OUR attention is once again drawn to the “last things”: death, judgment, hell and heaven. It is this time of the year, just a little over a month before Christmas, that people are made to reflect on the human person’s significant existential realities. Traditionally, the four last things are covered in that branch of Christian Theology called Eschatology. In reality though, and especially in the context of postmodern society, only one out of these four has remained to be the existential preoccupation of today’s humanity: death.

After the Enlightenment, heaven, hell, and judgment, all believed to be realities in the afterlife, have become subjects of suspicion. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant would prefer to be silent on matters that are beyond the grasp of human reason. Through the Kantian lens only death, among the eschatological themes, is a phenomenon that is genuinely human.

I do not intend to write a lengthy treatise that would explore or justify the truth of the afterlife. The invitation is to explore that “what if”: what if there is no life after death? What if “this life” is “the only life” and there is nothing beyond death?

Of late, the Swedish philosopher Martin Hägglund has gained prominence for trying to answer the said question in his book “This Life.” Currently teaching Comparative Literature in Yale, he argues for the value of spiritual freedom but not in a world to come but only in “this life.” While he believes that human life is not just material, he invites readers to reconceptualize their notion of the “spiritual.”

For the Swedish philosopher, we must embrace the truth that beyond the here and now there is nothing more that can be done. We must therefore learn to value our finitude and all the limitations in life that go with it. The daily loss of time, therefore, should strengthen our resolve to do something with our world – contributing to helping people find their way out in so many mazes of misery. There is no salvation outside of space and time.

Spiritual freedom, for Hägglund, is not a supernatural spiritual freedom but one that can and should be achieved in “this life.” Unlike how things are viewed through the lens of religious faith, secular faith highlights the importance of valuing and caring for our own lives and the lives of people and things that we love. Heaven and hell do not matter so long as we are convinced that life, in this world, is worth living. In his own words: “[a]n eternal life is not only unattainable but also undesirable, since it would eliminate the care and passion that animate my life.”

As we enter the last months of the year our reflections and recollections turn to our beloved dead. But perhaps we need to pause and ask whether our commemoration of the dead is something that serves the living. If we are to put in brackets the faith we profess, sometimes we cannot but think whether the rituals we repeatedly do – serve the purpose of fillingin the voids and healing the griefs of us who have remained. The dead do not belong to this world, and where they are is something which many of us hold only in faith. In the end, it seems that it is the living who need the dead and not the other way around.

In the words attributed to the Dominican Bede Jarrett: “death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight.” What if beyond this life, there is nothing more?