The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier has already taken a satisfying whack at T.M. Luhrmann, the occasional New York Times columnist who writes about spirituality and religion. But Luhrmann's Thursday column, written in honor of Halloween, begs several questions, none of which she attempts to answer. Instead the piece represents a type of muddled thinking that is usually only allowed if the subject is faith.
Here is her basic point:
As many as 80 percent of those who lose loved ones report that they sense that person after death. These are real sensory events. People hear a voice; they feel a touch; they recognize a presence. A friend told me that a year after her husband’s death, she would still find him sitting on that bench in the park, waiting for her. She liked that.
One study found that one in 10 people had sensory experiences so rich and frequent that they felt their dead spouse was always with them. “Part of my life is gone,” Dame Thora Hird, a British actress, told The Daily Telegraph in 2000, about the loss of her husband after 58 years of marriage, “but he isn’t a long way away. Don’t think I’m being silly, but I sit in his easy chair in the loft andso often, I have a feeling he’s there.”
It's hard to interpret exactly what poor Ms. Hird means, but the beginning of her quote, about part of her life being "gone," provides a clue. As with Luhrmann's friend mentioned above, Hird appears to have some sense that the "sensory events" she is experiencing are different from the sensory event of, say, eating dinner. There is an acknowledgement, however grudging or unintended, that whatever is going on is not reality. This doesn't mean that people are making the experiences up; there is no reason to doubt their sincerity. But it is an important distinction to make. Luhrmann, always anxious to treat every spiritual experience with the utmost respect, never bothers to make it.
Written By: Isaac Chotiner
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