Is there life after death?
Philosophers have long been interested in such questions as whether psychic phenomena exist, for if they do, they may help answer such questions as whether the mind is a substance that can exist independently of the body and whether Humankind survives death.
Although I am a skeptic when it comes to psychics such as Jeane Dixon foretelling the future, I was much interested when I ran across the book Life After Lifeby Raymond A. Moody, Jr. Dr. Moody has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is now a medical doctor. In addition, he is now also a psychiatrist. At the time he wrote this book he had a Ph.D. in Philosophy but was still working on his medical degree, which he earned soon after this book was published.
In Life After Life, Dr. Moody investigates near-death phenomena. These are the experiences of people who have come very close to dying; indeed, very many of the people who relate their experiences to Dr. Moody were actually pronounced clinically dead before being resuscitated. One interesting fact about these experiences is that they have many elements in common.
Early in his book, Dr. Moody constructs a composite experience using several points of similarity among near-death experiences:
A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.
After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a “body,” but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before — a being of light — appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.
Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his life profoundly, especially his views about death and its relationship to life.
Dr. Moody is careful to point out that no two accounts are exactly alike and that no single account has all of the elements that have been reported in near-death experiences. He is also careful to say that he has not proved that there is life after death, although he says these experiences are interesting and ought to be studied more. In addition, as Dr. Moody admits, his is not a scientific study. For example, he does not identify the people who have had these experiences, since they requested anonymity.
However, these experiences are very interesting, and so let’s look at what people who have experienced them say they have learned from them.
First, they say that they are no longer afraid of death. Note that they aren’t actively seeking death after having these experiences, although they believe that the after-life is very pleasant. None of these people wants to commit suicide. Indeed, in an afterword to his book, Dr. Moody points out that people who have attempted suicide and have had near-death experiences report that the next life was not very pleasant for them. One man, who shot himself after his wife died, reported, “I didn’t go where [my wife] was. I went to an awful place. … I immediately saw what a mistake I had made. … I thought, ‘I wish I hadn’t done it.’”
A person who didn’t attempt suicide reported, “[While I was over there] I got the feeling that two things it was completely forbidden for me to do would be to kill myself or to kill another person. … If I were to commit suicide, I would be throwing God’s gift back in his face. … Killing somebody else would be interfering with God’s purpose for that individual.”
Second, Dr. Moody himself summarizes the lessons learned during near-death experiences in this way:
There is a remarkable agreement in the “lessons,” as it were, which have been brought back from these close encounters with death. Almost everyone has stressed the importance in this life of trying to cultivate love for others, a love of a unique and profound kind. One man who met the being of light felt totally loved and accepted, even while his whole life was displayed in a panorama for the being to see. He felt that the “question” that the being was asking him was whether he was able to love others in the same way. He now feels that it is his commission while on earth to try to be able to do so.
In addition, many others have emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge. During their experiences, it was intimated to them that the acquisition of knowledge continues even in the after-life. … [A] man offers the advice, “No matter how old you are, don’t stop learning. For this is a process, I gather, that goes on for eternity.”
Finally, none of the people who have had these experiences have made reports of being judged or of heaven or hell. Instead, the being of light, who sees the bad things we have done, responds “not with anger and rage, but rather only with understanding, and even with humor.” According to one woman, “His attitude when we came to these scenes [of when she was selfish and failed to show love] was just that I had been learning even then.” Of course, none of these people may have been really evil.
Dr. Moody writes, “According to these new views, development of the soul, especially in the spiritual faculties of love and knowledge, does not stop upon death. Rather, it continues on the other side, perhaps eternally, but certainly for a period of time and to a depth which can only be glimpsed, while we are still in physical bodies, ‘through a glass, darkly.’”
Note: The quotations by Raymond A. Moody, Jr., that appear in this essay are from his Life After Life (Atlanta, GA: Mockingbird Birds, 1975).
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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