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Overcoming Existential Angst with Afterlife Evidence ~ Michael Tymn

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Overcoming Existential Angst with Afterlife Evidence

Posted on 28 March 2022, 8:58

According to several internet references, old-age begins at 65, but 65-74 is “young-old,” while 75-84 is “old” and 85-and-up is “old-old.”  As I cross the threshold into that oldest classification, perhaps best referred to as “dotage,” it seems like an appropriate time to philosophize, including looking back at how my views on God and the afterlife have changed with the four seasons of life, as depicted in the accompanying collage – youth, young adulthood, middle-age, and old age.


My earliest beliefs were molded by the Catholic Church.  There was no question about the existence of God or an afterlife, one that had three possibilities – heaven, purgatory, and hell.  All those going to purgatory would eventually make it to heaven, although it might take a few hundred years of pain and suffering equivalent to that in hell before one had purified himself enough for graduation to heaven.  The afterlife seemed like a pretty dull place, but it was too far in the future to concern myself with the lack of entertainment and excitement there. I was a curious kid (top left photo) and often struggled with the Catholic teaching that one could live a sinful and shameful life but still make it to heaven, via purgatory, by confessing his sins on his deathbed, while another person could live a relatively virtuous life and be condemned to hell for eternity if he died with a single sin on his soul, one that he had not yet confessed. It just didn’t seem fair and I couldn’t imagine that a just God would permit a system that was based for the most part on luck. 

My high school biology teacher professed a belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution,  although he was very careful in setting it forth as dogma.  At that time, the early 1950s, I, and many others, took a belief in Darwinism to be one of atheism, and I couldn’t understand how such a nice and intelligent guy could have such a “demonic” belief.  As a college freshman, I took a philosophy course in which I was fully awakened to the idea that there might not be a God or an afterlife. But death was too far off to let nihilism really bother me too much. I clung to my Catholic beliefs but with more skepticism than before. 

During my three years of obligatory military service following college, I concluded that military life, while offering much travel and an abundance of adventure and learning experiences, was not for me. However, not long before the completion of my tour of duty, I participated in a military track meet and excelled to the point that the commanding general invited me to his office to congratulate me. The general noted from my file that I would soon complete my service and asked if I had given any consideration to making the military a career.  My athletic victories apparently outweighed my lack of a “gung-ho” attitude, as must have been evident in my file on the general’s desk. I didn’t go into detail with the general, but my primary reason for not being interested in such a career was an existential one, probably my first real existential reasoning. 

We were between the Korean War and the Vietnam War at the time and I reasoned that if I were to succeed in a career as a military officer I would have to hope for a war in order to have fulfillment in my career.  The alternative was to complete a 20-year military career without ever having put all my training into practice.  I saw it as a no-win situation – either continually hope for a war and have one or have a career in which all my efforts went for nothing beyond being prepared for something.  I discussed the dilemma with several fellow officers and was surprised to find out that they had never considered that aspect of it.  Moreover, they didn’t seem to fully grasp my mental conflict or to be interested in giving it any thought.  I was puzzled and wondered if I had been digging too deeply into the future.

No Carpe Diem
At that time, I was just beginning to struggle with the much greater existential concern of whether life had any meaning.  Even if I were to find some fulfillment in a career, I wondered to what end.  I never was a “carpe diem” person.  I could find no enjoyment in eating, drinking, and being merry in the time not allotted to preparing for war or later in working a nine-to-five job in the civilian life. I definitely wasn’t the “party animal” that many of my friends were. I could make absolutely no sense of smoking, a popular endeavor at the time, and I found beer and all other alcoholic beverages very distasteful.  The materialistic, hedonistic, or Epicurean lifestyle that most of my friends sought had no appeal, even though I made several attempts at experiencing it (top right photo). Fortunately, my “existential angst” during those early years was soon mitigated significantly by the demands of family life, a career, sport (bottom left photo), and other escapes from reality – a reality in which seemingly few pause to ask the meaning of it all.

In his 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, anthropologist Ernest Becker explains that we all use repression to overcome death anxiety.  That is, we bury the idea of death deep in the subconscious.  Borrowing from Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth-century French philosopher, Becker points out that we literally drive ourselves into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, and personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of the situation that they are a form of madness – “agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same.”
My madness continued through most of my forties. An empty nest at home, reaching a plateau of achievement and advancement at work, and a significant decline in athletic performance due to the effects of aging all prompted me, at around age 50, to come to grips with my madness and give more thought to existential matters. I soon realized that I was a victim of what Soren Kierkegaard, known as “the father of existentialism,” referred to as philistinism – tranquilizing oneself with the trivial.  As Kierkegaard saw it, most people in despair from philistinism don’t even realize they are in despair. 

I considered the humanist approach that life is all about making it a better world for future generations, but I ran into a roadblock when I tried to put myself in the place of a descendant several generations ahead with all the leisure and comforts of a true Epicurean, and wondered what I would then do to make it even more pleasurable.  Wouldn’t it just lead to more materialism, more hedonism, then monotony or insanity? 

Now, at the mid-point of my ninth decade of life (lower right art, thanks to Michael Hughes), I often reflect on the various crossroads in life, wondering where I would be at this moment if I had chosen a different path, or even if I would still exist as a human being. 

Then What?    

All that came to mind recently while reading Return of the God Hypothesis by Stephen C. Meyer, the director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute in Seattle.  Meyer writes that the problem of human significance began to torment him when he was 14 years old and an ardent baseball fan. He thought about a player achieving great success on the ballfield, being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, thereby achieving “immortality of sorts,” but then he would die. “Then what? What did any of those numbers measuring his achievements mean after that?” Meyer asked himself.  He further recalled wondering about the “lasting meaning” of a great surgeon who had saved many lives during her career – lives which had all now expired.

Meyer began to see his concerns as “a metaphysical panic, a fear of the meaninglessness of life.”  He could find no lasting value or meaning in any human achievement, nor in love or kindness.  In later years, he “encountered many other people, particularly students, who have experienced a similar metaphysical anxiety about whether their lives or human existence generally has any ultimate purpose.”  He suspects that such hopelessness has contributed to the epidemic levels of suicide among young people and that the plague of opioid addiction around the world is an attempt by people to numb themselves against a gnawing despair that has to do with what they see as a meaningless life.  To that I might add a recent report that alcohol-linked deaths surged in the pandemic’s first year, rising from 78,927 in 2019 to 99,917 in 2020.  What might the numbers be of the alcoholics who didn’t die?

Meyer has been able to overcome his angst by studying all the evidence suggesting Intelligent Design of our universe. If I am interpreting him correctly, he infers from such design that there is a God and deductively draws from that premise that consciousness must continue after death.  I don’t quite understand how Meyer moves from the reality of God to the reality of a larger life after death, but if that works for him and others, good for them.

For me, it has been inductive reasoning from some 35 years of studying psychical research and related stories that has provided a conviction that consciousness does survive death in a larger life. That conviction leads me to believe that there is an Intelligence behind it all, but I don’t see the need for searching for, identifying, and examining the Intelligence before considering the survival aspect. Moreover, the years of study have led me to believe the afterlife is much more than the humdrum heaven I envisioned during my youth and that the negative afterlife is not an eternal one.  I accept that it is beyond human comprehension, at least mine, but that, however it plays out, it is something that will not disappoint those who have lived essentially moral, productive and positive lives of love and service. 

The bottom line here is that as I advance from old age into the dotage stage of life, I am most thankful for the guidance provided, possibly from invisible sources, in understanding and overcoming much of the madness I once experienced.  I realize that a certain amount of madness is necessary to cope and survive in our complex world.  As Pascal said, “not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.”  However, tempering the madness and integrating it with a more infinite and cosmic consciousness is, I believe, the key to avoiding extremes of madness during one’s declining years. As the great German thinker Goethe put, we must plunge into experience and then reflect on the meaning of it. All reflection and no plunging drives us mad, but all plunging and no reflection makes us brutes.   

Moreover, I have no regrets about choosing the paths I took at those critical crossroads, even though, in retrospect, some of them were likely much more challenging and demanding, even more painful, than the ones I turned away from.  Would a life without adversity have any meaning? Onward Christian Soldiers!

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

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