Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Talking to the Dead


If you have ever seen the dead body of someone familiar to you - a friend or a family member - you must have noticed how little the earthly remains resembled the person you knew. What had become of all the things that made that person a living individual - his voice, his laugh, his smile? Were they merely the product of his being alive, of his heart beating, his breathing, his consciousness? And where did all those things go when he died? Did they simply stop when his heart stopped?

There is an American television personality named John Edward (born John Edward McGee, Jr.) who has become very successful as a "psychic medium," specializing in communicating with the dead. He has a popular cable TV program currently airing on WE, Women's Entertainment, TV, in which he talks to audience members and, he claims, their dead loved ones. He has been criticized widely for preying on people's grief and interfering with their need for "closure". He has published several best-selling books and appears regularly on talk shows, always ready to demonstrate his special skill. While most of his appearances are presented in an affirmative light, some people have spoken of remaining "open" to such completely unprovable ideas as talking to the dead.

Talking to the dead is based on some dubious assumptions. The first of those assumptions is that there is a next world. The second assumption is personal immortality, as when Bob dies he remains conscious and wakes up, still Bob, in the next world. The third assumption is that Bob can communicate through a medium or some other living intermediary who is in sole possession of the faculty, although he may claim that everyone possesses it but, of course, doesn't know how to use it.

I reject the first assumption on several grounds, not the least of which is my personal revulsion at any and all hereafters. Having been faced long ago with the choice between God and Man, I chose Man, as have every other left-leaning person in the world. The second assumption is blazingly silly. The third assumption is only supportable if one accepts the first two.

But even if it were possible to talk to the dead, wouldn't it lead to revelations more significant than Bob loves you and likes the Lakers to go all the way? If the dead had some pressing reason to go to all the apparent trouble of communicating with the living, wouldn't it be because there was a story that needed to be told, some wrong righted, some mystery solved? Wouldn't someone like John Edward be able to end once and for all some of the great controversies of history?

I don't suppose there is any harm in what John Edward is doing. He is a confidence man, but he wouldn't be making so much money if people didn't give it to him. They must be getting something in return. And is Edward any different from a tele-evangelist? Talking to God is not much different from talking to the dead.

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