A few days ago I watched the movie “The Discovery.” It was based on an interesting idea… a scientist played by Robert Redford has scientifically proven to everyones satisfaction that there is, in fact, an afterlife (it’s pretty vague on just how this proof was demonstrated). What the proof does *not* include is any sort of definition on what that afterlife entails… heaven, hell, reincarnation, limbo… nada. Even so, in the several years since the discovery was announced, a major problem has hit society: millions of suicides. Now that people no longer have a doubt about an afterlife, a whole lot of ’em just decide to check out.
Unfortunately, “The Discovery” commits the worst cinematic sin: it was dull.
Still, it’s an interesting idea. How would society respond to proof that there was an afterlife? Three options seem most interesting to me:
A: The afterlife remains an unknown. That’s just it! We don’t know! Maaaaybe something bad… maaaaybe something good! I guess we’ll never know!
B: Everybody goes to Hell. Yog Sothoth awaits us all.
C: Everybody goes to Heaven.
What would happen in society at large with each?
With B, I can expect to see near-universal panic. There would be some people who wouldn’t panic… the people who were *already* convinced they were going to Hell. A lot of these people would be nightmares… together with the people who were only holding back their darker impulses because of the fear of Hell, they would rip and tear their way through society, now that they know that it doesn’t matter what they do – or don’t do. As for everybody else, there would be those who’d just sorta try to ignore it. There’d be those who would devote their efforts to life extension… suddenly, attempts to create immortality, or at least practical cryogenic suspension, wouldn’t seem so crackpot.
With C, some things would be the same as B. People restrained in their actions by a fear of damnation, if they knew that no matter how bad they were they still get to go to heaven, would suddenly go bonkers. But where in B most people would try to avoid death at all costs, if it was universally acknowledged that the afterlife is better than this life, it seems to me the population would plummet rather precipitously rather quickly. If life sucks *even* *a* *little,* then the promise of an assured paradise is impossible to ignore.
But Option A is one I can’t really predict. I think most people believe in an afterlife *now,* but there is enough doubt about whether it’s real, and worry about negative afterlives, that it keeps the believers from offing themselves. Additionally, most religions have proscriptions against suicide; if I understand Christianity correctly, suicide is generally a direct pipeline to damnation. Of course, some other, crappier religions offer up the idea that committing suicide while blowing yourself to smithereens is a direct pipeline to paradise; and the results are that regions under control of such religions are generally pretty awful.
Personally, I highly doubt that scientific proof of an afterlife will come down the line anytime soon. Partially because I can’t see how such a proof could be accomplished; mostly because I doubt the existence of an afterlife. But it’s interesting to consider.