"Experience, the most brutal of teachers; but you learn,
This is an attempt to categorize in general the ways in which the various paradigms portray destiny. There are about 4 or 5 with many sub-variations, so we will start with a list:
First of all let's deal with oblivion. This modern "vision" is firmly founded upon materialism, the idea that physical material—protons, electrons, etc., or their sub-particles, that form the physical universe of galaxies, stars, planets and life forms—is ordinate or pre-ordinate. The idea extends to the patterns and forms that can be found to be comprised of physical material. IOW, this is what you start with. For example, the physical brain is ordinate to the mind, the mind being a property or emergent property of the brain.
The spiritual aspects of the universe—mind, consciousness, desire, intellect, purpose, values, attitude. goodness and pleasure, evil and suffering, etc.,—are subordinate or emergent properties that somehow came to/with life as a series of "happy accidents". In this paradigm, there is seemingly no way to get an idea as to where, if anywhere else, this unfolding of evolution is going to lead. We are pretty much left with "you are born, you live with a variable mixture of pain, pleasure, suffering, joy, you age, you die, and that's the end of it" or "Here now, gone tomorrow". Existentialism while living, oblivion upon death.
Believing this or patterning your life accordingly—all but the same thing—avoids a lot of troubling fundamental or ultimate issues, and puts a simplistic but fashionable edge to the enterprise of life. You only go around once! There can only be one overriding ethic, and that is to pack into your life, while avoiding pain and suffering as much as possible, all the pleasure and fulfillment that you can. The "winners" and those that so many admire are the ones that "go for it" and do the best job of compensating for their "liabilities", maximizing the use of their assets, and of calculating the risk/reward factors for each development, issue or course of action that they face. Of course, luck is a huge factor!
It's been said, "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." Pain is a physiological reaction, while suffering is the reaction/response to having our legitimate and enduring needs and desires being abrogated. One strategy to eliminate suffering is to winnow out all needs and desires. Hence nirvana. What the significant difference is between this and the death of the body and soul is beyond me. Not much more needs to be said except to agonize over the best way to eliminate wanting to get to a state where you don't want anything. As to any other aspect of destiny, if somehow successful what would it then matter?
3. Multiple Reincarnation
There are a few lines of thinking that postulate that the spirit, mind, essence—however you want to characterize the majority spiritual part of a human being—is somehow immortal, and that upon death of the body, it moves on to a new life in some other realm. Not being even able to imagine being alive without some medium of reception and expression—IOW a body in some kind of material reality—what this idea stipulates is that there will be some kind of reincarnation. The world's major religions teach that there will be a resurrection, which is just a one time reincarnation, even if the new body is made out of some different kind of exotic material.
Those that promulgate this idea of multiple reincarnation other than a one time resurrection generally propose that after a series of different lives we somehow learn or mature enough to "graduate" into some state comparable to godhood. Some go further and think that I/we design our next life and form.
I realize that the pertinent merit of this system of thinking is that this life is not the end. Beyond that naked and singular concept, the merit of this thinking escapes me. The best possible support for this line of thinking (if it can be called thinking) is that we are simply victims of a system over which we have absolutely no control, have no input or personal value, other than the concept that somehow we can plan our next appearance. Can I reasonably choose—from what appears to be our choices besides the human one—anything that would be better, more satisfying, more comfortable, less fearful, make the world a better place, etc.? I can understand why one might go down this avenue ONLY if there were absolutely no evidence of any alternative answers.
Relevant questions that can and/or need to be asked:
Who set up this system or how did it come about? What is the purpose of this system? And am I caught up in some ineluctable, eternal cycle of being reincarnated whether I want to be or not? Do I ever recover the aspects of the various lives that I cherish? For example, do I ever even get my precious little dog back, much more importantly my family and friends? And do I ever recover the various memories that have built up?
What is the real evidence for such a system, and can this evidence be better explained in some other way? How is this system of thinking not violating my rationality, logic, and reason, and how is it capable of being supported by these crucial aspects of myself?
Because I have no awareness of doing this now and no plan to do it, if I design or choose my next life form, when do I do this? In between lives? Isn't that a non-sequitur? And how can I do this intelligently when I have no real knowledge of how the future world or environment is going to be?
How is this paradigm consonant with an ever increasing population of humans on earth? How long has it been going on? And how is this concept of reality compatible with the current, rampant perversity, superstition, and confusion of the human race?
How does this paradigm explain the elephant in the living room, that being evil? Does it ever even offer me/us a chance to ascend above or eliminate the experience of evil and suffering?
No matter in what form or how advanced I might be, will I not again be exposed to evil, even if it is only to be aware of or witness the suffering of others? Do I ever get to “graduate” out of this grim cycle? And if so, to what?
Why don’t I, ostensibly one of the most open-minded, reasonable, and sincere truth seeking people, have any memory or awareness of any past life? And given that I have actually made such a mess out of my personal relationship life, what has happened to all the lessons learned, the wisdom gained by me in past lives? Why am I unaware of, or not benefitting from earlier lives? Are not my memories, learning and wisdom important facets of me, who I really am? If so little of "me" comes through to the next life, will I not be gone into oblivion after just a few iterations? How is this destiny more than superficially different from oblivion of the real me that exists now?
4. Assignment by final Judgment of God
The general idea here is that either immediately upon death from this life or sometime later after God literally returns to the earth in a grand spectacle, God consigns you either to heaven, hell, or oblivion in a courtroom-type session.
Of course, the variations of the basic idea are legion, but tangibly or physically, heaven is usually visualized as some kind of Edenic environment that is somehow disassociated from the known physical universe, or at least the system of life on planets revolving around stars, the basic system as we know it.
Politically, heaven would be the ultimate benevolent dictatorship with God being the glorious sovereign and object of adoration and worship. He would preside over the perfect government for all of the future.
Environmentally, heaven is generally conceived as being a radiant, beautiful, and pleasant place of light and lightness, where there would be no darkness, ugliness, harm, danger or negative aspects. A place of plenitude with no ecological threats or concerns, nothing to worry about. Of course, there would be no violence or predation, a place where the lamb could literally lie down with the lion.
Physiologically, heaven would be a place or situation where the inhabitants would have new, incorruptible bodies incapable of damage, pain or deterioration.
Psychologically, heaven would be a situation where we would transcend or be stripped of the more troublesome carnal needs and desires like sexuality or sensuality and eroticism, or ego problems that result in unseemly ambitions, competition, envy, jealousy, superiority and inferiority. Every person's will and agenda will have been surrendered to be in harmony with the will of God. Ostensibly, offending or unpleasant memories would be selectively edited by God or submerged beyond recall. Of course there would be no ethical breaches and no problems or angst.
Fulfillment of needs and desires is generally conceived in heaven as coming through some combination of being in the presence of God, and where we are entertained by social concourse, music, the aesthetically beautiful setting, and eating and drinking in this pleasant environment. Some position themselves as proclaiming that it will so extravagantly wonderful that not only haven't we imagined it but we CAN'T imagine it.
Again, there are many variations but basically they fall into three characterizations: 1) being burned while being kept alive throughout the rest of time. This arguably is the most extreme, macabre concept of punishment ever imagined. How this fate of some of our friends and loved ones can be compatible with the peace of mind of the righteous citizens is seemingly not dealt with. 2) Being burned and kept alive for some time commensurate with the amount of evil and/or suffering produced in one's life, and maybe plus some extension for the degree that one has angered God. 3) Being incinerated in a flash where there is no extended suffering. The final destiny in the first variation is substantially clear without concentrating on further details, and that of the latter two is ultimately substantially the same as oblivion.
5. Technological salvation
Technology is growing in the minds of the public as the prime, tangible development that is increasing the sustenance and enhancement of life. Many think that we are just around the corner from dramatic breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics and life extension capability. The holy grail here would be some form of technologically supported immortality, and once that is achieved along with the support and continuance of the upward march of technology, you are practically home free. The dark side of this destiny is that it ostensibly does nothing to heal mankind spiritually from further perversity, ego problems and power struggles. Not to mention the lack of control of the geophysical and astral forces before which we are little more than hapless victims, technology or not.
There are at least three paradigms of reality where I have no clue as to how to describe or define the human destiny.
As I understand it, this completely unfathomable vision is one where all the potential different developments that can be conceived are all unfolding in some universe that is incrementally different from all others. This proposal is credited to the physicist/theoretician John Wheeler, and all I can say is that it is one of the most outrageous, incomprehensible and worthless ideas ever to be uttered. To even think about defining a human destiny within this paradigm would be in vain. Don't ask me how I really feel!
This idea embodies the essence of pantheism, and again I have no clue as to how or what reasoning one would use to define or describe a human destiny where we are comparably much less than the microscopic body mites that live in the pores of our skin, or the fleas on a dog.
In this system of thinking, the overarching human objective is to wake up, get in touch with our true nature and reach a state of mature spiritual awareness where you graduate out of the realm of experiencing evil. Often this concept is accompanied by a rejection of physicality and all of its attendant problems and challenges, reaching a state of being a pure incorporeal "spirit".
Design your own, and then see if you could be happy in it forever!
What the promulgators, spokesmen, theologians and religious speculators seemingly miss, omit or skate around—at least subconsciously evade or avoid—is dealing directly and prominently with the ultimate issue that we all care about, and that is fulfillment of our natural and legitimate needs and desires. Not only do they not deal with it or concentrate on it, they fail to use it as a material starting point in building their belief system.