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When you mention Middle Eastern monotheistic religions virtually everyone knows of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But there is a fourth religion—with an estimated 200,000 adherentsthat fits that same category, yet few people know much about it at all.

Allow me to briefly begin exploring this lesser-known religion by starting with a thought experiment about what might await human beings in the immediate wake of death. This thought experiment about the afterlife does not reflect a Christian perspective but rather what I call the common man-on-the-street perspective. Interestingly, this man-on-the-street view is virtually the same as the view held by this lesser-known religion.

Anticipating Future Events

So, lets say that you amazingly survive the death of your body and awake to a conscious existence in the next life. You now anticipate having a face-to-face meeting with the Almighty. Filled with trepidation and incredible inner angst, you wonder how your personal tête-à-tête with God will go. Questions naturally arise in your mind: How will God evaluate the life you’ve lived? Will you be relegated to heaven or hell? And what is God’s basis for granting people eternal life or eternal damnation in the hereafter? In other words, is there any hope of a good outcome?

One of the most intriguing religious views of the afterlife comes from the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism.1 Known also as the Parsi faith, Zoroastrianism was the religion of Iran prior to the coming of Islam. The prophet Zoroaster (c. 628–551 BC) preached a monotheistic faith that identified Ahura Mazda as the creator God. An ancient religion that reflects a moral dualism, the Parsi faith places a strong emphasis upon individual human choice and responsibility. Zoroastrianism affirms the principle of retribution regarding one’s actions in life. This idea parallels the Eastern principle of karma. According to the sacred text known as the Yasna (part of the larger body of Parsi writings called the Avesta), all actions have direct repercussions—“evil to evil, good to good.”1 This law of retribution and humankind’s free agency is vividly illustrated in Zoroastrianism’s gripping story of eschatological finality (the last or end-time events of humankind).

Zoroastrianism’s View of the End

Zoroastrianism proclaims that upon a person’s death, the soul remains with the body for three days and engages in deep reflection upon the deeds performed in life. On the fateful fourth day, the soul travels to the destination of final judgment before Mithra—the judge of the dead. Mithra evaluates a person’s actions in life, both good and bad (including thought, word, and deed), by placing their deeds on a scale. Then the record of the soul is read and the merits and demerits are cast. This careful weighing and balancing of life’s actions produces two possible final outcomes.

The Good Soul

If the preponderance of one’s deeds done over a lifetime are benevolent in nature, then that person’s soul will be allowed to enter into paradise. The soul on its way to heaven crosses the Chinvat Bridge, which spans the abyss of hell and at its farther end opens up into paradise. Because of the person’s overall moral goodness reflected in life, the bridge becomes wide and easy to navigate and the person walks without difficulty into the place of blessing. Beautiful maidens even escort the good person across the threshold of paradise. Then the prophet Zoroaster greets the noble one in heaven. Thus the benevolent souls dwell in “The House of Song.” World religions scholar Lewis Hopfe describes the Zoroastrian heaven as “a place of great beauty, light, pleasant scents, and noble souls who have lived life according to Zoroastrian ethics.”2

The Bad Soul

But if the preponderance of one’s deeds over the entire span of life weighs more heavily in the direction of evil, then the scenario changes drastically. The person whose life has been dominated by malevolence is sentenced to hell. Thus the evil person is condemned and forced to navigate the Chinvat Bridge. But for the damned the bridge becomes impossible to cross, for it is as treacherous as walking on the edge of a sword. Furthermore, an “old hag” (a Zoroastrian description) relentlessly torments the evil person so that they inevitably fall off the bridge into hell. The wicked soul inhabits “The House of the Lie.” The Zoroastrian hell is an exceptionally terrible place where the condemned suffer dreadfully and where time passes incredibly slowly. World religions author John Noss describes this place of condemnation as “an ill-smelling region . . . in its lightless depths sad voices cry out, but each sufferer is forever ‘alone.’”3

In the Zoroastrian religion, individuals decide their own destiny through choice and action. Thus on judgment day the greater the accumulated moral goodness measured in one’s life is justly rewarded with paradise. Likewise, the greater the accumulated moral evil in one’s life is punished with banishment to hell. Paradise then stands as an earned reward and hell as a just punishment. The religion of Zoroastrianism knows no concept of grace or redemption as is revealed in the Bible.4 In the final consummation, the Parsi faith appears to affirm a grand purification of all souls including the condemned (resulting in a type of universalism).

Zoroastrian theology has some intriguing parallels with Islamic theology, and both Middle Eastern religions have a view of the afterlife that is similar with what I call the common man-on-the-street view.

In a forthcoming article, I will draw some conclusions about why this common view of the afterlife is held by certain religions like Zoroastrianism and Islam and will contrast it with a historic Christian perspective. Stay connected at Reflections on WordPress to learn even more about this little-known Middle Eastern monotheistic religion.

Endnotes

  1. Zoroaster, “Yasna 43:5” in Yasna: Sacred Gathas, Hymns of Zarathushtra: With Glossary of Zoroastrian Terms, trans. L. H. Mills (Charleston: CreateSpace, 2016).
  2. Lewis Hopfe, Religions of the World, 7th ed., ed. Mark Woodward (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998), 246.
  3. David Noss and John Noss, A History of the World’s Religions, 8th ed. (England, UK: Routledge, 1989), 395.
  4. For a historic Christian evaluation of Zoroastrianism, see Winfried Corduan, “Zoroastrianism,” chap. 6 in Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to the World’s Religions2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 182–206.

Subjects: World Religions

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About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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