After Death Dangles Answers to the Only Important Question
Supposed you walked in to meet the oncologist who’d completed your cancer screening, and he spent 20 minutes telling you what strong, healthy teeth you had? And how he admired the car which you’d parked outside his office. And how he’d enjoyed the pet photos he saw you post on Facebook.
You might start to get … impatient. Maybe scared and angry. If he kept up his dawdling, you might even blurt out something like, “Yeah, but none of that matters if I’m on the fast track to death! So doctor, tell me … do I have terminal cancer?”
And then he answered like Dr. Leo Spaceman on TV’s classic 30 Rock: “We have absolutely no way of knowing. Medicine isn’t a science, you know! Would you like some erectile dysfunction gummies? They’re free!”
Doctors Freud, and Darwin, and Spaceman
Dr. Leo Spaceman is more than just a brilliant comic character. In fact, he’s a perfect stand-in for all our secular sciences, from the “hard” ones such as physics to the “soft” ones like psychology, when faced with only question that really matters: Do our lives endure and have meaning, or are they just multiplied by zero when our brain waves flatline, and eager doctors harvest our useable organs?
Doktors Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking prove no more helpful in the end than Dr. Spaceman.
You can pile up a hugely impressive number, even rope in infinity, on one side of the equation. But multiply it by zero and you still get … zero. That’s the math problem each one of us will face, sooner or later.
The Great God Pan Is Dead
It was easier, in a sense, before Christianity. Pagans were able to cobble together a sufficient sense of meaning for their lives by imagining some vague sense of immortality … in the form of an heroic reputation, or at least of thriving descendants.
But then Christ came and dangled the offer of something much vaster: real, personal immortality, with forgiveness of sins, purification and healing, and eternity spent in communion with the good people who we’d loved, in the presence of God. Or judgment for our unrepented sins and eternal punishment, with the devil and all his angels.
We’d have to study 2,000 years of intellectual history to understand all the highways and byways along which our culture traveled, to get to our spot today: Where ever-increasing numbers of Westerners young and old have lost faith in Jesus’ promise, and face the Abyss grasping at straws.
In fact, they’re worse off than pagans. Having heard the prospect of heaven, and waved it off as a daydream, people aren’t even interested in leaving behind a noble reputation, or happy thriving descendants. Compared to genuine, personal immortality, all those old comforts seem cold. Fewer and fewer of us are willing to make our short, finite lives less pleasant, moment to moment, for the sake of those once-loved things.
Jesus ripped out paganism’s heart, and no Wizard of Oz can replace it. A post-Christian world is vastly worse than a pagan one — less noble, less courageous, increasingly incapable of self-sacrifice or even of self-restraint. We’re barely able at this point even to refuse the next Dunkin Munchkin, or OnlyFans strumpet, in our rational self-interest. Comparison with the divine goods of Christianity has hollowed out forever the merely human ones. All that’s left is fleeting pleasure, and the flinch to avoid any pain.
Unless. What if … But no, that’s just a wish-fulfilment fantasy. Isn’t it?
A Life Line to the Drowning
The beautifully made, calmly persuasive, and moving new film After Death throws out a lifeline to a burned-out, despairing culture. It interviews sober, highly-educated Americans who saw the Other Side — whose hearts stopped, brains flat-lined, and bodies went cold. Then by some medical miracle, they were revived. And they tell us, without any evidence of hysteria or superstition, what they saw.
Some of the things they saw puzzle the secular scientists who’ve spent decades poring over their accounts. Patients felt their “selves” (or souls) leave their bodies and hover over operating tables. They report on medical details, or fragments of conversation, or events that occurred in the room—things they had no material way of knowing, with eyes shut, ears plugged, and brains inactive. And yet they saw. They heard. They knew.
Other reports were less scientifically interesting, but much more meaningful. People whose brains were barely operating had complex experiences of remembering long-lost events from their lives—both joyful ones they treasured, and old sins they now regretted. They reported meeting family members, now looking much younger than when they’d known them, and radiantly happy.
Not Just a Light, But Christ
And one after another of these people who’d undergone a Near Death Experience (NDE) recalled encountering a vastly luminous Light that offered them welcome and forgiveness. Some of them saw a recognizable Jesus. Others recall a more cosmic Presence who didn’t yet show His face.
And others (the films says between a third and quarter) who report an NDE saw something quite different: Dark figures trying to drag them down, accusing them of their faults, hustling them ever further into cold, and pain, and punishment. One of those who recalls such an experience was a lapsed Buddhist youth who’d been urged to suicide by a spirit, which goaded him to the brink then abandoned him once he’d died. Another who entered the darkness was an ex-Christian professor, who desperately called on the Jesus he’d known as a child. Who promptly came to rescue him.
Not all the stories are sunny. None of those who’d seen what they now call “heaven” was glad to be forced to return to earth. Each says he felt “more alive” while in the Beyond than they’d ever felt in life, before or since. Some marriages collapsed, under the scorn and skepticism of an unbelieving spouse.
But the overall impact of the scrupulously documented testimonies in After Death is undeniable. There is powerful, empirical evidence that the current scientific consensus is wrong. Just as our physicists can’t explain why the universe “just happened” to turn out designed for life, and biologists can’t explain how life arose from dead chemicals, physicians cannot explain how dead brains have all these experiences.
Dr. Freud and Dr. Spaceman just have to shrug, and it’s time for believers in Jesus to step up with words of hope. Go see this amazing film, which opens this weekend, and drag your skeptical friends. You might just be rescuing them from their secret shame of despair.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”