It’s been awhile since I’ve posted my thoughts on soulbank. Today, however, it seemed appropriate to pause and ask myself some hard questions after a summer of intense paranormal activity. I would also like to ask for your help here, because I need some feedback on the question in the title. What difference would it make in your life if you were 100% convinced of your continued existence after death?
Death marks a cultural end point, the place of no return, the limiting factor to our lives–our American society assumes, even while giving religion a nod, that when it’s over, it’s over. So what are you going to do with your limited life span? Make the most of it! Enjoy the time you have left! You can’t take it with you, etc. etc. etc. I’ve lived with those assumptions my entire life. This is what my parents believe, most of my extended family, and certainly the academics that I work with. Now, what my husband believes is different–but even in the case of his avowed belief, we never really talk about what we really think is going to happen after the last breath. If we were so sure that life continued, it seems to me that we would be more celebratory about the topic, but yet–our collective fear really does keep us quiet on the issue.
Paranormal investigation has a long and fascinating history in this country and in Europe. From the 1840s onward, interest in the afterlife has remained fairly constant, even after the medium craze died down after WW 1. Sadly, even the best evidence was considered tainted by fraud or suspicion of fraud, but as I’ve said before, no amount of evidence will convince the scientific mainstream of survival of consciousness. The standard set by science is impossibly high–there is no way to satisfy the demands of those who refuse to believe that the brain could be anything but a wet machine for producing consciousness. That, however, is not the point of this post.
Let’s imagine two scenarios: in the first, when I’m dead, I’m gone forever. How do I live my life? For me, depression ensues. I get a few more decades? My parents get about 20 more years, if they’re lucky? Life does NOT gain in meaning because it is fleeting and final; it loses meaning. Without survival, a child’s death cannot possibly make sense, or the death of someone that has no time to prepare for his demise. There was a piece on NPR recently where a father talks about the emotions that ensued after his two sons were killed by a collision with a truck. The feeling of unreality, of one’s life suddenly losing all purpose or sense, would be alleviated by the knowledge that life does not end at physical death. If, however, you don’t believe that or can’t, then sudden deaths are catastrophic and horrifying with no solace or peace possible.
The idea that we should accept that attitude as “realistic” strikes me as ridiculous and cruel. If I have tried to do anything on this site, it is to demonstrate that there is abundant evidence to make the rational decision to believe that life is ongoing. To refute all of it by affirming that the only “practical” or “logical” stance is to accept that death ends us all demonstrates a belief in skepticism as a kind of religion of the angry and cynical. The reason that most teenagers are atheists (and, in my experience, they are) is due to the cool factor of believing in nothing and embracing the dark side. It just isn’t acceptable to feel joy at the prospect of ongoing life–and that may be because life, for many people, is not all that appealing, rewarding or kind.
That, I think, is the heart of the matter for me. If you don’t enjoy your life or find it tedious or painful, then what incentive do you have for exploring the promise of an afterlife? Your attitude might determine your willingness to consider the evidence. Academia is loath to explore the survival issue because it is invested in protecting its image and tends to be radically conservative in spite of apparent liberal tendencies. If academia is your authority, you won’t receive any support for exploring life after death–in fact, you will probably be ridiculed, labeled as a fundamentalist or a New Age quack, ignored or laughed at. It takes tremendous courage to hold your ground and trust your evidence. If you do, prepare yourself for war with those who find it more noble to view the human condition as temporary and tied to neuro-biological processes that define us completely.
To consider death the end of my existence does nothing to inspire, motivate or encourage me. On the contrary, if I were to believe in my expiration date, I doubt I would do much of anything but pursue what gratifies me in the short term, and that would not include spiritual pursuits. If I were to be hit by a truck tomorrow and be greeted by eternal nothingness, well, why live for anyone else but myself in the meantime? On the contrary, if I know that my existence continues, even if I can’t define what it will feel like or explain how it will differ from my current incarnation, I have tremendous motivation to evolve spiritually. Why? Because I am reasonably sure that how you conduct yourself now will have consequences later, both before and after you shuffle off the mortal coil. I’m not sure if I believe in karma, but it’s a system that seems to make sense. Just in case, I would like to resolve the issues now that might bite me in the butt the next time around, because it appears that we are continuously evolving.
Most of all, living as if life didn’t end creates a sense of joy, hope and anticipation for the future. It lessens, in me, the dread of the End Date. Of course, my feelings on this issue should not dictate what I believe–but after what I have read, discussed, and experienced, the evidence is at least as persuasive that we survive this physical journey as not. Therefore, given a free choice in the matter, I choose to believe in my persistence beyond the limits of my body.
And that makes all the difference in the world.