When it comes the question of life after death, sometimes I think it's possible to lose sight of the forest for the trees. It's all too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of particular cases or to become involved in endless speculation about theoretical models. It may be worthwhile to step back and try to look at the broader picture.
The broader picture is that there is an extraordinary amount of evidence for the survival of personality after physical death. Most casual skeptics are barely acquainted with this evidence, as you can easily determine by going to their online forums and reading their (often comical) shoot-from-the-hip attempts at debunking. The more sophisticated skeptics are aware of the broad range of evidence and must engage in the tedious process of casting doubt on one case after another, often resorting to desperate hypotheses that are seemingly more far-fetched than the paranormal phenomena they’re intended to supplant.
If we take an overview of the totality of the evidence, the picture that emerges is astonishingly simple and clear. It's a picture of the human body as the vessel for an independent spirit; the death of the body entails the liberation of the spirit, which then migrates to an appropriate spiritual plane based on its particular level of consciousness. Exactly what happens after that is unknown, apparently even to the spirits themselves, but there's no reason to think the adventure concludes at that point. As for what it's all about, the best inference is that it's about learning and love – the two aspects of life that people who report a near-death experience are most likely to emphasize. The more we learn and the more we love, the more evolved we become, and the better our prospects in the spirit world.
Volumes of case studies have been collected over the 150 years that support this general outlook. A whole religion, Spiritualism, was founded on this evidence and was, for a time, wildly successful. The basic philosophy enshrined in the research is generally consistent with the most elevated teachings of traditional religions and with most people's best moral impulses. And since this outlook does not imply sectarian doctrinalism, nor threaten people with everlasting hellfire, nor teach them to feel guilty for the “sin” of being born, nor encourage them to commit acts of mayhem for the sake of a reward in paradise, it would seem that its general acceptance could only make the world a better place.
From just about any standpoint, then, there is no reason not to believe that this is the way things are. The facts support it, our own deepest yearnings are in sync with it, and the probable consequences for humankind if this viewpoint were widely adopted are overwhelmingly positive – certainly far more positive than the results of unbridled philosophical materialism, which treats people as disposable objects and has taken to questioning the very existence of the mind and self.
If this is so, then why do we make things so complicated? Why do we take a simple truth and try to make it into an elaborate theory? I'm not trying to be critical; I've certainly done this myself. I think it's a natural impulse. But why?
For me, the answer comes down to this: In the modern world, a world steeped in technology and the fruits of the physical sciences, it's exceedingly difficult to believe in “spirits.” Something about the idea just seems too simple, almost childish. There's a natural tendency to want to dress it up in more scientific terms – to talk about discarnate personalities and fifth-dimensional geometry, or a matrix of information, or quantum theories of consciousness.
I'm not saying there's no value in these ideas. But ultimately they’re just ways of repackaging the simple, basic truths obtained by psychical researchers. If people in the modern Western world don't go in for spirits, maybe they will go in for higher-dimensional manifestations of quantum consciousness. It sounds a little more sophisticated, a little more 21st-century. But it amounts to the same thing.
Maybe people like Michael Tymn have it right. Instead of running away from the apparent naïveté of spiritualist teachings, Tymn embraces those teachings, taking them at face value. This gives his books and blog posts a straightforwardness and clarity that are lacking from more abstruse treatments. It also shows a certain kind of doughty courage, a willingness to buck the prevailing trend of materialism and technocracy, to say that maybe the modern world isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, that maybe our sophistication is merely cynicism, and maybe we’ve lost as much as we’ve gained.
Jesus might have been on to something when he said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Great truths are often simple. The essential truth about life after death may be simple enough for a child to understand.