“Proof of Heaven”

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Photo by Peter Tsai

Proof of Heaven”

We are in Riverside, California, having arrived from Phoenix, Arizona, where we had a five-minute TV appearance on Pat McMahon’s show, The Morning Scramble. Jerry had had his first radio interview with Pat, an hour-long substantive conversation about God: An Autobiography, as told to a philosopher and had been invited to come back and bring the wife if he were ever in Phoenix. Since we stop there every time we fly to California to see Jerry’s 95-year-old father, we decided to accept the invitation.

Waiting to go on, we had rather a nice time with their madcap, heartily genial crew and the talented, versatile TV host who would step out to chat during commercial breaks. On air, Pat asked Jerry to explain (in two and a half minutes) how he got to write his book. Me he asked to say why I thought God had chosen Jerry for the Q & A with the Almighty. An unexpected (hence enlivening) question. I said that Jerry was, along with my late father, the most truthful man I knew. Not truthful merely in the sense that he didn’t tell lies. Truthful in that truth was for him a guide in life. I wanted to go on to elucidate the relevance of Jerry’s philosophic training to a state-of-the-art Q & A about the Big Questions, but oh well, we’re OUTTA TIME. The show must not go on any longer.

Although my lifelong aim had been to achieve INVISIBILITY, I have to say it was kinda fun. And there was no sense of crossing the equivalent of a time warp or a further dimension into Media-Land. Maybe everybody’s a performer now, so we’re not stepping over any kind of threshold when we hear, Smile! You’re on camera!

The main problem of travel is that you have to take your body along. And the big question of travel is, will it (your body) join up with you? Will it consent to come along? Or will it fight you?

You never know. The body has its wisdom that the mind knows not of. Also, the body has its subliminal grudges and panics that one’s mental half is unaware of – till it’s brought up short by an unreconciled body.

I won’t speak of the alimentary canal, which – as we recall from high school biology class – is amazingly long and as given to convulsive writhings as a python on uppers.

In fact, I won’t speak of any of it, because my bedtime reading on this trip has been a slender paperback titled “Proof of Heaven.” The author, Eben Alexander, is an impressively well-credentialed neurosurgeon whose message is that you can take leave of your body altogether and not be dead.

In terms of what neurosurgeons like Eben Alexander know about the brain, it should not be possible to have the kind of bacterial meningitis that put him in a coma for seven days and come out of it not only alive but fully functional cognitively. His case is well attested by the medical team that worked (apparently in vain) to revive him and by his own knowledge of the medical situation he was in. He was virtually brain dead, yet having the experiences of the life beyond death that his book reports. He took the social and professional risks of reporting his experience out of a sense of duty as a scientist. It’s important information and thoughtful people should be given the chance to ponder it.

I feel great respect for what he chose to do, but that is not what moves me to write about him in “Dear Abbie.” He got out of his body, left it in a coma in the hospital, had an exceptionally reassuring and enlightening time of it, felt how immense and encompassing is God’s love for each and every one of us, and how delightful it is to know all that face to face.

Although I have been a materialist (for a couple of years at a time of great despair), it didn’t stick. It imposed an unwarrantedly low-ceiling view of reality. Most of my life I’ve thought that God was real, that we don’t fall apart when our bodies do, and that love is pretty basic stuff.

When my father was dying, and apparently in some sort of coma, he and I had several nonverbal communications of the most profound sort. In one of them, I got from him the realization that the physics of the universe does not work according to the well-known laws (the strong force, the weak force, electro-magnetism and gravity) alone. Underlying those forces is a more deep and encompassing force: Love. Dante was right. Love “moves the sun and the other stars.” I don’t carry the certainty with me at all times, but I was certain of it at that moment, standing next to my father when he was dying.

So, not being a materialist, nothing in my belief-world is offended by Eben Alexander’s report. I’m interested. We live in a time when these reports are getting to be more widely disseminated in the culture and finding less resistance than heretofore. I have lived among philosophical materialists and I know that they are professionally worried about reports like this. The materialists have to respect empirical evidence and this is empirical evidence. It will pile up and pile up until the shell of philosophical resistance cracks. Cultures take shape from the top down, that is, from what “those who know” claim to know. The culture will change.

That said, I’m also interested to face my personal resistances and see what they are made of. I’m only halfway through the book, and hoping it’ll last as a read for the length of our trip. But, while Eben Alexander is flying around heaven, where am I? Where does his voyage leave me?

Would I like to fly there too? Just for the afternoon, before Jerry gets back? He’ll tell me his adventures and then I’ll say, “You’ll never guess where I’ve been”?

Actually no. It would be a distraction. I’ve got projects to work out, particular understandings to come by and absorb, and they belong irreplaceably to the timeline, the plotline, of my life.

Nobody can carry this story through except me. 

It’s my job.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, soon to appear in a revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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