“The Soul After Death”

The unbearably bright Light of Heaven. This picture is, ironically, from the Happy Science anime The Laws of Eternity. A similar episode is recounted in the book I review, but the feelings the book inspire in me are completely different.

I recently bought the book The Soul After Death by Fr. Seraphim Rose, an Eastern Orthodox cleric. The book is written as a reaction to the spate of Near Death Experiences which reached media a few decades ago. These experiences were generally positive:  People were first confused to see their body from above, but soon found out that they could move about, and then a great Light appeared, filled with love and forgiveness and even sometimes humor, encouraging them to reflect on their life and what was really important to them. Deceased relatives and friends might make a brief appearance, and sometimes short journeys to a (usually pleasant) Elsewhere, before they had to (or chose to) return to their body.

Rose is not impressed. He compares this to the extensive Orthodox lore of after-death, and concludes that the NDEs are at best ignorance, but most likely demonic influence. The ethereal world around us is not positive or neutral, but utterly fallen and teeming with demons, who will masquerade as anything or anyone to convince people to turn their back on Orthodoxy, which alone can save them, and then only if you dedicate yourself to it without reservation for the rest of your life.

I think Fr. Rose has many good points, including some of his main points. People (that would be me) are too superficial and too easily convinced that eternal life is easy to get and Hell is almost unattainable except perhaps by Hitler and the like. The Bible certainly can be read as saying the opposite. And most of the messages from the supposed afterlife are inane and banal. True. I am not a big fan of New Age spirituality myself.  That is not the problem.

The problem is the overwhelming onslaught of darkness that radiates from the pages of the book.  About halfway through, when I frankly gave up, even I was starting to wonder if I have been misled by demons from my youth, if the loving Presence that has encouraged me to look hard at the evil in myself and distance myself from it, to understand and implicitly forgive others, that this Presence that has been essential to my life for decades now must surely be a demon. After all, God’s angels (much less God himself) would not have anything to do with people who are not Orthodox and following the proper Orthodox path of asceticism.

No, I don’t think so.  The effect of this book, whatever its intent, was one of despair, bitterness, doubt and darkness.  I shudder to think of this book falling into the hand of someone suffering from depression.  It projected a vision of a world where God has been defeated by Satan, basically.  Content to get away with a few elite souls, God simply watches passively as demons do whatever they want with pagans and most Christians alike, encouraging the evil and deceiving the good, with only a token resistance from Heaven.

I don’t really think that is what he meant to say. And perhaps the book ends on a more uplifting note. But for me, right now, I can’t go on reading it in good conscience, because I feel it makes it harder for me to love God and my fellow humans.   I don’t want to think of God as some petulant demiurge who sees his creation go haywire and reacts with anger and then resignation as it goes to Hell. Or like a constructor who has built a magnificent house which then catches fire and he stands outside, watching as the house burns down with most of his children still inside. There is something horrifying and twisted about this vision of a world abandoned to insane spirits of the netherworld.  I cannot believe this was how the book was intended, but that was what I took away from it. And I cannot guarantee that other readers will fare better, though I sincerely hope so.

I should probably watch some Happy Science to get back my belief in God and the future.

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