“The real question of life after death isn’t whether or not it exists, but even if it does what problem this really solves” – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Somewhere, somehow, some divine creature is planning on resurrecting your rotting corpse as a matter of public policy. Well, not your rotting corpse specifically, rather all those who have ever died, which will unavoidably include you one day. Conservative estimates suggest that about 108 billion humans have ever been born. Now, the simultaneous reappearance of 108 billion dead people represents a logistical nightmare. Imagine the smell. Additionally, the average weight of a human being is roughly 136 pounds. Resurrect them all (keeping in mind that most have disintegrated or are in the process of doing so), and we are talking about 14,688,000,000,000 pounds (or 73,440,000,000 standard tons) of ambulatory human flesh crawling about the surface of the earth. The Earth itself weighs six sextillion five hundred eight five quintillion tons, so I don’t think we necessarily have to worry about shattering the planet’s crust or changing its orbit (although any brave physicist who wants to make the calculations and weigh in, feel free), but there is little doubt that things will get crowded really fast. Let’s switch to some metrics, since we’re not barbarians. The entire Earth consists of 148,940,000 square kilometers of dry land, relevant since people don’t have gills. This means that each resurrected person (of our 108 billion returnees) has 0.0014 square kilometers in which to stand, or roughly 1.4 square meters, which in case you were wondering, is more or less standing shoulder to shoulder. I’ve been trying to develop a taste for plankton and seaweed, since arable land will essentially be non-existent.
I also have it on good authority that humans like to breath. This presents a problem. A typical car generates as much carbon dioxide as twelve people exhaling. That means that the respiration of 7 billion people is roughly equivalent in carbon dioxide production to 583 million cars. The amount of carbon dioxide produced by the newly resurrected, simply by breathing, would be similar in effect to adding 8.5 billion additional cars. Now, bigger brains than mine similarly suggest that we need oxygen to survive. Plants make oxygen. We don’t have any room for plants, since we’re all standing next to each other. That means, on the day of glorious return, the oxygen we’ve got is pretty much all we’re ever going to have. We have about 12.9 quintillion metric tons of oxygen on or in the earth on any given day. Unfortunately, 90% of this is actually trapped in the Earth’s crust, and most of the remaining 10% is in the oceans, leaving a meager 1 quadrillion metric tons in the atmosphere. You breathe in about two metric tons of oxygen per year. If 108 billion people breathe for a year, they will be consuming about 216 billion metric tons of oxygen, entirely depleting the entire supply of atmospheric oxygen on earth in about 4629 years. This of course assumes that they aren’t dropping from carbon dioxide poisoning long before we reach this milestone. Also, with the rapid increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from our exhalations, there won’t be any argument about the reality of global warming. It’s going to get extremely hot long before we run out of oxygen.
Now we’re really in the shit. Literally. The average human produces about 1460 pounds of feces in a year. I know, I was kind of shocked, too. No wonder toilet paper is such a lucrative business. 108 billion humans would produce 78,840,000,000 tons of poop per year, and since we would all be standing right next to each other, we would not have many places to put it. Suffice it to say, the world would be getting fairly fetid. You may be getting the sense that this doesn’t sound like heaven on earth, and if you’re ahead of the curve, you are probably already jotting down notes on the advantages of Soylent Green. Call me a pessimist, but I’m not liking our eschatological (or scatological) odds, at least from an olfactory perspective.
When probability wants to make us its bitch, we turn to theology. Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Eschatalogies (studies of the “End Times”) more or less agree that at some point in the future, all of the dead will be brought back to life. This is significant in and of itself in that these religions haven’t traditionally agreed on anything, except that real estate values in Jerusalem are justified, Justin Beiber’s musical career is inexplicable, life in the desert sucks, and twerking is a venal sin.
At one point in human history, Zoroastrianism (emerging from an Indo-Iranian precursor dating as far back as 2000 B.C., and still possibly boasting some 2.6 million adherents – some estimates are as low as 190,000 current practitioners) was the “it” religion, with an impressive resume as the state religion of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires. With the rise of the Abrahamic religion, whose demonology and eschatology were believed to be heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism, the followers of the prophet Zoroaster fell on hard times. For about a thousand years, Zoroastrianism had been a pretty big deal. As early as the 4th Century B.C., Zoroastrians were busy talking about the end of the world in the form of the frashokereti (“the renovation of the universe”), which involved the final defeat of evil, the revival of the dead, and the perfect unity of everything with the god Ahura Mazda. Now I can get behind the whole eradication of evil thing, and might even swing in the direction of unity with the divine if our first date looks promising, but the whole revival of the dead thing seems troubling. The Zoroastrians have a conception of peaceful rewards for the righteous and torment for the wicked, but come the frashokereti, everybody gets raised up and purified of evil. And I mean everybody.
The reward and punishment assigned to the souls of the righteous and the wicked is to continue until Frasho-kereti’, the renovation of the world when the whole creation is to start afresh, or ‘Ristakhez,’ i. e. resurrection of the dead. This event is to be synchronous with the end of the present cycle. Then will arise the last of Saoshyants. He will consummate the work of purifying and regenerating the world and completely removing every evil effect of the work of Angromainyush. All the souls of the wicked will be brought out from, hell, and will be purified. The souls of the righteous too will rise and there will be brought about ‘Ristakhez,’ i. e. the rising of the dead, the resurrection. Thenceforth the world will enter upon a new cycle, free from all evil and misery, ever young and rejoicing. All souls will be furnished with new bodies called ‘ tan-i-pasin,’ the future body, and will commence a life of ineffable bliss. “Then he (the Saoshyant) shall restore the world, which will (thenceforth) never grow old and never die, never decaying and never rotting, ever living and ever increasing and master of its wish, when the dead will rise, when life and immortality will come, and the world will be restored at (God’s) wish” (Bharucha, 1893, p22-23).
One has to appreciate the egalitarianism that takes saint and sinner alike and wrings out the evil, so they can enjoy the regenerated world, or at least their one square meter of the regenerated world. Obviously, since some of these folks just spent a couple millennia enduring the torments of impurity and utter darkness, a lot of therapy may be necessary. Hopefully, they end up standing next to a psychologist or social worker. Zoroastrian scriptures point out that immortality is part and parcel of the frashokereti bargain, so maybe the lack of oxygen, suffocating amount of carbon dioxide, and absence of porta-potties is less of a problem, but then again, try going for a jog, using your cell phone, or playing competitive sports when all humanity that ever lived is notched together like some sort of organic Tetris game from hell. I guess eternal bliss doesn’t involve stretching. Or plumbing. If we’re lucky there will be some supernatural strength deodorant.
Jewish eschatology is pretty confident that the dead will rise at the end of time, and the Mishnaic commentaries of the influential Sephardic rabbi, physician and philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 A.D.) listed “the belief in the resurrection of the dead” as one of the thirteen fundamental articles of the Jewish faith, not to mention the fact that it is part and parcel of the Elohai Neshamah (The Morning Prayer), which translates as “My God, the soul You have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, and You breathed it into me and You guard it while it is within me, and one day You will take it from me, and restore it to me in the time to come. As long as the soul is within me, I will thank You, HaShem my God and God of my ancestors, Master of all works, Lord of all souls. Blessed are You, LORD, who restores souls to lifeless bodies.” The good thing here is the assurance that we’re not coming back as 108 billion soulless zombies. Makes you wonder where they’re keeping all those souls and what kind of filing system they have. The U.S. Government lost the Ark of the Covenant in a single warehouse. Try matching up each unique soul with 108 billion distinct bodies and still maintain an aura of omniscience. This may also suggest a certain divine dispensation towards library schools. Not much else can explain why they keep churning out droves of librarians. Heaven needs catalogers. The non-canonical, but nonetheless important Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, Old Testament Apocrypha believed to have been written somewhere around the 1st century A.D. (about the time of the second sacking of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans), fleshes out, so to speak, what to expect when the dead men rise.
And He answered and said unto me: “Hear, Baruch, this word, and write in the remembrance of thy heart all that thou shalt learn. For the earth shall then assuredly restore the dead, which it now receiveth, in order to preserve them. It shall make no change in their form, but as it hath received, so shall it restore them; And as I delivered them unto it, so also shall it raise them. For then it will be necessary to show to the living that the dead have come to life again, and that those who had departed have returned (again). And it shall come to pass, when they have severally recognized those whom they now know, then judgement shall grow strong, and those things which before were spoken of shall come. And it shall come to pass, when that appointed day hath gone by, that then shall the aspect of those who are condemned be afterwards changed, and the glory of those who are justified. For the aspect of those who now act wickedly shall become worse than it is, as they shall suffer torment. Also (as for) the glory of those who have now been justified in My Law, who have had understanding in their life, and who have planted in their heart the root of wisdom, then their splendour shall be glorified in changes, and the form of their face shall be turned into the light of their beauty, that they may be able to acquire and receive the world which doth not die, which is then promised to them. For over this above all shall those who come then lament, that they rejected My Law, and stopped their ears that they might not hear wisdom or receive understanding. When therefore they see those, over whom they are now exalted, (but) who shall then be exalted and glorified more than they, they shall respectively be transformed, the latter into the splendour of angels, and the former shall yet more waste away in wonder at the visions and in the beholding of the forms. For they will first behold, and afterwards depart to be tormented (Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, XLIX-LII).
Say what you will about these cruel, monotheistic desert gods, but they definitely have a practical, if somewhat spiteful side. Everybody dead gets raised up temporarily, and those who were righteous are made stunningly awesome and get to live forever in one great big eternal party. The wicked also get raised up, but just long enough to get a glimpse of what they will be missing. After that, they get stuffed into Gehenna (which involves, worms, fire, pain, and weeping) for endless torment, made all the worse by being shown what they could have had. Talk about divine retribution. This cuts down a little on the walking dead population problem, but most rabbinical scholars agree that in order to be deemed worthy of eternal life, you need not actually be Jewish, just lead a righteous life, by which standard, most of your average gentile Janes and Joes out there can expect a little bit of mercy. So, if we want to be generous to our fellow man and assume that 50% of all those people who have ever lived were not irredeemably awful and deserving of the Lake of Fire, we’d probably still be looking at 50 billion or so repatriated dead wandering around. Two square meters for everybody. You might be able to lie down. And there still won’t be enough bathrooms. Or plants. Or oxygen.
We all know the New Testament’s Book of Revelation (written somewhere around 95 A.D., psuedographically attributed to St. John of Patmos), which is like the Stephen King book of the Bible. Christian eschatology really upped the apocalyptic ante. Many scholars have interpreted Revelation to suggest that the resurrection of the dead will take place in two stages. In the first wave, those especially holy and good get resurrected and hang out with God for a thousand years. After those thousand years, everybody else gets resurrected, but of course in keeping with the Abrahamic traditions, the irretrievably wicked just get resurrected so that they can be condemned again. Insult to injury, if you ask me. But we are assured that once all is said and done, those of us still loafing about will no longer suffer death, mourning, or pain. Well, maybe a little joint pain seeing as it’s still going to be hard to find a nice spot to recline in what with the tens of billions of additional folks taking up all that space. Islam’s Yawm al-Qiyāmah similarly involves a large amount of trumpet blowing and judging as “from the graves they will come out quickly to their Lord.” (Quran 36:51). And a bunch of non-believers get stuffed back in the grave, again only marginally improving living conditions for the rest of us resurrected.
Noel Coward once posed the question, “We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one, have we”? In fact, barring divine intervention, things are not going to be looking so good on planet earth when the dead walk again (and best case scenario is that they won’t have a hankering for brains). Bottom line is some deity is going to have to work overtime to make the world livable when the dead are all resurrected. That makes for a very grumpy god. It’s not like he’s some kind of miracle worker or something.
Bharucha, Ervad Sheriarji Dadabhai. A Brief Sketch of the Zoroastrian Religion & Customs: An Essay Written for the Râhnumâi Mâzdayasnân Sabhâ of Bombay. Bombay: the Duftur Ashkara Oil Engine Printing Press, 1893.
Oesterley, W. O. E. 1866-1950, and R. H. 1855-1931 Charles. The Apocalypse of Baruch. London: Society for promoting Christian knowledge, 1918.