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Friday, November 16, 2012

"Dying to Be Me" Book Review

I appreciated Anita Moorjani's account of her NDE, but otherwise I wasn't crazy about this book, and I find some of its teachings at best factually incorrect, and at worst, dangerous.

Anita Moorjani is a lovely human being. In her videos on youtube and in the glancing interactions I've witnessed on the web, she is unfailingly giving, open, generous of herself and her time, and eager to be of service to humanity. Some gurus have an air of smarm about them, boosting their own egos at their followers' expense. Some seem too quick to make a buck. Some are harsh and humiliate those who follow them. Anita Moorjani is a genuine and enthusiastic lady who is helping others because that is her path.

"Dying to Be Me" has provided profound hope, liberation, and possibly even healing to hundreds, if not thousands of readers. Many of those readers have taken the inspiration they received from this book and used it to spread love and support to others.

Anita Moorjani is of Hindu, Indian descent. She was born in Singapore and raised in Hong Kong. She was diagnosed with cancer and came within hours of what her doctors assumed would be an inevitable death.

At that point, Anita had what she has referred to as a Near Death Experience, but what could more accurately be referred to as an out-of-body experience. Unlike others who have NDEs, Anita did not actually die. She entered a coma.

Anita encountered her deceased father and her friend Soni, who had died of cancer. She also experienced ESP, spontaneously accessing the thoughts and conversations of widely dispersed friends, family, and physicians. After her OBE, Anita experienced a spontaneous remission of her cancer.

What didn't work for me in Anita's book was the insistence that several postulates are true, postulates that I don't see any evidence to support.

Anita reports that we are all God, and if you don't like the word "God" you can say Source or Allah or Brahma or any other word. We all create the universe. We attract into our lives the events we desire. We exercise control over illnesses like cancer. There is no difference between good and bad. There is no punishment in the afterlife. Duality is a bad thing. Religion is a bad thing because its prominent influence is to cause people to kill each other. We should do what makes us happy. Service should not be done out of duty, only if it makes us feel good.

Too, Anita takes a few subtle swipes at Christianity and Western civilization. The nuns who taught her are subtly put down, as is Mother Teresa. English, as a language, is said to be so lacking that her NDE can't be communicated; cancer is a Western disease.

Anita makes no attempt to foist these ideas on anyone. Unfortunately some have adopted these ideas as dogma, and insist that they are the only truth. By what authority? Anita has been to heaven, these folks insist; therefore, she must be correct.

As it happens, though, many people have had NDEs at this point, and not everyone agrees with Anita. People do come back from the dead and report the punishment and judgment that Anita and her followers insist never occurs. Some have had NDEs of Hell, and insist on this emphatically. Others encounter Jesus, and return to human life with a greater conviction than ever that Jesus is savior.

Some of these ideas, when carried to extremes – and people do carry them to extremes – are spiritually toxic. No, I am NOT God, and neither are you. Admitting that we are not God is one of the first steps in psychological maturity, and spiritual growth. Religion is not just about killing; that false belief is a tool for atheist propaganda. As a feminist and a woman I am mindful of, and grateful for, the elevation in the position of women brought about by Christianity. Before Christianity, as historian Rodney Stark has described, female infanticide was a constant of the Classical Greco-Roman world. Not killing female babies, and allowing women some choice and autonomy, was one of the reasons Christianity grew as fast as it did. I'm grateful for agriculture, universities, science, art, and the abolition of slavery, all of which are intertwined with the spread and growth of Christianity.

No, we do not give ourselves cancer, and, no, if we just enjoy life and "follow our bliss" what we want will not fall into our laps. This idea is not a reflection of heaven, but, rather, of Anita's rather sheltered life and upper socio-economic class. It is an idea that will be attractive to other sheltered, economically comfortable people, eliminating, as it does, the need for compassion for the less fortunate.

No, it does not contribute to spiritual growth to avoid service work or to do it only when it feels good to do so, and no, Mother Teresa did not deserve Anita's subtle put down. In my own life I have discovered firsthand that "bring the body and the heart will follow" is a key tenet of service to others. When I was tender with my dying patients even when I was not in the mood to be tender, my patients' appreciation lifted *me* up.

No, goodness and badness are not the exact same thing and indistinguishable from each other. Discernment is one of the universally acclaimed features of spiritual maturity. Being able to differentiate between lies and truth, stealing and giving, hurting and healing, is essential. Hitler really was a very bad guy and the difference between him and – oh, say Mother Teresa – is profound. To equate the two is a spiritual step back.

Anita decries duality, while practicing it. Religion is bad, service out of a sense of duty is bad, etc. You can't make pronouncements like this without relying on the concept of duality.