The other day I listened to a TED talk called ‘Why There is No Way Back for Religion in the West’ which discussed the implications of a recent study showing the massive decline of religion in the western world. I’ll admit that I would have formally received this news with smug approval, but as I’ve grown in my own spirituality, I realize that the loss of our world’s religions and the rise in the belief in materialism without a corresponding spiritual replacement is not necessarily beneficial for our collective spiritual progress, either on earth, or later, when we are confronted by an afterlife that we are completely and utterly unprepared for.
Other studies have shown spirituality and overall belief in life after death has remained high despite the dire projections for religion, but spirituality that is not well defined does not replace all of the benefits of religious affiliation. Namely, frequency of spiritual observance, membership of a unifying belief system, and practical ways to develop positive attributes in life, such as repentance, forgiveness and service to others. In my experience, even those non-religious people who say they believe in a ‘higher power’ or claim to have a spirituality do little to explore or demonstrate that belief in any significant way in their daily lives. I used to chastise members of my family for their church-going, claiming that spending an hour a week being ‘holier than thou’ doesn’t amount to much. Then I realized that despite all of my intellectual spiritual pursuits, I wasn’t devoting even a fraction of that time putting my own spiritual beliefs into practice. There is a difference between knowing spiritual truth and practicing it.
Despite my railings against religion in other posts, religion has served an important purpose in communities and civilizations throughout the history of the world. Not only has it provided man with a moral code to follow, it has predisposed people to belief in an afterlife as well as some sort of judgment for their actions. Now, atheists would rightly decry any statement that suggests religion is necessary for moral behavior, as many atheists are committed secular humanists. Atheists aren’t my issue, though. The typical atheist is well versed in religious history and dogma, and has made a decided stand against organized religion while still making provisions for replacing the benefits of religion in their lives through other secular service organizations.
My concern is instead for the spiritually apathetic, people who give spirituality so little thought that even the term agnostic doesn’t properly apply. They simply live in a materialistic, externally-based world. While they may be decent, moral people, they are consumed with achieving the milestones of physical life: building a career, finding a mate, raising children, acquiring wealth and so on. Spirituality is simply not on their radar, so to speak, despite what box they check on a survey.
Unfortunately, a lack of spirituality may also contribute to selfish, competitive, materialistic behavior in those people who have been taught to believe in materialism in the scientific sense: Life on this planet is an accident. Free will is an illusion. We are our bodies. When we die, it’s over. Religion is no longer necessary to explain the meaning of life, for it is meaningless in all but evolutionary terms. The influence of scientific materialism unfortunately translates for some into a desire to prioritize physical pleasure, self-gratification, and competitive advantage. According to the Global Report of Religiosity and Atheism, the more wealthy a person is, the less likely they are to describe themselves as religious. Does that mean wealthier people feel less need for religion, or do the non-religious have a greater tendency to prioritize the acquisition of wealth? The cause of this positive correlation is unknown, but it is not surprising.
I also blame this materialistic philosophy for our youth-obsessed culture. The benefits of aging, among other things, have traditionally been spiritual in nature. As the body begins to decrease in efficiency and outward beauty, spirituality and wisdom are meant to increase. The elderly were historically the keepers of spiritual wisdom and revered for their unique experience and knowledge. A lack of spirituality means that we now prize youth, physical beauty and strength above all else, for science has united our very existence with our physical bodies. If a society believes death is the end of consciousness and thus worthiness in the world, our value to others will naturally decease as we continue our march ominously toward it. The aging process no longer presents any advantages in an increasingly materialistic and atheistic world and the outward signs of aging may even be perceived as threatening and met with fear rather with reverence. This is why, in my opinion, we are increasingly measured socially by our ability to hang on to the illusion of youth and peak physical desirability.
It might seem completely normal to consider the millions of people in the western world living without spirituality, but if you look at history as a whole, the abnormality of the situation becomes clear. In no other civilization, at no other time in history have so many people lived with so little faith to unify and guide them. This is not a statement that ignores the perversion of religion, or the use of religion as a weapon. Even for all of the atrocious things man has done in the name of faith, religion has played an important role by preparing people for their transition to a non-physical existence after death.
Jürgen Ziewe has commented on the effect of spiritual apathy in his book, Vistas of Infinity: How to Enjoy Life when You are Dead. An expert in meditation and out-of-body travel, Ziewe has documented his visits to the spirit dimensions for over four decades. Over time, he has noticed something quite disturbing about the dense, near-earth dimensions. It is packed with people who have died on earth without any spiritual belief. Unaware of their own demise, they have unknowingly turned these dimensions into replicas of earthly cities and either simply carry on their daily lives in an illusionary state, or find themselves distressingly in external environments that mirror the self-centered lives they developed on earth. According to Ziewe and many others who have visited the spirit world, the afterlife functions far differently than the objectively stable earth: “When the relay station and filter, which is our brain, stops functioning and the body is returned to its individual atoms, our conscious and subconscious mind become our new external reality (Ziewe, 22).
“I found that with the majority of people who are mostly driven by powerful needs for self-gratification and subjected to strong drives over which they have little control, their first encounter with the afterlife reality is anything but the proverbial Summer-Land. […] Many people who have been living a life of bad habits and poor psychological hygiene will now see it manifested and reflected around them (42, 43).”
Ziewe describes an afterlife that is “tinged by the state of mind” of its inhabitants. Negatively-inclined people will find themselves in dreary afterlife states, living in run-down cities or squatting in dark hovels. Stuck with the contents of their own dark thoughts manifested in their environment, many will have no understanding of why they’ve entered such a hell.
“Our current afterlife condition is much a catastrophe and humanitarian emergency as any on the physical level and is crying out for change in the same way as many of our social and spiritual problems here on the physical level are crying out for enhanced awareness. Just as our mental health will need to be addressed in order to heal society’s ill, I am finding that our mental disease-ridden human conditions, which we carry over into the afterlife, need to be dealt with in much the same way as our physical ones (Ziewe, 45).”
Certainly, not all non-spiritual people are so negative but a lack of awareness in spiritual matters still has dire consequences. Ordinary people may find themselves still trying to ‘catch the bus, try to get to work, buy their sandwich at the sandwich bar, go to the pub and mix with others (p. 38)’ When guides or family members who have already died try to explain the situation, these people may think the idea of their own death absurd, and continue to live in this dream world indefinitely with the many thousands of others in the same predicament.
“The near-earth dimensions are the levels the majority of people are likely to find themselves in when they die. There will be changes, alterations, differences, but as mentioned these differences will soon be taken for granted and accepted as the real status quo. everything that is here in the physical world will be very much in place over there as we were used to. There is a higher dimensional copy of everything, sustained by the living as well as the dead. No dead person will think much of it or waste any time thinking about it. Reality is. We will find buses, taxies and cinemas, cafes, bars and strip clubs. We will find shops and people will pay with money without blinking an eye and receive goods in return, or we may not think of money at all and nobody will be the wiser or take offence (Ziewe, 40).”
For those readers who immediately consider the thought of strip clubs in the spirit world to be repugnant, consider that the religious ideas of heaven are just as illusory. The overly religious have a similar problem to deal with in the afterlife, though I would argue that they are far better positioned to be reasoned out of their own delusions. Upon death, zealots of one religion or another would find themselves in the heaven of their very expectations. Once acclimated, guides would slowly begin to reveal that the afterlife contains a million heavens. At least all of the major religions are represented to welcome the pious directly after death. Guides work with these souls and after a time, they might begin to accept a greater reality beyond the confines of their particular orthodoxy and such rigid belief systems would be discarded.
Seth describes this condition in Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul:
“A belief in hell fires can cause you to hallucinate Hades’ conditions. A belief in a stereotypes heaven can result in a hallucination of heavenly conditions. You always form your own reality according to your ideas and expectations. This is the nature of consciousness in whatever reality it finds itself. Such hallucinations, I assure you, are temporary. Consciousness must use its abilities. The boredom and stagnation of a stereotyped heaven will not for long content the striving consciousness. There are teachers to explain the conditions and circumstances. You are not left alone, therefore, lost in the mazes of hallucination. You may or may not realize immediately that you are dead in physical terms.”
So why allow people to be received into these illusions to begin with? Why should faith in religion, even misguided ones, be better than no faith at all if it means both groups of people enter into an illusory afterlife?
Again, Seth provides the reason:
“Certain images have been used to symbolize such a transition from one existence to another, and many of these are extremely valuable in that they provide a framework with understandable references. The crossing of the River Styx is such a one. The dying expected certain procedures to occur in a more or less orderly fashion. The maps were known beforehand. At death, the consciousness hallucinated the river vividly. Relatives and friends already dead entered into the ritual, which was a profound ceremony also on their parts. The river was as real as any that you know, as treacherous to a traveler alone without proper knowledge. Guides were always at the river to help such travelers across. It does not do to say that such a river is illusion. The symbol is reality, you see. The way was planned. Now, that particular map is no longer generally in use. The living do not know how to read it. Christianity has believed in a heaven and a hell, a purgatory, and reckoning; and so, at death, to those who so believe in these symbols, another ceremony is enacted, and the guides take on the guises of those beloved figured of Christian saints and heroes. Then with this as framework, and in terms that they can understand, such individuals are told the true situation. Mass religious movements have for centuries fulfilled that purpose, in giving man some plan to be followed. It little matters that later the plan was seen as a child’s primer, a book of instructions complete with colorful tales, for the main purpose was served and there was little disorientation. In periods where no such mass ideas are held, there is more disorientation, and when life after death is completely denied, the problem is somewhat magnified. Many, of course, are overjoyed to find themselves still conscious. Others have to learn all over again about certain laws of behavior, for they do not realize the creative potency of their thoughts or emotions.”
A life with religion, or at least a well-defined spirituality, has far better prepared a person for the concept of an afterlife and therefore it is easier to acclimate to the true reality of life after death. Regardless of what iconography a person has used on earth to symbolize the process of death and transition, they are well-received and most will be able to understand and accept their death and entry into the spirit world.
Conversely, a person who has spent little to no time contemplating life after death may not be convinced of it, even after death has occurred. They may remain in a loop of delusion, continuing their daily lives as if nothing at all has changed. According to Ziewe, the population of people in this state has dramatically increased.
“As far as I can see, this lack of general awareness is responsible for a massive boost in population on the lower non-physical dimensions, which are closest to our physical plane, since the world population has rocketed. If people were more aware this would not be the case and they would quickly move on toward more agreeable pastures (Ziewe, 39).”
Avoiding disorientation at death is most certainly not the only reason for faith on earth. It is also imperative for that all-important step so fundamental and life-changing for thousands of near-death experiencers: the life review. I often wonder if the fantastic rise in reported near-death experiences since the 1970’s has less to do with medical advances in resuscitation, and more with an imperative to combat spiritual apathy. In every near-death experience that is shared, the experiencer describes a lesson or philosophy gained that has completely changed the course of their life. For Howard Storm, a self-described selfish, cruel person who valued wealth above all else, his NDE taught him love and forgiveness. Anija Moorjani, who nearly succumbed to her stage four cancer, returned with a lesson about the disastrous effects of fear and worthlessness which preceded her miraculous recovery. Dr. Eben Alexander came to realize his misguided faith in materialism through his experience. Nearly all gain a life-long spirituality and complete loss of fear of death.
These are the lessons that most religions have taught in one form or another, even as the ritual and orthodoxy has changed or has been polluted by humans over centuries. The core message remains the same: love one another. Seek enlightenment not in physical pleasures but in spiritual wisdom. Our souls are eternal. We reap what we sow. But with the loss of religions and the rise of spiritual apathy, these ancient guidelines for spiritual progress are falling out of daily practice.
I am an evidential spiritualist. I define beliefs about the nature of reality from the spiritual wisdom contained with the incredible wealth of personal spiritual experiences shared by thousands of people who have touched the spirit world in some way. I listen to the messages of those who have had a near-death experience, or the sage words of the dying as they begin to see the light. I listen to the whispers of my guides, and find inspiration in both the prophets of old and the channeled teachings of the modern world. I work hard to apply these teachings to my life, and fail often. I can be stubborn, prideful, arrogant, selfish and dour. But my spirituality has also taught me to keep working at it because I know I will eventually sit in judgement of my own behavior and answer for my actions.
How many people will die today with no belief in an afterlife and wake up in a world that looks identical to the one they left? How much time wasted living in illusion while guides attempt to school them in all of the basic spirituality that was so widely available while on earth? How many sad, angry people will suffer in self-made hells because they never learned to let go of the fear and anger while alive? Religion is dying in the west and it is a process that may irreversible. However, it is up to us to ensure that spirituality doesn’t die with it.
Many non-religious or formerly religious people are beginning to search out the incredible evidence of life after death and are discovering a new kind of spirituality with it. The problem is, the vast majority of people who have an NDE or an after-death communication, or witness a deathbed vision don’t share their experience out of fear that they will be labeled ‘crazy’ or ‘delusional’. There are things you can do to combat the pervasive spiritual apathy taking over the world. If you have had a spiritual experience that has touched your life, share it. Or, share a book that has opened your eyes to the reality of life after death. Many people may not realize that a strong, vital spirituality can be had without being a part of an organized religion. Secondly, live your own spirituality fearlessly. Engage in conversation when you can. Don’t push if rebuffed; we are not evangelists. On the other hand, don’t shy away from someone who seems interested.
Ultimately, the spiritual path must be sought. One cannot be dragged to it, or forced into belief. As religion wanes, we can fill the gap by finding courage to promote truth and fight against fraud or exploitation. We can shepherd those who are newly awakened to spiritual belief and inspire them with our kindness, generosity and peace. We ourselves can remain open-minded to any spiritual truth that comes our way, and be open to the many different ways people choose to express it -whether that is through religion, spirituality, or through secular paths of service and generosity.
Finding Jane Robert’s channeled Seth Books are what inspired me to find spirituality again after a time of dark atheism and anger toward my former religion. Therefore, I will end with one of my very favorite Seth quotes:
“Organize your reality according to your playfulness, according to your dreams, according to your joy, according to your hopes. And then you can help those who organize their realities according to their fears.”
-Seth, as channeled by Jane Roberts