Prism of expediency problematic

Updated: 2013-01-09 08:07

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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Prism of expediency problematic

Is there an afterlife? Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander III has added to the many descriptions of near-death experiences. Eben has been an academic neurosurgeon for the last 25 years, including 15 years at the Brigham and Women's and the Children's Hospitals and Harvard Medical School in Boston. During his academic career he has authored or co-authored more than150 chapters and papers in peer reviewed journals and made over 200 presentations at conferences and medical centers around the world. He thought he had a very good idea of how the brain generates consciousness, mind and spirit.

In the predawn hours of Nov10, 2008, he fell into a coma after contracting bacterial meningitis. He spent a week in a coma kept alive by a ventilator, his prospects for survival diminishing rapidly. On the seventh day, to the surprise of everyone, he came out of his coma. Memories of his life had been completely deleted, yet he awoke with memories of a fantastic odyssey deep into another realm - one he found more real than this earthly one. His older son advised him to write down everything he could remember about his journey before he read anything about near-death experiences, physics or cosmology. Six weeks later, he completed his initial recording of his remarkable journey, totaling more than 20,000 words in length. Then he started reading, and was astonished by the insights his journey brought to the world's literature on near-death experiences, and to all phenomena of extended consciousness.

One may not believe what this doctor has experienced in his coma and may think all that he encountered during that particular week was nothing but fantasy. One may even regard such a book as nonsense. But what we should never forget is the fact that there is neither enough evidence to justify the nonexistence of an afterlife nor enough evidence to support its existence.

For many years we've given publicity to atheism and emphasized materialism. The most extreme example of the overemphasis on materialism found expression in the criticism of psychology as a bourgeois discipline during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976).

I am an atheist, but on the question of whether there is an afterlife, I prefer to leave room for doubt. To claim that an afterlife is nonexistent without any evidence is a shaky assertion, as shaky as the claim that an afterlife does exist with only the support of narratives such as Eben's.

In fact, many Chinese people are contradictory on this question. What they do when paying tribute to their dead relatives - burning ghost money or paper goods for the dead to use in another world - seems to indicate that they believe in the existence of an afterlife. And an increasing number of Chinese people will pray to Buddha for their wishes to come true. This also shows that they do not exclude the existence of an afterlife.

But greediness gets the upper hand when it comes to corrupt officials taking bribes and the huge development projects local governments launch at the cost of the environment. When those in power deliberately do things that hurt the interests of the majority and which are detrimental to the future of the country and its people in the long run, it seems that they do not care at all about the existence of an afterlife. They're not afraid of retribution after they die for the evil they do.

Even many ordinary individuals forget the traditional saying that the accumulation of good deeds will pave the way for a peaceful and prosperous life for their later generations when they have to make the choice between their immediate interests and the moral principles or ethics they are supposed to observe.

It may not be necessary to believe in the existence of an afterlife. But viewing everything through the prism of expediency, even the question of an afterlife, represents an unhealthy, even harmful, attitude toward life. Possibly reading the near-death experience of this doctor may provide some food for thought on how we may need to adjust our attitude toward the question of an afterlife or have more serious concern for the question of the spirit.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily and can be reached at

(China Daily 01/09/2013 page8)