Catching Up with Professor Stafford Betty
Posted on 14 January 2019, 15:10
When I interviewed Professor Stafford Betty for the June 2006 issue of The Searchlight, a publication of The Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies, he commented that some of his colleagues in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at California State University, Bakersfield, would be happy to see him retire. That was because he dared discuss such subjects as mediumship, near-death experiences, past-life studies, death-bed visions, and other psychic phenomena in his classes – what some of us would consider the “meaningful” subjects. Unfortunately and paradoxically, most of our institutions of “enlightenment” remain in the dark and consider those subjects taboo. “My departmental colleagues are embarrassed by my interest in the paranormal,” he said in that interview, adding that he felt like one of James Joyce’s fictional characters – “a giraffe cropping high leafage among a herd of antelopes.”
Now in his 46th year at CSUB, Betty (below) is teaching only part-time, continuing with his favorite course, “The Meaning of Death.” In cutting back on teaching, he has found more time for writing. He is the author of 11 books, his most recent being Ghost Boy. “It is the story of a clairvoyant 12-year-old boy who sees spirits, especially a girl his own age, and pays a heavy price with his friends and his dad for his suspect ‘gift’,” he explains. “This paranormal love story is full of youthful adventure that will appeal to a ‘young adult’ reader, but the subject matter is adult.” He adds that he is now looking forward to the publication of another novel, a political thriller entitled The War for Islam, due out in June 2019. The book is set a hundred years in the future and offers some interesting paranormal moments.
Betty earned his BS in Math and English at Spring Hill College (1964), his MA in English from the University of Detroit (1966) and his Ph.D. in Theology from Fordham University (1975). I thought it about time to catch up with Professor Betty, so I recently put some questions to him by email.
Do you still meet with the same resistance on the part of the college administration and your colleagues?
Though physically housed with members of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, I’m not allowed to participate in departmental affairs, though there is a movement afoot to bring me back into the fold, led by our new dean. Sadly, though I have more seniority then any faculty member on the campus, and have many publications (eleven books), emeritus status has been denied me two years in a row. But it would be a mistake to think I’m moping. My writing brings me deep satisfaction, and my students keep me hopping.
As I recall, your course, “The Meaning of Death,” was pretty popular in 2006. Are students still interested in such courses?
There is no drop-off of interest. Fundamentalists of every kind (religious and “scientific”) still refuse to take seriously the research, but this is to be expected.
I don’t know if it is possible to generalize in this regard, but do you see students today as being more interested in spirituality, especially the survival issue, than those of 10, 20, or 30 years ago?
It’s about the same. Typically most come into my Death course with very little if any serious thinking about their own death. All they know is that it horrifies them. And it’s that horror, I suspect, that makes my course so popular. Perhaps they hope to get medicine for it, and in fact they often do. By the end of the course it becomes pretty clear that there is powerful evidence for survival and that the afterlife scenarios of the world’s major religions, which we survey, have very little currency with researchers like me. Their favorite books are usually Tuesdays with Morrie and my own book The Afterlife Unveiled.
Has your approach to teaching changed at all over the years?
I no longer teach the courses growing out of my graduate school training. They were my courses on Asian religions, which a younger colleague has taken over. My continuing interest in the great philosophical questions—Does God exist? Are we immortal beings or destined for extinction? Are we accountable for our actions in a world beyond death? To what extent are we free to choose our actions?—don’t get as much play as they used to. That’s because the department deleted Philosophy of Religion from the curriculum—an immensely unwise move designed to silence the answers I would give if the course continued to exist. We have about 20 philosophy majors out of an enrollment of 10,000, a pitifully low figure. It’s not any better in religious studies. That’s because no one dares to wrestle with the Great Questions. They just say what the religions believe without ever asking if there is any evidence for the beliefs. Ours is a thoroughly post-modern curriculum, with anyone’s claim to truth automatically suspect and not worth taking seriously.
Of all the phenomena you discuss in your classes and have written about in your books, which one has influenced you the most? Any particular author or title you’d like to mention?
Without a doubt the descriptions of the world to come in channeled literature have most influenced me. Most summers my wife and I do a walking tour in a foreign country. Two summers ago it was Japan. This past summer it was Ireland. Before taking off I study up on these countries; I want to know what to expect, and I enjoy this prepping. It’s the same with the world to come, except that it’s more important. The trip will provide more adventure, and the duration of the trip will be longer—much longer! People think me odd because I am so fascinated with this trip, while I think them odd because they apparently have so little interest in it. I wrote my three books on the afterlife to drum up interest in it and get them better prepared for it.
Which guidebooks have I found most helpful? There are so many! Three come immediately to mind: Cummins/Myers’ The Road to Immortality, Graves/Banks’ Testimony of Light, and Moses/Imperator’s Spirit Teachings. Such a great harvest of insight and inspiration come from books like these.
Do you receive much feedback from readers of your books?
The feedback from my books comes mainly from the reviews posted on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. But I also hear from people who write me out of the blue, both to my school email address and to my academia.edu account. It’s surprising how much correspondence I get from people who are bothered by spirits of a dark nature. That’s probably due to the chapter on spirit attachment in my book When Did You Ever Become Less by Dying?, but also to the article I wrote on possession around the world that I posted on academia.edu. five years ago. It’s received over 16,000 hits!
What’s ahead for you?
Fiction. My three nonfiction books—the two mentioned above and Heaven and Hell Unveiled—contain enough of what I have to say about the afterlife to satisfy me. Mission accomplished. But how does one make all this information come alive for the masses? In 2011, I published a novel The Imprisoned Splendor about an atheist philosopher who dies in a plane crash and discovers to his amazement that he’s still alive and unprepared for what is to come. I enjoyed writing that novel, as I had enjoyed writing others on a different subject years before. Now I’m at it again.
What’s this one about?
The Afterlife Counselor, the title of the novel I’m close to finishing, tells the story of a man who was a counselor in earth life and continues along the same path in the afterworld. He works in the trenches of the Shadowlands, helps fundamentalist Christians and Muslims adjust to their surprising new environments, and participates in the construction of an afterworld for an exoplanet with a primitive population. These and many more adventures keep him busy, but there comes a time when he has to look out for his own interests. Will he continue working in the delightful astral realm he found himself in when he died (in Chapters 1 and 2), or will he “graduate” into a higher world, or will he “repeat the grade” and reincarnate on Earth? I haven’t quite made up my mind yet! I have loved writing this book, but what is to follow I can’t say.
Any chance you’ll return to non-fiction?
For more information on The Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies, see http://ascsi.org/
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog post: January 28