history, and moments of humor and irony, After Lives sheds new light on the question of life, death, and morality in human culture.
"John Casey's After Lives, steeped in classics, philosophy, literature, and religion, discusses a vast variety of ideas about what happens after death. It ranges over heaven, hell, and what may lie between, covering ideas from ancient Egypt to twentieth-century spiritualism. It is vivid, ironic, deep, and accessible."
— Jeffrey Burton Russell, author of A History of Heaven and Paradise Mislaid
"Happily for the scope of his inquiry, the author is immensely well-read and readily shows how powerfully and frequently notions of heaven and hell have inspired and haunted Western writers. This is a smart and comprehensive survey."—Publishers Weekly
""After Lives" offers a humane and often witty engagement with the concepts of heaven and hell in different times and according to different faiths. It is ironic that a book about life after death so enlivens one of the most important conversations we can have in the here and now."—The Wall Street Journal
Prologue: Stephen Dedalus's Hell 1
Pt. I Dark Futures
1 After Lives 13
2 Egypt 23
3 Mesopotamia and Israel 43
4 Greece and Rome 65
5 The Christian Beginnings 103
6 Dante: Inferno 147
7 Predestination: Augustine to Calvin and Beyond 167
8 The Decline of Hell 193
Pt. II Purgatory
9 Rome's Happiest Inspiration? 225
Pt. III Heaven
10 Heaven: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel 245
11 Bodies Fleshly and Spiritual 269
12 Dante: Paradiso 281
13 Celestial Pleasures: Renaissance and Reformation Heavens 293
14 Heavenly Speculations 321
15 Heaven Seen and Heard: Swedenborg 337
16 With Easy Intercourse Pass To and Fro 357
17 Scoring in Heaven 381