Even if Religion Didn’t Exist There Would be an Afterlife
Posted on 09 May 2023, 14:19
University of Texas philosopher Paul Woodruff recently wrote in an oped, “My death is close. But I do not think of myself as dying.” This is typical of what comes out of philosophy departments these days: You will cease to be at death, so make the most of the present. These are not consoling words, and they are false words.
Countless evidence-based studies that present evidence of an afterlife are now available to anyone who can read. Most academic philosophers shun this evidence. Why is this? Typically male, they might have had a bad experience in church as a teenager or come under the spell of a senior philosopher like Woodruff in college. In short, they have become convinced that belief in an afterlife is religious, and that smart, informed, scientific people have too much self-respect to get seduced by such superstition. They pass on this message to a new crop of vulnerable students in their philosophy classes. The students’ world becomes darker and perhaps frightening. Life’s enchantment dims. Death “grins in at the banquet,” as William James so memorably put it.
The basic mistake our philosophers make is that life after death is a consolation for needy, unscientific, religious people who refuse to confront the evidence that death is the end. In reality, philosophers like Woodruff are the needy people.
They are so dug into their materialist worldview that they refuse to investigate research that contradicts it. They are afraid of getting entangled in a worldview that belongs to a past they “outgrew.”
They are correct, however, to link belief in an afterlife to religion—all religions affirm it—but they fail to distinguish between a religious belief founded on evidence and one spun out of a theological or wish-fulfilling imagination. In other words, they reject good evidence because it’s associated in their minds with religion.
This good evidence is based on contemporary scientific research. Thousands of highly credentialed scientists—physicists, psychologists, doctors, poets, Christians and non-Christians, agnostics, even a few exceptional philosophers, the list goes on and on—are unafraid to look at this evidence.
True scientists read accounts and analyses of the near-death experience and come away with minds opened. They survey the numerous accounts of deathbed visions and rightly conclude they can’t all be explained away as hallucination. They study the vast literature on ghostly apparitions from all over the world and marvel how intelligent men and women can intellectualize them out of existence as if they were all due to a temporary disease of the mind.
These true scientists force themselves to study what perhaps they don’t like: the memories by little children, thousands of them, of a past life that matches the life of a real person.
They look at poltergeist phenomena, much of it utterly unexplainable by conventional material science. They look at evidence that spirits in the afterlife are trying to communicate with us, either through mediums or by radio, telephone, or computer—what researchers call instrumental transcommunication (ITC). They even investigate the unwelcome, frightening evidence of earthbound spirits who attach themselves to targeted souls and inflict real damage.
Finally, they are intrigued by the ability of advanced Alzheimer’s patients with ravaged brains to perk up and momentarily become their old selves shortly before death—impossible to explain by neuroscientists unless they open themselves to the possibility that when the departing spirit loosens its attachment to the diseased brain and is free at last, it can say its proper goodbyes.
I hope it’s clear that none of this evidence is based on religion. Religion affirms some of it and rejects what it doesn’t like, but it doesn’t provide evidence for its truth. If no religion existed on earth, evidence of an afterlife would be unaffected and unimpaired.
Taken together, this evidence, its various strands, all point independently to the same conclusion: Like it or not, fear it or look forward to it, we survive death.
There are many books that tell this story. Most researchers focus on only one of the nine types of evidence mentioned above. I am deeply indebted to them for the in-depth, comprehensive evidence they uncover. For anyone interested in a good survey of all this evidence, I recommend Victor and Wendy Zammit’s A Lawyer Presents the Evidence for the Afterlife, David Fontana’s Is There an Afterlife?, and my own When Did You Ever Become Less by Dying? Afterlife: The Evidence. Michael Tymn’s books and especially his blogs are another source, one I personally treasure, of information on the afterlife.
Paul Woodruff says that he and his philosopher friends worry about death obsessively (“every third thought”). I would too if I had nothing more to look forward to but extinction. I sympathize with him as he lives his remaining days. But I see him as a flawed guide, not someone to impart wisdom, which should be the mission of a philosopher.
Stafford Betty, Professor of Religious Studies, CSUB, is the author of When Did You Ever Become Less by Dying? and Heaven and Hell Unveiled. Stafford’s latest novel, The Afterlife Therapist is published by White Crow Books. His next novel, as yet untitled, will be published in 2023.
Thanks for your blog. I’m new here. I agree completely with what you’re saying.
I find it frustrating to try to awaken people to the evidence. In my experience, they often react defensively rather than with genuine curiosity. I believe that is because the evidence—although it seems like good news to me—threatens their worldview, whether religious or atheist/materialist. In his book, Fringeology, the journalist Steve Volk reports that MRI results show that threats to our worldview activate the amygdala, a primitive part of our brain responsible for processing fear and anger. It is the same part of the brain that responds to threats to our survival. So essentially, we react to threats to our worldview with the same part of our brain that reacts to threats to our life. Of course, this is often not visible on the surface. Instead, you’ll see people offering what sound like “rational” arguments. It’s helpful to see beneath that and recognize that they have become defensive because their worldview has been challenged.
I also want to echo what Michael Tymn mentioned—the fact that even if a person is genuinely curious about the subject, our modern default is to ask professor google or Wikipedia. So the curiosity dies on the vine. It’s a damn shame that those sources are so skewed and propagandized. Ah well.
Final thought. “Paul Woodruff says that he and his philosopher friends worry about death obsessively (“every third thought”).” Yes. Sometimes you will hear atheists/materialists say that such a perspective gives more meaning and value to life—it makes you “embrace the present” and live it fully. I lived as an atheist/materialist for decades, and although there is some truth to that, especially at first (it can be liberating to get loose of a religious framework). But after a while, it starts to feel like pressure. You have to cram everything into this life, because the clock is ticking, and you are moving forward on the conveyor belt to death. It’s also fear-inducing.
It’s strange how they often take pride in this.
They think they are courageously facing “harsh reality,” unlike us weaklings who need our pleasant fantasies. It’s arrogant and condescending.
Anyhow, my usual default is to give up and let them have their ideas. I don’t find arguing with them much use.
Ed Anderson, Sun 2 Jul, 01:46
In the context of contemporary scientific and philosophic resistance to the entire subject of posthumous survival, I’m sure you are aware of the philosopher Neal Grossman’s very valuable paper “Who’s Afraid of Life After Death?” [https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc799144/], which lays out this resistance in copious detail, most notably among supposedly sober, serious-minded academic colleagues, who are revealed to be nothing of the sort.
It is not a new resistance – indeed, Frederic Myers, William James and James Hyslop all complained of encountering the same thing in spades in their own day – but it has certainly not weakened with the passage of a century either. David Fontana, in the introduction to his magisterial “Is There An Afterlife”, comments on exactly the same encounter of resistance to the question. Michael Grosso, quoted in Grossman’s article, comments to similar end. Back when I was first delving into the topic and getting a handle on its broad outlines, I would attempt to engage with friends and family on it only to encounter the same resistance. I eventually learned to shut up about it.
Paul, Mon 22 May, 22:28
Well stated, Stafford. I have so many friends and relatives in that mindset, i.e., they can’t separate the religious teachings from the evidence coming to us from psychical research, and they don’t seem in the least bit interested in even taking a look at it. The few who do show some interest begin with Wikipedia and immediately lose that interest.
Michael Tymn, Fri 12 May, 20:33
It’s often said that religion began as an way to comfort people with stories of heaven. Yet, except for Egypt, the earliest known religions place little emphasis on an afterlife, and what they say about it isn’t comforting. The ancient Mesopotamians (Sumer, Babylon, Assyria) saw the afterlife as a dark pit where souls groaned in distress, occasionally escaping to haunt and possess the living (little distinction was drawn between ghosts and demons). The ancient Hebrews and Greeks had Sheol and Hades, misty realms of forlorn phantoms.
These primitive afterlifes seem to draw mainly on the experiences of fog, darkness, and torment reported in “hellish” NDEs. Why this should be the case, I don’t know.
Michael Prescott, Fri 12 May, 16:53
Your point is well taken Stafford. Of course the afterlife existed beofre religions limited it with rules and regulations. And it exists still despite the strictures of the scientifically minded. Like I’ve said for years: “The afterlife is for everyone and all you have to do to get there is die.”
Gordon Phinn, Fri 12 May, 16:01
Thankfully I discovered the books of Stafford Betty & Michael Tymn. For me the evidence of the afterlife is brilliantly presented. What I notice with some friends is that they simply refuse to read the evidence. Of course, the earth plane is challenging, but I know and feel that the evolution of consciousness will continue to expand on many planes. Thank Dr Betty for your marvelous books. They are both informative and fun.
Andrew Minjiras, Fri 12 May, 15:58
If the argument was merely about religion, I would’ve left the discussion years ago, as well. (Since I grew up in the American deep south, my own NDEs gave me plenty of reason to think outside the grim box of damnation anyway.)
The obstinacy in the face of evidence is mind-boggling. There is a sea of anecdotal reports - thousands of readily accessible NDEs online combined with the rigorous research of Drs. Betty, van Lommel, Long, et al - and it hasn’t been enough to convince the skeptics.
As it is, I’m wondering where the next generation of researchers will come from. And why does it matter? Because the reality of continuing consciousness could change the psyche of the planet and, with it, our very future…
Earth is in need of triage. The sixth great extinction looms. The Doomsday Clock - even if its name sounds like a pre-apocalyptic Rube Goldberg device - screams 90 seconds before midnight.
The notion that we don’t die, fade into dust or go into frozen chrysalis awaiting a deity’s permission to ‘arise’ would be put to eternal rest. Imagine the relief in realizing the separation of death is only temporary, that we all reunite with loved ones from this life and, indeed, even with soul groups that cross all of time itself.
I’d like to add how grateful I am for this blog - for White Crow Books - and for the works of Dr. Betty. In a way, I wonder if their task makes them feel like Sisyphus, except for one thing: each day, the rock is bigger, gathering more proof, case by case.
Is this only a gathering place for believers seeking confirmation? Do curious skeptics come here to find that one piece of truth that will sway them? I hope so. Unlike the choice of one’s faith, I believe the shared knowing of collective, continuing consciousness increases good vibrations among human beings.
We’re on this ride together. The illusion of separateness may be impossible to dispell: perhaps we can all leave breadcrumbs on the path in the form of our own stories and even sharing the links here.
Blessings to all.
Brett Butler, Fri 12 May, 15:48
Amen… er, Well said!
“The students’ world becomes darker and perhaps frightening.” That was my experience when I began, for a while, to believe them, and adopt the super-psi hypothesis to explain the many experiences in my life that pointed to survival. Fortunately, they said so many things were debunked that after a while they stepped on psi phenomena that was slam-dunk real, and I saw through what they were doing (which was to not actually debunk something, but only to declare something “debunked!”)
A doctor would be deemed unethical who tells a person they have a fatal disease, but does not bother to see if it’s true. Yet for all practical purposes, that is what so many academicians have been doing for decades with all of us who, for one reason or another, do not choose to question them.
Father, mother, universe, whatever… forgive them, for they know not what they do!
Lloyd, Fri 12 May, 15:03
I couldn’t agree more with Stafford Betty’s remarks in his essay above. First, that life after death is not a religious idea, and that to be open to the evidence for survival entails some kind of religious belief. Second, that there is an abundance of evidence pointing toward survival. Nothing seems odder to me than the superstitious fear that some people have of even looking at the evidence. My guess is that their fear of death is so pervasive they don’t want to think about it all all, even if the discussion is about surviving death. A terrible bind to be in.
Michael Anthony Grosso, Fri 12 May, 14:12
An excellent analysis Stafford. I really like your point that “If no religion existed on earth, evidence of an afterlife would be unaffected and unimpaired”. Our friend Michael Roll used to put it “The Afterlife is a fact of physics which has nothing to do with religion.”
Wendy Zammit, Fri 12 May, 13:51
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