Stafford Betty@Huff Post: The Looming Divorce Between Religion and the Afterlife

Dr. Stafford Betty is a Professor of religious studies at California State University, Bakersfield.  You might also know him as the author of several fantastic books about the afterlife, such as The Afterlife Unveiled: What the Dead are Telling Us About Their World and Heaven and Hell Unveiled: Updates From The Spirit World

Recently, Dr. Betty has written an article for The Huffington Post called ‘The Looming Divorce Between Religion and the Afterlife’ that discusses the growing belief in the afterlife despite the statistical decline of participation in organized religion.

Dr. Betty cites an interesting study that was done by Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University that shows how this belief in the afterlife is rising amongst millennials, despite their decidedly low participation in religion.  Twenge attributes this fact (most arrogantly, I would add) to the idea that millennials feel ‘entitled’ to get something (in this case, the afterlife) for nothing (no church); something I railed about in my March post SDSU Study: Religion Down, Afterlife Belief Up Among Millennials; Reason? Feeling “Entitled” to get “Something for Nothing”

Dr. Betty agrees that entitlement is a poor way to interpret the growing disinterest in religion and points out a few interesting observations as to why young people are ‘divorcing’ their belief in the afterlife from religion.  Young people, he says, are “fascinated with the paranormal”.  With the many shows on television and the internet that revolve around near-death experiences, ghosts, death-bed visions, and after-death communications, some have likely come in contact with the research and evidence of the kind that Dr. Betty is involved with.

Religion itself has to take some of the blame too.  Although churches would like to point to a rise in Atheism for their dwindling church attendance numbers, belief in God or the activity of prayer has not decreased.  Today’s young people are sophisticated, highly educated, socially conscious and tolerant of alternative lifestyles and they want a spiritualism to match.  Religion finds itself between a rock and a hard place: stick to 2,000 year old scripture which is immovable and rooted in ancient prejudices or freewheel out into the no-man’s land of universalism?

“The Good News” used to refer to the gospel and redemption of sin through Jesus Christ.  Now “The Good News” is the singular spiritual message that is coming through loud and clear in near-death experiences, death-bed visions, out-of-body experiences, after-death communications, spirit writings, mediumship and channeling: the afterlife is guaranteed for all; church not required, no savior needed. It’s all about love, baby.  And isn’t that something Jesus could get behind?

That doesn’t mean we don’t have personal responsibility and consequences for our actions in said afterlife.  Dr. Betty outlines this in his succinct summary of afterlife mechanics included in the article:

“…Death and what follows is entirely natural: (1) our inner being, or conscious self, or soul sheds the body; (2) our inner body hidden by the physical body up until death now shines forth as the outer, or “astral” body, in an astral environment; (3) the individual being that we are, soul and body, gravitates to its proper sector or sphere as naturally as we gravitate toward our friends and family on earth, or at least to what we are familiar with; (4) the habits we built up on earth, both good and bad, govern our otherworld experience from that point on; (5) we live our lives as the beings we have made ourselves to be, for better or for worse, but our will is as free to change over there as it is here.”

The secular study of the afterlife that Dr. Betty writes about is our movement too.  The future of spiritual belief in this world is evidence-based and free the shackles of dogma and orthodoxy.  Whether you are a millennial or an octogenarian, the Search for Life After Death is the desire to truly know that the afterlife is a natural extension of consciousness based on the study of real evidence, and one day – scientific proof.  Religions ask you to simply take their word for it, and they actively discourage their followers from even considering the evidence, pointing to scriptural prohibitions on anything vaguely occult. In today’s world, that kind of ridiculousness just won’t fly for open-minded people of any age.

You often hear about the ‘coming great shift’ in new-age circles.  It is often interpreted in various ways, from changing attitudes to changing dimensions. While I don’t subscribe to the more bombastic versions, maybe a shift really is in progress.  As a child, alternative spiritual ideas were limited to what I could find in three or four dusty books in my local library.  Now, new ideas and experiences spread quicker than lightning through the internet and enlightenment is shared at an exponential pace.  In the short time I’ve been on earth, spirituality and belief have been revolutionized in places where free-thinking is allowed.  We have a lot of work to do yet, but I’m grateful to be able to participate in some small way.  With the wisdom of our elders and the energy of the young, we are well on our way.


Read the Huffington Post article by Stafford Betty: The Looming Divorce Between Religion and the Afterlife

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19 thoughts on “Stafford Betty@Huff Post: The Looming Divorce Between Religion and the Afterlife

  1. Reblogged this on Treacle Days and commented:
    A good post about an important subject! Young people will no longer accept the dogma of Religion, instead they want intelligent and relevant information, backed by scientific investigation into the natural laws of our existence. Worship is not a viable way forward for modern minds. We need to all grow up and realise who we really are and why we are here.

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  2. i don’t think Religion is dying i just saw a 2015 study poll 87% of our country is one and only 3.8% say they are atheist and the other not in it still think there is a god

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    1. Hi Brandon,
      Yes – belief in God is still very high, but fewer people are using religion or going to church in order to support that belief in God. I think that is what religions find so strange; they don’t understand how so many people can believe in God but not go to church.
      ~Jenn

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        1. Yes, I think we agree.. that’s the interesting point here. . Participation in religion is down, but belief in the afterlife is growing. That’s what he wrote the article about and is so compelling.

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  3. It could be as Jenn says, there may a kind of shift in awareness away from traditional religious belief systems that have been passed down from generation to generation. I stepped outside the “Box” so to speak some 40 years ago simply because it just didn’t sit right with me. I was handed a book from my uncle when I was 14 titled Tao De Ching… I read it many times as a young guy trying to understand and make some sense of it. Anyway, there are many young people today that don’t have anything to do with religion. Some of my nieces and nephews are that way but still think there is some sort of a god or creator. As for myself, I don’t follow any religion or any system of religious belief. Just as Jenn Im searching for the ultimate proof of Life After Death I like my personality and wanna keep it too !

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  4. If I may, a few words in defense of “religion,” although the term is perhaps too broad to be useful. And, most of the time, when Western commentators speak about “religion,” they generally mean something like evangelical Protestantism, and often a caricature of that tradition.

    First, in response to this:

    “Religions ask you to simply take their word for it, and they actively discourage their followers from even considering the evidence, pointing to scriptural prohibitions on anything vaguely occult.”

    I have to disagree with this generalized statement. Certain forms of religion, and certain religious leaders/adherents, will insist on fideism, but on another note the traditions can and do exercise – and yes, commend – critical reasoning to test, articulate, defend, and, at times, modify or overturn convictions.

    Many Westerners who become enamored of Buddhism quickly learn to quote the Kalama Sutta, a discourse of the Buddha found in the ancient Pali canon. There, the Buddha calls upon his followers NOT to blindly accept his teachings but to discern the truth for themselves:

    “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing,
    nor upon tradition,
    nor upon rumor,
    nor upon what is in a scripture
    nor upon surmise,
    nor upon an axiom,
    nor upon specious reasoning,
    nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over,
    nor upon another’s seeming ability,
    nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’
    Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.”

    Others will also quote the current Dalai Lama’s comments that Buddhist teaching should be ready to adapt in response to scientific discovery.

    Perhaps some will say that this is a venerable Eastern trait of openness that is nonexistent in the Abrahamic religions.

    And yet all three of the monotheisms have critically engaged and incorporated classical learning into their systems of philosophical theology. Islamic Sufi philosophers like Ibn Arabi and Christian philosophers like John Scotus Eriugena were beneficiaries of Neoplatonism as they elaborated and refined theological concepts.

    Going further into Christianity, one witnesses the long tradition of “apologetics,” or reasoned defense of the faith that is premised on shared evidence and logic to which one’s non-believing interlocutors can assent. This begins in the 2nd-3rd centuries with Justin Martyr and Origen of Alexandria and continues to the present. And sometimes meeting on common ground has led to rethinking doctrines. I can think of no better example of experience resulting in careful theological deliberation than the rise of interreligious interaction in recent centuries, prompting an array of Christian responses to the question of the Believing Other. Often these responses are not wholly-new creations, I should say. Two thousand years of theological history puts a lot of ideas on the table. So, for example, a Christian who wishes to take a more pluralistic stance may draw upon the aforementioned Justin Martyr and his concept of the “spermatikoi Logos,” or seeds of the Cosmic Word/Logos (Christ) spread throughout all humanity.

    As for Christians considering the phenomena of the occult/parapsychological/spiritualist, please take a look at The Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies in the UK and their quarterly journal, *The Christian Parapsychologist.*

    I would say more about other aspects of religion, and the value of integrated community and tradition, or what one might call the importance of “belonging” and “behaving” alongside “believing,” to borrow one rubric. Needless to say, there are plenty of examples within the traditions in which the first two are emphasized more than the latter (i.e., Religious Society of Friends, Jewish Renewal, Universal Sufism). So for those who think “religion” must be about “dogmatic orthodoxy,” the counter-examples must be injected into the conversation.

    Well, that’s a lot, and more than enough for now. Don’t take the push-back as a statement of disapproval. I very much enjoy reading your blog and I am thankful for your service in compiling and passing along so much material.

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    1. Dear C. Schelin,

      I absolutely welcome discussion and debate – I don’t see it as pushback, I think you wrote a very intelligent and interesting comment and I very much appreciate that you took the time to do it! I agree with you -I made a blanket statement which was more about how some followers interpret Christianity. I should have been more specific – I have no issue with the Eastern religions. I guess I’m a little jaded by reading all of the ‘mediumship is devil worship’ and ‘Satan is lying through NDEs’ comments I read everywhere, but I shouldn’t have been so quick to generalize that as ‘religion’. Thank you for reminding me that the religious world is not so 2-dimensional. I am not anti-religion, just the way some people interpret their texts in order to exclude others needs to end. There is a lot of beauty in the world’s religions and hope the three Abrahamic faiths can focus on their core messages of love, service and community. 🙂
      Thanks again for your insight,
      Jenn

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  5. Thank you Jenn. I appreciate the response. I think it is important that we all be reminded to take great care with our language. One thing I learned through one form of religious training – Clinical Pastoral Education – is that most of what we say is (subconsciously) spoken for our own benefit, and not so much to communicate a point to another person. And I acknowledge that applies as much to my efforts to propose greater nuance as it does to the felt needs of the “spiritual but not religious” to distance themselves from expressions of particularity that strike them as ignorant, inhospitable, and perhaps even dangerous.

    My sense, and my hope, is that enough open-minded study reveals the beauty and the shadow of any given tradition, and that this complexity cultivates the possibility of something beyond first, blind acceptance and second, outright rejection. This is what Paul Ricouer called the “Second Naivete” stance in relation to a given sacred canopy. So I “have my issues” with Christianity, and yet I remain committed to it. I love Buddhism deeply, and I “have my issues” with that faith as well!

    For what it’s worth, even growing up a conservative evangelical, I was never told simply to shut up and obey. My very fundamentalist youth minister trusted that God would judge all persons by the light they received rather than condemn everyone who had failed to recite the “Sinner’s Prayer.” And it was in my church library that I picked up Raymond Moody’s *Life after Life* as a sixth-grader and began my journey along the path St. Anselm named *fides quaerens intellectum* – faith seeking understanding.

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  6. I, like a large portion of the worlds population, was born into a society steeped in and largely controlled by, an organized religion. Even though my family was not particularly religious and paid scant lip service to Christian practice, the very social structures and customs I grew up within were organized according to the state religion and all its traditions and beliefs. It has taken a lifetime of thought, study and realization, to peel away the layers of indoctrination and form my own belief system.
    During this process I have seen Christianity lose its stranglehold on people’s lives and thoughts. This has allowed individuals to explore a wider landscape of religious philosophies and construct their own belief system. This includes atheism, which is also a belief system.
    I would agree that people are now more spiritually minded. I believe it is human nature to try to understand the reason for our existence and our individual relationship with the cosmos, and we are now free to do so without the censure of an Established Church that insists that it knows best.
    I have many beliefs. But that is what they are – BELIEFS. They are not facts, and I may change my mind about anyone of them tomorrow should I come across evidence to indicate that there may be an alternative. It doesn’t matter what I, or anyone, else believes. It will not change what is true.
    You don’t have to justify what you believe by referring to the Bible of any other religious text. Whatever made you think that you do?
    God? I do have ideas about a universal consciousness. They are my ideas and I am free to think whatever I choose. No religion owns the copyright on God. No minister of any religion, from the local vicar right up to the Pope, knows any more about God than YOU do.
    I do believe in an afterlife. This has absolutely nothing to do with any religion. It has a lot to do with personal experience. But I might be wrong . . .

    Sally

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    1. Sally,
      I love that you brought up the difference between belief and facts. I believe, or more properly, I privately have faith in life after death. I still need more evidence, research and fact to back up my belief, therefore what I privately believe doesn’t matter at all – therefore it will likely change a lot before my search has ended. Until I have enough evidence to back up my claims, there will continue to be a wide gap between my private faith, and my public beliefs. That probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I compartmentalize faith and belief in order to preserve my objectivity for research purposes. I would hope that all people would do that with their religious beliefs, instead of blinding following what their priests tell them.
      Jenn

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  7. Jenn,
    I agree absolutely.
    We are travelling along a road of Spiritual evolution. Our hopes beliefs are the driving force that fuels the journey. Our objectivity and skepticism are the brakes that prevent us bashing into things and getting hurt.

    Sally

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  8. While some parts of the church, particularly the old school Catholics and many of the right wing variety in the US, are indeed to blame for a drop in interest in religion, it would be wrong, and ignorant to blame the author or the texts of the gospels eg – “2,000 year old scripture which is immovable and rooted in ancient prejudices”…complete tosh!

    Jesus was revolutionary as a “prophet” and showed no genuine prejudice. He never once mentions homosexuality, so anyone who claims Christianity is homophobic is lacking knowledge. Moroever Jesus calls himself “the light” and I have not found anything in his teachings that is inconsistant with the growing wealth of reports from NDEs about what ” the light” tells us. I cannot think of a better way of living than following the teachings and example of Jesus, who seemed uncanilly familiar with aspects of the afterlife that have been validated by NDE accounts (eg marriage in heaven does not exist).

    We have many millenials in our church and they arrive completely confused and often in a dark place because they have dabbled with the less wholesome aspects of the spiritual world. It is one thing to be interested in spirituality, it is another to be walking the right spiritual path, and while NDEs show many non-believers do experience the positive side of the afterlife, I am certain that life here is better walking with Jesus at your side and having intimacy with God now through his Holy Spirit.

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    1. Dear Ben,
      I’m sorry this reply is coming so late, but I really liked your comment and I wanted to respond (better late than never, I suppose). I have no issue with the teachings of Jesus. You are absolutely correct that he never mentioned homosexuality, and as my Catholic parents love to remind me – he threw out all of the rules and replaced them with one commandment – love. There are many wonderful Christians who do follow his teachings, but the official rules of most Christian sects still see homosexuality as a sin because they are tied to the old testament. I feel that views on homosexuality are outdated and prejudiced, thus my original statement. Unless they decide to throw out the old testament and just go with the words of Jesus, we will continue to have these issues. I think that a relationship with Jesus can be a wonderful thing for many people, and I don’t deny the positive aspects of either church or religion. I also won’t deny that there is a spiritual path which can be detrimental, just as fundamentalists in any religion can turn the positive aspects of religion really dark as well. I think its all in how we use the beliefs that we have. If we choose Jesus, or Buddha or Mohammed or go with a more abstract spirituality, keeping to the core value of love and acceptance is key. I just think its harder for religions that base themselves on a particular holy book or text, because as stated, the values in that book (aside from the teachings of Jesus) can be outdated and prejudiced. Its not easy to change direction when words from 2,000 years ago are considered the Word of God. Thank you very much for your comment, Ben. I always appreciate when someone has the courage to disagree.

      ~Jenn

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  9. Jen, I have always liked the old Zen Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment chop wood–carry water, after enlightenment chop wood–carry water.” Emergent understanding about how we develop perception from the subtle influence of environmental information (physical and psi) is providing us with the necessary foundation for better spiritual models. (See “First Sight Theory,” for instance: http://www.drjimcarpenter.com/about/documents/FirstSightformindfield.pdf)

    As these new models develop, they tend to tell us the same things taught by some of the ancient revelations. For instance, the basic Hermetic teaching is echoed in the Katha Upanishads and John 14 of the Bible teach us that we are immortal beings in a lifetime to gain understanding, afterwhich we will go on to gain further understanding in other experiences.

    The message becomes more diluted as we move through time to the present, but these new models help us normalize the old teaching to better understand what is reasonably true from what is clearly faith. Religions are often right when it comes to things of spirit. It is just that they are couched in the then current cultural norms.

    Thanks to improved information access of the Internet, a better informed seeker no longer needs to turn to institutionalized teaching for guidance. With the new seeker’s careful discernment, this modern ministry teaches how to best utilize our mostly unconscious perceptual processes to live a fuller life which is better suited to our immortality.

    In this view, dogmatic religions are giving way to the gathering of likeminded folk in small communities who prefer to chop wood for themselves but share their new understanding with others in a cooperative society.

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  10. Thank you for this excellent post, Jenn! I like it so much that I’m going to share it with my readers at eclecticspirituality.blog. ❤

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