What lies beyond life? What happens when we expire?
Scientifically we know what happens to our physical shells. But we don't know whether our self-awareness and identity... the soul... persists.
I kinda like the idea of a heaven. That when you die, and as long as you haven't screwed up your life too much, you go up and join the rest of the awesome dead people, along with the others who you've missed. Chilling with the great celebrities, discussing with well-known experts and pioneers of their fields, having a massive conference cum party up there... it's not an unappealing thought.
The one little problem with that idea, is that it implies that as long as you're good and minimise the sins you commit, you should be fine. Which isn't bad on its own, but not quite inspiring.You could lead a simple life, tending to your own needs and perhaps those of your close friends and family. But is that enough?
I mean, according to this idea, a person who has led this nice simple good life would go to the same nice place as another person who has helped millions through his non-profit charitable ventures, along with another person who was responsible for incredible scientific breakthroughs that dramatically improved the quality of lives around the world.
So... why try hard when you can just meet your quota of goodness, or minimally satisfy your virtue/vice ratio?
(Besides, some versions of the hell where "sinners" go actually sound like a raving celebration venue. They might have crazier parties than in heaven, who knows?)
Then what about the idea of reincarnation and attaining enlightenment? Like living through multiple lives as different people/animals, going through multiple ups and downs until you eventually find "the way", at which point you can escape the reincarnation cycle, or help others reach enlightenment first.
But... that sounds a little too luck-dependent to me. I might be misunderstanding this, but sometimes the next life you end up living just might be an ignorant prick, and you can't control that because this prick doesn't know about his past life. You could resolve this by making sure the teachings of this reincarnation are spread as much as possible so people know the importance of living a life of virtue. But there would inevitably be some people missed out, I think. And maybe some of those few would independently come to the same idea of living a life of virtue. Some of them won't.
Not that it's a completely silly idea to spread. It does encourage one to be good and do good. Whether the stories of reincarnation are true or not I don't know, but it's still a strong incentive to practice virtues.
What about the idea of no afterlife? Nothing beyond death? Then all that matters is the life you're living now. All that would matter to you are what you've gone through, and what you'll experience and do in the upcoming sections of your life. And there won't necessarily be a countdown timer telling you exactly when your life would end.
Understandably this can be a scary thought. If there is nothing after death, then death is a permanent end. Some of us will do whatever we can to flee from death, focusing so much on extending longevity and warding off causes of death. Problem is, it can lead to lots of safe behaviour, a strong unwillingness to take risks.
On the other hand, some of us would take it that since we're granted this very limited time to experience everything around and within us, we might as well make the most out of it. So they go on adventures, explore the world, take on challenges, learn new things, help others, form relationships, etc. They go on with the Carpe Diem attitude, not dallying with life. (No I won't use YOLO)
Which idea do I believe in?
I'm not completely dismissing the idea of some paradise that lies beyond life. It is a little comforting to know that what comes after death isn't merely a complete void. Yet at the same time, the idea of no afterlife encourages one to take charge of one's life, seizing it at the reins and making significant positive changes to the world we inhibit.
So for now, I'll have to do with just adjusting my moral compass without knowledge of this truth. I'll know when... or if... that time comes.