Language changes. Words change. Word meanings change. As human consciousness expands and evolves, our language must change in order to facilitate expression. But sometimes the changes aren’t for such lofty reasons. For the sake of efficiency, words that once had multiple meanings in popular usage can become attached to only one meaning. The word “afterlife” is a great example. These days, it is used almost exclusively to mean “life after death”, but that doesn’t appear to be the meaning that was attached to it by the authors of the Urantia Book.
The Urantia Book has a lot to say about our existence after death, yet if we do a search of the UB text for “afterlife”, we only get three hits:
(1922.3) Your whole afterlife will be more happy and dependable because you spent your first eight years in a normal and well-regulated home.
(1922.2) A human being’s entire afterlife is enormously influenced by what happens during the first few years of existence.
(1664.4) His entire afterlife was markedly changed as a result of this conversation with the Master in the garden, and he did much, in later times, to cause the other apostles to change their viewpoints regarding the source, nature, and purpose of commonplace human afflictions.
Surely we would expect far more hits if “afterlife” was really intended to refer to our post-mortal life, but it is never unambiguously used in that context in the Urantia Book.
Here are the dictionary definitions of “afterlife” from Merriam-Webster:
1: an existence after death
2: a later period in one’s life
3: a period of continued or renewed use, existence, or popularity beyond what is normal, primary, or expected <a TV show with a long afterlife in syndication>
I have also consulted a 1934 dictionary, and confirmed that definition #2 existed at that time.
The first time I read these sentences, I initially assumed definition #1, but then I thought a bit more deeply about what they could mean. How could the first eight years of our mortal life have eternal consequences? That one’s eternal future would be less happy and dependable simply because of a poor home life doesn’t seem fair, and it also contradicts other parts of the book that explain how mortal handicaps are compensated for during our training on the mansion worlds. Consider the following paragraph:
(619.10) But one thing should be made clear: If you are made to suffer the evil consequences of the sin of some member of your family, some fellow citizen or fellow mortal, even rebellion in the system or elsewhere—no matter what you may have to endure because of the wrongdoing of your associates, fellows, or superiors—you may rest secure in the eternal assurance that such tribulations are transient afflictions. None of these fraternal consequences of misbehavior in the group can ever jeopardize your eternal prospects or in the least degree deprive you of your divine right of Paradise ascension and God attainment.
Specifically, consider the “such tribulations are transient afflictions” part. If someone suffers a poor environment in their first 8 years of life, that affliction is not “transient” if it affects their happiness for eternity. Can you imagine one finaliter being less happy than the others because of the circumstances of their tender mortal years, billions of years ago?
(533.6) Almost the entire experience of mansion world number one pertains to deficiency ministry. Survivors arriving on this first of the detention spheres present so many and such varied defects of creature character and deficiencies of mortal experience that the major activities of the realm are occupied with the correction and cure of these manifold legacies of the life in the flesh on the material evolutionary worlds of time and space.
(538.6) The experience on this sphere is the crowning achievement of the immediate postmortal career. During your sojourn here you will receive the instruction of many teachers, all of whom will co-operate in the task of preparing you for residence on Jerusem. Any discernible differences between those mortals hailing from the isolated and retarded worlds and those survivors from the more advanced and enlightened spheres are virtually obliterated during the sojourn on the seventh mansion world. Here you will be purged of all the remnants of unfortunate heredity, unwholesome environment, and unspiritual planetary tendencies. The last remnants of the “mark of the beast” are here eradicated.
Although the deficits of our mortal lives (including the first 8 years) are carried through in some way to the mansion worlds, and the inverse situation of a positive upbringing having a positive effect is undoubtedly true, the deficits are eventually overcome as we make our way through the mansion worlds.
Also, looking at the quotes again, we can see that the words “whole” or “entire” always precede the use of the word “afterlife”. So if our “whole” or “entire” life after mortal death (applying definition #1) is affected by our first eight mortal years, that would mean that our mortal deficits are never, ever overcome – contradicting the mansion world papers.
In my mind, the only way to harmonize the “afterlife” quotes with the overall cosmology of the Urantia Book is to use definition #2 from the dictionary.
We are fortunate to be able to read the book at a time when the English language hasn’t changed much since the date of publication, but at some point in the future there may be confusion that creates an appearance of contradiction. It may soon be necessary to start a more extensive record of language changes so that meanings are preserved for future generations.