Sjoerd Bonting: Is there life after death? A novel view.
White Crow Books 2012. 149 pp
Sjoerd Bonting is an impressive person: for twenty years, he was chairman and professor of biochemistry at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands; then for eight years the scientific consultant for NASA preparation biological research on the International Space Station. After studying theology, in 1964 he was ordained an Anglican priest in Washington Cathedral, and for many years has ministered to English-speaking congregations in the Netherlands. His contributions to the field of biology are very numerous, and he has written five books to do with the science-theology dialogue.
His theological/scientific standpoint can be contrasted to that of the Catholic theologian-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who wrote, "My starting point is the fundamental initial fact that each one of us is perforce linked by all the material organic and psychic strands of his being to all that surrounds him." [The Phenomenon of Man, p.24] For Teilhard, God is immanent, or dwells in, all that is.
Compared with Teilhard, Sjoerd Bonting sees God as more separate from the world as we know it. As a traditional Anglican he takes for granted the truth of the belief to be found in the Bible that there will be a Last Judgement when Jesus will "come to judge the quick and the dead." Bonting accepts that after the death of the body we seem to ourselves to be conscious and alive. In thinking about the afterlife he sees himself as exploring "the intermediate period” between the death of the body and the time of the Last Judgement. He sees NDEs or Near Death Experiences as an important way of exploring this intermediate period.
This being Bonting’s standpoint, this book will especially appeal to those who accept the Christian creeds. Nevertheless I hope that the book will be read by many who do not entirely share his beliefs. His writing is simple, understandable, and succinct.
On page vii of his Preface, Bonting writes, “Surveys in the Netherlands have shown that 57% of church members (Roman-Catholic and Protestant) and 55% of the unchurched believe in a life after death. It
is remarkable that so few members and so many non-members
believe this. Even more remarkable is that in both categories more
people believe in life after death than in God (40% among church members and 7% of non-members). Consider that church attenders, whenever they recite the Nicene Creed, affirm in the first line their belief
in ‘God, the Father, the Almighty’ and in the last line their belief in ‘the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come’". Such statistics suggest the depth of the need for church attenders and others to acquaint themselves with the known facts about the afterlife.
In Chapter One he explores the beliefs about the afterlife of Egypt, Babylonia, Zoroastrianism, the Greeks and Romans, Germanic and Celtic religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.
And then in Chapter Two he explores the beliefs of Judaism, tracing them through history, describing their beliefs about body and mind.
Chapter Three explores the afterlife beliefs of Christendom over its long history, giving short summaries of the beliefs of the more important Christian Fathers, and a summary of the beliefs of a number of important contemporary theologians.
In Chapter Four we read about Reincarnation and Parapsychology. Here, I am not clear that our author has read extensively in this field. How much of the work of Ian Stevenson has he studied? Some of that material is very convincing. How much has the significance of “Patience Worth” been considered, for example ?
“About communication with the dead much research has been done, in which many cases of fraud have been uncovered and others have produced rather trivial results. This is one reason for me to maintain a sceptical attitude to this phenomenon and not use it in my further study of life after death, in contrast to Michael Tymn.” [p.40]
I wonder whether Bonting has examined the work in the field of psychic research over the past 150 years conducted by such scientific leaders as Alfred Russell Wallace, William James, F.W.H. Myers, Sir William Crookes, Wolfgang Pauli, Brian Josephson, Gary Schwartz, Charles Tart, Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ and others whose work directly or indirectly establishes the reality of communication with the dead. I would not consider their work to be trivial.
It is not that Bonting rejects the possibility of communication with the dead. On the contrary, in his book he is very kind about my Afterlife Teaching of Stephen the Martyr where a great number of conversations are recorded between the spirit of Stephen and questioners, saying that he was inclined to trust the reality of the whole phenomenon. I would like to thank Sjoerd for that trust. He does accept the reality of communication with the discarnate, but generally relies on the evidence of Near Death Experiences, which he discusses later.
In Chapter Five biomedical aspects of death are discussed, and euthanasia. Chapter Six is devoted to a study of Near Death Experiences, in a, to me, very helpful way.
Chapter Seven deals with the "Interim Period" that I have mentioned earlier. He applies this term to the afterlife as commonly understood. He writes, “This suggests to me that during the interim period our mind is growing from its earthly level to the level required for eternity life in the future world.” Bonting agrees that the Interim Period or the afterlife can be a period of growth and development, but believes that this is prior to the Day of Judgement.
In the interests of brevity, I shall not summarise the book further.
In conclusion, whether or not we share some of Sjoerd Bonting’s standpoints, I do recommend his book. He is a good teacher, and provides valuable overviews of important topics associated with considering the question of Life After Death.