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Michael Tymn ~ A longing for Immortality

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A Longing After Immortality


Many thanks to guest blogist Howard N. Brown, D. D. for writing this blog.  It first appeared in the March 1914 issue of the Journal of the The American Society for Psychical Research (Volume VIII, No. 3.  Since it was written entirely by Dr. Brown, (below) no quotes are used.


Much has been said of the moral value of the idea of immortality both as a warning to prospective evil-doers, and as a support to those who must endure present wrong. It is, distinctly, in these ways a moral power. But of far greater consequences it is that, in the end, our feeling and persuasion of the rationality of existence are at stake upon it.  Moral considerations have slight force when life becomes to a man what it was to the man Macbeth – “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.”  Moral impulses may survive, for a long time, in the agnostic mind, which is not sure whether or not it lives in a rational universe, since that mind leaves open the possibility that reason rules, after all. But morality cannot make much headway except as it finds under its feet a strong conviction that life is a reasonable thing, and is going a road whose ultimate goal is worth what it costs to get there.

The ordinary mind may not think things out very far, but it is quick to feel when the central entrenchments of its life are being undermined; and to nothing is it more sensitive than to attacks on its belief in the immortal life.  It feels, and has a right to feel, that when this is destroyed there is nothing left, at last, but a mad and ruthless scramble for the material enjoyments of this present life.

Critics of the belief have vastly overworked the suggestion that it springs out of the desire for continued existence. If man could keep his life here indefinitely, in bodily health and vigor, no doubt that is what he would prefer.  But it is no wise probable that many people do feel so much “longing after immortality.” They are generally in no haste to take that boon when it appears to be close within their reach. While we know so little about that other life it cannot be so very attractive to us. The instinctive belief in it springs from a deeper root.  We are bound to believe if we can in a rational universe, and we know in our hearts that it cannot be made to seem rational without the idea of immortality.

But while all unsophisticated life is in the habit of taking freely what it wants and not bothering much about the logical justification of such proceedings, we have come to a time when a rapidly increasing number of people will not and can not jump these intellectual chasms.  It is not enough for them to know that they much prefer to live in a rational universe, nor even that it is essential to common morality to have it appear a rational universe.  The question still recurs: “Is it, in fact, a rational universe?”

And here is the true bearing of the work which psychic research has undertaken.  If it can find proof of the persistence of personal memory and personal intelligence after death, then there is an answer to the doubts of the cultivated man when he queries whether, after all, life is worth living. That shows him a way by which to uphold, intelligently, the rationality of existence.  Lacking this, he is thrown back into more or less uncertainty whether the great drama of the world’s life has any meaning or an end.  The academic world ought, at this moment, to be hanging with breathless interest upon the result of experiments and examinations that are being conducted with this purpose in view. That it is not, we must ascribe to the fact that, save in the use of certain technical tools, the academic world is not so very much wiser than some other folks. No doubt in a matter of such vast interest more than ordinary precaution is likely to be preserved among thinking people. But it might be more generally recognized that even a small amount of good evidence tending to uphold belief in a future life, and so to strengthen the conviction that existence is a reasonable reality, would possess untold moral value.

To champions of extreme democratic ideas this may not mean so much.  It may be said that the great mass of men always have, and always will believe in immortality, with or without evidence; and that it is only the life of this mass which really counts. But all who think that the general life is much swayed by and largely takes its tone from the character of the more intellectual classes, will realize the moral significance of the question whether or not the intellectual man is to continue to keep the idea of an immortal life. It may be frankly granted that, apart from some kind of evidence, it is practically an unbelievable idea; I think, notwithstanding all our fine-spun theories to account for its origin and rise to power, common sense will say it never could have obtained its hold upon the general mind without evidence which that mind regarded as satisfactory. The attempt now to supply the trained intellect with evidence of the continuance of life beyond death, evidence which it can and must respect, is one that every lover of his kind should wish might be finally crowned with success.

I very much doubt whether any human thought can fathom the infinite mind.  But what I want is enough of drama or plan in existence, as it is known to me, to give assurance that I can ultimately arrive at some more perfect understanding of the mysteries of being. With the future life in view I can be satisfied that the world, so far as I am able to know it, is a reasonable creation, and has a reasonable movement toward a reasonable end. This does not answer all the questions about the universe that I am disposed to ask. But for some of these answers I can wait till more light is afforded me.

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

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