The End of the Road

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Really, we have only grazed the ice cube on the afterlife folklore of these religions. There is much more to be explored, including more of the imagery from the Talmud and the Hadiths, as well as huge cultural differences between movements, sects, groups and regions. But we can now see more clearly some of the overlapping lines in the different afterlife folklore from these religions, and some of the wildly vivid distinctions. All humans struggle with what comes after this life - if anything does. And folklore steps in to serve a very purpose with which it's very familiar: quelling the fear of the unknown. Basically, most of us end up seeking authorities, stories, legends, myths, tales, proverbs, and jokes that can help relieve that burden of mystery. Often we look for things that confirm our most primal instincts: the good need rewarding and the evil need punishment. Folklore confirming these basic instincts is developed and passed on, colored with cultural quirks and traits and informed by the shadows of cultures past.

But any attempt to console ourselves with our visions of the afterlife must fall short, for we can never truly conceive of what comes beyond. My biases have probably been readily apparent throughout this project, but if there's one afterlife belief I hold dear above all others, it's the one from a certain Welshman: "Do not go gentle into that good night - rage, rage against the dying of the light." It makes no sense to sit on our hands and wait for some mysterious afterworld, hanging around in this station we call the Earth for a century and waving people off: "no thanks, I'm waiting for the next train." The writers of the Torah were wise to hold off on the waxing about the afterlife. And for all our fascination about the afterlife, it is readily apparent that Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures are more concerned with how you're living right now. In the end, in the beginning, in everything in between: life is its own responsibility, and its own reward.

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