PROFESSOR DARES TO DISCUSS ‘LIFE AFTER DEATH’ IN HIS CLASSES
Posted on 30 May 2011, 14:48
Dr. L. Stafford Betty is not your stereotypical religion professor. He has an open mind, is interested in Truth, and dares to examine academically taboo subjects like mediumship, near-death experiences, past-life studies, death-bed visions, and, most importantly, the subject they all lead to, life after death.
“The subject seems to be surrounded by an aura of disrepute,” Betty writes in his soon-to-be-released book, The Afterlife Unveiled. “We can talk about God, we can talk about ethics all day long, but the one subject that should most concern us – because everything else ultimately rests on it – is off limits among the smarter set where I work. I get the sense that faith in life after death is OK, but just don’t talk about it, don’t admit it. It’s unsavory! Why is this?”
Betty says he thinks he has the answer. “Among people who like to think of themselves as smart and well informed, such as you find among professors at a secular university, the materialist assumptions of the physical sciences color almost everything else,” he explains. “And since an afterlife is immaterial, at least in the way science understands matter, my colleagues are reluctant to admit they believe in it even if they do. Among them are two Catholics in the biology department, and one is a long-time friend. He deflects every attempt by prying students to learn if he is a man of faith, and in fact he implies that he is not. This is a man who loves his religion; but he is afraid to admit it. He doesn’t want to look like a fool. He doesn’t want to appear disreputable.”
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 recently put some questions to him.
Professor Betty, what prompted you to write about the afterlife?
“As a teacher I enjoy making people aware of the important facts of their existence, especially when the facts are positive and tend to produce happiness. There are few facts more positive, both for me and most people I know, than our surviving death, followed by a positive afterlife experience. This is good news indeed, and I wrote my book to share it with the reader. This was my primary motivation.
“But there was a second reason. I look around me and see a society – especially our youth – lacking a sense of purpose. ‘Just drifting’ is a good word to describe countless Americans. It doesn’t occur to them that the correct question to ask themselves is not ‘What can I get out of life?’ but ‘What does life demand from me? What can I give to life?’ The habit of giving doesn’t come easy. To become a giver, you need special incentive. A single-life perspective supplies no such incentive. Instead it seduces us into thinking that we’d better get all we can now because this is the only chance we’ll ever get. Postpone gratification? Why should we? Lie and cheat to get ahead? Why not, since there is no cosmic accountability? What’s to stop us as long as we take care not to get caught? So we become hedonistic, sometimes ruthless selfniks.
“A plausible afterlife belief with an emphasis on accountability is one of the keys to rearranging our attitudes to life. And my research tells me that we are accountable for everything we do, say, and perhaps even think. So it was time I helped make this very good news public. Thus the book. There are other reasons, but these two are the main ones.”
How does what you write about the afterlife differ from that of orthodox religions?
“I scan the various afterlife beliefs – from the Ten Hells of the Chinese Yama Kings to the interrogation in the tomb by Islam’s angels of death to the Buddhist descriptions of paradise in Amida’s Pure Land – and know I am reading mythology. At the literal level they are implausible. But as metaphors they serve a useful purpose. They tell believers they are accountable for their actions; they are the carrot and the stick that inspire and goad them to virtuous action.
“But they sound like what they in fact are: works of imagination by men who have not been to the places they dare to describe. We are looking for something more reasonable, more just, more attractive, more bracing, more challenging – a place or environment where life is lived more intensely and freely, with our better angels in the vanguard, but where progress does not come cheap.
The Hell of conventional Christianity makes a monster of God, while the usual depiction of Heaven is either vague or medieval—not the sort of place most of us would like to spend more than a day or two.
Why do you think orthodox religions are so opposed to accepting the teachings that we get from mediumship, near-death experiences, past-life studies, and other phenomena?
“If the afterlife found in my book were to become generally accepted, scripture would be discredited. The heaven and hell of the Bible cannot compete with the well fleshed out, more plausible worlds described by spirits who know what they are talking about because they are there. Priests and rabbis worked hard for the right to speak of ultimate things and don’t want to be bested by unlicensed, invisible “authorities” with whom they can’t compete. Priests protect their turf just like the rest of us.”
Will you use the book in any of your classes?
“I’ve scheduled the book for my ‘Introduction to Religion’ class starting in September, and I’m using a section of the book this quarter in my ‘Meaning of Death’ class. I don’t know how well it will fly with freshmen and sophomores, but I’m about to find out. My guess is that they will love it. After all, they, like us, are curious about what follows death. When reminded, they have no trouble acknowledging, young though they are, that they, too, will die someday. And many of them have friends who have already died, some by suicide.”
I know you were using Helen Greaves’ Testimony of Light, which is the subject of Chapter 6 in your book, in your classes at one time. Do you still use it? If so, what has been the general reaction of your student to the messages?
“I”ve used it many times and with considerable success. I think it’s the single most fascinating and inspiring account of conditions on the Other Side I’ve come across. But I won’t use it anymore. The reason is that, as good as it is, it represents only one elderly woman’s experience. By contrast, my book represents seven different experiences, including those of a 20-year-old Texan, with whom many of my students will better relate.”
Do you get a lot of resistance from the university administration or colleagues for your unorthodox teachings?
“My former dean admitted to me, after I pushed him a little, that he and other administrators think some of my interests are pretty far out. As for my colleagues, most are embarrassed by my interests but cowed by my success as an author. Sometimes I even publish articles in journals they approve of.”
As I recall, your “Meaning of Death” class was fairly popular among students several years ago. Is it still popular?
“Yes. I’m teaching it now to over 50 students. The dean capped it at 55.”
In a nutshell, what is the “Meaning of Death” as you understand it?
“I’ve thought a lot about this question but will try to keep it short. I believe death was created by the Source (God, if you will) as a means, perhaps the very best means, of bringing forth noble character in us.
“Let’s begin with an analogy. What do we most want for our child? Good looks, smarts, popularity, wealth, power, fun, happiness? Nothing wrong with these, but are they what we most want? Not if we are wise. What we most want, or should want, is noble character, virtuous habits, plain old goodness. Another way to put it: What do we most admire in others? The answer would be, or should be, the same. Accordingly, what would God want in us, his earthly children? The same.
“But nobility of character does not come cheap. Unless morally challenged, we don’t grow – just as spoiled children don’t mature. So He (sorry) challenges us continually. And we experiment: We learn what works and what doesn’t, what brings us praise and what brings us censure, what counts as sensitivity and what counts as cruelty, what keeps us alive and what can kill us. God has designed our world to be a moral gymnasium. We are souls in training. Some athletes prefer to play teams they can beat, but others want stiffer competition. If we are wise, we will not wilt under the pressure of the ‘stiffer competition’ – the rejection by the one we love, the being passed over at work, the cancer that has become a death sentence – but will fight on. Trusting in God, we will bear in mind that the greater the suffering, the greater the potential for growth. God has given us a world full of physical danger and moral challenge lived out under the constant threat of death, and He hopes that we will use our freedom to choose the good over the bad, and do it habitually, in spite of tremendous temptation to capitulate and give up. To do so is to bring value, excellence, and ultimately joy into the universe, and that is what God wants. It’s what we should want too.
“The Protestant philosopher John Hick, whose masterly book Evil and the God of Love is our generation’s best expression of this point of view, wrote: ‘It would seem, then, that an environment intended to make possible the growth in free beings of the finest characteristics of personal life must have a good deal in common with our present world.’ And that would include death.
“As I see it, Death is a forcing house that pressures us to grow our souls. That is its meaning.”
Professor Betty’s book, The Afterlife Unveiled, can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com
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.
I am a NDE’er, and have been associated with others for years,
Daelene Schmidt, Wed 29 Jun, 00:27
I think the best comment on the matter was made by C.G.Jung,famous psycholanalyst, who experienced a NDE, but also said.“Everyone should become acquainted with Death”. “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections”,his auto buography.
If you know Death it cannot be used as social control.I no l no longer fear Death, very freeing.
Dr. Betty’s “meaning of death” is one of the best I have ever read. How I wish I’d had a teacher like him years ago. His students are most fortunate, and now the rest of us will be, too, with the publication of his book.
Suzanne Giesemann, Fri 3 Jun, 17:45
Fabulous article and interview! I have similar feelings about why so many of these topics (NDEs, life after death, etc.) have been ignored by most of the mainstream media for so many years. But with the Internet the scene is changing. There are so many more websites devoted to near-death experiences, for example, and many more videos appearing in places like YouTube. It’s exciting! So if academics spend more time addressing these topics, it will possibly start showing up more in mainstream places. Yay!
Joshua Bagby, Thu 2 Jun, 20:56
Dear Dr. Betty!
I would like you to know that you are not alone – I have the feeling that we will be hearing more and more stories like this.
I’d like also to ask whether you have heard of Allan Kardec. He was too a man of science and investigated the subject thoroughly 150 years ago.
The result is a set of substantial books, a result of research and empirical observation, that explains everything.
The Spirits’ Book is the best place to start, but you can download them all from here:
Paula, Thu 2 Jun, 13:07
I meant to give my Email address for any who agree with my above comment ...
Richard Brannon, Wed 1 Jun, 19:53
As a spiritual medium of over thirty years, Dr. Betty has stated very clearly what the spirit world has always taught about the true purpose of material life.
The paranormal researcher Allan Kardec in the 1850s received spirit communications over 150 years ago and this information was published in several important books and are still studied to this day by millions around the world, that support Dr. Betty’s conclusions.
Kardec considered this a spiritual science he called Spiritism, and one that “studies the interaction between the material and spiritual worlds and the moral consequences it reveals.”
I congratulate Dr. Betty writing new books for a new generation and having the courage to teach this imformation in college.
I hope his book does very well.
Yvonne Limoges, Wed 1 Jun, 16:38
I would like for the world to read your new book, and attend your University classes!!!
Richard Brannon, Wed 1 Jun, 03:13
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