Thursday, November 1, 2012


On this blog I rarely even mention borderzone events as they appear in popular culture. There are surges of this sort from time to time. A while back (October 2010), Clint Eastwood released a quite excellent film he had directed, Hereafter. It sank out of view. Fewer than half the critics gave it a positive rating. And, to be sure, it is—it is a very complicated film. The female protagonist, my God, is French, and lots of the dialogue is in that language. Other parts are set in England; people there drive on the wrong side of the street. And the male protagonist is an American clairvoyant who yet works in a factory and resists his brother’s urgings to turn his gifts into a thriving small biz. But the film kicks off with a fantastically-rendered tsunami overwhelming a coastal region somewhere in India. And Clint Eastwood is a first-class director. At the same time, and to its demerit perhaps, the story is told straight; the Hereafter is accepted by the characters who matter. They find themselves, in consequence, up against the dominant culture—but the conflict is realistically presented. It is more friction than clash. No great heroism, just ordinary life. Hence critics found it lacking in compelling drama.

Quite recently, why just the other day, a book appeared written by Eben Alexander: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey in the Afterlife. That combination (neurosurgeon + near death experience) was irresistible for Newsweek, a magazine undergoing a kind of near-death experience of its own: it will give up printing itself but remain in the Thereafter of virtual publishing. It put the story on its cover (October 8) and featured an article by Dr. Alexander. That was enough to get the attention of the popular media. The doctor then appeared on ABC TV’s evening news, later on Nightline. And many other places as well.

The book (Brigitte and I are reading it now) is vividly written—and obviously intended for a mass audience. The author, however, is dead serious. Not surprisingly what reviews I’ve encountered dismiss it with contempt, e.g., The Guardian’s Peter Stanford and New Atheist Sam Harris, he of The End of Faith, a New York Times best-seller for nearly a year (in 2005).

Hereafter, in the story of its lead female character, Marie Lelay (played by Cécile de France), illustrates how the experience of visiting L’Au-Delà plays out in real life if made public by a prominent or a highly qualified figure. In the film Lelay is a prominent TV-journalist of the crusading left. The experience drains and redirects the combative energies that made her rich and famous. She is rapidly marginalized, furloughed, turns to writing, and eventually produces a book about her experience. When the horizons of an ordinary, highly secular, prominent person are suddenly enlarged so that the Hereafter becomes not only credible but undeniable, the shock is enormous and life-transforming. Prominence and/or the right qualifications (in Alexandar’s case his profession), are readily translated into visibility. And thus the news of a Greater Reality permeates the public consciousness.

Fascinating. Especially when compared to the alternative current wave, the New Atheism. But which will ultimately prevail? Well, in Marie Lelay’s case it all began with a tsunami. In Ebben Alexander’s case publication of his book was immediately followed by Hurricane Sandy. If such events become more frequent, the awareness of the wide, wide public may also be conditioned to change. And in that process, New Atheism will have no chance at all. As for the truth of things deeper down? They don’t require a near-death experience to discover. They’re lying all about in plain sight for eyes able to see.

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