I met Mark Smith on Twitter and was intrigued by his bio which read "...Turned atheist after I read the bible. And I died and came back...". I wanted to find out more, and Twitter just wasn't the right venue. 140 characters wasn't going to be enough. I emailed Mark and asked if he wouldn't mind giving me a little background info on his life to date, which you can find here - I recommend reading that before you read the interview below.
I'd like to thank Mark for his honesty and for opening up publicly and laying his life wide open for others to see, the issues he has experienced are not easy ones to deal with.
Question 1. Right from childhood you have had an inquiring mind, you always wanted to ask questions. Do you wonder why other people don't ask questions too? Why do you think more people don't question religion?
I believe that people don't ask questions because they are afraid of the answers that they might find, or that they are afraid of confrontation. Most people want to keep their heads in the sand, and the answers that they might find would cause them to actually rethink what they have believed to be the truth. The same goes for why people don't question religion; fear, Fear of what they might find to be the answer to the nagging questions that are in the back of their minds, that what they have based their whole lives on is not really true. Most people, if asked what would they do if they learned that there was no god, that all religion was based on lies meant to control the masses, would first get this look on their faces like horror, then nervous laughter at the possibility that someone would actually not believe in the "hereafter" as they do. They would then commence to aggressively defend their belief. They would cite how miraculous it is that someone survived something, or how the beauty of the world is proof of their god, when it is just science and millions of years of evolution that it took to get to where the world is now.
Question 2. Your father was Lutheran and later started going to a Baptist church. It sounds as if he was extremely affected by his experiences in Vietnam. Do you think religion can help people traumatized by war? Do you think it helped your father?
I think that religion would help people who need something to believe in; that, in a traumatic thing such as facing one's own death and not knowing where your enemy is at or whether or not the next bullet would find you, may cause people to ask for help from any source, even one that is non-existent. When the troops came home from Vietnam, many were met with distain, spit upon, called "baby-killer", and they had no one to turn to. Many would be suffering from PTSD, or what back then was known as shell-shock. We didn't have the programs that we do today. So People would turn to religion. A lot of people were helped in having that "invisible friend" to talk to, to confide in. So they would cope in that way. I'm sure that even to this day, that it does help some people to deal with their "demons", so to speak. But it wouldn't cure the problems, it would just hide them, much like an ostrich hiding it's head in the sand.
In my father's case, he was a career Navy man, and when he retired, he would sit and brood in front of the TV. We were afraid to talk to or disturb him, for fear of bringing his anger out and turning it on ourselves. So as time went on, he began going to this church that a boss of his belonged to, a Southern Baptist church. They told him what to do, how to act, how to live. It was all those things that the military used to do, that he was missing in his civilian life. It fulfilled his need to be controlled. Most people like him, those who had weak minds, would fall under a spell of "come with us, we'll take care of you, we will tell you what to do" and they followed mindlessly, no matter who they hurt.
Question 3. Reading the email you sent me, your life has been affected by the consequences of war, crime, organised religion and the divorce of your parents. When you look back, do you feel angry with people? Your father? The church? The government who sent your father to war? The police who didn't answer your call? Those at the hospital who almost let you die?
When I look back at my life, there were few that I remain angry at. We are all mostly accountable for ourselves. Who else would we put the blame upon? Our parents, for trying to teach us values as they themselves learned them, through religion, or tradition? Our teachers for failing us when we weren't trying hard enough at school? It was at an early age that I discovered that I had a mind of my own. I should have taken that path less traveled on, the one that pointed to responsibility. But instead, I decided to play guitar and join a rock-n-roll band, and the more that I dove into the music business, the more that I became ensnared into the party scene, with a carefree life of sex and drugs. Looking back, should've I applied myself more at school, gone to college, been a forensic scientist or a world famous doctor? Not that I think that I could have been on TV, or cured cancer; I just would have loved to carry a gun on CSI Miami, and I love the sight of blood.
As far as being angry at my father, well, that ship sailed a long time ago. I feel nothing for the man. Whatever kind of emotion I had for that person died a long time ago, beaten out of me by the same person who would demand my love and respect. He would look at us like we were these burdensome leeches, only interested in sucking the life from him and stealing the last bit of ice cream from the freezer. When he died, he had succeeded in alienating all six of his children, and not a one of us went to his funeral. I couldn't even tell you what day he died on. You see, I believe that to hate someone, you would have to feel something for that person. But indifference is far worse. It is the death of all emotion towards that person. It's as if he was a complete stranger.
The church is another thing; it is one thing to ignore harm done to oneself. But I cannot ignore the harm that has been done to so many for so long in the name of a god who, by all accounts, is a sadistic, egotistical megalomaniac. All churches preach basically the same thing; obey god or suffer eternal damnation. It preaches peace, while causing wars that has killed more humans than anything else in the history of the world. It tells us to love our neighbors, but says that you can't love who you want to. It teaches humility, while building extravagant buildings costing millions of dollars that could feed countless of thousands of the hungry, and house the many homeless that live in the streets. It demands to be exempt from paying the government taxes, yet it insists on inserting its ideologies into governmental policies. It preaches good, but it is anything but. It is deserving of everyone's anger, of being exposed for the fraud that it is, which is to say that it exists only to scare the masses into complacency. As far as the government goes, it isn't much better than the church. The government is the biggest cash crop there is. The only problem is that every time someone tries to change things for the better, that person is eliminated, dragged through the mud, convinced that the status quo is best left alone for the sake of the country. When someone different comes along, they immediately are told not to rock the boat. It is hard to get anything done in the government, because there is no longer a government for the people. It is a government for the corporations. If there was someone to be angry at there, I would have to say that it is those that are causing progress from taking place at the expense of the poor, the elderly and people who need help due to natural disasters. All to keep the rich from paying their fair share.
As for the police that didn't answer my call for help, it was supposedly one of the busiest nights in a while. But I found something out that pissed me off royally. Instead of coming to my aid in defending my house and my family, the dispatcher told the officer on my beat to go deal with a domestic dispute. I should have said that there were shots fired!
Finally, regarding the idiots at the emergency department in the hospital: I had heard that when people were brought in late at night like that, they all assumed that people like that were usually trouble-makers, not someone who was trying to protect his family from thugs or gangbangers who busted into his backyard. But what really pisses me off about those "healthcare" workers is, when you have someone who is in distress on one of your tables, and they have with them his wife, and the wife is repeatedly asking for help, or something for pain, or a doctor, or for her husband to BREATHE, MARK, BREATHE!!!, then I'm thinking that you had better get off your asses and help this person. Don't let it go for so long that the person actually dies. They might not be as pissed off or determined as I am to pull through. Which brings us to question #4:
Question 4. You were badly beaten up after trying to defend yourself and actually died at hospital. How long were you dead for? What do you think brought you back?
The actual length of time that I crashed for was only less than a minute, but it seemed like longer than that. It seemed like a long period that I was just in what I call "nothing". But it wasn't a bad nothing. It was a vacuum, where there was no longer pain, nothing to worry about, no need to get mad, just darkness, silence and a sense of everything draining out of me; all cares, worries, pain, anger, and hatred at the people who did this to me. It seemed like a long time, through this vacuum, when I heard the voice of my wife saying BREATHE, MARK, BREATHE! MARK, BREATHE!!! The sound and the emotion in her voice are, I'm sure, what made me fight to breathe, to come back from the darkness- the fact that she needed and loved me was what brought me back.
Question 5. Your experience of death made you realise that there is no afterlife, there is just nothingness. Knowing that, does it make you more afraid of death now? What do you make of other people's after death experiences when they claim to see a "white light" or are looking down at their body from above?
I mentioned when I was younger, I was into the party scene. My lifestyle was a bit wild, to put it mildly. My first "brush with death" was when I was 16. I was friends with this girl all through high school. We were inseparable...people thought that we were an item, even our parents. I spent most of my spare time at her house, just hanging out. Her family was very special to me, in that it was a complete unit, with a lot of love, friendship, and trust. What I tried to hide was the fact that I had fallen, hard, for this girl. I hid it, even to the point that she would confide in me her guy troubles, the details of her dates (including the sexual parts, much to my torture from my love for her), and her sad break-ups (much to my joy and hope that she would see her true love under her nose). Well, one day, enough was enough. There was this new guy to our school. He seemed cool, and we became fast friends. Unfortunately, my love found him to be cute, mysterious, and being from another state, exciting. She asked him to this party, and of course, being a total babe (in our words back then) she soon had herself a new boyfriend. Deep depression set in. I went to my brother's place of employment, where he was the bartender. He noticed that I was in a bad way, and made me one of his newest concoctions: a lethal drink made up of Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Cuervo, Vodka, and Peppermint Schnapps. When I said lethal, I wasn't kidding. I believe I had about 4 of these, and the next thing I knew, I was being woken up by my mother. I almost pulled a Jimi Hendrix, or John Bonham, or Bon Scott, (insert famous dead rock guy here now) by passing out on my back and choking on my own sick.
Seeing what it did to my Mom made me quit drinking for awhile. So I turned to drugs.
I went through this one phase where I walked everywhere. I would stay out all night, and one night we were tripping balls, hard. It was me and my best friend, whose name I will change to protect the innocent, George.
One night George and I were on our way to go visit one of our favorite places: a cemetery. It was the best place to go after watching a good, cheesy, gore-filled horror movie. Of course we walked everywhere, since neither one of us had a license, and we were both too wasted to get behind the wheel of a car.
Near the cemetery, there was a road that lead to the main entrance. it was perfect for cars to come flying down at 50 mph in a 25 mph zone. On this night, it was no different. Only there was this car with an inexperienced driver in it doing at least 60 mph, and he missed the curve, smashing into the tree that we had been next to only moments before.
My point is, people die unexpectedly all the time. Before my "death", I always held a healthy fear of dying. Now that I know what to expect, that there is nothing after, that we just let go, I am no longer afraid to die. I won't be here to feel anything. I used to think that maybe we don't really "die"; that we are conscious, but unable to move, breathe, communicate, and we are aware when they do the autopsy on us. I do have a bit of a morbid imagination! But no, I no longer am afraid of death. I just want to live my life as meaningfully as I can and full as I can, and make an impression or make a difference somehow.
As far as other people's near-death or after death experiences, I believe that when they claim to see a "light at the end of the tunnel", or "white light", maybe they are seeing the synapse of their brain in its dying throes. We only know about 20-30 percent of our brains; who knows what is in the remaining parts of it, or what it is capable of. Just like when some people are looking down at their bodies, having an out-of-body experience, is it possible that they are dreaming, or something like that. You can never tell without more extensive testing.