NPR’s Afterlife Series: The Rabbi and The Nun

Oct 12, 2013

The last two segments in NPR’s Afterlife series have been posted. Judaism and Catholicism join the worldviews we’ve discussed already, for a total of five interviews and one public opinion poll. After this, we’ll do one more post - presenting the Bible’s teachings about the afterlife - and then call it a wrap!

The Rabbi

Here’s the interview.

The interesting thing about Judaism is that, although they have a concept of the afterlife, it isn’t very developed. The Hebrew scriptures say very little about what comes after death. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s concept of the afterlife demonstrates this very clearly.

Telushkin’s belief in the afterlife is predicated upon a logical argument: God is just; the treatment we receive in this life is not just; therefore there must be something after this life to rectify the injustice we saw in this life. He shares some Judaic speculation about the afterlife - some mystic branches of Judaism, for example, believe in a form of reincarnation. But there’s nothing really sound or sure about it.

Telushkin excuses the silence of his scriptures because, he says, “the moment people start getting fixated on an afterlife, it can have the effect of diverting their attention from their work in this world.” But we have the same Scriptures they do, in the Old Testament; why does the Bible’s perspective on the afterlife shift, by the New Testament?

One of the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is the way God revealed His plan for salvation. In the Old Covenant, God revealed His will in types and shadows, pictures if you will of the truth to come - the sacrificial system, the temple, the high priest, even the Jewish nation as His chosen people. These are all symbols of spiritual realities, later revealed explicitly in the New Testament.

This is why some things, like the afterlife, weren’t as clear in the Old Testament scriptures as others - not because they weren’t still true, but because God was revealing His redemptive plan in stages. The New Testament expands upon and explains the pictures and symbols of the Old Testament. This is what Judaism is missing, that Christ completes.

The Nun

Here’s the interview.

Catholic theologian Mary Catherine Hilkert is the last interviewee in the series. She’s a professor at Notre Dame and a Dominican Sister of Peace, according to NPR’s article, so you’d think she’d be a good representative of Catholicism. I’m no expert on the Roman Catholic dogma on the subject, but it seems like there are some pretty standard things that seem to be missing - like purgatory, or limbo.

Throughout the interview Hilkert presents her own speculations about the afterlife, rather than trying to present either the traditional Roman Catholic position or the Biblical position. At one point NPR’s Siegel says, and she agrees, that the whole interview is just sheer speculation. There’s no sense of being able to know for sure any truth about the afterlife.

I know I don’t agree with most of the Roman Catholic position on the afterlife, but I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see it. The interviewees in this series all seem to represent the liberal sides of their respective faiths (with the possible exception of the rabbi - I don’t know enough about the varieties of Judaism to be able to say). It would have been nice to see a broader perspective from the interviews, but you can only expect so much from the media.

Well, we’ll be doing our small part. The next post in this series will present the Bible’s perspective on the afterlife. Stay tuned!