Friday, June 27, 2008

Life After "Life After Life"

Do you go to bed at night horrified by the prospect of Jesus Christ eating your liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti because you once downloaded porn off the Internet?

Well, probably not (unless you’ve read way too many Chick Tracts), but if you do, worry no more. Maybe.

Earlier this year, I read a book that I've been wanting to read for years--Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody. This was the first book to deal with the possibility of an afterlife seriously from a research-oriented viewpoint. I hesitate to call it scientific because Moody does not claim it is scientific.

The book is basically a case study of people's experiences while being clinically dead, just prior to being revived. What they experience has become a cliché in the years since the book was published in 1975--going through a long tunnel, seeing a bright light, being reunited with loved ones and seeing a review of your life.

What struck me most about these experiences is that they make for pretty damn boring reading. That may be from overexposure, since the experiences have become such a part of American pop culture. They've inspired a really bad movie, been parodied on "The Simpsons," and spawned a cottage industry of scam artists. And if that doesn't epitomize pop culture, what does?

The sameness of the stories is a big part of what makes them so reassuring. For if these were mere dreams or hallucinations, why are they so similar? I doubt if any two people have the same dream in one night. Although you would trash my theory if you had a dream on June 25 about singing "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" at karaoke but finding it was out of your range.

While the subject’s religions, or their behavior during life, are not dealt with, they do not seem to be a factor, one way or another, in the pleasantness of the experience. The sensation of peace and unconditional love is the same for all—except for one person who attempted suicide and wound up in some gray purgatory. (Almost all near-death experience researchers take a dim view of suicide, which, I suspect, is due to liability issues. Nobody wants to get sued by the parents of some kid who couldn’t wait to get to the other side.) Nobody’s experiences even remotely resemble the traditional Christian concepts of heaven or hell. So worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster or J.R. “Bob” Dobbs with all your might! As for you Scientologists, well, you made your own bed.

Moody also does not address cross-cultural differences, which makes me question his methodology. He lists several cultures, mostly Native American peoples, which he did not study because he didn’t have the resources. Yet the back cover mentions that he teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas—within easy driving distance of thousands of Native Americans. Couldn’t Moody break himself away from the craps table long enough to talk to some of them?

Does Life After Life answer your questions about the afterlife? It may leave you with more questions than before. But if you need more evidence of life after death than an ancient edict by some invisible thing in the sky, it might make you rest a little easier.

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