"Eternal Consequences," That's What! Part II
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Gracia Fay Ellwood, Editor The Peaceable Table
April 2017

See "Eternal Consequences," That's What! Part I

hen and chicks
In the April issue ["Eternal Consequences," That's What! Part I], I took up again the theme of the Pollomorphic God, meaning God imaged as a mother chicken, taken from an earlier PT essay by Carol J. Adams. In a memorable Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin is alarmed at the possibility that after death we may find that God is a great Chicken; he anticipates “Eternal Consequences.” What further meaning might be found in this apparently light-hearted cartoon strip? Isn’t the issue of animals, and their protection, a matter only of the here and now?

Life After Death?

Partly because of the wide influence of Marxism, much ridicule has been cast on the idea of life after death, especially of happiness in such life. The contemptuous expression “pie in the sky by and by when you die” not only assumes the projection Feuerbach and Marx described, it also assumes that consciousness is extinguished by death, an idea many educated people absorb from their ambient Western culture, and believe is a conclusion of scientific study. Some scientific studies of the relationship between mind and body do suggest it--mind is certainly strongly influenced by body--but there are survivalist alternative explanations that fit the data as well, and in some cases better.

Extinction is not a solid scientific conclusion; it is a metaphysical idea that developed out of the new matter-and-spirit dualistic worldview that underlay the rise of science in the seventeenth century. Although originally intended by some to support the idea of the mind’s survival of death, it backfired because a strict dualism of mind and matter made it impossible to see how there could be any connection at all; and because body is more easily accessible to study than mind or spirit, mind came to be seen as secondary, completely dependent for its existence on the body (or even equivalent to the brain), and therefore passing out of existence when the body dies. Thus the dualist theory became a form of materialism. (This brief analysis needs a lot of support, but here I will only direct interested readers to David Griffin’s Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality as a representative source.)

Belief in extinction of consciousness at death functions as a kind of secular orthodoxy today, especially in academic settings; scholars who investigate the evidence for survival may be penalized by refusal of publication, loss of grants, or even, if they gain popular attention, loss of jobs. Along with the “orthodox dogma” of extinction often go assumptions that those who affirm continuing consciousness are (a) operating out of some kind of religious faith, and/or (b) motivated by wishful thinking. Many highly-educated and influential persons in our culture are just as certain about these opinions, as they are ignorant of the strength of the accumulated evidence pointing in the other direction. (For a quick sketch of the kinds and standards of evidence, see “The Animals and the Angels,” PT 21 ). But children tend to be unafraid of being heretical; Calvin not only is open to the idea of survival, he even considers that animals might figure in the picture--and ponders the implications.

Symbol and Referent

It is obvious that part of the humor of the strip lies in the fact that Calvin is taking the symbol literally. But this six-year-old is onto something. A symbol is weightier than a metaphor or simile. God is not just like a mother hen, and a hen therefore like God; the hen represents an all-mothering Presence of infinite value present in all conscious beings.

paul checkley and chickens
Paul Checkley and chicken friends: mutual healers

The hen and God are one; each participates in the innermost nature of the other. A hen is a person of Consequence, in the old sense of that term; she matters greatly in herself as an individual; and she matters infinitely because what we do to the hen we do to God, in whom all we chickens and humans and others live and move and have our being.

Most people, like Calvin’s parents, neither sense this
nor believe it; to them a chicken is not even an individual but part of a mass called Livestock. Always an “it” even when alive, her anguished death is not even a blip on their inner screens, but simply the “it” becoming plural: chicken legs and breasts and wings surrounded with styrofoam and cellophane, or lying on dinner plates to be consumed. They see nothing more, so how can there be anything more there? In so commonplace a scene, how can there be anything eternal?

But perhaps the very ordinary scenes in our lives are in fact extraordinary: there may indeed be Eternal Consequences. Calvin is thinking about consequences after death, which does apply, but the situation is more complex that that; the eternal isn’t just in an afterlife; it is going on here and now. We’ve heard the expression “the eternal now,” but when we try to explain it discursively, we’re stuck. It seems even harder to explain how an event can be occurring in my life right now and simultaneously after my death. (Of course, to speak in this way is to be brave enough to entertain the heretical idea that there is still an “I” beyond my death.

Historical Narratives

But the concept of life after death--or rather beyond death--is not merely a matter of religious dogma or wish-fulfilling illusion. There is a mountain range of evidence (not proof) of several kinds for it, mostly in the form of historical narratives; it can be called a meta-theory (as is, e.g., the theory of evolution). And one such category of evidence, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), illuminates the concept of eternal consequences. A minority of NDE accounts include an element in which the nearly-dying person experiences her/his whole past life as though it were going on now, with an expanded consciousness in which the experiencer undergoes all the consequences of her or his feelings, words, and actions. S/he participates in the consciousness of every one whom her life has affected.

Here are two examples:

A woman named Laurelynn Martin tells how she came close to death during a surgery that should have been fairly routine.

heart machine

She felt herself to be floating above a body (she didn’t recognize it as hers) from which a lot of blood was flowing. The medical people around it were frantic, but she was calm. She entered a peaceful, velvety darkness, then a wonderful golden light that enveloped her in infinite Love. Past, present, and future were united in an eternal Now. Then she perceived, non-visually, a presence who came near her, and recognized her deceased brother-in-law Wills. He was “like the Spirit of Christmas Past”: he showed her many events of her life all at once. In one of them, at age five, she had teased to the point of tears another little girl, named Tammy. Now she herself felt Tammy’s pain and feelings of being alone and unloved; she became Tammy. Laurelynn now felt tremendous compassion for her, and gave love both to the other child and to herself. “I realized that by hurting another, I was . . . hurting myself.” She forgave herself for this harmful act, and received abundant love.

In the second example, which involved animals, a young man named Berkley Carter Mills had a brush with death in a work accident when a tremendously heavy load he was maneuvering into place slipped out of control and slammed him into a steel pole. He too entered blackness, then found himself floating above his body, which he recognized and tried to re-enter. He was stopped by a firm hand on his “right arm” from one of two traditional-looking angels with robes and wings, who came to “take [him] to God.” They first brought him to a being he perceived to be Jesus, who said he would be judged, then showed him every detail of his life chronologically, including conception and birth. Carter relived these and every other event in his life, including having killed a mother bird with a stone when he was eight. He had been proud of that shot, but now he re-lived the suffering of the bird’s three babies when they starved to death. He realized that all beings have souls: humans, animals of all sorts including insects, and even plants. [Unfortunately, he deduced from this insight that because all beings have to eat other creatures, it’s all right for him to eat dead animals as long as he blesses the flesh.]

Are these particular incidents the only ones of these persons’ lives that they experienced empathically in their life reviews? The answer isn’t clear from their accounts, but other NDE experiencers have reported that they not only re-lived their entire lives, but, like experiencer and author P.M.H. “Phyllis” Atwater, felt the “effects of each thought, word, and deed on everyone . . . who had ever come within my . . . sphere of influence . . .”, including plants and animals.

ripple effect

Another experiencer even speaks of having felt the “ripple effect” on still others, whom she affected indirectly--as in the old scenario in which the boss berates the employee, the employee scolds his/her child, the child kicks the dog, and so on.

What Kind of Eternal Consequences?

There are a good many similar Near-Death narratives, three of which appear in “Whatever One Sows” ( PT 47 ); more can be found online (See Life Review and scroll down half-way). Because apparently no other researcher had given this NDE element a name, in my 2001 book The Uttermost Deep I called them “empathic life reviews.” It is unknown what percentage of near-death experiencers have them.

But what is their significance? Do we all have an empathic life review at some point beyond our (actual) deaths--is our every utterance, every action nested in an Eternal Now, in Eternal Consequences? Are we really one, now, with every being we encounter, or even with all those in a “ripple effect” that spreads outward from our every word and action? I think it likely that the fact that one finds some idea of a post-mortem Judgment in several major religions implies a “yes.” There are some points in its favor; it seems to provide a very exact sort of hell for the powerful persons who turned themselves into monsters of cruelty, and who seemed to have gotten away with it: the Herods and the Genghis Khans and the Pinochets, the inventors of battery cages and “veal” crates and mechanized slaughterhells. Similarly, it presents an appropriate paradise for the Arthur Broomes, the Gandhis, and the Dalai Lamas who started cascades of compassion, love, and healing. (There are other, messier implications too, which I won’t explore here.)

But what about the implications for me, for the ordinary person who is somewhere in between the great saints and the great sinners? I have found that when I describe this concept and ask the question of other ordinary people, most of them seem to respond by glazing over and, in effect, changing the subject. Frustrating as this response is, it is understandable. I suspect the idea of symbolically--but consciously--encountering the suffering of the Great Chicken in the death-pain of every chicken they ever ate is too scary. But that’s not the whole story: perhaps every kind word and action, every little smile of encouragement we offered to a friend or stranger aren’t small at all, but start unending tides of hope and love?

We may need to embrace the pain of God-in-us-all in order for her to lovingly gather us, together with all her other chicks, under her wings.

Selected Sources:

  • Atwater, P.M.H. Beyond the Light: What Isn’t Being Said About Near-Death Experiences
  • Atwater, P.M.H. Coming Back to Life.
  • Ellwood, Gracia Fay. The Uttermost Deep: The Challenge of Near-Death Experiences
  • Griffin, David Ray. Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration
  • Lorimer, David. Whole in One.
  • Martin, Laurelynn. Searching for Home.
  • The photo of Paul Checkley, who found healing from PTSD through adopting and caring for rescue chickens, is from the files of Mercy for Animals. 

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