Hostility to the Hereafter and the Movie “Hereafter”

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Clint Eastwood at the 2008 Cannes Film Festiva...

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I have seen the Clint Eastwood-directed movie Hereafter and have been surprised by the extremes in reviews. Roger Ebert gives the movie four stars and an “A” rating. On the other side of the spectrum is Peter Ranier of The Christian Science Moniter who accuses the movie of “quackery” and gives it a C- rating. Other ratings ranged anywhere from a numerical rating ranging from a low of 56 to a high of 100. A similar phenomenon was seen with the initial release of Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, which is almost universally recognized today as an innovative classic of the horror genre.

Hereafter is the story of a dissatisfied medium, George Lonegan (played by Matt Damon), a French journalist, Marie Lelay (played by Cecile de France) who has a near-death experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and an English schoolboy, Marcus (played by both Frankie and George McLaren), whose brother Jason (also played by both Frankie and George McLaren), who come together at the London Book Fair in circumstances that seem almost providential, but which could also be attributed to chance. A similar ambiguity is found in the movie Grand Canyon. Hereafter explores the issue of whether we survive death through the characters, and the screenwriter, Peter Morgan, whose previous credits include The Queen and Frost-Nixon, clearly has done his homework. As Roger Ebert notes, the movie does not say that an afterlife is proven by George McLaren’s genuine abilities; as parapsychologists know, veridical evidence from honest mediums can be due to telepathy from living persons or from clairvoyance. The ambiguity of the NDE is also noted, as well as Marie’s being absolutely convinced that her experience is real (what William James calls “noetic quality). The emotions the movie evokes are genuine, and though the movie veers perilously close to sentimentality, it does not cross that line. It is one of the best movies I have seen.

What accounts for some of the hostility toward Hereafter. I cannot read reviewers’ minds, but I would speculate that some reviewers are so hostile to any notion of survival of death that they are offended by a movie that is open to the possibility. Some of the evidence for survival is indeed suspect, but the movie recognizes this and shows Marcus visiting a number of fake mediums. But there are people in the world who would not be convinced of survival of death even if their mothers returned from the dead and hugged them. Survival of death is not possible in their world view. Thus, even though Hereafter can be interpreted as open to the possibility of life after death without affirming it, that possibility is too much to admit for the radical secularist.

On the other side of the issue would be individuals who want the movie to be less ambiguous on life after death–to affirm an afterlife without reservation. Morgan, who personally opposes an afterlife, and Eastwood wisely avoid reaching such conclusions. In real life they go beyond the evidence, but I think the ambiguity makes a better story–the audience begins the movie with wonder and ends the movie with wonder. This is a movie I definitely plan to purchase when it comes out on DVD.

Are Graphic Ads of Aborted Unborn Children the Way to Present the Pro-Life Message?

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Our Pro-Life Statue Blessed Mother Teresa of C...

In Washington, DC, a candidate for public office has run graphic ads on television showing images of aborted fetuses. Although I understand, as someone who believes abortion to be one of the most morally reprehensible and evil practices of the contemporary era, the frustration of pro-lifers, I do not believe that graphic ads are a good way to present the pro-life message.

One difficulty is that while some people may be persuaded by such images to believe that the fetus is a human person, this approach may harden others against the pro-life cause. The other major difficulty is that when pro-lifers appeal to emotional images, this is no better than pro-abortionists showing images of clothes hangers or of a woman’s physical damage from illegal pre-Roe v. Wade abortions. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander–the pro-abortionists will fight emotion with emotion.

People with a conscience who will listen to reason may be persuaded by a rational pro-life case, along with pro-lifers being engaged with service to women in difficulty pregnancies through crisis pregnancy centers. This approach has worked well thus far; there are 200,000 fewer abortions in the U. S. each year than at the height of the post Roe v. Wade era, abortionists are looked down on by other physicians, and for the first time in many years, more people describe themselves as “pro-life” rather than so-called “pro-choice.” As long as pro-lifers continue to appeal to both empirical and good rational arguments, they will have an impact in reducing the moral outrage of abortion. But graphic images will only inflame emotions, bring out more aggressiveness in an already overly-hostile press, and may, ironically, result in more abortions in the long run. Pro-lifers, for the most part, have taken the high road thus far. They should continue to do so, and with God’s help, more unborn children will be saved every year.