FCLC Hosts Religious Discussion

Different Views on Life After Death Examined


Published: November 8, 2007

FCLC—Various points of view about life after death were represented on Oct. 28 at McNally Amphitheater. Fordham hosted the discussion entitled, “A Shared Hope: Catholic and Jewish Perspectives on Life After Death,” sponsored by the Archbishop Hughes Institute at Rose Hill.

“It’s nice to think that heaven will be a good place to complete unfinished business and to mend things,” said Janine Repka, FCLC ’10, who is Catholic.

The event was moderated by John W. Healey, director emeritus of the Archbishop Hughes Institute. The first presenter, Neil Gillman, is the Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and author of several books. John Thiel, who gave the second presentation, is a professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, and the author of five books.

Gillman expressed his desire for the congregants in his temple to view the separation of body and soul at the time of death “holistically”: with a greater focus upon the metaphorical interpretation of the separation of body and soul, as opposed to the literal interpretation.

He said that he feels questions of the afterlife should not focus upon a human’s physical conditions at the time of resurrection: will we be old or young, naked or clothed, sick or healthy?  Instead, we should delve deeper into the meaning of resurrection, he stated.

Gillman questioned the language of theological texts. “I’m not sure that I take anything in faith or theology utterly literally,” he declared, characterizing himself as a “very radical non-literal theologian.” He continued,  “I offend everybody—the Orthodox because I don’t take it literally, and the [other side as well]…I have no friends,” Gillman joked, amidst laughter from the audience.

“Few things in life,” said Thiel, as he presented the Catholic point of view, “are more redemptive than reconciliation and forgiveness.” Thiel stated that his belief that heaven “should be active,” the afterlife should be viewed as an opportunity to do the work of “emotional reconciliation that often escapes us in life,” he said. Instead of viewing heaven as passive, heaven should be viewed as an opportunity for moral work and forgiveness, he continued.

Thiel cited the Bible passage in John’s gospel in which Jesus reconciles with a former friend who betrayed him. “Death marks the end of worldly opportunities to mend our broken relationships,” he stated.

“I believe in the separation of the body and soul [upon death,] said Heather Lanza, FCLC ’09, who is Jewish. “The Jews I know don’t really focus on hell—more like, if you screw up on earth, you will feel guilty.”