Vita Post Mortem
October 27, 2015 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Are there any words for belief/nonbelief in an afterlife? If not, could you help me make some up?

I'm wanting to find one-word terms that would indicate belief in an afterlife.

I am not looking for the words athiest!
To contrast, while theist is belief in at least one deity, atheist is not believing in at least one deity, and agnostic - well, means don't know.
How would you describe an athiest who didn't believe in any deities, but did believe in an afterlife?
Or especially, a theist who DID believe in some divine presence, but doesn't believe in an afterlife?

The closest term I can find is 'Thanatism' (and athanatism), but I can't find much on it other than the dictionary definitions "The belief that the human soul eventually dies.".
The definition is confusing me, because I'm not sure what is meant by a soul there, since a soul is frequently defined as something that survives the death of a person, so what would be the difference between that, and just not believing in the concept of a soul?
(Are there people or groups that self-identify as Thanatic so I could read about it?)

If there aren't any good words in English, I'd welcome terms in other languages!
Even better, might be completely made-up words as long as they have a decent justification.
So something with words indicating afterlife or soul, and belief/nonbelief/agnosticism towards the same?
posted by Elysum to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
It might be too specific a term for your needs, but transmigrationism is ‘the theory or doctrine of transmigration of the soul’ (i.e. of reincarnation, more or less).
posted by misteraitch at 4:49 AM on October 27, 2015

This is made up, but from the root word "eternity" you could have "eternitist" (or "eternist") for someone who does believe in an afterlife. The opposite is tricky, as "aeternitist" seems like it is using the æ ligature, so I'm not sure what you do there. "A-eternitist"?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:39 AM on October 27, 2015

The definition is confusing me, because I'm not sure what is meant by a soul there, since a soul is frequently defined as something that survives the death of a person, so what would be the difference between that, and just not believing in the concept of a soul?

A soul isn't necessarily defined as the thing that survives after death. The Catholic tradition defines a soul as the thing that gives/is life -- the difference between that which is living and that which is non-living is that the living thing has a soul. The never-living thing never had a soul. The dead had a soul which has either departed or no longer exists. So plants and animals have souls in the Catholic tradition, but only humans have immortal souls. Here's more. Though wierdly I can't find this in the new catechism document itself (which seems to speak only of human souls and never defines them), this is what I remember learning in Catholic school.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:42 AM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think "thanatism" might be what you want. It is defined here as "The view that death means not only an arrest of all physiological functions, but also the definite disappearance, cessation, or destruction of the human mind or soul."

"Soul" doesn't always mean an immortal, ethereal part of a human. There is a strand of Christian theology that says the souls of the wicked will cease to exist (see: "conditional immortality," best espoused recently by Edward Fudge in The Fire that Consumes.) There are also people who would say that a soul is not a separate thing in itself, but a sort of emergent property of intelligent life (good discussion in Joel B. Green's What About the Soul?). So the idea of a soul dying concurrent with the physical body is not really all that unusual. (In fact, a lot of Christians belief that: they just also believe that God will resurrect body and soul at some point--but it seems to me that thanatism implies that the body and soul die and then nothing happens to change that afterward.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:46 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I believe you're looking for the term "materialist" in its philosophical sense, or "physicalist" --someone who believes that the world is ultimately made up of only physical matter.

Spiritualist would be the opposite, in my mind--someone who believes that the soul exists and transcends the physical world.
posted by RedEmma at 5:52 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

the humanist manfiesto of 2000 apparently includes the text
...naturalists maintain that there is insufficient scientific evidence for spiritual interpretations of reality and the postulation of occult causes. Classical transcendentalist doctrines no doubt expressed the passionate existential yearnings of human beings wishing to overcome death. The scientific theory of evolution, however
(my emphasis). however, that is unfortunately also the name of an american literary movement.

the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy's entry on the afterlife uses the term dualism.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:59 AM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are materialists who believe in life after death enabled by future technology, for example in Frank Tipler's conception of the Omega Point and among transhumanists more generally. Similarly, but without even wikipedia references, I don't think dualism commits you to accepting continued personal identity after death. Consequently, I'm not sure materialist/dualist is the right term for this distinction.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 6:50 AM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Materialists believe that consciousness is identical with a particular organization of matter, specifically, a nervous system (though even amoebas have some lower-level form of sentience or responsiveness to the environment; in any case, the idea is some kind of functioning stuff is a prerequisite for/coincident with whatever kind of discrete awareness or experience). Atheists are materialists (or I've never met one who isn't, though I guess it's possible). To believe in survival after death, you have to rely on some kind of dualism (or maybe a funky monist parallelism like Spinoza's). "Dualist" isn't wrong, imo.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:52 AM on October 27, 2015

Riffing on "eternity":
posted by valetta at 11:37 PM on October 28, 2015

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