Whistling past the graveyard

"Whistling past the graveyard" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

Michael Newton, Destiny of Souls: New Case Studies of Lives Between Lives

Mr. Newton, a California-certified "Master Hypnotherapist," takes clients into the "deeper theta ranges of hypnosis" where they purportedly are conduits for various spirits. He explains how spirits use energy beams to communicate with us, and how the living can also use them. For example, a married couple "told me they combine their energy on the California freeways to push cars out of the fast line in front of them when they are in a hurry. When I asked if they tailgate, they said, 'No, we just direct a combined beam to the back of the driver's head and then fork the beam to the right (middle lane) and back again. They claim that over 50 percent of the time they are successful."

Howard Storm, My Descent Into Death

This story of an atheist who has a "near-death experience" and comes to believe in a New Age Jesus starts out in a gripping way. It concludes with Jesus and angels showing the author the world 200 years from now after New Age thinking has triumphed: "People raised food by sitting next to plants and communing with them. In a few minutes they could harvest mature fruits and vegetables.... Collectively, all the people of the world will control the weather. The climate will be regulated by the collective will of humankind ... all people will be able to communicate telepathically."

Comparative religion approaches

Colin Murray Parkes, Pittu Laungani, & Bill Young, eds., Death and Bereavement Across Cultures

Excellent chapters on Buddhism and Islam show the terror beneath the surface of these religions. Uwe P. Gielen tells a story of a Tibetan Buddhist farmer who has meditated occasionally and gone on pilgrimages but has not gone through the intensive discipline of a monk. During the six weeks after death, his spirit is blown around in a frightening series of interactions with phantoms who appear to cut off his head, rip out his heart, drink his blood, eat his flesh, and gnaw his bones. Desperate to find a womb that will give him shelter and peace, his spirit enters a woman's body as she is having intercourse and so is united with the new creation. While he is given another opportunity, the lesson is that he should have meditated more so that he would have been able, after death, to recognize ultimate reality: "From the Buddhist point of view, the person has then wasted his or her entire life and must begin all over again. What a waste of time!" Gerdien Jonker's chapter on Islam shows the power of the local religious leader, the imam, over not only the living but the reputation of the dead. "As soon as the last foot has resounded on the grave, as soon as silence has settled, the deceased will wake up and receive a visit, or so most people think." Two angels enter the grave and ask the deceased to state his faith in Allah, Muhammad, the Quran, Mecca, and his imam. The dead person cannot use his mouth or hands to answer, but the imam dismisses all the mourners, waits by the grave alone, and calls the deceased, who is supposed to show that all is well "by hitting his head with a bump against the wooden board." The mourners from a distance are happy when the imam calls only once, and purportedly hears the head bump-but the imam may also boom out the name of the dead 10 or even 20 times, after which people say, "No good."

Christopher Jay Johnson & Marsha G. McGee, eds., How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife

Not as good as the previous book, but Anne Pearson's essay on Hinduism points out the great fear of dying in the religion's early texts, along with an obsessive search for the rituals and esoteric knowledge that supposedly can conquer death. It's also intriguing that the chapters on non-Christian religions state what those religions teach, but the chapters on Christian denominations seem to announce doctrine by public-opinion poll. "Among Lutherans there is considerable diversity of opinion about how death should be interpreted," we are told: "Some Presbyterians have moved toward the belief that ultimately the love of God will prevail.... The vast majority of United Methodists believe in life after death."

Howard M. Spiro, Mary G. McCrea Curnen, & Lee Palmer Wandel, eds., Facing Death: Where Culture, Religion, and Medicine Meet

This is the least useful of the three sets of essays about various religious traditions, but it includes interesting insights such as this one by Arthur Imhof: "Along with the increase of our earthly life expectancy there has been a totally different, countervailing development. Because of the loss of our belief in eternal life, our lives have become infinitely shorter." This volume also shows how Muslims took the Christian concept of the Last Judgment and heightened the drama: "As human beings pour out of their graves, naked and dazzled, they are driven to the concourse of the Last Judgment, a smooth and white plain where they must stand in the blazing heat of the sun, streaming perspiration, waiting three hundred years without food or water."


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