AFTER-LIFE BELIEFS (Religious Movement)

The after-life beliefs of any NRM can be part of what makes it distinctive or, just as easily, can relate it to other movements or to a traditional religious worldview. Many NRMs follow a general trend within contemporary, Western religion which emphasizes the ways in which we experience this life, rather than anticipating and dwelling on destinations following death. With few exceptions, teachings about life after death receive less emphasis than learning and experience of this world and this life. After-life beliefs are, therefore, seldom prominent within the most accessible literature which such groups produce. However, most NRMs do hold beliefs about death and the after-life, which may be more or less central to their worldview and either vaguely held or worked out in detail. It sometimes happens that neophytes are attracted to a movement because of its after-life teachings. For example someone brought up within a Christian culture may be attracted by the idea of reincarnation as taught in NRMs which are influenced by Indian ideology.

After-life beliefs for all religions, both old and new, are based on just a few broad possibilities. These are: returning to earth as something or someone else; the passing of some element of a person—usually thought of as the soul—to somewhere else, including heavens and hells; integration or reintegration with the divine; and waiting in another place for future bodily or spiritual resurrection. In a very few movements, including some Pagan groups (see Pagan Federation), most of which teach a form of reincarnation, there are no teachings about an after-life since practitioners believe that this life is all there is and that death is the final end of individual existence.

NRMs which grow out of traditional religions usually take on the after-life beliefs which are taught in these traditions more generally. This means, for example, that the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, the New Kadampa Tradition and other Buddhist derived NRMs teach rebirth in accordance with the teachings of the various schools of mainstream Buddhism from which they have developed. Within Hindu derived NRMs, for example, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the

Brahma Kumaris, followers are taught well established Indian ideas about the nature of the continuity of life after death. The identities of these movements, as NRMs, do not depend upon their after-life teachings. Such teachings do not differentiate new movements from the mainstream.

In contrast, some NRMs teach distinctive ideas about what happens after death which do distinguish them from groups within the same broad religious family. An example of this is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) who, based on an interpretation of the Christian Bible, teach that there are four possible final destinations for all people depending on their actions in this life: three realms of glory and outer darkness. It is essential for salvation that individuals are baptized and Mormons operate a system of proxy baptism in which living members of the church can be baptized on behalf of dead individuals thereby providing spirits awaiting final judgement with the opportunity to move into heaven. In this case, a Christian derived movement is clearly differentiated from more traditional Christian practice and doctrine by its distinctive after-life beliefs and the practices which relate to these.

Some NRMs show substantial influence from more than one of the major world-religions and their after-life beliefs reflect this. The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (see Unification Church/Moonies) is influenced by Confucian ideas relating to ancestors as well as by a form of Christianity. In this NRM marriage is the focus for ritual activity on behalf of the dead. The movement teaches that it is not possible to enter the kingdom of heaven as an individual but only as part of a married couple. Living members may therefore be married to the dead in mass blessing ceremonies.

Movements which have no direct genealogy from broader religious traditions, including the, so called, self-religions (see self-religion, the Self and self), are not constrained by interpretations of traditional religious texts and ideas. Nonetheless, they do not necessarily move away from well established afterlife beliefs. Scientology, for example, has a distinctive worldview and teaches distinctive practices aimed at individual development but it also teaches an unremarkable form of reincarnation in which past lives impact on experience in this life. NRMs vary considerably in their after-life beliefs but it is only where they have developed detailed teachings in this area that these beliefs form a distinctive part of their individual identities.

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