Life After Death
The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence is in full swing. Astronomers around the world are pointing their high-powered instruments skywards eagerly looking and listening for the first clue which would indicate that out there in the great Universe an intelligent race of beings is alive and well.
Perhaps there are people out there who are also scanning the heavens with the same scientific motive. One day they may pick up some of our radio broadcasts, if they have not done so already, and assuming that they can somehow overcome the language barriers, make a judgement about our state of civilisation based on our daily menus of pop music, politics, soap operas and what have you. I wonder what conclusions they would come to?
We do not know whether or not we will ever detect extra terrestrial intelligences, but we can be quite sure of one thing. The information gained from the operation will be useless and the whole enterprise a complete waste of time, money and human skill. We will never be able to make meaningful contact with those intelligences.. Even if the life-bearing planet happened to be orbiting around the nearest star to our Solar System it would take more than four years for our signals to reach it and a similar amount of time for the reply to reach Earth. Such communication is clearly out of the question, even the pestiferous generators of junk mail would be deterred by this time factor. For planets at greater distances than this minimum figure the time required would be correspondingly greater. The question which comes to mind is "How can intelligent people like the scientists who are behind the enterprise behave so stupidly? The money could be better spent by supporting the endeavours of those on Earth who are striving to make our world a happier and a healthier one.
The search for extra terrestrial intelligence seems to me to be quite unjustified, but the role of an iconoclast is not a natural one for me to adopt. Some folk, reading my previous website articles, would disagree and argue that the negativism of the image destroyer is evident in them. Yes, it has been necessary for me to attempt certain changes which have involved clearing away a lot of rubbish, but I have always tried to build something positive on the vacant site. Now, alongside of my negative attitude to the search for life beyond the Solar System I make a positive suggestion for an allied but different aspect of research, one which is potentially much more productive in terms of human happiness.. Why not use our skills and other resources to search for life beyond the grave?
Yes, I am quite serious. Such a project would have the potential for great good for the human race. The sting of death and the victory of the grave could be taken away from millions of mourners and the conviction that life is ongoing and eternal could serve to change for the better the lives of many. If no evidence is found we shall at least know the score so the project would not have been entirely wasted. At least it would not constitute the empty and useless effort which is characterised by the search for extra terrestrial intelligence, an enterprise in which there is no hope at all of a pay-off in terms of human happiness.
Sadly, some scientists who are supposed by their training and discipline to be open-minded and to seek the truth without prejudice, close their hearts and minds when they are faced with the prospect of investigating something which comes under the banner of "psychic research" or "religion." They are not alone, of course, in this prejudice, for it permeates every strata of human society. The other side of the coin is that not all scientists have been cursed with such intellectual tunnel vision. We have only to think of such names as Sir Oliver Lodge, Doctor Robert Crookall, Professor Rayner Johnston and D. Scott Rogo, to name but a few, in order to realise that many eminent scientists have engaged in the research and the results on the whole have been by no means negative. The general experience seems to have been that those who actually carry out investigations are often persuaded, while those who refuse to even look at the arguments remain doubters and scoffers.
The negative scientific attitude has had a pernicious effect on the thinking of society regarding the subject of psychical research. There is a tendency for people to think "Scientists have looked at it and found it lacking, so they must be right." As something of an aside, I find a similar process going on in the justice system of my native Britain. A new body called the Crown Prosecution Service has been set up. This body reviews the evidence in each case and then either drops the action or sends it to the courts. If it sends a case forward it means that in the opinion of the Crown Prosecution Service the evidence points to guilt. This is bound to influence some juries and magistrates. They think "The experts consider this man is guilty and they should know. Who are we to dissent?" This is highly unsatisfactory to say the least and makes the Crown Prosecution Service a very dangerous body, the unfortunate defendant being in effect tried by a body which has no authority to try him! There is an interesting example of just this kind of thing in the Bible, at the trial of Jesus the Nazarene. The Jewish Courts found Jesus guilty and passed him on to Pilate for endorsement of their findings. They expected the Roman Prefect to rubber stamp the file but Pilate decided to hold a full trial. The Jewish officials protested. "We would not have brought him to you if he were not guilty." they said, and the British Crown Prosecution Service by implication makes the same judgment.
But to return to the life after death issue. It is clearly the religious connection which worries many scientists. Very well, then, take the question right out of the religious arena. There is no reason at all for not doing so as survival of death is not in itself a religious issue. By the same token it is possible to take Christianity out of the religious context. It is quite possible to be a Christian without having any religious belief at all. This idea may come as a surprise to many, so I will expand it somewhat.
An atheist can be a Christian and many are, although few of them would call themselves Christians or realise that their generous and kindly way of life means that they are following the teaching of Jesus. The fact is that Jesus taught a code of behaviour, a philosophy which aimed at encouraging a way of behaving towards others that would, if applied, lead to the healing of the social wounds which plague our race, and anyone who does the things which Jesus taught is a Christian. To Jesus it did not matter whether one had faith or not or whether one practiced a religion. If you behaved in accordance with his social philosophy, you were on his side. I have recounted the story of one spiritual atheist in the article above, "Thoughts on the Atonement." Inasmuch as Jesus taught a code of behaviour which was the rule book of the Kingdom of God, one is a Christian if one follows that rule. And anyone can do it for it is a code of behaviour and not of belief. Jesus was clearly aware of this when he said that thise who called him Lord would not necessarily become part of the Kingdom of God, but those who lived according to his teachings would. To Jesus it was all a matter of works and not of faith, of how we behave rather than what we believe. The Kingdom of Heaven was concerned with works rather than faith.
Likewise the afterlife is not of necessity a religious sphere. It MAY be so, but it makes no difference to the debate on life after death whether it is or not.
There is a strange attitude among many people to psychic matters which gives away the fact that they have very little respect for the subject.. Suppose for a moment that four people were sharing a railway compartment. One is a barrister, one a surgeon, one a psychical researcher and the other what we might call, for want of a better word, an ordinary man. Now in the conversation the ordinary man would not dream of contradicting either the barrister or the surgeon when the talk turned to a matter which was a part of their particular specialisation. He recognises that in order to argue with them he would need years of intensive training. But on the subject of religion or of psychical research he is quite ready to put in his four pennorth without even having read a single book on the topic. Such, sadly, is the status of these matters in the mind of society as a whole.
The doubter will often say that to believe in life after death is unreasonable because the human consciousness needs a base through which to operate, and as that base is the brain, when the brain is no more then the consciousness must die. To this I would reply that I find it no more difficult to believe that the consciousness can survive death and live a discarnate life than to believe that the collection of elements which make up the human body and brain can produce the works of Shakespeare or the philosophy of Socrates. We accept such things because they can be seen. From a mixture of often-common elements such as hydrogen and carbon come the sublimest thoughts of the human race. It is not logical, it is not reasonable, but it occurs. We cannot explain such a phenomenon but we know that it exists. It is no more difficult for me to believe in the afterlife`than to believe in the above-mentioned occurrence.
Strange things are ever around us, and indeed within us, We accept the most extraordinary things because the evidence for their reality is incontrovertible, but manifestations which are less common often remain in the arena of faith/doubt. The poet and mystic William Blake was once asked if he believed in miracles. His reply was "I believe in nothing else."How right he was! The whole Universe is full of miracles, indeed the Universe itself is a great miracle. Sadly, our sense of wonder has been greatly dimmed and it needs the occasional visionary or poet to bring us back to realities from what we have fondly BELIEVED to be realities,
One great wonder of science has impressed me very much because of the awe-inspiring nature of its functioning. It has been a great prop to my faith. Let me share it with you. Hydrogen is a very volatile substance which flares up furiously when ignited. Its fellow element Oxygen stimulates combustion. To apply these two elements to a fire with the hope that they will extinguish it is surely crazy for they would certainly act quickly to change a mishap into a disaster. Yet apply them to the conflagration is exactly what we do! And, wonder of wonders, they put the fire out! How can that be? They put the fire out because the two substances have combined chemically and produced water. This new compound substance has qualities which are totally opposite to the chemical qualities displayed by the original. constituent elements.. I say to you, if you can believe that water puts fires out then you can believe anything!
We need to be very careful, however, not to fall into the trap of believing that because something CAN exist, it DOES. Our belief in the afterlife must rest on direct evidence. This raises the question of where we should look for clues. Three categories of evidence appear to me to provide most of the case. My three chosen topics are: -
There are other aspects which are very useful, such as reincarnation, but I think that my chosen three will make the case very well.
Before going on to examine the evidence provided by the topics listed above I will state the circumstances which first started me on the quest for evidence of life after death. It happened on a cold, foggy Christmas Eve, a day which seemed to be competing with the famous Christmas Eve depicted in Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." for like that memorable though fictitious occasion the fog seemed to thicken and the cold to intensify as the day went on. After an early lunch I set off for the church, as I had a duty to perform. At two o'clock I was to conduct the funeral service of a ten-year-old boy who had been the victim of a road accident.
Bad enough on any day of the rolling year, but on Christmas Eve ------ .
I completed the service in the church and led the small white coffin out to the waiting hearse. Some teenage revellers were approaching, their none too tuneful but nevertheless enthusiastic voices clearly affected by a few lunchtime drinks. They were celebrating the blessed season with a popular song, but as they saw the coffin they fell silent, One young teenage girl broke into uncontrollable tears and muttered "Look, it's just a kid. And it's Christmas.". A similar reaction was encountered all the way to the cemetery about a mile distant. People stood still, men removed their headgear, two sailors in the uniform of the Royal Navy came to attention and saluted. When we reached the graveyard darkness was falling in more ways than one.
A little while later, as we were comforting ourselves with a cup of tea, Vincent's parents asked me if there was any solid evidence for life after death. The question threw me as I knew of nothing in that line which could possibly be called "solid"or "evidential." I trotted out the old lines taught to students at Theological College, but I was bitterly conscious that those words were not comforting the bereaved parents’ one iota. I could talk about Heaven and the Pearly Gates until the cows came home, but where was the evidence? I had none to offer and felt very inadequate.
There was, needless to say, a sense of great sorrow in that house on Christmas Eve. It was my professional duty to offer relief and comfort and I failed the test. Not only did I fail, but it was a resounding and dismal failure. The Christian Church failed those grieving parents. I was reminded of the bitter comment by the Twentieth century poet the Reverend Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy:
Oh grave, where is thy victory?
It was certainly there in Vincent's home as " ----- sadly fell our Christmas Eve."
That night I made up my mind. I would earnestly seek for evidence. My quest was not to find evidence to support an already held belief but to show whether or not there was any basis for that belief, whether there was actually life after death. I even resolved that if no satisfactory evidence was available then I would leave the ministry. The survival of the human spirit after this life was central to the Christian message, yet it seemed that the Church could not back-up its claims in that direction with hard facts.
Mediumship seemed to be a good starting point, not least because the messages given could often be capable of testing. If, for example, a medium tells a sitter that a man who passed to the Spirit World six months previously was concerned because his will had not been found, but that this could be put right if the searchers looked in the disused garden shed where the missing document would be found wrapped in polythene under a pile of sacks in the far left hand corner, then I would regard the message, as long as it proves to be true of course, as good evidence of survival. Had the sitter been told to go to the solicitors who acted for the deceased and the will would be found in their vaults the statement would have no evidential value at all as it could have been merely a lucky guess.
I started to attend services at Spiritualist Churches, an activity which was made easier because of the tendency of many such causes to hold services on weekday evenings as well as on Sunday. It was not made any easier, however, by the attitude of many in the orthodox churches. I was accused of being in league with the Devil, of refusing to let the dead rest in peace and of several other abominations. With regard to a Satanic connection my response was that if it was acceptable to speak to Uncle Joe five minutes before he died, what transforming power could death possess which made it evil to speak to him five minutes after he passed through the veil. My detractors were also told that from what I had observed in the meetings which I had attended there was no question at all of raising the dead. The medium did not go and seek out the spirits, they came to him or her. I also mentioned that Jesus seems to have acted as a medium when on the Mount of the Transfiguration he spoke with the materialised spirit forms of Moses and Elijah. "Ah" objected one of my opponents at this .point, "It was all right for Jesus to do it because he was divine, but it is evil if carried out by a mere mortal."
What sort of ethical standard could possibly bring about a situation which makes something right for one person and wrong for another? It seems to me that the very employment of such an argument reveals the weakness of the case of those who attack Spiritualism.
At any rate off I went to as many Spiritualist churches as could be managed. Now, many people have strange ideas about what goes on in the services conducted by Spiritualists. They seem to think that the places are full of wandering ghosts and the mediums are women of about a hundred and ten years of age and bedecked with hundreds of beads (usually black ones.) It would come as a great surprise to them to discover that there is anything but an atmosphere of weirdness and that the medium might well be a young lady in her twenties wearing a bright summer dress. The services are not unlike those encountered in orthodox churches, at least in their format; there will be hymns, Bible readings and a sermon, although the latter is usually called "The Philosophy." What is different about the services is the clairvoyance. Here messages purporting to emanate from discarnate spirits are conveyed to the appropriate sitter by the medium. It was this part of the services which interested me, for here was the possibility of receiving a message which was evidential.
Spiritualists will be the first to admit that there is a good deal of poor mediumship around as well as much good stuff. Like preachers and speakers, doctors and plumbers, bakers and hedge cutters, mediums vary greatly in quality. It was necessary for me to sit through a lot of evidentially poor stuff but I kept telling myself that a message which says that the sitters great grandfather in spirit sends his love, while having zero evidential value, may well be a genuine communication. Patience is needed if one is seeking evidence through clairvoyance. I was kept going in my quest because from time to time messages came through which were highly evidential. Gradually I bean to be persuaded that not only was there life after death but communication between the two levels of existence was possible.
My wife joined me in many of these visits and it was on one where we were both present that we met Stephen O'Brien. He was the visiting medium at a Spiritualist church in Swansea and although neither my wife or myself received a message through him that evening we were deeply impressed by his performance, by the way members of the congregation accepted the accuracy of what Stephen conveyed. After the service we sought Stephen out to congratulate him. From that meeting in the Swansea church some twenty five years ago sprang an abiding friendship. Just a few months ago, when my wife took the inevitable journey to the Spirit World we were greatly privileged to have Stephen take part in her funeral service.
There was one occasion when Stephen's mediumship saved me from making a disastrous mistake. My wife and I had a private sitting with him at a time when I felt very strongly that my work in the pastorate where I then was had reached its end. The previous day I had written to the Church headquarters asking whether there were any current vacancies. At the sitting Stephen tuned in gradually to the Spirit World and then suddenly asked "Have you any connections with Bradford?"
A few days later the expected letter arrived from Headquarters. The General Secretary advised me that there were two current vacancies, one in Bradford and one in Liverpool! A vacancy in Leeds had just been filled.
There could be no doubt as to which was the best prospect on the surface. The Liverpool post had a tied house which went with the job, and it was far superior to the equivalent dwelling in Bradford. Also it was a church on its own whereas that at Bradford had responsibility for four small sister churches. This meant a great deal of additional work for the minister and he or she would not receive one penny in extra pay for the extra work. The arguments flashed one by one on the screen of my mind. No doubt about it, everything was in favour of the Lancashire appointment rather than that in Yorkshire. Well, almost everything. On the Bradford side of the argument was the message from the Spirit World, and what a powerful message that turned out to be. Like Aaron's serpent in the Bible which swallowed up all the other snakes, (Exodus, chapter 17, verses 8 to 13) the Spirit message devoured and destroyed all the telling points in favour of Liverpool. I finally made my decision entirely on the basis of the information which Stephen had passed on, applied for the Bradford post and got it. Thus began a very happy ministry covering more than half a decade. A colleague who applied for and obtained the Liverpool job was very unhappy there and left after a very short ministry for fresh woods and pastures new in the South.
"There will be laughter in Bradford but tears in Liverpool." That was one of the most influential and evidential messages which I have ever received.
Another phenomenon which struck me as a likely source of information about life after death was ghosts. When first turning to this subject in my quest for information about the alleged afterlife I was unaware that the majority of reported phantoms are manifestations of the living and not of the dead. That did not seem to me to matter. If the human spirit can externalise from the body under certain conditions, such as out-of-the-body and near death experiences, then it may be possible for it to wander around if conditions with the physical body are suitable, if the subject was dozing in a favourite armchair for example. The "ghost" of a living person may prove to be useful evidence for the existence of the soul.
But do ghosts exist or are they the results of an over-active imagination?
People who know of my interest in the Psychic world often ask me if I have ever seen a ghost and they are frequently puzzled by my reply which is "I think so." Surely, they say, you know whether or not you have had the experience. But in reality it is not always so. Some ghosts appear as solid and real as the people round about - the traditional idea of the ghost always being transparent, greyish and unmistakable will not hold water. I have seen two entities which were probably ghosts but both appeared as solid flesh and bone, their true nature having to be deduced from other factors.
The first spirit manifested during the early months of my search for evidence of an afterlife. In my congregation at the time I had a previous minister of the church who was well into his eighties. The most remarkable thing about him was his very distinctive form of dress. He wore clothes associated with a long past era and his most outstanding sartorial feature was his clerical collar. He wore the widest collar which clerical outfitters were able to supply, I believe it was two and a half inches in width. Let us call this remarkable man Harry Jones.
I got to know Harry well and called on him frequently. He was an interesting man with many tales to tell. Then Harry died, quite suddenly. I took part in his funeral service at Thornhill Crematorium in his native Cardiff, sharing the service with other ministers. But we had not seen the last of Harry it seems. I first got wind that something unusual was occurring when two elderly ladies from the congregation called to see me to discuss a problem which they had. After a little small talk they came to the point.
Then about ten days later I saw Harry.
The route home from the area in which my pastoral visitation had taken place that day took me along the pavement beside a busy dual carriageway.. The house where Harry had lived was in a cul-de-sac off that main road on the opposite side from where I was, and when almost opposite that road I saw him. As my two elderly parishioners had said, there was no mistaking him. The old-fashioned clothes, the extra thick clerical collar, all were there. The figure turned into the road where Harry had lived, and because I had not quite gained the point just opposite the entrance to the cul-de-sac I lost sight of it. When a few seconds later I was able to see down the road there was no sign at all of Harry. It would have been quite impossible for him to have reached the first point of exit from the street in the few seconds during which he was out of my sight.
I am well aware that my sighting of Harry could be put down to the imagination, especially as I was in the vicinity of his old house, but that objection could not apply to my first informants. It is clearly highly unlikely that both of them would have had the same flight of fancy at precisely the same moment.
My other ghostly experience occurred on the main concourse of London's Victoria station. It was early afternoon, a comparatively quiet time at the terminus. I had arrived on a suburban train and was making my way out of the station to catch a number 185 bus to East Dulwich when I saw a very elderly lady walking towards me. Like Harry she was dressed in the garments of a long bygone era, but her most noticeable feature was her extreme paleness, so marked that I wondered if she might be ill. She walked past me only about a foot away and as soon as she had passed I instinctively looked round to see if she was all right.
She was not there.
I looked around the concourse. There were only a few people nearby at the time, she could not possibly have disappeared into the crowd for there was no crowd. She had definitely vanished.
I sometimes wonder whether those two ghostly people manifested in order to give me some of the evidence which I was seeking.
Out-Of The Body Experiences (OBE's) occur when someone is conscious that the thinking and feeling part of them has separated itself from the physical body and is typically watching that body from a position above it. This may be a sign of approaching death, in which case the phenomenon is known as a Near Death Experience (NDE) but the experience appears to differ little from the non-death situation where the exteriorisation occurs when the subject is healthy. Recent research suggests that the OBE is much more common than has been believed, the lack of past information being due to the unwillingness of many to admit to something that might get them labelled as cranks or even lunatics. This is quite understandable, but it is noted that when serious researchers come along people are more willing to talk about what they have gone through. It seems to me that the OBE and the NDE may well prove to be very valuable tools in the search for life after death, for the extraneous entity often "wanders"around the vicinity and, on returning to the physical body, can give information which is only possible for the subject to know if they have indeed left their bodies. Another feature of this phenomenon is worth noting. Researchers have demonstrated that a very large percentage of the people who undergo OBEs or NDEs change their whole lives They become much more spiritual having become convinced of the reality of another plane of existence.
The similarities of the stories recounted by those who have been fortunate enough to have experienced either of these occurrences is a telling positive point in the estimation of the genuineness of the phenomenon.
Of course it is one thing to accept that the consciousness can be exteriorised from the body and quite another to identify that wandering consciousness with the soul. Nevertheless, if consciousness can exist in a non-corporeal setting then it demonstrates that non-physical life is possible and the argument that the intelligence needs a physical instrument, that is a brain, in order to function is brought to nothing.
As for myself I am now well and truly into the autumn of life. I look around at the world and believe that after I have passed through the veil I shall still exist, still have the consciousness to appreciate the scenery and in due course reincarnate again as a baby somewhere in this wonderful world. I cannot share the plaintive cry of the Welsh poet when he wrote
"Why, Lord, did'st Thou fashion
For me the evidence is clear enough. It is not possible for me to avoid the conclusion that we live on beyond the grave. When the sexton's shovel fills in the earth above our mortal bodies or the slow drawing of the crematorium curtain cuts us off with an apparent finality from loved ones who have gone before us the relationships are suspended but not ended. We shall meet again. This message is not popular with members of the orthodox churches who still put about stories of Heaven and Hell, concepts designed to offer reward or threaten punishment to us earthly sinners. The evidence strongly suggests that the afterlife is not like that, there is no Heaven and no Hell, there is just life hereafter.
In my researches, which now span a period of some thirty five years, I have come to realise that it is the Spiritualist church which carries out the main task of preaching this Gospel, this good news to mankind. I respect, honour and praise them for the good work which they are doing. They take the condemnation of religious folk in the orthodox churches but are not weighed down by it. They seek to comfort those who are bereaved and to provide an effective link between the two levels of existence. I salute them.
In the opening weeks of 1937 the then Archbishop of York, William Temple, set up a Commission to investigate Spiritualism. He did this in response to suggestions from the Dean of Rochester, Doctor Underhill, and the Reverend G. Maurice Elliott, a North London vicar, who persuaded him that the time was right for the church to set up such a Commission. Temple agreed to their suggestion and the body was duly set up. It appears to have been very conscientious and thorough and took over two years to produce its report. Actually it brought forth two reports, a majority one signed by seven of the ten members which was favourable to Spiritualism and believed that there was good evidence for the afterlife, and a minority report by the three remaining members which was unfavourable
The church did not make the report public, later justifying its lack of action by stating that restraints imposed by the war rendered publication difficult. One might respond to this however by pointing out two things. Firstly, the document was on the desks of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York six months before the outbreak of hostilities. Then there is the consideration that in war casualties are inevitable and the publication of the report might have brought comfort to the many bereaved people resulting from the conflict. Later on the Spiritualist movement obtained a leaked copy of the document and published it. The unexpectedly favourable response of the majority of the panel members is another example of the way in which, when people look squarely and honestly at the question of life after death, they more often than not find the evidence persuasive. That is exactly what I have done. We are still obstructed, however, by the cynics and doubters who condemn the whole matter as a lot of bunkum without having investigated it. There is a desperate need for serious research to be carried out on this subject at the highest level.
There is a modern parable about death which I have found beautiful, comforting and inspiring. Let me share it with you.
"I stand on the quayside watching the preparations for the departure of a great and stately vessel. The moment comes when all the preparations are complete and the ship moves away from the quay into the open sea. As time passes she seems to get smaller, but I know that such is not the case. Her diminished size is in me and not in her. She is as large in beam and mast and sail as when I stood beside her on the quayside.
The moment comes when the lovely vessel passes out of sight into the mists of ocean and one at my side says "There, she has gone." But even as those words are spoken eyes on the other shore are watching for her coming, and there are voices ready to take up the joyous cry "Look, here she comes." And such is death."
"This our hope for all that's mortal
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