Digest of terms

eschatology

systematic thinking about humanity's ultimate destiny, paralleling that regarding its ultimate origins. Both are fertile ground for scientific and religious exploration. In terms of physics and chemistry, humanity is part of an evolutionary universe in which the energy flow of earth in relation to the sun will likely run down - one of a multiplicity of universes that exist for finite periods of time and for indeterminate reasons. In terms of much religious belief there is purpose and direction in this process, which adds moral meaning to human existence. Non-religious beliefs by contrast are more usually agnostic or skeptical about any necessary connection between morality and ultimate purpose.

Seeking, or claiming, understanding of the 'end of life' can include both meanings of the word 'end' - in the sense of time ('chronos'), and of purpose ('telos'). In purely chronological terms, the process may be thought of either as culminating in some entirely different scenario (e.g. black hole dissolution or final fireworks in culmination of an ever more glorious series of universes), or alternatively more cyclically as ever repeating itself. In the other sense of 'end', i.e. in teleological terms, religions affirm strongly that life has purposive meaning. Religions tend to combine both chronological and teleological perspectives in their individual eschatologies. They may assert a direction towards an historical conclusion, as believed by Jews, Christians and Muslims, with, traditionally, a final Day of Judgment preparatory to people being assigned to heaven or hell, or alternatively God's rule being established here on earth; or they may think in terms of a cycle of reincarnations and renewals, as more typically believed by Hindus and Buddhists. It has been argued by some that the former of these two perspectives lends itself better to offering grounds of hope for the future, the latter inclining people more towards a fatalistic acceptance of one's destiny. Yet this opposition is too neat: evidence suggests that karma and the cycle of reincarnation can be interpreted optimistically, while the threat of hell may engender hopelessness. See Concept Scenarios.

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