News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Segal on Immortality and Social Aspects

Monday, October 23, 2006

Segal on Immortality and Social Aspects

Steven Segal provides some background on the different understandings of immortaltiy that appear in the Jewish and Christian testaments, as well as the present understanding of the immortal soul which derives from Platonic philosophy. ...

In the academic circles that Segal inhabits, these are not new ideas and derive perhaps from the 1960s, especially an influential essay by the German biblical historian Oscar Cullmann.

As Segal notes, when people think of the soul in the present day they often have the Platonic concept in mind:

To return to the contemporary world for a moment: Fundamentalist and evangelical varieties of Jews, Christians, and Muslims (I’m restricting myself to those who have a developed biblical notion of resurrection) are knowledgeable about their scriptural tradition and affirm resurrection. They also know that martyrdom is a cost which may be asked of them personally. The majority of Americans however are the equivalent of mainline and normative. Whether Jew Christian Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or nothing at all, most Americans affirm a form of immortality of the soul, though some call that immortality of the soul resurrection because they know that is the core of Christianity. In fact, more Americans believe in an afterlife than actually believe in God. And when they do believe, they believe in a form of immortality that is consonant with immortality of the soul. So the same social and ideological connection that was established in the Hellenistic world is influencing our religious lives today, though there is no theoretical reason why we could not have changed metaphors completely. The differences between immortality of the soul and resurrection are still informing our religious life today.

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