Religion had such a powerful hold upon the human imagination that for whole cultures – the ancient Egyptians and medieval Christians come to mind – the material world was much less real than the world of the gods or God.
Most modern people can barely fathom this worldview, because we are as immersed in materialism as they were in idealism – the belief that nature begins in subtle realms of spirit. In idealism the earth is a lower world while heaven is higher. Thus everything about earthy life – its physicality, appetites, sexual drive, disease, suffering, and old age – is further from God or spirit than heaven.
Science did not overturn this view by disproving it. Idealism was simply outmoded by a new worldview – materialism – that was more practical. Materialism brought about technology, with its attendant comforts, and it explained many phenomena that religion preferred to regard as a mystery known only to God.
The burden of proof has shifted, and now it is the believer who must prove that God and the soul are real. For many people, the triumph of materialism is so complete that even showing why we should care about God and the soul is a tough challenge.
If skepticism carries the day in some circles, in popular culture the burden still lies with proving that the afterlife doesn’t exist. Constantly polls show that 90 percent of people believe in heaven, and almost that many believe they are going there. Belief in hell suffers a sharp decline to 75 percent and only 68 percent believe in the devil.
This leaves most people in a quandary, dividing their allegiance between faith when it comes to spirituality and science when it comes to the material world.
Adapted from Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2006).