Why Religion And After Life Exploration Go Hand In Hand
Please note that this article reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of all members of ParaResearchers. Commentary should be directed to the author solely.
I was recently at a delightful dinner party where the food was excellent, and the "table talk" was thought provoking. Most of those attending this gathering were very open to life after death issues, so naturally, this was what conversation rotated around. Professional health care workers, school administrators, clergy and even a couple of retail folk spent most of the evening sharing very personal, spiritually transformative experiences. I talked about my own mother-in-law's recent deathbed vision, while a politician friend spell bound the dinner crowd with his near death experience. With regard to these intimate shares, we were all in agreement that our individual encounters were treasured, life altering spiritual gifts.
As we made our way through chocolate desserts, the "feel good" experience of sharing, suddenly evaporated. The mood turned and there was a tension in the air which put everyone on edge. Why did this happen? One word did it and that word was RELIGION. As rich scented coffee was poured, a statement was made about religion. The initiator of this new leg of conversation said, "Its too bad that religion stunts afterlife exploration." Because of this one statement, the table talk was suddenly divided into two camps. With this, the discussion became heavy and at times, very "heated."
A couple of the diners were convinced that religion in any form, was at the root of all societal evil. They wanted nothing to do with it and added that they firmly believed theology in general, regularly discounted spiritual encounters, the near death experience, after death communications, death bed visions and other AH HA! moments of enlightment. For this anti religion camp, religion was true canned pabulum for the masses, lacking in depth and creative thinking. With arms folded across their chests, they righteously proclaimed that religion was for the intellectually dead, a dogma that humankind could very well do with out.
After listening to this side of the discussion for what seemed to be a life time, I had finally had enough. I decided it was time for me to open my mouth. Oddly, most of those at the table who practiced one form of religion or another were keeping very tight lipped. I understood their fear of taking a stand. As a practicing Jew, this was not the first time I had been knocked over with a tidal wave of anger toward religion. At one time, I too swam the tide of indignation toward religious institutions. For years, I had tremendous rage toward clergy, synagogues, churches, prayer, and any concept of a higher spiritual power. The very word "religion" could bring my blood to an instant boil within a matter of seconds. Eventually, after much soul searching, I discovered my generalized rage toward religion wasn't about religion at all. In actuality, my anger needed to be directed toward those individuals who had miss-used religion for their own gain. Because I took the time to separate those who had hurt me with their abuse of religion, from the concept of religion itself, today I'm in a very different place.
After listening patiently to the anti-religion camp for almost an hour, I put on my emotional "boxing gloves" and I stepped into the ring of debate. "I'm a practicing Jew", I boldly announced. "And, I have seen the other side on numerous occassions. I have felt the touch of my departed loved ones, watched as they reached out to me in energy form. And, I'm not alone. Several Rabbis I know, along with a few Catholics, Baptists, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists, have shared with me incredible spiritually transformative encounters. So, when you say, 'Give all clergy and religious believers a good kick in the rump and wave good-bye' you are asking me to abandon friends, relatives and fellow seekers, who use religion as a means to discovering true spirituality. Along with this, you are insisting that I cut ties with clergy who work diligently at encouraging their congregants to have an open mind about such matters."
Insisting on extremism, total rejection of religion and the clergy, is not fair to those of us who use religion as it was intended, as a guide to a greater reality. Yes, there are many individuals who use religion inappropriately, just as there are those who swing extremely in the other direction, rejecting all forms of religion. News flash - neither side is right! Sometime ago, I wrote a book on religious extremism and the behaviors behind the extreme rejection of religion. The manuscript focused on examining the damage extreme thinking in any form can create, be it religion or religion bashing. Interestingly, though I have authored ten books, I could not get a publisher to look at this piece. This in and of itself, I found most interesting. In spite of this, I did go a head and include a chapter on religious extremism within the text of one of my later published works. Along with this, I addressed how religion is suppose to offer humankind several things. This is what I also presented to my dinner companions that night.
Why is religion important? The answers are very simple:
a.) Religion provides a path for beginning exploration into spirituality. Something to "start" with.
b.) Religion provides a place for us to return to when our initial visits to the unseen become too overwhelming for us. The security of a starting foundation.
In other words, religion is man-made, a means to an end, that end being the doorway to a greater reality. Many individuals have found this doorway through religion. I am one of those people. I first read about deathbed visions in a book written by a rabbi. This began my own personal spiritual journey. By explaining to me what science could not, my religion gave me a "starting" point or foundation for future experiences and exploration. In presenting deathbed vision accounts, which were centuries old, this particular rabbi unknowingly clarified for me my own encounters with spirits on the other side No one, till that moment, had ever adequately provided me with accounts or experiences of a similar nature.
For the last several decades, I have investigated such visions and have sifted through over 2,000 first hand accounts. Tomorrow, I will be presenting some of these deathbed vision accounts to a group of clergy. Along with this, I have continued to experience numerous spiritual encounters, visually, tactually, auditorially and in dreams, with loved ones living in an afterlife existence. If anti-religion folk would take the time to open their minds and talk to religious people who have communed with deceased loved ones, or who have experienced premonitions of things to come, or seen an afterlife reality by way of a near death encounter, death bed vision, after death communication or out of body experience, maybe they would not find it necessary to totally dismiss the benefits religion can provide. I am grateful that I can recognize what my religion provides for me. Because I was able to disentangle my own difficult history with religion, from the true purpose of religion, I know today that religion is not spirituality, religion is not the end. Religion in any form is the beginning and a religious path can eventually lead one to spirituality.
Carla Wills-Brandon, Ph.D., a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has been investigating deathbed visions for 20 years. She is also the author of 10 books. Her tenth book, A Glimpse of Heaven: The Remarkable World of Spiritually Transforming Experiences was released in December, 2003.
Her latest book discusses spiritually transformative experiences, such as ADCs (after death communications, near death experiences, premonitions, out of body experiences, meditative mystical moments of enlightenment, insightful or unusual dreams and deathbed visions. If you have had a mystical encounter, she'd appreciate hearing from you.