Spirituality Vs. Skepticism
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. After reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion mid-last year, I spent up to last week mulling its contents, and writing about them. It’s a powerful, mind-opening book, but I was left feeling ever-more bereft about Dawkins’ belief that humans are truly alone, that there is no supreme being and that when you close your eyes for the last time, that’s it: no more you.
At the beginning of last week I was thinking I would search out other reasoning, alternative views to Dawkins’. Was it chance that I walked into a bookstore in Kuta and on opening the door, straight in my line of vision, perched below the cashier, was Life after Death: The Book of Answers, by Deepak Chopra? I went over, picked it up and bought the book.
Because of the American pop-guru celebrity surrounding Chopra, I had never purchased any of his material. But I knew the moment I saw it that I wanted this tome.
Naturally, Life after Death is poles apart from The God Delusion. The back cover of Life imparts: “This is the book that Dr. Chopra has been preparing to write his entire life. In it, he considers the theory that death is an illusion of the senses and that the soul survives in an ongoing spiral of refinement, ending in enlightenment.”
That’s nice, and comforting, but as Dawkins, a scientist and avowed atheist, would swiftly say: “Is it realistic? Where’s the evidence to support such a hypothesis?”
Well, to try and answer in this, his book of answers, Chopra delves into near-death experiences, and recounts tales of those who apparently crossed over to another dimension or existence – leaving the body while still being aware; seeing relatives who had died; being pulled by or bathed in a glorious white light; sitting on the lap of God.
Chopra intriguingly postulates that the afterlife of each person is created by their life experience and thoughts. So that a devout Christian may experience the traditional version of Heaven and a Muslim may encounter whatever it is her or she had been taught to expect, and so on for Hindus and Buddhists and others. (For atheists, a consciousness in a nothingness?)
Dawkins would argue that all that is “in the mind,” that it is playing games or rerunning scenarios as the physical functions shut down, as a way of consoling the person about to die. But in one case, Chopra writes of a doctor whose patients were clinically dead, flatlined and with no detectable brain activity, but who minutes later sprang back to life with accounts of near-death experiences. How were these people having this experience if there was nothing going on in their brain? (One example is given in detail, that of artist Mellen-Thomas Benedict, who died in 1982 only to come back to life an hour and a half later, whereafter he said he euphorically experienced mankind as being connected into one and that the true universe was revealed to him. For more: www.mellen-thomas.com.)
Chopra writes: “What [Dr. Pim van Lommel] marvels most at, however, are those reports of consciousness in the absence of brain activity. Years afterward this paradox fills him with awe: ‘At that moment, these people are not only conscious; their consciousness is even more expansive than ever. They can think clearly, have memories going back to their earliest childhood and experience an intense connection to everything and everyone around them. And yet the brain shows no activity at all!’”
He says that death may be more of a chance for living than an Earth-bound existence ever was. “The soul finds itself much freer to choose “on the other side,” and the possibilities – so the rishis (Hindu seers) declare – are more interesting than ever.”
I hope so. As a child, I found the notion of eternity ungraspable; it made me dizzy to think of it. Equally I find the concept of nothingness after this life, as Dawkins proposes, disturbing. There may not be any substantive evidence to support either theory, but there certainly is a vast pool of human, unscientific accounts of otherworldly experiences.
Dawkins says there is no God. Chopra says that God, and by extension heaven, is within us and all around us – in the people and things we love. I say don’t give us this consciousness and intelligence to think if it’s redundant. If we can feel, love, delight in the rapture and beauty of all that’s on this planet and beyond, if we can sense vibrations of other existences in different planes or dimensions, if we can live in this material world but not be dictated by it, that may be all the proof we need of a place beyond time and space.