An Innocuous Little Paperback
In 1976, an innocuous little paperback created quite a stir when it hit bookshop shelves around the world. Everywhere I looked, people were reading it, or intended to read it, or had recently finished reading it, or were recommending that everyone else read it. People who had already read it would stop strangers who were reading it while travelling on trains or eating lunch in cafes and would enter into animated conversations about it.
This phenomenon had also occurred a few years earlier with a book called Chariots of the Gods by Eric Von Daniken. I was 20 when ‘Chariots’ shot to the bestseller list, and because I didn’t want to be the only person in the world who hadn’t read it, I purchased a copy.
I tried to read it. Whenever I removed the little paperback from my handbag in a public place, gushing strangers would rush up to me and make comments like: “Isn’t it wonderful? It never occurred to me until I read it that instead of apes, our ancestors might have been aliens!” Or they would ask me questions like “Now tell me, honestly, has it or has it not changed all your ideas about religion?”
Frankly, I didn’t have any ideas about religion. I didn’t even think about religion. Neither had I seriously considered the possibility that I’d descended from apes, so switching to aliens was hardly a giant leap. Besides, I felt a little intimidated by these people’s profound interpretations of Von Daniken’s findings. Unlike them, I hadn’t “oohed and aahed” my way through the book, pausing occasionally to think “well, well, little green men must really be our ancestors, and doesn’t that now throw a whole new light on our bible’s teachings!”
Frankly, I thought I’d been reading a book about recent archaeological findings!
Seven years passed, and the Von Daniken scenario happened all over again. This time, it wasn’t about Martian ancestors. This time, it was a book about life after death by Dr. Raymond Moody. Dilemma. Should I purchase a copy so I could enter into deep and meaningful conversations with total strangers in public places, or was I now far too mature to need peer-group approval?
The title – Life After Life – suggested another life awaited us after this one. This smacked of reincarnation, and I knew (didn’t everyone?) that reincarnation was total nonsense. Coming back to life as a sacred cow in India did not excite me.
However, it had recently occurred to me that one day – sooner or later, one way or another – I was going to die! It may seem strange that the inevitability of death could have escaped my attention for 27 years, but it had. As the only child of a mother who was also an only child, and of a father who had deserted us two decades earlier, I wasn’t blessed with an array of elderly aunts and uncles or even aging second cousins who might have been inclined to demonstrate their mortality for me.
The shocking realization that I was mortal threw me into deep depression. I spent the next few days hugging my knees on the back doorstep, staring into space and demanding answers from the universe. What was the purpose of life? Why did we do anything? Why did we learn, love, talk, laugh or cry? What did any of it matter? Why did we accumulate possessions, change jobs, make friends, cook meals, make plans, read books and clean out cupboards? If we were all going to be snuffed out like a candle one day, wasn’t life pointless?
The universe chose to ignore my pleas, so I tried to discuss it with friends and workmates. They left me in no doubt they’d rather be anywhere else, talking to anyone else, about anything else. Some became aggressive and accused me of being morbid. Others pointed out that it was a subject polite people didn’t discuss. A few shuddered and uttered phrases like “ooooh, I don’t want to talk about it! I don’t even want to think about it!” Most simply avoided me.
In 1976, death was a taboo subject, except for those few who quoted biblical references and insisted that the afterlife was reserved for those who had been saved by embracing the one true religion – theirs! When I encountered this reaction, I was the one who politely excused myself.
Desperate for answers, I purchased a copy of Life After Life, took it home, placed it on my bookshelf. Twelve years later, I finally got around to reading it and wondered what all the fuss had been about. This innocuous little paperback was nothing more than a collection of anecdotes about anonymous people who purportedly told Dr. Moody they had died and had been resuscitated, and that during their “time out” they had travelled through tunnels, encountered bright lights and enjoyed reunions with deceased loved ones.
How wonderful would it be if all this was true, but how could I believe accounts from nameless, faceless people? It was far more likely, I decided, that the accounts were all so similar because they had been written by the same person – the author himself. He even stated in his book: “I am fully aware that what I have done here does not constitute a scientific study.”
I spent the next 27 years trying to disprove Dr. Moody’s research. I failed miserably!
Since 1975, Life After Life has sold more than 13 million copies around the world. Have you read it? If so, did you embrace it enthusiastically, or dismiss it as nonsense? Did it change your life, or did you use it as a harmless missile one night to silence at a howling cat?
I hope you’ll join me in the coming months as I document my challenge to the universe to “show me the evidence!”
- Posted in: afterlife