As I have become involved with various afterlife research groups, most of them online, I’ve seen plenty of reason to be skeptical. I am probably more skeptical now than I was before, despite all the credible afterlife research I’ve digested in my explorations.
What’s going on? Is skepticism good or bad?
First let me share that a few years ago I attended a meeting where Dr. Raymond Moody spoke. He is the physician who coined the term near-death experience and has dedicated most of his adult life to NDE research. He spoke highly of skepticism, considering it a quest for understanding a reality by continuously asking probing questions. A skeptic almost always tries to consider alternative explanations for any given or apparent phenomenon, such as those that happen during NDEs.
Second are the hardcore professionals, the so-called debunkers. They proudly call themselves skeptics. They are the go-to personalities in talk shows, books, documentaries, and so on who argue in favor of materialism. Some well-known career skeptics are paid arguers who seem more like show business warriors than seekers of truth. They strike me as much more eager to smite someone down as a fraud than to investigate what may actually be going on with an apparent phenomenon.
Third, I consider myself an optimistic skeptic, a term I coined. I welcome an afterlife and a magnificent system of cosmic justice. At the same time, fearing my own gullibility, I double down on skepticism. I want people to source their claims more than repeat hearsay, opinion, and untested mediumship. I am suspicious of the rock star media culture where people “follow” famous psychic mediums and spiritual superstars who are primarily savvy marketers interested more in profits than in conducting credible afterlife research.
It pays to be skeptical about people who call themselves skeptics.
As I look at spiritual pop culture, I notice that it is very popular to say, “I’m skeptical.” It’s like a badge. Wear the embroidered patch of skepticism on your sleeve and somehow that makes you more believable and authentic. Yet as described above, the word skeptic means vastly different things in different contexts. James Randi and Raymond Moody are very different from each other; both would claim to be skeptical.
Many authors of afterlife or metaphysical books crow about how skeptical they once were or sometimes still are. Claiming to be skeptical is almost like a marketing tool. “I am of sound mind. Believe me, I didn’t believe a word of woo-woo until I found myself walking outside my body.”
Society seems to value education over personal experience. If a person grew up seeing spirit friends and remembering past lives, he or she would often not be believed as credible. Yet a highly educated materialist such as neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who had a profound NDE and suddenly found “proof of heaven” appears to have better credentials to speak about metaphysical matters. (Of course, his brain surgeon peers may think he’s lost his mind.)
Since claiming to be skeptical seems to cover many bases, I don’t give much credence to the term. Instead I listen carefully to the person’s overall message. I look at what they are selling and to whom. Are they just insulting people for profit? Do they question things like a committed investigator open to different explanations? How do they embrace the term skeptic in how they present themselves to the public at large?
NOW MORE THAN EVER
In this age of social media, more and more fairy dust (aka BS) is strewn out there in the fertile fields of gullibility with less and less critical thinking applied. The false claims get mixed in with the credible research to create a hybrid—something that may sound good but possibly or probably isn’t solidly researched—or (ahem) true.
One example is the blazing speed with which some freshly deceased celebrity turns up in various manifestations on YouTube. Stephen Hawking had been dead for only a week in Earth time when he appeared as a channeled guest on an afterlife interview show. Not surprisingly, the famous atheist was already a changed man, eager to help the planet evolve. Hawking was delighted to chat about what it’s like to feel whole again after a life endured in a crippled body.
(Stay tuned for when James Randi, currently 89, eventually checks out.)
On one hand, it’s very easy to say that any improv actor worth his or her salt could do a little bio reading on any celebrity and perform a reasonable impression. As thought-provoking and entertaining as afterlife interviews are, fake schmooze is everywhere.
Nevertheless, over the last two hundred years, afterlife researchers have rigorously investigated plenty of channeled interviews and evidential readings. They’ve built up cases that convince many that the afterlife is reality. I suspect that many people use the more researched case histories as a basis to assume, hope, or pretend that other afterlife interviews, like those with Stephen Hawking, are valid.
I see a problem here. Many YouTube mediums are not credentialed as mediums; they have never been tested. They gain credibility through the research conducted on others, or because people are hungry to believe in immortality, especially where their deceased loved ones are concerned. Hope wins out over logic. The bottom line is that among believers, being skeptical is a threat to hope. People who need to hear that we don’t die don’t want to jinx anything by being critical of a famous medium.
As a result we get improbable afterlife interviews. In turn, people who lean towards being skeptical take a look at this low-hanging fruit of absurdity and reject all afterlife research in one fell swoop. That’s the danger I see.
It’s one reason why the idea of a SoulPhone sounds so nuts to some people. Too many unsubstantiated claims are made and go unchallenged in pop woo-woo culture. If an afterlife interview with Stephen Hawking does not pass muster, then the idea of chatting on a smartphone to heaven is even harder to accept.
It could turn into a different story if the mediums who channel celebrities did so under more controlled conditions where serious (yet friendly) researchers could help establish validity. Here is where optimistic skepticism is valuable. Create positive conditions within which mediums can work and hope for the best proof possible. Eliminate attack skepticism and ask questions intended to lead to better understanding of metaphysics.
When skepticism is about asking sincere questions and considering alternative explanations, the future advent of the SoulPhone would be a boon. Opening up a recordable, verifiable dialogue with the dead would give a forum for a fascinating, most likely life-changing flow of information.
Until that happens, keep being skeptical. The hunger to explore the afterlife and to contact loved ones on the other side should not replace critical thinking, probing questions, and alternative explanations.
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