This is a book review of "Death & Eternal Life" by John Hick (c) 1994
I have been reading ebooks recently. I enjoy being able to adjust the print and the back light and read in the dark. But, for old times sake (The book was out of print and not available in ebook form) I ordered a used copy off Amazon and actually read the physical copy. It brought back memories. The thick binding and the smell of an actual book. I can remember going to the public library in Gadsden, Al and spending times (I'm a nerd) in the stacks. The excitement I would feel as I put the latest Stephen King novel on hold and would rush to the library when it came in and heft it proudly and bury my nose in it.
So, even though this was non fiction and contained no Vampires in Main or haunted cars or aliens in the New England woods or haunted towns that were so familiar that they could have been set in Rural Alabama as easily as Rural Maine I still enjoyed it. The subject matter was after all still pretty fantastic in an age where we are told on one hand that we are just the chemical by product of a temporary brain or that we can't accept scientific fact such as an old earth and the evolution of the species and still be spiritual. So, ya either have to be a stone cold atheist (which I'm not) or a religious fundamentalist (which I'm not) and ignore what your instinct and life experience teach you. So, here I go with a review of a book by a British writer who now knows more about the subject (he's shuffled off this mortal coil) than he did when he wrote the book. I invite you to google John Hick if you would like to know more about the author. We truly live in a time with more knowledge and facts than wisdom. But, I digress. :-) Still, here goes.
First a little background from me. (Hay, it's my blog.) ;-)
I have always, even from a young age thought about what will happen when I die. I do admit that I think of it a little more personally at 56 than I did at 25 or 19 but still I've always been interested. I have my own thoughts as to what happens at death and reading this book didn't actually change any belief that I already have developed or am currently sympathetic to in my 56th year on the planet. But, I did enjoy and even learned some things during my journey through this tome.
The writer talks about the reasons why we can actually confidently consider the reality of life after or before or before and after death. He does touch on humanism and atheism and the stark and useless nature of being if all we really are is extinguished at death. I have my own thoughts on this and I will say I agree with the writer on this point. He truly does a brilliant job of talking about the different major religious beliefs and a really good job of tying it all up at the end. He discusses Buddhism and Hinduism and the many different schools of thought within each. He discusses Christianity from a protestant and a catholic perspective and the Christian mystics and what a world might look like after we pass from this body.
One of my favorite sections is when he talks briefly about the philosopher HH Price. Price believed that perhaps the afterlife would consist of mental, dream like imagery. The person could draw upon his earthly life and create his environment just as he/she does in the dream world. Only we would be able to interact with each other and create or own heaven or hell or even a more mundane existence. Now, on the surface that might seem a little silly. But, I have had dreams where I could float or fly and I would wake up and honestly not understand why I couldn't actually float. It seemed so real to me. I've also dreamed of future events on rare occasions and even had reason to believe a separate personage (not just created by my own psyche) So, even though I'm not buying into it, I'm also not throwing it away as rubbish either.
The writer also talks at length about Ian Stevenson who was the Chair of the Department of psychiatry at the University of Virginia and went on to do extensive studies on Reincarnation. Dr. Stevenson did not come to an absolute "belief" in reincarnation but did feel that some of the cases he studied strongly suggested it. He was the first person to attempt a scientific study of the subject with really detailed statistics and case studies. He also studied birth defects and past life trauma experiences or I should say "alleged" experiences. Again, google is your friend if you would like to know more about this work and the books and papers of Ian Stevenson.
The writer also makes short work of the "so called" evidence of Christan reincarnation in the bible. No, it isn't really there although there are some statements that some people take to be referring to it. On the other hand he doesn't find the concept as such to be at odds with the Christian mystics or the Jewish concept of a resurrection. He does go into detail on the different Christian schools of thought and just what Saint Paul might mean as to the resurrection of the body. Really good stuff here.
The writer goes at length about Buddhism and Hinduism and the different schools of reincarnationist thought. It's not as cut and dried as you might think. He also goes into detail about Nirvana and the concept of nonbeing as well as how one might "be" and still be absorbed back into the light or person or being of the creator.
All in all a journey well worth taking if you would like a none dogmatic and fairly open minded discussion of the possibility of what might happen to all of us as a people or as a person once we leave this short, sweet, kind, cruel, happy, sad world. It's not a quick read and it's not for everybody. I do think it's worth the trip and I do recommend it for people who are seriously asking themselves about the logic and the possibility of the final leg of this journey or the beginning of the next stage. Which is how I look at it.