Life after Death: A Daily Sketch Investigation, by Neville Randall

Randall Life after Death cvr

Life after Death: A Daily Sketch Investigation originated as a series of articles in the Daily Sketch, reprinted and published by Associated Newspapers, the Sketch’s owner.  There is no date, but the British Library catalogue gives the year of publication as 1960, the year the articles appeared in the newspaper.  It was compiled by Neville Randall in collaboration with Lt. Col. Reginald Lester.  Randall was a feature writer on the paper and Lester was chairman of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical Study (CFPS), founded in 1953, which still exists as the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies.  Randall later wrote a book which is also called Life after Death (1974).

The 1960 booklet’s argument is that the evidence for survival demonstrated by what it refers to as psychical research, but which in fact is often a code for Spiritualism, is compatible with Christianity, indeed strengthens it.  The Rev. Bertram Woods, a Methodist minister and Hon. Secretary of the CFPS, has a section entitled ‘No longer by faith alone’ in which he highlights how his previous discomfort with some of the ‘supernatural’ elements of the Gospels was dispelled after his wife introduced him to ‘the study of psychical matters’.  These matters threw the New Testament into a different perspective by shedding light on some of its mysteries.  To foreground this attempt at rapprochement the booklet is introduced by Dr Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southwark, who concludes with the admission that ‘The weakness of the Church has been its refusal to consider the evidence [provided by the CFPS] or discuss it.’

Some well-known names are mentioned in the articles, such as Robert Crookall, Henry Habberley Price and Eric Dingwall, alongside some not so familiar these days, such as Frances Banks, who is cited as author of a then-forthcoming book, Frontiers of Revelation (1962) and Wellesley Tudor Pole.  Wherever possible the scientific credentials of the experts are stressed, to show that they are not crackpots and that what they say should be taken seriously.  The series of articles, spread over three weeks, brought in about a thousand letters from members of the public, and a number of their stories are featured.

In assessing the evidence the sections cover a lot of ground, setting out a framework for the stages of survival of bodily death drawn from Crookall’s forthcoming The Supreme Adventure (1961, sponsored by the CFPS), and then supplying instances which exemplify its various aspects.  These include astral projection, near-death experiences, death bed visions, ‘Peak in Darien’ cases (in which someone about to die sees someone they think is alive but who has already died), terminal lucidity, and apparitions of loved ones.  Grace Rosher’s automatic writing from her deceased fiancé Gordon Burdick (the subject of her 1961 book Beyond the Horizon) is covered, and Dingwall’s suggestion that she might have been unconsciously copying his handwriting, which she knew well, is briskly shot down by noting that Rosher did not hold the pen, rather it rested on her closed fist.

Despite the odd example, there is surprisingly little on mental mediumship, Randall’s focus being on experiences of ordinary people with whom Sketch readers might identify.  A fair amount of space is spent on an example of direct voice mediumship ostensibly indicating communication by the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, who had died in 1945.  This was transmitted through a medium who is unnamed here but was Leslie Flint.  From the recording it was clear that Lang’s views since his death had become more positive about Spiritualism than during his lifetime.  Unfortunately those who listened to the recording, including Stockwood, could not say whether it really was Lang’s voice, even when compared to the broadcast Lang had given after the abdication in 1936 (a recording of  Flint’s Lang is available from the Leslie Flint website).  The Rev (later Canon) John Pearce-Higgins, a founder of the CFPS and from May 1963 Vice-Provost of Southwark Cathedral, was able to come up with various reasons why the discarnate Lang’s voice should sound different to that he possessed in the body, but while able to indicate why Flint’s communication might be from Lang, he was unable to demonstrate it conclusively.  Even Randall’s verdict is: ‘The test was not decisive.’

There is a good reason why so much space was devoted to this inconclusive communication.  Archbishop Lang had established a Church committee in January 1937 to investigate Spiritualism, but the committee had been split in its conclusions, producing Majority and Minority reports at the beginning of 1939, neither of which was published at the time.  The Majority conclusions, rather more positive towards Spiritualism than the other, were eventually leaked and appeared in Psychic News in 1947, but the full report had to wait until it was published by The Christian Parapsychologist – the journal of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies – in March 1979.  Given the report’s controversial status in 1960, it was a coup, helpful in attracting sceptical Christians to an interest in Spiritualism, to have a discarnate Lang say that he had modified his views on the subject since arriving in the afterlife, even if he does stress the dangers of mediums (or ‘instruments’ as he calls them) attracting ‘lower entities’.

A general question-and-answer section responds to some of the points raised in the Sketch’s postbag, and Dr Leslie Weatherhead, a retired senior Methodist minister sympathetic to Spiritualism (and not coincidentally a patron of the CFPS), supplies answers to commonly-raised questions.  He notes the difficulty of disentangling possible telepathy among the living, but stresses the importance of following the evidence for survival as far as it will lead as a support for faith, while showing the difference between the two approaches to life after death: psychical research relying on evidence, but Christianity ultimately relying on faith.  A final section highlights the possibility of alternative explanations for some cases, notably telepathy or fraudulent mediums, but it concludes that after such cases have been excluded there is still a body strongly suggestive of survival and not easy to explain away in such terms.

Despite numerous references to psychical research, the Society for Psychical Research does not feature (meriting only a passing reference), even though Dingwall and Price were prominent in it.  Partly this was down to an emphasis on contemporary accounts, presented as received, rather than the historical record contained in the Society’s publications.  But members of the SPR have frequently been critical of the quality of the sort of evidence presented in this booklet.  The Daily Sketch investigation was very much a CFPS project, so why would they want the SPR’s sceptics muscling in?

 

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