Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander

I’m fascinated by stories of the afterlife. So when I heard Dr. Eben Alexander being interviewed by Dennis Prager about his book Proof of Heaven, I paid close attention! The subtitle is “A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.” That pretty much explains the premise of the book.

This short, quick read begins with the immediate cause of his near death experience (NDE). He experienced flu-like symptoms, a splitting headache, and back pain out of the blue. After being rushed to the emergency room when a slight touch caused overwhelming pain, he slipped into a coma. The cause was determined, after much testing, to be the extremely rare bacterial meningitis caused by E. coli. With the seriousness with which he presented, his odds of dying shot up to 97% by his 6th day in the coma. His odds of full recovery were so slight as to be called a miracle by his doctor.

Because of the bacteria invading his spinal system, his brain was “bathed in pus” and inoperable in all but the most basic functions. For all intents, the parts of the brain that made him human and himself were inoperable. Therefore, his experiences cannot be explained by some kind of random firings in the brain producing strange visions. (He goes into extensive medical hypothesis for what happened and then debunks them in an appendix.)

He first passed through a very earthy level and time ceased to have meaning. He called this the earthworm view level. He moved to another level, what he called a kind of brilliant darkness filled with living sound. And although he heard no words, he was immediately filled with the thought “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” In fact, he felt bathed in love. Soon he was able to move to an even higher level full of orbs of light and joy and more music. This is where he felt he experienced God. At some point in his journey, he realized he had a mysterious guide with him. A beautiful girl riding with him on the wings of a butterfly. Yet he felt no sense of himself either. He had no memory of earth or family or even his own identity. He was just part of and connected to the whole universe.

He began to understand things as he had never understood them before. He experienced answers to questions before they could be asked. He felt that truth was so much bigger than we on earth had ever even imagined. And this from a highly educated man. 

Upon his return, he states, “To say that there is a chasm between our current scientific understanding of the universe and the truth as I saw it is a considerable understatement... The physical side of the universe is as a speck of dust compared to the invisible and spiritual part. In my past view, spiritual wasn’t a word that I would have employed during a scientific conversation. Now I believe it is a word that we cannot afford to leave out.”

Although he begins as an unbeliever, he comes back with a deep knowledge of God, whom he refers to as Om. “One of the biggest mistakes people make when they think about God is to imagine God as impersonal. Yes, God is behind the numbers, the perfection of the universe that science measures and struggles to understand. But -- again, paradoxically -- Om is ‘human’ as well -- even more human than you and I are. Om understands and sympathizes with our human situation more profoundly and personally than we can even imagine because Om knows what we have forgotten, and understands the terrible burden it is to live with amnesia of the Divine for even a moment.” 

The ramifications of this statement in light of Scripture are very interesting. Hebrews says we have a High Priest who understands us. Jesus, for the brief moment He is disconnect from the Father on the cross, cries out in despair. That forsakenness is worse than the physically pain He is enduring. Yet we live disconnected from God on a daily business. Oh how much we have lost. 

After 6 days in the coma, Eben’s family began to prepare for his death. They went into his room to pray once more, begging his body to kick in and restart his brain. As they looked deeply into his face, looking for any sign of recovery, he suddenly opened his eyes! 

While it took a little while for him to regain his previous state, he is now fully recovered and determined to share the reality of what he experienced. He first wrote all he experienced and then began to research the phenomenon of NDEs. He wanted to document what he went through before being tainted or influenced by others’ experiences. 

While sharing his story with a doctor friend, most of whom had reacted the way he would have - with skepticism, he saw a strange look pass the man’s face. Finally the friend felt free to detail his own experience with a NDE. His father, dying and in pain for years, suddenly became lucid. He began speaking to the air, but it became clear he was conversing with his long-dead mother. At this point, the friend told his dad it was O.K. It was time to go. The old man closed his eye, fell asleep, and never woke up. Up until this time, the man had no one to share this bizarre story with. Now he had found a kindred spirit.

One thing, however bothered Eben. He did not see anyone he knew on the other side. No one greeted him. No long-dead relatives welcomed him home. He attributed this to the complete loss of identity he experienced and wondered if that was what allowed him to bypass that stage. 

Two years before the coma, he had contacted his biological family (he was adopted as an infant) and found he had full siblings. One had died before he had a chance to meet her. Four months after recovering from the meningitis, they finally sent him a photo of the lost sister. He realized he was looking into the face of his angelic guide! He now felt whole and that he had come full circle. 

His book is a very quick read, very interesting, and very believable. Although his experience on the other side sounds quite fantastical, could it be any other way? Does it meet up exactly with our preconceived notions of heaven? Nope. But parts of his journey ring true to Scripture and serve to illuminate phrases like “caught up into the third heaven” and “being in the spirit.” We see why Paul said it was unlawful for him to describe what he saw when he experience an NDE. How could he accurately describe something that conforms to no known laws on earth? His experience was quite literally “unlawful.” Will we all experience what Dr. Alexander did? I really don’t think so, but he discovered what he needed to discover and returned to spread what he calls, the good news!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The End is Near and it's Going to be Awesome by Kevin D. Williamson

I’m not sure where I got the recommendation to read “The End is Near and it’s Going to be Awesome” by Kevin D. Williamson. Maybe it’s another instance of choosing a book by its cover. This one has an awesome cover! Plus the idea of America after the collapse, is a compelling one. I’m not sure there will ever be another America as we know it after a collapse, but one can wonder.

He begins with the understanding for something to evolve and change and adapt, death must occur. Business fail, scientific hypotheses fail, ideas fail, and new and better ones rise up to take their place. But he ends starkly with, “But politics does not die. Politics is the Immortal Corporation.” Therefore, is it even possible for politics to adapt and become more efficient, or does America have to die first?

No, politics cannot evolve. Certainly not in the way business have. It therefore chokes on its own contradictions. All other entities have to figure out how to get “less wrong” over time, and the imminence of their own demise is a powerful motivating factor. “The problem of politics is that it does not know how to get less wrong.... Resistance to innovation is a part of the deep structure of politics. In that, it is like any other monopoly. It never goes out of business.” It is isolated and therefore incapable of learning how to adapt. It cannot be tweaked to account for a changing world. It cannot update itself with regularity as new problems and out-of-date solutions are discovered. In fact, by its very nature, politics tends to become more wrong.

But if government is the only monopoly allowed to operate in our country, what is it a monopoly on? It is a monopoly on force. “Government is the machinery of violence, and political power is the license to operate the machinery.” All violence is not negative. Our armed forces are examples of violence used to protect us, as are police and judicial powers. But when violence is used to harm and coerce, well, we call that criminal action. Unfortunately government uses most of its monopoly on force to commit criminal acts. It coerces us through laws backed by the power of violence to force us to do what politicians deems best. In fact, he emphatically states, “What [the government] is is structurally indistinguishable from organized crime.” Pretty powerful claim! 

But you might claim the government does lots of things that don’t require force. It educates, provides for the indigent, and engages in scientific research. Yet at the end of the day, government can ONLY use force to get to its objectives. Government has no resources except what it takes at the point of gun. We need to ask ourselves if violent means are the best way to get to our desired end, namely a prosperous and happy society. 

So if government is only force, why do we let it get away with so much? Because we believe government has a responsibility to tell us what direction to go. Government tells us the fuels of the future, government tells us what drugs and medical procedures are to be available in the future, government tells us the best way to educate our children in the future. And we believe this is correct because we believe government can be a moralistic force for good. “The concepts of legitimacy and consent are the foundation of the moralistic view of politics, which converts government from a machine for doing things into a directorate for telling us what to do. This happens on the presumption that there is some valid, underlying moral theory behind politics, based on an ethical standard to which we all implicitly consent.” The Social Contract. The problem is that there is no broad-based, inherent morality to which we all agree. There is not one-size-fits-all definition of right and wrong. Therefore, force MUST be used to control the dissidents.

“If government does not exist to provide an ethical foundation for society, then, what is its role, if it has one?” In short, the job of government is the production of what economists call ‘public goods’” Public goods are not simply things that the public wants. They have a specific definition. They are first of all “nonexcludable” meaning that there is no practical to keep people who have not paid for it from using it. (i.e. sidewalks or the military) Public goods must also be such that when an individual uses it, the availability to another individual is not reduced. Television programming, education, and scientific research do NOT fall into these categories. They can be and are produced by the private market. That is, someone can charge for them and therefore exclude who uses them.

Two areas which consume the lion’s share of our federal budget are Social Security and health care. Neither are under the purview of what the government SHOULD be doing, and both will cause our doom. These two programs, along with education, are made worse by the intervention of government. The incentives to do them more efficiently simply are not there. They exist to serve the political establishment, not the citizens. Therefore they serve the politicians very well when it’s time to buy votes, but the sick, elderly and students, not so much.

He then goes on to detail example after example of how the free market is dealing with so many issues the government has usurped in a more efficient and more fair way. There are many, many better ways to do what our politician claim only they, with a gun in hand, can do.

He ends with this, “... as we have seen, whether the question is education, providing for health care, funding pensions, or providing for the poor, this presents us with many opportunities to make the world a much better place -- for everybody.”

I remain skeptical that America will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I rather think we are too far gone. Americans are too uneducated and too dependent. The fact that we CAN create a much better place, and the fact that we ARE creating much better systems in some areas gives one hope. But the doing of it is another thing. Our behemoth government can put the kibosh on anything it wants, so who’s to say any of those wonderful innovations will survive the death throes of the monster?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

I decided to read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright after hearing it recommended several times. The book traces the roots of Al-Qaeda and “the road to 9/11” so it seemed quite relevant to today and the war on terror.

The story starts in November 1948 with an Egyptian named Sayyid Qutb. He is on his way to America to study and must decide whether to fit in with the alien culture or stay true to his Islamic beliefs. Focusing on only the worst parts of American culture, Qutb became quite radicalized in his Islamic beliefs. After returning to Egypt and preaching revolution against the moderate Nasser, he was arrested, tortured and eventually killed. He was the first Islamic martyr.

The story continues with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian born into the middle class, able to see the wealthy but never get there himself. His uncle had been a student of Qutb’s and regaled young Zawahiri with tales of the martyr and his call for purity. 

After becoming a doctor, he was asked to help the Afghan refugees fleeing into Pakistan during the Afghan war in 1980. He made furtive trips into Afghanistan to witness the courage of the Afghan mujahideen personally. After returning home, he began to recruiting brave young Egyptians to join the freedom fighters to defeat the Soviet invasion. For his radical efforts, he too was arrested. But his fame grew and his message spread during his years behind bars. He worked with his fellow prisoners to create a group called al-Jihad which would purify the Muslim world.

Once he was released from the Egyptian prison, Zawahiri moved to Saudi Arabia. Here, the bin Laden family had risen to prominence in the backward, desolate country. The patriarch, Mohammed bin Laden had deep connections to the royal family and subsequently became very wealthy with construction contracts. He took full advantage of the Muslim male’s ability to marry and divorce with ease, fathering 54 children from 22 of his wives. His most famous offspring, Osama, deeply bothered by increasingly modern Saudi Arabia, would go onto a career in terror.

Before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Islamic rebels invaded the newly remodeled Grand Mosque in Mecca. While they were eventually subdued and executed, Osama was inadvertently accused of being one of the rebels. Although the connections of his father and name protected him and he proclaimed his innocence, years later, after joining the holy fighters, he would claim allegiance to those rebels.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri were both drawn to Pakistan to help the Afghan refugees and to see how they could become involved in the struggle. They began working together to recruit young, disaffected Muslim men from all around the region to join them in the fight for Afghanistan. Political and familial obligations kept them for joining the fight directly, but they worked behind the scenes raising money, weapons, and an “army.” Eventually, after engaging in crude training exercises, they tried to slip into Afghanistan and work with the mujahideen, but were ill-treated and humiliated. 

The whole experience left many of them as men without a home. Their native countries did not want these radicalized males in their midst, and the Soviet-free Afghanistan did not welcome them either. They were forced to remain in the caves of Pakistan on the Afghanistan border. With nothing else to do, they began to train even more extensively and organized themselves as a new entity, al-Qaeda.

When bin Laden’s home nation of Saudi Arabia found it necessary to turn to the United States for arms and military help, bin Laden felt further humiliated. He hated America and hated that his nation partnered with the “enemy.” He found America weak and believed he and his men could strike a blow against the United States. 

After a stint in Sudan, a relatively peaceful existence, failed business dealings, and the bombing of a hotel wrongfully thought to be housing American troops, bin Laden and his people realized they needed to become even more radicalized and decided even killing innocents in the name of Islam was permit able. The global terror organization was born. Knowing only America had the capability of stopping their goal of a world-wide caliphate, they turned their sights on the Great Satan. America, around 1995, was clueless. 

With nowhere else to go, bin Laden traveled to the now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. From his rudimentary abode, and with nothing but failure and humiliation behind him, he plotted war on America. “You are not unaware of the injustice, repression and aggression that have befallen Muslims through the alliance of Jews, Christians, and their agents, so much so that Muslims’ blood has become the cheapest blood and their money and wealth are plundered by the enemies,” bin Laden declared while seeking to build his army.  One person attracted to the training camp was Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. His nephew had bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and he was a wanted man. Americans remained largely unaware and uninterested in the group housed in the caves of Tora Bora. 

Bin Laden did everything he could to scare up some publicity and spin even defeats and humiliations into victories. As various terrorists, trained by bin Laden, or under the influence of Zawahiri in Egypt, engaged in acts of terror, the U.S. finally began paying some attention. However, internal turf wars and ego problems kept those assigned to national security from seeing the whole picture. The bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya got their attention. America’s feeble and failed response of bombing the Pakistan training camp only elevated bin Laden’s position. 

After the wildly successful bombing of the USS Cole failed to spur the U.S. into action, Al-Qaeda began to plan what KSM had dubbed his “planes operation.” The plan was to strike America’s homeland flying hijacked planes. Hints abounded but because the CIA and the FBI, with their different focuses, would not work together, the plan was not discovered. One FBI agent, John O’Neill, did his best to wake up the bureaucracy to the threat al-Qaeda represented. He finally quit on August 22, 2001, and took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. Only a couple of weeks later, he did not make it out.

As to the importance of bin Laden, Wright states, “At a time when there were many Islamist movements, all of them concentrated on nationalist goals, it was bin Laden’s vision to create an international jihad corps. It was his leadership that held together an organization that had been bankrupted and thrown into exile. It was bin Laden’s tenacity that made him deaf to the moral quarrels that attended the murder of so many and indifferent to the repeated failures that would have destroyed most men’s dreams.” He had the ability to “enlist the imagination of the men whose lives bin Laden required.” Eventually bin Laden would be hunted down and killed by American Navy Seals. But the war with this deadly, yet pathetic bunch of malcontents, continues.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Who's the Fairest of Them All by Stephen Moore

President Obama is constantly pressing for “fairness.” At least his definition of the word, which generally means take from the rich and give to the poor. O.K. So he wants to help the poor and he’s obsessed with fairness. He should read Who’s the Fairest of them All? by Stephen Moore

He begins the book with, “The left argues that conservatives don’t care about poor people, and this is why they oppose income redistribution in tax policy, welfare payments to the poor, higher budgets for social programs, regulations like higher minimum wages, and so on. But the premise of this book is that it is equally (maybe even more) plausible to say that liberals don’t care about poor people.”

He then goes on to state with vivid clarity the myriad ways the left have hurt those they claim to care the most about. The programs and policies have led to rising poverty, higher unemployment, dismal education, and increasing fatherlessness. This from the friends of poor. With friends like these...

With charts and graphs and an array of statistics, Moore makes the case that in the most economically free nations the poor are always better off. “So in other words, if we judge society by how well it serves the poor, then free enterprise is far and away the greatest anti-poverty program known to man.” 

The most fair society is the most free. By clamping down on our freedoms and attacking free-enterprise, those on the left have doomed the poor to poverty, never to rise out. 

Here's a video which illustrates the principles (quite literally!)