The term ”empiricism” has a dual meaning. The Greek word translated into Latin is experientia, which is what we derive the word experience from. The other meaning is a more classical term used in Greek times to define someone whose job requires them to use practical experience, as opposed to instruction, or theory. For example, a surgeon cannot simply be told how to transplant a heart, and be successful at it. The surgeon first has to spend time learning on non-human subjects, like pigs, to make sure he knows what he is doing, before removing a human heart. In that way, I base my beliefs on things I can see and touch. For instance, take the piece of paper this is written on; I know this paper exists because I can hold it in my hand. I believe in all things that are physically real, instead of using logic alone, or listening to what someone tells me. I must experience things first hand.
Growing up, I believed in God, I belonged to a Christian family, and even went to Bible School as a young boy. But one event changed all that: I died and came back to life.
While standing in water splashed from my cousin’s swimming pool, I flipped on the light switch in the unfinished garage, and the electricity burst through me with enough power to fry a dozen eggs. Thirty seconds later, still stuck to the light switch, everything turned black. All that remained was a little white dot just like the one you see when you turn off a television.
But then I was brought back to life—not by a paramedic using a defibrillator –but by the same thing that killed me—electricity. For some reason, the electrical outlet I had been stuck to for over a minute released me, and threw me across the room.
The pain you feel from dying lasts until you have completely passed away, and there are no words that could ever be spoken or written to explain how painful and frightening death really is. The dark, empty feeling of being dead was the hardest fight I have ever encountered. There was no heaven, and no hell. God did not show up, and neither did Lucifer. Imagine being in the farthest reaches of space were nothing exists, no thought no air nothing at all. This is what it was like for me to die.
More people have died from carrying their beliefs too far than any other thing in this world, with the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and Al Qaeda’s 9-11 attacks as just three vivid examples. Taken lightly, most religions promote a sense of hope, love, and happiness, so I would never say religion is a bad thing. I would love to tell you God exists, but I can’t lie about what I know to be the truth. For my experience has proved to me, empirically, that we must all come to realize that our time is now. Being able to wake up and breathe each day takes new meaning when one has come so close to dying, and it sheds light on the preciousness of life. This is your only chance, though most of us take it for granted. I used to. But now I know I must make my life the best it can be, because there isn’t any life after this one.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.