Monday, August 25, 2014

Old Newspapers and Spiritual Abuse

On Sunday, Aug. 10, I was out working in my shop when I decided to take a short break from my project and the heat. I sat down next to an old cedar chest that needs some repair; that's the next project!

The chest used to belong to an aunt who passed away decades ago. My wife and I unloaded it earlier this summer and noticed that some old newspapers were lining the bottom of the chest so during my break I decided to gently pull the papers out and read them. To my surprise, they were on that Sunday exactly 80 years old. The yellowed pages were part of the Aug. 10, 1934, edition of the Oregon Daily Journal newspaper (Portland).
As a retired journalist I found many of the stories interesting but two in particular caught my attention. I'm going to try to reproduce scans of these articles here because readers should find them intriguing as well.

The first story was a short bit on page 1 about Catholic bishops in Belgium decrying the rampant promiscuity on European beaches. The swim suits of 1934 apparently were more than the pure bishops could cope with so they issued an order that none of the priests under their care should be exposed to them. All priests were to stay far away from the public beaches so as to remain undefiled. One wonders, however, how the good bishops learned about the licentious swimwear perhaps some of them had been frolicking at the beach? The article did not answer this question.
Now, as the accompanying photo plainly shows, female swimming attire of the 1930s was far from revealing, especially by today's standards. Sex has always been a slippery issue for the church and historically leaders in many religions have used restrictive rules governing sexual behavior as a control mechanism. This 1934 news article, though humorous now, is a good illustration of how religious leaders have tried to control their flocks by controlling their behavior.  This issue is explored in depth by German Catholic theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann in her epic study, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church (1988, English translation 1990). The church, according to Ranke-Heinemann, has constantly insisted that sex was only for procreation; sex for enjoyment, even within marriage, has always been suspect. The result over the ages has been a general negativity toward sexuality which religious leaders have often taken advantage of. Don't think that this is a problem only for Roman Catholics; it is a culture-wide issue in the Western world.

The second article catching my eye in the old newspaper concerned a minister in a fundamentalist Christian snake handling church being bitten during a religious service. Most of us have never been to a snake handling church; the few congregations that still follow this bizarre practice are mainly in the back country of Southern states (USA). Followers in these churches take to heart the verse in Mark 16 that says believers will not be harmed by poisonous snakes when they are picked up. In order to demonstrate the so-called "truth" of the Bible these believers incorporate snake handling in their worship. Ironically, the verse they revere has been shown not to exist in the earliest manuscripts; it was added much later, probably by some over-zealous copyist.
Read the story in the scan and you'll see a picture of a poor misguided person who, first, foolishly tests his God by doing something ridiculous and then, second, refuses medical help because to do so would cause him to lose face.

Snake handling still goes on in some Southern churches.
I'd like to postulate that this is an extreme example of something a lot of folks do all the time they hold onto an unfounded belief then refuse to abandon or modify it when confronted with valid evidence that they are wrong. This is certainly a description of naysayers who refuse to examine evidence for the paranormal and for life after so-called death. I see such folks figuratively sitting in the same pews as the snake handlers; their minds are made up so you can almost hear them saying, "don't confuse me with the facts." But the "facts" are here and eventually everyone is going to have to respond to them.
Believe it or not, there is a theological point where these snake handlers and the Catholic bishops in the articles see eye to eye. They all share the belief in a literal lake of fire and brimstone (aka sulphur) where unbelievers and sinners are tortured ("punished") by God for ever and ever in the life hereafter. Never mind the after-death communication evidence that has been around for 160 years saying that this lake of fire is a very cruel myth fabricated by church leaders in order to hold power over parishioners the Bible allegedly says there is such a place so it must be!

But does the Bible actually teach eternal torture inflicted by a loving, just God? Absolutely not. Verses used by eternal punishment preachers are to be interpreted metaphorically according to a fascinating and insightful book I finished reading this past weekend and in some cases, its author contends, our English versions are horribly mistranslated.
The book is Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse From Womb to Tomb by Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D. Dr. Purcell is uniquely qualified to discuss this topic because for 20 years he was pastor in an evangelical church, he has a bachelor of divinity degree, is proficient in New Testament Greek, has his doctorate in counseling, teaches counseling classes at the graduate level, served for many years as a hospice chaplain and much more.

Purcell's book is more than 500 interesting pages long! On those pages he thoroughly examines the lake of fire teachings, discounts them as metaphorical statements and proves this by examining the verses in Greek and various English translations, then he goes on to catalog the tragic psychological results of such doctrines in the lives of believers. His account is peppered with personal stories of patients he encountered in the hospice setting who were in anguish as they faced their dying experience because of the false hell teachings. These folks, Purcell contends, had all been subjected to spiritual abuse and terrorism at the hands of misinformed clergy who teach hellfire in order to coerce conversions.
Dr. Boyd C. Purcell
Dr. Purcell's biographical comments throughout the book reveal a sensitive man who grappled personally with his evangelical upbringing. That intellectual and spiritual struggle led him to the well-founded conviction that Christianity originally taught Universalism the doctrine that everyone will eventually be "saved." This teaching, of course, is central to spiritualism and after death communications have always revealed that humankind is on an eternal evolutionary journey toward perfection. Some of us are farther behind than others but eventually all will "arrive."

I gather that Dr. Purcell is still committed to a drastically reformed version of evangelical teaching but, nonetheless, he has contributed greatly to my understanding of the traditional Christian punishment doctrine while he offers a rational way out of the torturous lifestyle it has created for believers. Hearing a Christian pastor call a core (albeit false) Christian doctrine "abusive" and "torturous" is liberating in itself and seeing how that viewpoint led to a conviction of universal "salvation" is beautiful! We truly are living in a transforming age.
After reading this book it occurred to me that some people who have left traditional Christianity because of exposure to spiritualism may still be harboring effects of the abuse they suffered during their time within the church. I know that my youthful exposure to evangelical Christianity left many imprints on my mind which still pop up 50 years later. I frankly doubt that I was much of a believer in hellfire when I attended my mother's Baptist church but I did at least pay lip service to the doctrine. One had to in that environment or else you weren't considered a true Christian!

This last observation is something Dr. Purcell had to contend with in his own life. He had been a preacher in an evangelical denomination for 20 years when his study convinced him that hellfire was not literal and that a God of love was not going to torture his own children eternally. When his denomination found out that Purcell's understanding of this doctrine had changed, he was summarily discharged. Independent thinking certainly comes with a high price for the clergy. Fortunately, Purcell made the most of the difficult situation and got into counseling. He still preaches at various churches who welcome his message and he is on the board of trustees of the Christian Universalist Association.
All I can say is that it's too bad we don't have more Boyd Purcells in the world, people who will not be afraid to poke deep into their beliefs, weigh evidence, and change their minds if that is warranted. Unfortunately, we still have too many snake handlers, priests and other religious people who refuse to even consider they might be on the wrong path. Fortunately, spiritual truth is readily available in today's world; it is well documented and waiting to be examined. Thanks to the internet and a steady stream of new books many people are being drawn to the light. And exposure to the light tends to erase scars of spiritual abuse as individuals discover who they really are spirits manifested within a world of matter in order to spiritually grow and flourish.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lawyer Makes Closing Arguments for Life After 'Death'

While taking flights over the past few years I've found myself trying to fight off envy of other passengers who were passing the time reading books on a Kindle, Nook or other portable electronic device. Being a voracious reader, I, too, was engaged in the same activity but ‒ not being able to justify the steep price for the e-device ‒ I was packing around a fat, cumbersome and heavy printed book.

Recently, however, Amazon "invited" me to purchase a Kindle for nearly 50% off the regular price. I couldn't resist so now I am one with the airport crowd I once looked upon with jealousy!

The first book I downloaded and read on my new Kindle was Victor Zammit's newly revised edition of A Lawyer Presents the Evidence for the Afterlife.
Victor is a man I've admired for a long time. A retired attorney in Australia, for more than 20 years he and his wife have dedicated themselves to afterlife research and communication of their findings worldwide via the Internet. I had read the earlier edition of his book some time ago and was very impressed with his clear, attorney-like technique of laying out the evidence for the afterlife. The new book retains that approach, of course, and the information he shares is up to date, grounded in science and convincing.

He starts off in his opening statements as any attorney would do, by emphasizing the weight of the evidence he is going to present throughout his case. "When the evidence ‒ from mediumship, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, after-death contacts, voices on tape, psychic laboratory experiments, the Cross-Correspondences, the Scole Experiment, proxy sittings, poltergeists and all of the other evidence contained n this work ‒ is seen collectively, the case for survival after death is absolutely stunning and irrefutable," he writes. "As a matter of fact, any judge would agree that this list of topics establishes a prima facie (on the face of it) case."
Unfortunately, though, there are a great many of those within the halls of science who, without examining the evidence, pooh-pooh all of the above topics of investigation. They simply cannot accept that anything whatsoever can exist that would bring their dogmatic materialistic world view into question so if something smacks of the paranormal it is summarily tossed out as being fake, "unscientific" or simply non-existent. Theirs is the prevailing voice of most of the scientific world so the public ‒ which has high respect for scientists ‒ is lulled into believing the same things.

That widespread attitude makes it difficult for serious investigators to discover the truth and even more difficult to share their findings. Victor Zammit in this book has done a marvelous job of discussing all the fields of research that touch on the afterlife and presenting some of the best resources for learning about each one. As he points out, perhaps on their own each one of these fields of interest  is incapable of "proving" the existence of an afterlife but taken all together the only unifying explanation that makes any sense is the presence of spirit and the continuance of life beyond earthly death.
Victor Zammit
I find that one thing in particular makes this book most useful ‒ Victor Zammit is no dummy! Skeptics cannot point to his book and criticize it because it was written by someone who cannot be trusted or, because of a lack of credentials, is not a reliable author. Rather, Victor has the background and degrees that place him as an equal to any critic. Besides his B.A. in psychology, he earned an M.A. in history, a bachelors in law and a Ph.D. Add to that his many years as a practicing attorney who daily had to weigh evidence and you have someone with the perfect background for presenting the case for the afterlife.

I recommend study of this book and using it when discussing the afterlife with friends. Zammit's reasoned and well documented approach along with his revelation of the best evidence is quite persuasive.  The book is  available as an inexpensive e-book or you can purchase the more useable print edition.
I also highly recommend Victor's website (link at the top of our links on the left of this page). For several years I've received and read his weekly Afterlife Report (which he calls "Friday Afterlife Reports" but they arrive here in North America on Thursday afternoons thanks to the International Dateline). This free weekly report presents interesting information in each quickly read edition and one can sign up for it on Victor's website (click the link for Friday Afterlife Report on the left of the home page). Receiving this weekly email will help you stay connected with what's happening worldwide in afterlife research. (Reports for the past 10 years can be accessed from the site.)

Victor and his wife Wendy have performed a tremendous service by tying together all of us who share an interest in the afterlife. And this new edition of Victor's book will go a long way toward helping countless others learn the truth about our eternal nature. Thank you, Victor, for making this available.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A God for Atheists

Recently the Huffington Post online news site featured in their religion section a wonderful essay entitled "A God for Atheists." I was drawn to it immediately when I noticed that it was written by Dr. Stafford Betty, a longtime professor of religious studies at  California State University Bakersfield. It's an honor to acknowledge that Dr. Betty (pictured below) has been a follower of this blog and his occasional comments have been welcome.
While definitions of God (or as I prefer, Divine Source) are not necessarily central to this blog's mission, I do want to share a few thoughts about Professor Betty's provocative article because his comments do run parallel with what we've considered here before. I think he is right on mark when he singles out present-day Christianity (especially its evangelical wing) and its 13th century theology for causing many to explore the more rational alternatives atheism offers. "...[T]he roots of atheism are often found in primitive, narrow views of the Divine picked up in preteen years," Dr. Betty writes. "Waking up to the absurdity of God condemning non-Christians to hell is enough to blow into smithereens the childhood faith of many a thoughtful adolescent. A God who created the universe a few thousand years ago by merely wishing it into existence out of nothing is almost as fatal. For others ‒ and this goes for older people too ‒ it's the belief that God will bless us with what we pray for if we pray hard enough, or that everything that happens to us is supposed to happen. Or that God inspired everything found in the Bible, or the Qur'an, or the Vedas, or the Book of Mormon. To believe in such a God is to fly in the face of reason and evidence."
Dr. Stafford Betty
Like many of you, I can personally relate to this. Entering college as a staunch evangelical I was suddenly exposed to numerous realities about my faith that had previously been hidden from me (hidden by my church intentionally in order to "protect" followers from being "led astray.")  These realities, of course, are the  many problems of Christianity that have been uncovered over the past 300 years by academic religious scholarship. Most atheists are well versed in this field and the findings of scholars give them much ammunition when they choose to attack the predominant religion of the West. Most Christians, however, are largely ignorant of what scholars have discovered about their religion.
Add to this the childish, superstitious and out of touch picture of God present in most churches and it's a wonder that in this day of increased education the pews are as full as they are. As an alternative, Dr. Betty offers a portrait of God that seems to reflect quite well what we as spiritualists have heard from the other side over and over again. Gone are the anthropomorphic qualities as are the vengeance,  jealousy and desire to punish that so often tarnish Christian teachings. The essay is a good read and as of this writing it is still available online at
I see, however, that at least one atheist has already tried online to shoot holes in Dr. Betty's argument which really doesn't surprise me. As an alternative to the antiquated world view offered by traditional orthodox Christianity, atheists buy into a materialistic world view that holds matter as we now know it as the full extent of reality. They dogmatically assert that what we see is all we get; there simply cannot be other worlds, other realities, other forces. But as we've pointed out here before, there is an abundance of evidence showing that other forces DO exist. We acknowledge that these discoveries do not prove the existence of God but I propose, "who really cares at this point in time?" Our Source, if he/she/it actually exists, is no doubt far beyond our comprehension so it is probably useless to argue either for or against its existence. Instead, let's proceed in a direction where we can make some discernible headway and in order to do that we will need to somehow release our researchers from their materialistic mindset so they can move on unencumbered.
This blog is primarily focused on after death communication and this has also been an area receiving a lot of attention by Dr. Betty over the years. He is on the board for the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies and his 2011 book The Afterlife Unveiled is a superb collection of descriptions of the afterlife revealed through mediumship. Professor Betty acknowledges that there is a "massive amount of evidence that points to an afterlife" and this book presents some of the most compelling accounts.
"The literature written by doctors and psychologists on the near-death experience, the books written by hospice personnel about the extraordinary visions that dying people who are not doped up with painkillers commonly report, and the reports of spirits speaking through mediums, such as we've examined here, points to a mysterious dimension that exists alongside ours" he writes in the book's conclusion. "One needs no faith to appreciate and weigh this evidence, only an open mind uncontaminated  by materialist presuppositions."
My favorite descriptions of the afterlife came through the mediumship of Anthony Borgia who died in 1989 and the communicator who worked through Borgia was none other than the Catholic priest and later Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914). Fr. Benson's messages were published in several books during the 1950s and, thankfully, they are available free online. Dr. Betty's book, however, masterfully condenses Benson's descriptions. In summarizing his chapter on Benson's message, Betty says that "The spirit world according to Benson is a place of endless variety spread out in virtually infinite space ‒ with every individual spirit residing in a realm suitable to his or her spiritual maturity." This is the essential message of all afterlife  communicators when they try to put into language their world that is so much more expansive than our own.
Harkening back to Betty's essay about A God for Atheists, we need to remember that 160 years of psychical research has amassed a ton of evidence that points toward life after death and the probable existence of an ultimate source for all that is. Ignorance and stubbornness have led people to shelve all this and consider it to be unimportant, irrelevant, unscientific or even evil. Thanks to Dr. Betty and a growing number of other leaders in education, research and science, information is slowly going out that shows the bigger picture. At some time the outcome of this expansion of awareness, I feel, will be an increased willingness to investigate our true spiritual nature in more depth. Then I'm sure we will be able to count on willing communicators from the "other side" who will be glad to help us advance our understanding.
Dr. Stafford Betty's book, The Afterlife Unveiled, is available through in both print and Kindle formats.