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LEADER RESOURCE 2: Belief Systems and Statements — Leader Key

Unitarian Universalism — We all can have different ideas about an afterlife, whether it exists, and what it might be like. We agree that after physical death, a person lives on through the people who have known them and the deeds they have done.(Our century-long Universalist heritage taught that God is good, and saves everybody's soul after death. Nobody goes to Hell forever. This radical idea of "universal salvation" appeared as a response to Calvinism and Puritanism, which said that people are predestined to go to either Heaven or Hell, and only a select few would go to Heaven. Today, our First Principle is an expression of Unitarian Universalist belief that all people are worthy of "salvation" in this life.)

Roman Catholicism — We believe people are judged by when they die, based on their sins and how completely they have repented by doing particular rituals. A few people go straight to Heaven. Some go to Hell and stay there forever. Some go to Purgatory, where they suffer until they are purified of their sins and can go to Heaven. (Family members and friends can pray and offer masses so their loved ones will spend less time in Purgatory.)

Fundamentalist Christianity — We believe anyone who accepts Christ as their savior will be saved and go to Heaven. People who are not saved go to Hell. (While fundamentalist Christian faiths have a variety of views, they commonly rely on a literal interpretation of the words in the Bible. Some say people who die will have a second life on Earth after a second coming of Christ. Others say the souls of the dead go to a holding place called Sheol or Hades until Christ comes again.)

Buddhism — We believe a person will be born and reborn many times until their soul reaches an enlightened state called Nirvana. (Buddhists believe death should not be feared, as life is merely a temporary, physical state. Nirvana is a state of bliss and perfection; a person has no physical being; they are outside of and untroubled by human concerns.)

Science — We know about the physical part of death because we can observe it by examining dead bodies. We can observe the return of all living matter to the earth after death. Until scientific experiments prove some facts, we cannot know what happens to the non-physical aspects of a person after their physical death. (Scientists have many different beliefs about what might happen after death, but most scientists would differentiate their beliefs from facts that can be tested in a laboratory.)

Judaism — Life is more important than death. We do not have one, definite answer to "What happens when we die?" There may be an afterlife, but our faith offers many different concepts of what it might be. Hebrew scripture, rabbinic commentary on scripture and our own personal experiences and philosophies provide individual Jews with answers. (Judaism entertains a wide range of possibilities about what happens when we die and, if there is an afterlife, what it is like.)

Hinduism — We believe each soul spends multiple lifetimes on Earth, evolving each time so it can ultimately become perfect and merge with the Divine. Between lifetimes, your soul may go to a heaven- or hell-like place, depending on your deeds on Earth—your karma—and your thoughts at the time of death. Our ideas about "What happens when we die?" are expressed in a scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. (Hindus believe in the soul and reincarnation. When you die and your soul follows the path of the sun, you never have to return, but if your soul follows the path of the moon, you do return.)

Liberal Christianity — We believe there is some sort of life after death but we do not know the details. We do not believe scripture is literally the word of God, yet we may look to the bible's text to form our ideas about what happens when we die. However, our faith is more focused on how we live following Jesus' teachings than on what happens after. (When a Unitarian Universalists is also a Christian, they may share liberal Christian views about life after death.)

Humanism — We only live once. To us, "life" means life in our human bodies. There is no afterlife. After we die, our molecules live on, but we do not. (Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves to be humanists, and might share this view of what happens when we die. However, not all Humanists are UUs and not all UUs are Humanists.)

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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