HELL THEMES THAT WON’T QUITE GO AWAY
Is John Lennon in hell? Whoever asks such a question? (It’s getting asked on the Net). And why ask it if you can’t be sure of the answer anyway?
What prompts me to give reply - of sorts - and highlight what strikes me as a real mystery around an iconic figure arises from attempts (against the background of some visionaries I'll be considering who seriously claim to have seen Lennon in hell) to supply a test and impose some order on a new or renewed phenomenon.
The phenomenon is the growing spate of visions of heaven and hell in recent years offering “evidence” for an afterlife. Of uneven quality and interest these have nevertheless been getting either published in the mainstream (bestselling novelist, Anne Rice, has even called Howard Storm’s Doubleday published, My Descent into Death, a book “everyone” should read) or reported on the Net. And now Tony Lawrence, a psychologist in Coventry, England is making the first “scientific” study of negative N.D.E.s (Near Death Experiences), the kind in which dying people visit hell or believe they were being dragged there by demons.
Lawrence’s inquiry follows in the line of the work of former atheist heart surgeon, Maurice Rawlings, who in his groundbreaking Beyond Death’s Door (1979) and works since records many instances of patients reporting hell visions on the verge of death. Here we have very different testimony from the accounts of blissful experiences emphasized in especially New Age writings which make reassuring accounts seem the only picture. (Pioneering N.D.E.researchers like Kubler-Ross controversially excluded Rawlings’ evidence as too upsetting or inconvenient). The negative data remind one of the rather psychic visions of the early Celtic saints who reported angelic/demonic battles around some souls who had just departed the body.
As Lawrence realizes, hell testimonies are complicated by the fact those reporting them are not necessarily obvious sinners. If the visions are not purely illusory then, religiously at least, this looks like a situation that could link to Christian claims about right attitudes and right relations to God (as opposed to just good deeds) affecting whatever happens beyond death.
Obviously even the most compelling of these modern visions aren’t any holy writ. Just because people claim visions including of Lennon in hell we don’t have to believe them. At best such witness can be treated as new apocrypha, material not tested or made canonical like scripture. There could nonetheless be value in assessing them, not just “scientifically” but religiously. Yet such work is something almost no one seems to be doing, nor are they especially trained to today.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE VISION JOURNEY
Assuming, as I think we can, that most contemporary visions represent vivid experiences of some kind and not just edifying inventions, a few basic considerations to apply would surely be:
1) Is the given vision to be understood more as a out of body journey to real places or a visionary/allegorical symbolization of what such places/states are essentially about? (This seems like a major question).
2) In the heaven/hell journeys are we seeing elements influenced (even contaminated) by readings not just of Bible but of Dante and various early medieval apocryphal visions of torment and bliss?
3) Similarity of report and repetition of details among visions ancient and modern are nevertheless not automatic disqualification - they could be confirmation of something. Especially as some archetypal factors could be at work. Heavens and hells exist in world myth and the collective unconscious. As such they are waiting to be picked up and embroidered upon.
4) But are what looks like embroideries upon a core vision distortions of memory or features added to suit some church or sect or even aesthetic necessity like Dante who claimed to have been allowed to glimpse heaven but whose Paradiso consciously invents most of its details? Thus Choo Thomas, a Korean visionary who has clearly taken Calvinistic ideas too seriously, reports in her undeservedly best selling Heaven is so Real that she saw her mother, (a good woman who suffered much illness throughout life)in hell simply because she never heard about Jesus. While this fits the narrowest Augustinian/Calvinistic notions (which can even have children in hell, something modern visionaries seem agreed in denying is the case) the author is arguably contradicting wider scriptural witness like Corinthian Christians being baptized for their dead forebears (1.Cor 15:29). That religious ignorance alone can’t be an automatic condemnation with God both Bible and common sense support.
5) Memory distortion could equally go not just in religious but New Age, secularist or just socially expected, convenient directions. I recall a much recorded case of some years back of a boy who returned from death saying he’d met Jesus then telling a TV show a month later he’d met “a wizard”.
Yet with all doubts and caveats admitted there comes a point in study where readers may be forced to admit something significant is getting reported even if they can’t understand what and why. If a clinically dead person reports their spirit body floated up to the next floor ward and witnessed things medical staff there were verifiably doing or saying, evidence for something must be accepted. Some people have their lives changed by N.D.E.s - Howard Storm was a rank atheist before the events described in My Descent into Death altered him for ever….
AN IMPORTANT TEST
But here’s a test. When visionaries allege they entered other worlds then they are most likely conveying truth if they can tell us something unexpected later found to be true.
It’s here that something nags me regarding claims around John Lennon and despite the fact the principle vision that includes on his fate is not above criticism as regards what I’ve called the “contamination” that I won’t take space to comment here. While I would hope what the cited vision claims about Lennon is untrue - I don’t approach this subject with the biases of either a serious fan or critic of Lennon but only curiosity - my treatment can be taken as an example of one of way to go about reading evidence in a little charted territory. .
A TRIP FROM COLOMBIA TO HELL
Here’s the grim, strange story a translation of recorded interviews regarding which is given at….
Back in 1995 (the date of April 11th around 10am is given) a group of young Colombian Christians – recent converts from Catholicism by the sound of it - are preparing for a picnic and say prayers before departing. The picnic never eventuates. Suddenly a brilliant light shines through the window and not only are they surprised by the Spirit falling on them so that they speak in tongues but Jesus appears and declares he will lead all seven on a journey through hell to heaven. As regards hell Jesus says they must witness it because even Christians have ceased to believe in its terrible reality and they must warn people about it. Suggestive rather of out of body spirit journeys almost shamanic style than trance/visions a kind of funnel appears in the floor through which the group descends to the abyss.
The seven, despite their pieties, are clearly neither theologians nor saints but pretty average Latin Americans or just human beings. They are completely thrown by the experience, unprepared and confused. One of the chicas hasn’t sorted out that hell isn’t purgatory and that purgatory isn’t taught in the Bible. One of the older members of the group has earlier had a relation with consequences and will meet his aborted offspring as a child who is growing in heaven. One chico, Lupe, imagines Judgement Day must have begun so that as they proceed he is begging Jesus to forgive his sins as he fears he can only finish up with the souls he’s being shown.
Hell proves to be as richly varied as Dante’s inferno (had they as Catholics been influenced by that?) and this colourful variety alone might make it seem unbiblical enough to be questionable. However as Jesus tells them, even this hell (whose tormenting variety for all we are informed may have been the devil’s invention) is only temporary. It’s not the real and final item but awaits to be thrown into Gehenna, the lake of fire (as per Rev.20:14). It’s not explained why the demons the group see are free to ridicule and torment certain inhabitants of the deeps (shouldn’t the demons themselves be punished?) but other contemporary visions have done this. Demons supposedly vent their hatred of God upon the humanity formed in his image and they are free to do so not having yet reached the Last Judgement.
JOHN LENNON IN A HOT VALLEY
So on the group’s journey John Lennon is seen caught in a thoroughly Dantesque section of the Inferno described as “the valley of the cauldrons”. There, with millions of others from across time he is seen disintegrating and reforming much like a Dali picture (his favourite artist incidentally) yet able to observe the terrified visitors and Jesus to whom he calls out. Unlike the mostly calm Dante with Virgil the Colombians report screaming and crying their way through the entire inferno journey beseeching Jesus not to let them see what they witness. (Whoever imagined the redeemed have the joy of viewing the tortures of the lost or that the saved would have heaven spoiled for them by its opposite? – once in heaven with its many fascinations it’s cheerfully stated: “the horrors of hell were soon forgotten”, a real contrast to those whose vision journey only encompasses a hell from which they may suffer months of trauma). Depending on how seriously one can take this strangest of visions (truly the Dantesque experience for postmoderns!) it’s an interesting detail that unlike other cases it’s not stated for what, principally, Lennon, is stuck there. (Is it unbelief, “sorcery”, immorality or what?). Also it’s recorded Jesus turns away from him apparently without the feelings of pity Sandra reports Jesus as directing towards a trapped alcoholic.
Why do I hesitate over this bizarre tale which could seem, and simply be, fantasy born of some collective hallucination? If nothing else it fits my rule of the unexpected. In 1995 Lennon was fifteen years dead and not particularly newsworthy. And wouldn't there be enough figures from Nero to Hitler (not to say colourful Latin American dictators) for imaginative persons to pick out without once thinking of Lennon? Whereas other shades seen by the group in hell could more easily be deemed products of their imagination or at least what I call “contamination” of a genuine vision, with Lennon we have a known person, imperfect, but not the most obvious inhabitant of hell. So the specificity itself is peculiar.
It's also somewhat peculiar for religious reasons. Even if one is assuming the whole Christian picture of judgement rather traditionally and literally would one imagine John Lennon to be in hell anyway? One reason to doubt the idea would be because he had been taken from life fairly young and quickly, murdered, which to some degree could increase the grounds for mercy. In any case I also vaguely recalled there had been some sort of half-hearted but nonetheless genuine enough reconciliation with God, even report of being “born again” under the influence of Billy Graham whom he had been watching on TV. If even I, who am no Beatles aficionado, managed to know this one imagines such details would have filtered through to people of distinctly evangelical persuasion like the Colombians and it would surely make them try to keep a much beloved popular figure out of hell.
Whatever then were these Colombians on about? Though the Beatles’ heyday was a bit before their time were they taking an extreme and very belated fundamentalist revenge for Lennon’s references to the Beatles being more famous than Jesus? One of the group mentions that matter but goes much further. The Beatles to which Lennon belonged are described as a “Satanic” group. But had their influence really been satanic? This struck me as rather fanatic, a sign the vision was either false or severely “contaminated” perhaps by American missionary ideas. Yet remaining curious anyone of the group could even think such things I put in just a little research. When I did my easy convictions began to unwind a little and the mystery only deepened.
A SATANIC INFLUENCE?
Satanic? What about the fact that Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had presented arch Satanist, Aleister Crowley, to the public as one of the “people we like” and had helped make him and perhaps Satanism respectable? What about the rather insulting lines of Lennon’s 1970 “God” lyric, “[I] Don’t believe in Hitler, don’t believe in Jesus” (as though there was some reason to mention the two together) and the suggestion God is “a concept by which we measure our pain”. The more famous Imagine lyric invited imagining no heaven or hell to exist but instead a utopia that would implicitly exclude God though Lennon himself said he believed God was in everyone and also that half of him believed he was God Almighty. The later, less famous and very dark Serve Yourself lyric was a denial Jesus or anyone could save us.
From a certain point of view, therefore, Lennon’s thoughts ran from one denial, dismissal and defiance of things divine to another. Then, though not overtly either atheistic or satanic as such, what about the fact that due to fellow Beatle George Harrison’s financial support alone the otherwise rejected, Life of Brian film which makes light of Christ’s life, got before the public reducing respect for Jesus and belief in society at large? Harrison himself opted (in Judaeo-Christian terms) for the idolatries of Hare Krishna cult.
Interestingly, the Colombian vision dates from 1995 i.e. many years before the true and detailed story of Lennon’s religious development came out. It has only now been recorded in any detail in Steve Turner’s recent, The Gospel According to the Beatles. In the wake of admitting to evangelist Oral Roberts that he wanted freedom from “a drug hell” it emerges there was certainly a Lennon born again phase, even to the point of church going and witnessing for and writing songs about Jesus in a way astonishing to friends and unacceptable to Yoko Ono. Ono, though recipient of a Christian education in Japan , was/is herself quite deeply and obsessively into the varieties of the occult i.e. what Revelation would damn as “sorcery” (Rev 22:15). In her world quests for rituals and magical artefacts Colombia was one of Yoko’s ports of call where she consulted witches (she now calls herself a witch) and threw out $60,000 there for elaborate rites culminating in the magical sacrifice of a dove.
It seems Ono worked on Lennon’s chief doubt which had always been regarding Christ’s divinity, a subject about which Ono and Lennon engaged passionate argument including with Norwegian missionaries. The upshot is that under his wife’s arguably controlling influence Lennon lost or denied his faith apparently to the point he was joking about the crucifixion at a re-run, which he said should be fast forwarded to the crucifixion, of the Zefferelli Jesus film that had been a factor in his original conversion. In a tirade against Christianity he declared himself a “born-again pagan” and his final belief system appears to have been some form of paganism. His reclusive last years included a lot of meditation and fasting sessions towards becoming a psychic cum guru with messages for the world, an aim he had given up on only in the last few months before his death but both he and Ono were deeply into the occult.
BAD STRIKES FOR LENNON?
If we accept this picture as true then it becomes more serious in strictly Christian terms. In another context than Lennon, the visionaries mention seeing (but, possibly influenced by biblical statements about those who fall from grace Heb.10:26-27), that worse perdition is reserved for those who deny a faith once possessed. Even if in his heart Lennon didn’t completely do that, joking about the crucifixion belongs to a nasty, bullying streak in him that in his youth caused him to mock the crippled (as I once recall reading). It’s the sort of trait only major fame causes to be forgiven and forgotten. God would be less likely to forget and if we are supposed to see Christ in others then to put it mildly it’s the opposite of everything spiritual. The same might, alas, have to be said about Lennon's moral score card in the marriage stakes since he left a young wife and child for an older twice divorced woman who arranged a mistress for him because the marriage proved so tempestuous.
It is reported that Lennon calls out to Jesus to deliver him, but Jesus passes on ignoring him at which Lennon starts cursing Christ perhaps betraying what his deeper permanent soul feelings always were, the whole very publicly declared [ I ] “don’t believe in Hitler, don’t believe in Jesus” type sentiments. These in turn might be said to fall foul of sterner gospel declarations to the effect that those who deny Christ before society will be denied before God (Mt.10:33).
Yet even if one could make a case from traditional beliefs for this Beatle to end up in perdition, does ANY of this make sense? For moderns the greater question is does hell ever make sense and can people respect, love or believe in a God to whom the idea/fate of anything like a literal hell is attributed? I shall tackle these difficult problems in Part 2, next month.
I shall also review the Colombian vision against the astrology of its timing which implies that something dramatic that wasn’t purely invention but even rather sinister for its implications did take place. And using the modern kind of exact naming and wording astrology now possible I will show against all statistical probability what’s even more remarkable than the Pope data of the previous article, namely why on that April morning of 1995 certain individuals would be so inclined to believe that, whether in a vision or the actual furnace heat of some unimaginable place, Jesus had met specifically one Beatle and turned away from him.