[EDITOR"S NOTE: As public attention turns again the predicament of Terri Schiavo – the 41-year-old brain-damaged woman whose husband is seeking her starvation death – I thought it was time to remind our readers of the dangerous worldview which is driving the attempt to euthanize Terri. Below is a reprint of most of my Nov. 13, 2003, editorial published at a time when Terri’s life was in danger, as it is again.
As we go to press this week, a flurry of activity in Tallahassee, Washington and the courts continue as advocates seek to save Terri’s life. Her husband claims – without any written evidence – that Terri would not want to live in her current state, although she is not in a coma or on life support. She merely requires food and water to survive – just like you and me.
If Terri Schiavo dies at the hands of her husband – and a court system that has obscenely failed her – it will mark a terrible blow to the sanctity of human life in our nation. And, her death will advance the dangerous worldview of George Felos, the euthanasia lawyer.]
Reading the newspapers and watching the cable news accounts of the now internationally known Terri Schiavo controversy, one would assume that the passions and motivations in this case are fueled solely by the religious worldview of pro-life Catholics, conservative evangelicals and other members of the so-called “Religious Right.” As usual, the major media are missing an important part of this story – there is another worldview in play in the Schiavo debate advocated chiefly by the famous attorney of the case, George Felos.
After indulging myself in a bit of spiritual exploration by reading Felos’ book, Litigation as Spiritual Practice, it appears to me that the Schindlers have company in the fanatic department. The book is Felos’ description of the intersection of his law practice with his spirituality, using two cases he successfully argued as the backdrop – the landmark “right-to-die” case concerning Estelle Browning and an arcane tax law battle.
The book was published last year by Blue Dolphin Publishing, which specializes in “comparative cultural and spiritual traditions, lay and transpersonal psychology, education, new science, self-help, health, healing, complementary medicine, ecology, interspecies relationships, and whatever helps people grow in their social awareness and conscious evolution,” according to its Web site.
Describing himself as a “spiritual aspirant for close to twenty-five years” (page x), it’s clear from Felos’ book that his spirituality drives his law practice, as well as the rest of his life. It’s also clear that his spirituality is enormously important to his views on death and dying. In fact, Felos’ spiritual awakening, as described in detail, is closely tied to his emerging interest in the subject of death and dying.
A fervent practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, Felos is a syncretistic religionist who mixes diverse religious traditions – including generous citations from the Bible and references to Jesus Christ – creating a composite of his own spiritual worldview. He believes “evolution of consciousness” is “our ultimate salvation” (xiv).
In the acknowledgments, Felos notes that he has drawn from a wide range of spiritual teachers and teachings, with particular acknowledgment to the Kirpalu Center for Yoga and Health, based in Lenox, Mass. Throughout the book, Felos cites Buddhist, Hindu, Native American and other spiritual traditions from which he draws his views.
In the chapter entitled, “Death and Resurrection,” Felos notes that although he experienced his “initial spiritual awakening in my early twenties, I had spent the last few years of my mid-thirties backsliding” (47). A ten-day retreat at the Kirpalu Center in 1988 “birthed a personal transformation of immense and unexpected proportions” in which his “old life was vaporized” (47).
The Browning “right-to-die” case was the first legal appointment Felos had after his retreat and he found the case to be a “blessing rather than a coincidence” in light of his “recently acquired fascination with death and dying” (61). (Three years later, Felos spent two months at the Center “where I lived and worked essentially as a monk” (4) while trying to deal with his marital separation which had caused him great pain.)
In a particularly important passage as it pertains to how his spirituality has driven his role in the euthanasia movement (a term he rejects, but clearly applies), Felos discusses reading a book on “conscious dying” on the plane ride home from the retreat. Written by a meditation teacher and activist in the hospice movement, the book “describes the enormous potential for spiritual awakening, both for the patient and the caregiver, which is sometimes realized during the death process” (53).
He continues, “Scripture says neither hands, nor feet, nor emotion, nor mind, nor body are we. Our death—the permanent separation of our spirit, our consciousness, from the body—if experienced with awareness, can provide the opportunity to dispel the greatest of illusions: that we are this body. The author goes on to describe how meditation and spiritual practice is the process of dying—the means by which we extinguish our ego and body identification and realize we are the expression and manifestation of the Divine. Pretty heady stuff, especially for one who had just died and been reborn, so to speak. I deeply connected with the message of this book, and as I gazed out the window upon the clouds and surface below, I felt death move a bit closer” (page 53, my emphasis).
Elsewhere he writes, “In reality you have never been born and never can die” (32).
Felos later discusses the “cosmic law of cause and effect” in which he argues that human beings create their own realities with their minds and have the power to change their reality with their minds – including causing a new, dream car to appear “out of the ether” (178-179). He illustrates the truth of the spiritual principle by explaining how he once caused a plane to suddenly descend, causing chaos for the crew and passengers, when he pondered, “I wonder what it would be like to die right now?” The pilot later explained that the auto pilot computer program mysteriously quit working, resulting in the sudden descent. “At that instant a clear, distinctly independent and slightly stern voice said to me, ‘Be careful what you think. You are more powerful than you realize.’ In quick succession I was startled, humbled and blessed by God’s admonishment” (181-182).
Clearly, Felos’ spirituality and theology of dying is central to his “right-to-die” advocacy.
Throughout the book, Felos repeatedly promotes a pantheistic theology of God in which he argues that humanity and God are one and the same as part of the Universal Consciousness. While numerous citations could be given, one example must suffice: “If we are infinitely large, if the Divine within us, which is us, contains all of creation, what can be taken from us and who is there to take it?” (32, emphasis in original).
Felos clearly believes in reincarnation and even discusses a conversation with his yet-to-be-conceived, unborn son, who told Felos, “I’m ready to be born…will you stop this fooling around!” (75). He cites this experiences as proof of the validity of perhaps the most bizarre claim in the book concerning what he calls a “soul-speak” conversation he claims to have had with Browning – the patient in the “right-to-die” case. While she never uttered an audible sound, Felos writes that he was able to communicate with the radically debilitated stroke victim who could not talk. He writes:
As I continued to stay beside Mrs. Browning at her nursing home bed, I felt my mind relax and my weight sink into the ground. I began to feel light-headed as I became more reposed. Although feeling like I could drift into sleep, I also experienced a sense of heightened awareness.
As Mrs. Browning lay motionless before my gaze, I suddenly heard a loud, deep moan and scream and wondered if the nursing home personnel heard it and would respond to the unfortunate resident. In the next moment, as this cry of pain and torment continued, I realized it was Mrs. Browning.
I felt the mid-section of my body open and noticed a strange quality to the light in the room. I sensed her soul in agony. As she screamed I heard her say, in confusion, ‘Why am I still here … Why am I here?’ My soul touched hers and in some way I communicated that she was still locked in her body. I promised I would do everything in my power to gain the release her soul cried for. With that the screaming immediately stopped. I felt like I was back in my head again, the room resumed its normal appearance, and Mrs. Browning, as she had throughout this experience, lay silent (73).
Much, much more could be cited to demonstrate that Felos’ spirituality is not exactly mainstream, but space demands require this to suffice. (For more excerpts from Litigation as Spiritual Practice, see other excerpts online: http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/1782.article.)
It’s also not possible to refute in detail each of Felos’ esoteric spiritual claims except to say that the Bible’s teaching about God and man are starkly different than those advocated by him, in spite of his occasional use of God’s Word. God is real, infinite and personal, and He is distinct from his creation, including humanity. Our human bodies are not illusory and one day will be glorified for those who die in Christ Jesus, while those who die without Christ will suffer eternal, conscious punishment in hell.
If ideas have consequences, as a political philosopher has argued, it’s even more true that spiritual ideas have eternal consequences. That’s why it’s important to understand the worldview behind George Felos’ strong advocacy for Terri Schiavo’s starvation death.
The point here is not to ridicule Felos’ religious views. He is obviously a serious thinker who has developed his spirituality over many years of searching. His views should be taken seriously – especially since they so clearly drive his effective advocacy of the “right-to-die.”
As Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told the St. Petersburg Times, the Schiavo case presents a “clash of two very disparate civilizations – the Judeo-Christian civilization, which is based upon the sanctity of human life, and the neopagan, relativist, quality-of-life civilization” (Oct. 28, 2003).
Both worldviews are in play in the Schiavo debate and it's long past time for the public to understand this.