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Thursday, January 12, 2006


I don’t know why I always do this to myself….. It’s like I actually enjoy angst….

(Well, maybe just a little bit.).

I knew when I picked up Mary Roach’s newest book, “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife,” that I was in for trouble. This new work sets out to see if there is any physical, scientific evidence to support life after death.

By virtue of my personal religious leanings, it could be assumed that I believe in an afterlife. I guess I do. Afterall, what is the point of religious conviction if not to somehow get to heaven? Suck up the Creator of the Universe and avoid annihilation. Right? Good stuff.

Nevertheless, without expounding too much, suffice it to say that I have always had a difficult time comprehending “eternal life.” So, it’s a bit of a sensitive subject for me.

I read a lot, and don’t much censor myself. If something is well-written, or thought provoking, or simply highly entertaining, I’ll read it. But this exposes me to all sorts of things that challenge my thinking, leading to many sleepless nights. Challenges to faith, politics, parenting, safety, and sexuality, just to name a few, occur on a frequent basis.

As far as “Spook” goes, I was right to worry about my reaction to reading it. Though a thoroughly enjoyable book, a little bit of pain and discomfort is exactly what I felt upon finishing.

“Spook” is Roach’s second book, following her hit, “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” In my own macabre, gross-out kind of way, I loved “Stiff.” She infused just the right amount of humor to diffuse the “yucky” parts, and enough tenderness to avoid being irreverent towards the dead.

Initially, I was excited about reading “Spook,” but a little nervous too. I gathered from “Stiff” that Roach is not a particularly religious person, and with “Spook” I worried that she would be deliberate in her efforts to debunk the billions of people who believe (or try to believe) in an afterlife.

To my delight, she didn’t do this at all. If anything, she approached the subject with a kind of vulnerable hopefulness that in the end actually inhibited her ability to infuse the sidesplitting humor of “Stiff.”

To research this book, Roach traveled the planet exploring the phenomena of reincarnation, near-death experiences, mediums, ectoplasm, and haunted locales. She talks to myriads of researchers, both the grounded sort and the somewhat ethereal sort, and she even enrolls in medium school. Towards the end of the book, she progressively reveals a certain disappointment at not seeing hard proof of the human soul.

As I neared the end of her unsuccessful attempt to obtain physical evidence for the afterlife, I found myself just a little depressed. As much as I would like to admit otherwise, Roach seems unable to secure concrete evidence.

Despite this, in the “Afterword” she admits to a certain kind of leaning towards a belief in the afterlife that didn’t exist when she first started her project.

After finishing, I spent some time venting to my husband about my own internal turmoil regarding the afterlife. I told him how Roach’s book once got those old questions restless and roiling.

I believe in God, no problem. He’s sort of made Himself known to me enough over the years that it’s finally kind of sunk in. But this whole afterlife thing… Come on.

Aloud, I pondered whether the disciples really ever saw the risen Christ, or whether, like many mediums, sincerely believed in an illusion. I grappled with where we go and what we look like when we die.

When I finally finished my rant, Bruce sleepily asked, “Didn’t we address that last Sunday at Bible study?”

So, while poor Bruce tried to fall asleep, I rustled and shuffled through the nearest Bible searching for hope. Here is what I found:

From 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 in The Message Bible:

12Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? 13If there's no resurrection, there's no living Christ. 14And face it--if there's no resurrection for Christ, everything we've told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you've staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. 15Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ--sheer fabrications, if there's no resurrection.
16If corpses can't be raised, then Christ wasn't, because he was indeed dead. 17And if Christ wasn't raised, then all you're doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. 18It's even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they're already in their graves. 19If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot. 20But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

“Huh,” I said, turning out the light.

“Find what you were looking for?” Bruce grumbled.

“Uh, well… Yeah… It said that basically if I don’t believe in life after death, then I’m saying Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, and I’m furthermore saying that Christianity is a lie and history as we know it basically collapses into a quivering mass of pointlessness.

“And it’s all my fault.”

“Great. Now go to sleep.”

I added, “The Bible seems to be pretty clear in establishing that there is an afterlife. I guess if God says it, it must be true. I guess I just have to trust Him.”

Go figure.

I’m not sure Bruce even responded at this point. I can tell you I remained awake for at least another hour.

I don’t know why this continues to be such a struggle for me. But it does bring a deeper level of meaning to another verse out of 1 Corinthians:

12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1 Cor. 13:12)

I don’t see anything clearly. Mary Roach, for all her doggedness and talent, doesn’t see things clearly either. Nor do any of the people she interviewed. If this world really does exist in a mist, then by its very nature, it lacks the ability to explain what is outside of it.

Many, many people share the very same doubts that I am finally willing to admit to struggling with. Many of my fellow questioners, because the intellectual issues loom so large, are unable to ever reconcile them - to let go of the need to understand absolutely and concretely. I think if it weren’t for some profound “encounters” I’ve had with God – specifically, the God of Abraham and Moses - I would side with the unbelieving camp too.

In a weird way, I think God takes pleasure in my doubt. I think He has a purpose for it. Obviously my wiring and personality are innate, and I will always be compelled to question things, especially myself.

In the same way He always has, and I do mean ALWAYS, at my moment of greatest crisis, gentle words, in this case 1 Corinthians 15, come to rescue me.


At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I am, by nature a skeptic, a cynic, a doubter. I too will sometimes ask myself "why am I even here, do I believe this stuff?" mostly on sunday mornings. I have to keep asking myself, what is more likley 1) that I'm screwed up? or 2) I'm sane and and all of those millions of people who have given their lifes for Christ and the people who witnessed thousands of transrational events in their lives and communities were all participants in a trans-generational, trans-cultural mass psychosis/ delusion. Honestly, sometimes it's a near thing. Thanks for posting.



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