Book Review: Death Makes Life Possible
Death Makes Life Possible
Revolutionary Insights on Living, Dying, and the Continuation of Consciousness
By Marilyn Schlitz, PhD
In his introduction to this companion to the documentary film of the same name, Deepak Chopra divides the world into two camps: those who believe that mind arises in the brain and that consciousness ceases when the brain dies; and those who believe that mind exists independently, and thus can have an afterlife. Author and social anthropologist Marilyn Schlitz has the good intention of increasing our awareness of other worldviews on this topic and of offering ways to improve our relationship with death, but it seems unlikely that this book will change the minds of the former camp. It contains little that would surprise those who might have read an average near-death memoir or spiritual self-help book.
The author writes in often-repeated generalizations, and though the subtitle promises revolutionary insights, the conclusions are often commonplace: that illness or accidents can prompt transformational experiences; that living a full life makes us less afraid of death. “Religious beliefs often shape our views of death and what happens after,” reads one all-too-typical sentence. “It can take hard work to transform yourself, but in the end it is worth it,” reads another.
It’s only in a few quotes from some of the many scientists, gurus, and healers that Schlitz has interviewed that the book takes on a more vivid personality, as when philosopher Sam Keen notes, “Our heroic projects that are aimed at destroying evil have the paradoxical effect of bringing more evil into the world. Human conflicts are life and death struggles—my gods against your gods, my immortality project against your immortality project.” As Schlitz notes, Keen wrote a foreword to the 1997 edition of anthropologist Ernest Becker’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death—an altogether more challenging, thought-provoking meditation on how we humans try to reject—or transcend—our mortality.