More and more these days, followers of the Holy Bible, Quran or Vedas, cling more tightly to their faith and their beliefs in spite of ongoing changes in worldwide views of the afterlife. As science digs more deeply into the journey that the energy that gives us life takes, highly religious individuals become frightened, making them less open-minded than ever before.
The question of what happens to us after our bodies cease functioning has been one talked about for centuries, but it hasn’t been until now that we’ve been better able to come up with some very surprising answers. At Cal State Bakersfield, there is a course entitled “The Meaning of Death,” presented by Stafford Betty, professor of religious studies. Many of his students are not willing to accept becoming nothing at death, a thought their professor shares.
The evidence Professor Betty has found in his extensive research isn’t based on any religious dogma, but on scientific and philosophical examination of the evidence which, perhaps not surprisingly, is entirely secular. They explore various descriptions of what happens in a near-death experience (NDE), including deathbed visions, ghosts and apparitions, poltergeist phenomena, spirit communication through mediums utilizing electronic instruments to do so, and the surprising clarity that Alzheimer’s patients experience just before death. Their research has fairly convincingly shown that our brains are not the originator of consciousness.
Betty has experienced resistance from both the religious and scientific communities, many of whom refuse to look at or even consider the research, both for similar reasons: they are unable to imagine a world apart from the one they know and they decide instead to close their minds to compelling evidence that might cause them to change their minds. This is a wholly human response. Often we’re unable to take that seemingly enormous step away from all we’ve been taught or learned on our own.
One factor that has taken Betty by surprise is finding that the afterlife is not the exclusive domain of religion. He states that it’s not dependent on belief, but instead, character.
“Deeply religious people often have an advantage, not because of their beliefs, but because they have often thought more carefully about death and devoted time to becoming loving and forgiving persons. But nonbelievers are not necessarily disadvantaged. Character is fundamental, and good atheists or agnostics will begin the journey at the level that their character—their habits of a lifetime—have readied them for. The same goes for people of varying faiths.”
He also says that we don’t become less after physical death, but more. He claims that the energy that infuses every one of us is able to expand exponentially after it leaves the physical body, and that we don’t stop learning about the universe.
Professor Betty is not the only person considering this weighty topic.
Humanity has adopted rituals, imagery and theories about ‘the afterlife’ to help make sense of it.
The near-death experience first shot into the limelight in the 1970s after the publication of Raymond Moody’s best-selling book Life After Life, to the extent that nearly everyone today knows what an ‘NDE’ is. But while many people took the near-death experience itself as proof of a life beyond death, orthodox science has judged (rightly or wrongly) the heavenly visions of the NDE to be simply hallucinations brought on by the various physical and psychological burdens put on the brain by its imminent demise. However, skeptics are hard-pressed to be able to refute actual accounts of people who’ve experienced death, try as they might.
A 9-year-old boy in Pittsburgh, suffering from meningitis, woke up one morning in the hospital and said he’d been in heaven and saw his grandparents and uncle, as well as his older sister, saying, “She told me I have to come back, but she’s going to stay there with grandma and granddad.” The boy’s father became upset with him, rebuking him before assuring him that his sister was alive and healthy at college in Vermont, as he had spoken with her the previous day. Concerned at the father’s state, the doctor told him to go home and get some rest, at which time he found that the college had been trying to call him all night long with the tragic news that his daughter had been killed in a car accident the night before.
A young man in the United Kingdom was thrown from his motorbike while cruising at 50 mph and was medically dead when he was taken to hospital. As he lay in the road before the ambulance came, he recalled someone he knew encouraging him.
“I just remember being on the pavement and things slowly going black and quiet. The only reason I didn’t fall asleep, which is what I thought was happening, was because of a bizarre moment where I heard someone yelling, ‘Ranger up, you candyf***! Come on man, get up. Get up. GET UP!’
“Then someone was slapping my helmet (which was basically smushed really hard onto my head). When I opened my eyes, I saw my brother squatting on the pavement next me to. This was odd because my brother died from an overdose several years before. The only other thing I remember is him glancing at his watch and saying something like ‘They’ll be here soon,’ and then walking away.”
There are thousands of similar accounts recorded from all around the globe, with as many variations as there are experiences. While these don’t necessarily provide evidence to an afterlife, they certainly do bring up a lot of interesting questions. As we take this anecdotal information and compare it to what religions teach, we can see how such stories go against most religious dogma. If we one day have irrefutable proof of an afterlife, will science and religion move in a different direction, or will they hide their eyes and claim it’s not true?