Our declining belief in death

This week’s ‘Belief’ series on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network includes a deep dive into ‘the mystery of what happens after we die.’ Is it possible, though, that we never really die?

© iStockphoto.com/Jacques van Dinteren

PETALUMA, Calif., Oct. 19, 2015 – “In this world nothing can be said to be certain,” wrote Ben Franklin to his friend Jean-Baptiste LeRoy in 1789, “except death and taxes.” Had he written this today, however, it’s not at all certain that death would have made the cut.

Of course, no one knows for sure what happens when we die (well, no one who’s still with us), but there are quite a number of folks who feel they’ve perhaps gotten a glimpse, calling into question the very notion of death.

After falling into a weeklong coma, Eben Alexander, author of the New York Times best-selling book “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife,” found himself keenly aware of the fact that, as he puts it, he was loved, that he had nothing to fear and that he could do no wrong. This was pretty heady stuff, especially for someone who had always assumed that the brain – an organ that, in Alexander’s case, had completely shut down due to a rare infection – was the source of consciousness.

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“[This] message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief,” he writes in an article published on the Daily Beast website. “It was like being handed the rules to a game I’d been playing all my life without ever fully understanding it.”

Going even further back – much further – the disciples of Jesus had their own glimpse of the so-called afterlife without having to go through anything approaching what Dr. Alexander did. Standing in the presence of their resurrected teacher, they were able to see firsthand that life really does go on, just as they’d been told.

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life,” said Jesus. “They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

The impact of such insights goes well beyond that moment of ecstasy we’ve been led to believe awaits at least some of us on the other side. For instance, when asked if he saw any connection between his threefold revelation and his remarkable recovery, Alexander replied, “Yes. I think those insights were absolutely essential.”

As for the disciples, the effect was even more profound.

Even though they had spent years living with Jesus and watching him heal crowds of people, it wasn’t until after his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection that the Bible records many specifics about their own healing abilities. As Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy describes it in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” it was the realization that Jesus had not died – that life is in fact eternal – that “convinced them of the truthfulness of all that he had taught.”

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So what about the rest of us? Is there anything to be gained by our own willingness to give up whatever beliefs we may be harboring about the presumed inevitability of death?

“If the belief in death were obliterated, and the understanding obtained that there is no death,” writes Eddy, “this would be a ‘tree of life,’ known by its fruits.” For Eben Alexander, such “fruits” included his recovery from a life-threatening disease. For Jesus’ disciples, it extended to their ability to heal others. And for us? There’s really no reason we shouldn’t expect to see the same results.

Now, if we could just do something about our belief in taxes.

Eric Nelson writes each week on the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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