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February 06, 2005

Hell is Other People's Memoirs

by Ron Hogan

This is ordinarily far, far beyond my radar, but I did happen to get a copy of Howard Storm's My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance at Life last week from Doubleday. One thing that's interesting about it: the copyright page says 2005, but there's also a trade paperback edition published five years ago, when the subtitle was "And the Message of Love That Brought Me Back." The Doubleday edition also dumps the original afterword by George Ritchie, the man who launched the near-death experience movement back in 1943, replacing him with the much more marketable Anne Rice, who turns in two pages of burbly enthusiasm, though I'd like to see just how much she herself lives up to the claim, "This is a book you will quote in your daily conversation." (Or, for that matter, how long people continue to hang around her if she actually does quote it.)

Now, one of the distinguishing features of Storm's account, at least this is what it says on the cover, is that when he nearly died, he didn't get the white-light tunnel; "he was physically assaulted by monstrous beings of evil." (Just like in that Tweety cartoon, where Sylvester keeps going to Hell and being sent back to Earth.) And when Storm finally figured out he could ward these monsters off by prayer:

"They screamed at me, 'There is no God! Who do you think you're talking to? Nobody can hear you! Now we are really going to hurt you!' They spoke in the most obscene language, worse than any blasphemy said on earth."

Yep, that's pretty obscene. But not as obscene as the incoherent explanation allegedly given to Storm by the angels he meets as to why God let the Holocaust occur:

"They told me that God was very unhappy with the course of human history and was going to intervene to change the world. God had watched us sink to depths of depravity and cruelty at the very time he was giving us the instruments to make the world a godlier world. God had intervened in the world many times before, but this time God was going to change the course of human events..."

In other words, confronted with God's failure to prevent the Holocaust, the angels basically just say, well, yes, God was upset about that, but now watch Him pull a rabbit out of His hat. At which point, Storm apparently stopped worrying about the Holocaust, because he wanted to hear about how God would give people "the power to control matter and energy with our minds, the ability to communicate directly with our thoughts, to travel through time and space by will, to have knowledge by contemplation." (He adds, "The power of these gifts is beyond our wildest imagination," which is patently untrue since he just imagined it.)

Unfortunately, the real obscenity is that some people actually believe this sort of banal claptrap, and the imprimatur of Anne Rice will lend it further credibility among a certain portion of the gullible. Then again, she is losing fans lately...

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