Where will you be when you’re dead? That’s the (rhetorical) question posed by high-profile atheist preacher P.Z. Myers at his Pharyngula blog. In actual fact, it’s more an opening for Myers to rail about the “belief” in an afterlife, and (rather predictably) how ‘parasitic’ religions manipulate that belief:
[B]elief in the persistence of the mind is almost certainly a property of normal consciousness, and is hard to escape. I’d agree too that these beliefs are not an invention of religion. As he puts it, the details of specific religious beliefs about an afterlife are produced by “an architectural scaffolding process, whereby culture develops and decorates the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief”.
However, I’m not going to let religion off the hook. What this means is that it parasitizes intrinsic and ultimately infantile tendencies, and builds on irrational tendencies rather than trying to overcome them. This is not a virtue; it’s an exploitation of a psychological weakness.
The post goes into how the belief in an afterlife may be a holdover from the “naive” cognitive traits of childhood. What would have been more interesting is an analysis of the Near Death Experience, which presents a far more lucid and detailed suggestion of a waiting afterlife. Is the NDE the end product of a lifetime working up a psychological defence mechanism against the dying process? Or conversely, does the belief in an afterlife actually arise out of the Near Death Experience, with tales of what awaits us being relayed by experiencers throughout history?