How Should Christians Think About Near-Death Experiences?

A recent piece I wrote on hell was inspired, in part, by the story of 23 Minutes in Hell, an account from a gentleman named Bill Wiese of a nighttime experience in which, he believed, he was permitted to experience hell for a short period of time in order to return to the land of the living and tell everyone that hell is for real. MY own post was not a careful exegetical treatment of the issue of damnation, but a description of a personal struggle between the vision of the afterlife I have inherited from my evangelical upbringing and my own scripture-shaped intuitions of what it means to call God loving.

In this guest post, Hank Hanegraaff asks an important and related question: What are we to make of these near-death experience accounts in the first place? I’m exceedingly grateful to Mr Hanegraaff — the famed “Bible Answer Man” and author of a new book on the afterlife — for this guest post:

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What’s Up with Near-Death Experiences?

By Hank Hanegraaff 

In 2006 real estate broker Bill Wiese became a New York Times best-selling author with the publication of 23 Minutes in Hell. During his alleged out-of-body experience, Wiese uncovered a wealth of brand new information regarding the hellish side of afterlife, including temperature (300 degrees/zero humidity); location (center of the earth); reptilian-looking demons (some in excess of fifteen feet tall) who rule over and torture humans; rats the size of dogs and snakes as big as trains.

The flip side of the afterlife hit the headlines with the 2010 publishing phenomenon Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. In it, Wesleyan pastor Todd Burpo tells of how his son Colton endured the equivalent of a near-death experience. Speaking “with the simple conviction of an eyewitness,” Colton revealed a heaven with “jeweled gates, shining rivers, and streets of gold”; a God with blue eyes, yellow hair, and huge wings; a Jesus with sea-green-bluish eyes, brown hair, no wings, but with a rainbow colored horse; and a Holy Spirit who is bluish but hard to see.

It wasn’t until 2012, however, that the mother of all near-death experiences emerged. “As arrogant as that might sound,” writes Dr. Eben Alexander in his mega-bestseller Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, mine was “a technically near-impeccable near-death experience, perhaps one of the most convincing such cases in modern history.” Through it he grasped the essence of all religion and the single most important truth in the universe, namely, unconditional love. Says Alexander: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.”

Though novel, near-death experiences are hardly new. During medieval times stories of trips to heaven and hell were a potent means by which unbelievers were converted and believers convinced to stick to the straight and narrow. Still, it wasn’t until 1975 that the moniker near-death experience (NDE) was coined by the occult parapsychologist Raymond Moody in the run-away best-seller Life After Life. Since then the endless stream of stories concerning subjective experiences occurring during a state of unconsciousness brought on by a medical crisis, such as an accident, suicide attempt, or cardiac arrest, have flooded the market. Precipitating the question, “What’s up with near-death experiences?”

First, we should note that the subjective recollections of near-death experiencers are wildly divergent and irreconcilable. Wiese’s notion of reptilian-looking demons commissioned to torture humans as care-takers of hell hardly squares with Alexander’s version of an afterlife in which unconditional love reigns supreme. Both can be wrong. But both can’t be right. Not only so, but the implications of such subjective predilections are profound. If Wiese is right the biblical authors are wrong. One may find demons as caretakers of hell in medieval tomes but never in Scripture. Conversely, if Alexander is right, Hitler merely dies in the comforting arms of his mistress with no eternal consequences. Such is no doubt solace for modern-day killers. After murdering his mother, twenty children, and six adults in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, Adam Lanza blissfully soared off on what Alexander has romanticized as “the wing of a butterfly.”

Furthermore, worthy of note is the subjective specter of hyperliteralism. As such, it is not surprising for heavenly travelers to return from the afterlife with tales of “a great domed hall” (Mary Neal, To Heaven and Back), “streets of gold” (Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven), and “pure, white angels with fantastic wings,” green demons with long fingernails and hair made of fire, and an earless devil, replete with three heads, a nasty nose, and moldy teeth (Alex Malarkey, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven). Such exacting literalism has become pandemic. For example, it is not uncommon to see heaven described as a translucent cube measuring fifteen hundred miles in each direction. (One wonders if, by the same interpretive method, the present earth is set on pillars. After all, does not the Bible say that God “shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble?”) Small wonder then that terrestrial travelers return from near-death experiences with stories of pearly gates, brightly colored horses, and a Holy Spirit that is, well, “kind of blue.”

Finally, while near-death experiencers seem convinced that their particular version of the afterlife is the real McCoy, in reality natural explanations might actually be far more realistic. Psycho-active drugs ingested during a medical crisis can cause experiences strikingly similar to NDEs. Physiological factors, such as oxygen deprivation and the release of endorphins may play a role in NDEs as well. In her book, Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences, Dr. Susan Blackmore argues that a lack of oxygen in the brain can trigger both autoscopic and transcendental episodes in which NDErs leave their bodies and/or move through dark tunnels in route to being embraced by the light. Moreover, psychological factors, including fantasy proneness, may also play a role in near-death experiences. Statistically, one out of every twelve Americans is predisposed to creating a fantasy out of thin air and then believing it to be true.

Considered collectively, psychopharmacological, physiological, and psychological explanations provide a compelling naturalistic rationale for near-death experiences. But a word of caution is in order. Naturalistic explanations assume that consciousness is merely a function of the physical brain. However we can be certain that this is not the case in that the mind and brain have different properties. As aptly noted by Drs. J. P. Moreland and Gary Habermas (Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality), “the subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences—the feeling of pain, the experience of sound, the awareness of color—is different from anything that is simply physical. If the world were only made of matter these subjective aspects of consciousness would not exist. But they do exist! So there must be more to the world than matter.” Indeed, if we are merely material, libertarian freedom (freedom of the will) does not exist. Instead we are fatalistically relegated to a world in which everything is a function of factors such as brain chemistry and genetics. Reason itself is reduced to the status of conditioned reflex. Moreover, the very concept of love is rendered meaningless.

In sum, purely naturalistic explanations may account for autoscopic and transcendental episodes, but what they cannot account for is consciousness. Despite the fact that near-death experiences are wildly divergent and dangerously subjective, they nonetheless serve to highlight the reality of consciousness—something Dr. Alexander should have comprehended long before flying off on the wings of a mythological butterfly.

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast heard daily throughout the United States and Canada via radio, satellite radio Sirius-XM 131, and the Internet at Equip.org. Hank is the author of many books including the recently released AfterLife: What You Need to Know about Heaven, the Hereafter, and Near Death Experiences (Worthy Publishing, 2013).

 

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com John W. Morehead

    Thanks for sharing this guest column on this topic. There is another body of thought among Christian scholars who articulate a position called “non-reductive physicalism.” This position provides a synthesis of biblical studies and theology with the neurosciences and philosophy and arrives at the conclusion that human nature is monistic (body with brain) rather than the more traditional position of dualism (body and mind or spirit), but which avoids the reductionism of materialist anthropologies. Scholars like Nancey Murphy of Fuller have articulated this view. An example can be found in her book Body and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?.

  • Erik Hanson

    Tim,

    I appreciate your willingness to post on this topic, and I have been following the topic NDE’s since about 1978 (as a seven year old); the first book I read (by Zola Levitt and John Weldon) was actually a critque of Moody’s classic–unhelpfully maintaining that the so called, “Being of Light” is probably Satan masquerading as an “Angel of Light.” Today, the biggest challenge against the traditional account of the NDE on this topic is as Hannegraf points out, the reductionistic hypothesis. Yet, having read Eben Alexander’s testimony with some care (I hope), and as a philosopher, I have the distinct impression that Hannegraf did not read the same testimony, as he himself said that he had accepted the reductionistic hermeneutic, until his own NDE. AND this explanation (in spite of his training as a Harvard trained neurosurgeon), was nevertheless inadequate to account for his experience.

    But it seems like there are at least two (or three issues at stake: 1) The “phenomenological” account of the NDE; the 2) hermeneutic of the NDE (and perhaps) 3), the theological/ethical account (i.e., “so what”?). In what follows, I don’t want to claim to be making an argument, or a general point, except that I don’t think there is enough data available to justify dismissing the NDE accounts as they are relayed to us.

    I am happy to remain agnostic about the explanation for 1), whether or not there was an actual experience, or if there is a neurochemical explanation (though I wish to resist this). If there is a neurochemical explanation, why did Alexander’s tests for this explanation fail?

    Consider 2): Suppose the experiencer’s explanation for the NDE fails. Hannegraf suggests that there is no consistency between any two experiences. But this is, of course, false; many do experience something like a “tunnel” and a “light” (as Moody observed), but again not all (Alexander’s testimony is a case in point). Why should we be so quick to discount a testimony merely because there is rarely consistency between any two? Is it not the case that when a testimony is taken in court that consistency suggests collusion? Furthermore, those who have given their testimony to me privately, and those I have read, have often done so with great reluctance–I find myself suspicious of those who give testimonies who themselves have not spent at least 6-7 years attempting to process it, and have a long, detailed account that seems to be a confirmation of a theological perspective [Alexander's relatively quick turn-around rasies some eyebrows for me, I fear]. It also strikes me as either patronizing, or insulting to the individual who has had the experience to say that it is only a neurochemical brain reaction.

    3) Let’s suppose that the experiencer’s testimony/experience is as they say it is. Should Christians still reject it even if it is consistent with their theological perspecitve? I would suggest that the Apostle Paul’s NDE is a helpful text to consider as part of the discussion.

    Is it possible that what the experiencer experienced, and remembers (and has processed) has been reinterpreted in light of their understanding of theology? I think that Howard Storm’s testimony is a case in point (see http://www.near-death.com/storm.html). BUT even more importantly, I find myself interested in seeing what kind of effect the NDE has had upon the person who claims to have had such an experience. Is this the basis for a legitimate testimony? How has it affected their lives? Louis Farrrakhan’s testimony, I think, should not be overlooked: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2202&dat=19991223&id=_BQmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=yv0FAAAAIBAJ&pg=5174,2072905

    The same I think, goes for Storm’s testimony (he was an athiest, and has since become an ordained minister)

    [On the other hand, NDE's are big business now, and a relative "unknown" can become rather wealthy by selling their testimony...]

    Finally, regarding 3) as Hannagraf (along with Levitt and Weldon, Groothuis, et al., ) observes, the fact that some testimonies do not make a reference to sin, judgment, Hell, but in fact seemingly just the opposite, might be troubling. But again, consider Storm’s testimony, should his testimony (which does make indirect references to these theological perspectives), nevertheless be discounted?

  • Tony

    Timothy,
    Thanks for another interesting post – I’ll try to make my points brief.
    1. You came so close to the truth but veered away at the last minute! When talking of other’s subjective experiences of hell or heaven, you said “Both can be wrong. But both can’t be right”. You missed the reverse logical corollary. If both can’t be right, then both *must* be wrong.
    2. Subjective experiences of anything are not evidence. Ever.
    3. Naturalistic explanations state that consciousness is a function of the physical brain for very good reasons. Damage to the brain, and more specifically damage to particular areas of the brain, causes very specific changes to consciousness, personality, awareness and behaviour. It is perfectly reasonable and logical therefore to conclude that consciousness is indeed a by-product of brain activity.
    4. There is no evidence whatsoever that consciousness can or does survive death. None. Nada. Zip.
    5. Just because we don’t know about or understand many aspects of consciousness, there is no good reason to put forward a “god of the gaps” style argument to assert that there is something special about human consciousness beyond brain activity.
    6. You (and I don’t mean you personally, Timothy) might not *like* it that we human beings are functions of brain chemistry and genetics, but that’s what the evidence says.
    7. To conclude that “…purely naturalistic explanations may account for autoscopic and transcendental episodes, but what they cannot account for is consciousness” is self-contradictory. Autoscopic and transcendental episodes are part of consciousness, are they not? If naturalistic explanations account for one then they account for the other.

    • Reverend Robbie

      Good summary, Tony. I have nothing to add but I disagree with you on one thing. I don’t think that your point #1 is accurate. If both can’t be right because they contradict each other, then one could still be right while the other is wrong. I think that was the least important of your statements, though. I agree that Hank took a weird and unjustified turn at the end.

      • Tony

        Thank you Rev. I may have not made myself clear. My point was that if both can’t be right, and if there is not only no evidence to point to which is right but also absolutely *no way* of determining which is right, then it is reasonable and safe to conclude that both are wrong.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Near death experiences happen to be one of the things I have a real fascination with. I would estimate that over the last decade I’ve read in excess of a thousand of them – probably many more than that, but I honestly couldn’t guess the real number. I tend to view near death experiences as possibly true, but hard to understand and certainly not something to put our faith in. By which I mean that I find them interesting and thought provoking, but I wouldn’t come to any conclusions about reality based on them

    Anyways, I have a couple of observations. First of all, the only way to maintain the idea that there are natural or scientific explanations for these experiences is to not look closely at them. There are a wild array of circumstances which can trigger a near death experience. Often there is no medication and no head injury involved. As often as not they happen in the absence of ongoing medical intervention. Also, near death experiences differ markedly from the sort of hallucinations which people do sometimes experience due to drugs or other medical intervention. Aside from being far less disjointed, people who report near death experiences insist that their experiences were real – more real than anything they have ever experienced before. People who have hallucinations, once they come out of them, are very well aware that their experiences were not real. The few studies which have been done haven’t found any relationship between the use of medications or particular medical interventions and near death experiences. And while there are claims that these experience can be induced with drugs, oxygen deprivation or manipulation of the brain using magnets, if you read the descriptions of these induced events, they bear only the foggiest resemblence to actual near death experience reports. If you handed a file with a few of these induced experiences mixed in with other near death experiences to someone for review, these induced experiences would stick out like a sore thumb – even given the wide variety found in near death experience reports. Also, there are many reports of people seeing things that it would have been physically impossible for them to see – even if their eyes were open or of hearing conversations taking place far from the patient’s physical body which would need to be accounted for by any scientific explanation. IOW, while it could change in the future, it can be said absolutely unequivocably that there is no plausible scientific explanation for these accounts.

    As for the notion that two wildly different near death experiences can’t both be true, that’s simply showing a lack of creativity and imagination. Different near death experiences seem to be heavily influenced by the needs, personalities and expectations of the person who has them. You could say that they are customized for each person. So yes, it’s entirely possible for one person to have a near death experience where they see angels and another to have one where they are in a meadow and a third to be in a dark void (the dark void is the most common experience, btw). Many people who report near death experiences will say that they were told just that. I think we need to remember that our scripture tells us absolutely nothing about what actually happens after we die other than Jesus’ words that “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man”. So we do need to be careful about dismissing near death experiences due to something like the variety of circumstances reported by those who have them.

    Also, while many people who have near death experiences come back with vivid memories (usually of things which they struggle to put into words), they are also frequently aware of being told things or knowing things which they cannot remember once they are back among the bodily living. So, even if one were to accept what people report after having a near death experience as absolutely true, it is still going to be very partial and should be understood as such.

    My other response to this post is that it is a mistake to take a summary or pull-out quote such as “you can’t do anything wrong” and react simplistically to it. What does it mean that you can’t do anything wrong? That you can do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter? Aside from being in conflict with what our faith teaches, if you read people’s near death accounts, they very often say that they came away with the understanding that everything – absolutely everything – matters and affects everything else. There are no throw-away moments or actions in life. But “you can’t do anything wrong” could mean that you can’t do anything that can’t be fixed or that would ruin everything. That is a different concept entirely. And if you pay attention while reading a near death experience, you can often observe the ways in which the assumptions of the person having it affect the way they interpret what they are told and what is happening. So it really doesn’t work to pull quotes out of context and without reference to the particular ideas, needs and assumptions of the person having it and make any conclusions.

    It seems to me that Christians have a particular problem dealing with reality which doesn’t fit with what they already think. We seem to devote an inordinate amount of time to trying to explain away or deny evidence that conflicts with how we’ve been taught to think about it. In many Christian circles, choosing what they think is “biblical truth” over evidence drawn from the world around us is seen as evidence of faith. However, God created reality. Creation is evidence of God and his ways. And unlike scripture, it exists and functions without human intervention. Left unread, the bible is a bound set of papers. Left unobserved, the creation has its own existence which still points back to God. I think we’ve made a mistake by trying to understand creation in light of scripture rather than scripture in light of creation. I bring this up here because it does seem to me that near death experiences are one of those things which Christians want to explain away because it doesn’t line up with what we already think. Which is pretty incredible given that near death experiences if nothing else provide witness accounts to one of our faith’s more incredible claims – that this life is not all there is. So, I know that there are materialists who argue (completely unconvincingly, imo) that near death experiences are a completely physical event, but I think Christians are making a mistake to embrace the same tactic in order to protect our ideas about how things are supposed to go after we die – especially when we haven’t even been told what happens after we die!

    • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

      “I think we’ve made a mistake by trying to understand creation in light of scripture rather than scripture in light of creation.”

      I just need to qualify that statement – it’s entirely too broad. Of course scripture has things to teach us about reality. What I mean to say is just that we’ve made a mistake by trying to force reality to line up with our understanding of scripture even when all evidence is that it just doesn’t. (People who reject evolution because of their peculiar reading of Genesis would be the most obvious and damaging example.) We need to be open to the idea that when reality does not seem to line up with scripture, it is likely that it is our understanding of scripture which needs to be adjusted. Digging in and going to war against evidence, people’s experiences and well supported ideas is not faithful. It’s just engaging in the all too human tendency to stubbornly refuse to be corrected.

    • Monimonika

      Also, there are many reports of people seeing things that it would have been physically impossible for them to see – even if their eyes were open or of hearing conversations taking place far from the patient’s physical body which would need to be accounted for by any scientific explanation. IOW, while it could change in the future, it can be said absolutely unequivocably that there is no plausible scientific explanation for these accounts.

      Was “Maria’s Shoe” one of the reports? If it was, the account has been investigated and the alleged physically impossible parts have been found to not be that impossible:
      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.html#maria

      The are other ones on that site, but I picked that one just because I happened to recall it first after reading your comment. I’m not sure how many reports you have read, nor how many of them have either been verified as actual occurrences still needing explanations, have been debunked, or cannot be verified as having even occurred.

      Aside from being far less disjointed, people who report near death experiences insist that their experiences were real – more real than anything they have ever experienced before. People who have hallucinations, once they come out of them, are very well aware that their experiences were not real.

      Did the people who had NDEs have experience with hallucinations to compare to? Did the people who came out of hallucinations have experience with NDEs to compare to? Have people who are part of both groups ever been asked which experience was felt “more real” to them?

      Assuming we’re NOT asking people who have had both experiences, it’s pretty unfair to make this differentiation. The most obvious difference is that a person who had hallucinations of the variety that involved conscious actions can be shown to be mistaken on what really happened by other people or physical evidence. An NDE typically would involve an inactive, unconscious person’s observation of events that does not involve acting upon other people/items (whether this is out-of-body or transcendental). This is much harder to prove as false by others, especially if the OOB observation is not blatantly contradictory of recorded events.

      Also, while many people who have near death experiences come back with vivid memories (usually of things which they struggle to put into words), they are also frequently aware of being told things or knowing things which they cannot remember once they are back among the bodily living.

      To me, that description really doesn’t seem too different from waking up from a particularly stimulating dream… Except, of course, I know I had just been sleeping instead of being possibly dead.

      You may want to look up the science on how unreliable memory tends to be, to the point that eyewitness testimonies are found to be one of the most unreliable parts of investigations. As an example, look up the case of Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. Look up the reconstruction of memory and how we often end up confidently remembering past events inaccurately.

      • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

        OK – again I have read easy many more than 1000 of these things, as well as all the research – both rigorous and crackpot – as I’ve been able to find on these things. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but a hyper-informed lay person on the subject. To your questions – there are hundreds of examples of people who heard conversations they couldn’t have physically heard, saw things they couldn’t have physically seen, etc. They have been recounted both by the people who experienced them and by doctors who have had patients tell them about it. There have also been quite a few instances where people saw someone they used to know during a near death experience and were surprised because so far as they had known, that person was still alive. Later, they discovered that person had in fact already died.

        Yes, some of the people who have had near death experiences have also had experiences with hallucinations. It is also known that people in comas sometimes have vivid dreams and hallucinations. People who have experienced both say that they are NOTHING alike. They say that being awake and being in a hallucination are more similar than a hallucination and a NDE is. Also, there are a few medical professionals who have taken an interest in the subject of near death experiences and regularly ask their patients if they experienced anything after a life threatening event. They report that the hallucinations which their patients tell them about bear no ressemblence to the near death experiences which their patients share.

        Also, I think it’s terribly presumptuous to tell someone who has a near death experience and insists that it was the most real experience they ever had that it sounds like a particularly vivid dream! These people have had their own vivid dreams before. They aren’t idiots who don’t know the difference or just got confused! As to the missing information – it is typical that the person is told during the near death experience that there will be things they won’t be able to remember. So it’s not just that they later realize that they forgot things.

        As to memory, I do agree that memory can play tricks on us. But often people will start sharing their experience as soon as they regain conciousness. Also, physicians who talk with their patients about this have noted that where as the hallucinations and dreams which people share with them tend to change with repetition or are even forgotten altogether, the people who have had near death experiences are strikingly consistent over the course of time in how they describe their experiences.

        One of the things to keep in mind is that although the odds of any particular person having a near death experience are small, given the number of people on the planet and advances in life-saving medical technology, there are many tens of thousands of individual stories which have been recorded by scientists and researchers. One of the frustrating things about the various attempts to debunk near death experiences is that the various explanations may seem convincing to those who have only a passing familiarity with the idea of near death experiences. But those who have had their own experiences uniformly react to such attempts to debunk near death experiences by raising multiple issues raised by their own experiences which such debunking efforts don’t address or even hint at. I have only come across one example of someone who had a near death experience who thought that perhaps the scientific explanation for their experience held some merit. Like I said, I think that near death experiences are possibly/probably true, but part of the reason for that is that I’ve never come across a scientific explantion which was in the least bit convincing to me after having read so many stories of people’s near death experiences. It may not seem like it, but I’m not opposed to a scientific explantion – in fact as first I pressumed a scientific explanation in part because so many near death experienced seemed to be in conflict with ideas I had aboue how things are supposed to work.

        • Monimonika

          I see the words, “more than a 1000″, “hundreds”, “some”, etc., but not even an attempt at providing a single specific example from you. I tried to give at least a specific example or two that can be looked up.

          I am not as informed as you (claim to be), and I honestly do not think I would go out and buy any books you may recommend for reading that contain these hundreds of accounts (assuming you have book titles on hand). As you can obviously tell by my not-so-subtle wording in parentheses, I really don’t trust your words when they are mostly just bald assertions with no accompanying backup/named-examples whatsoever.

          Also, again I ask, was “Maria’s Shoe” one of the reports you read?
          Addendum: Do you think the “Maria’s Shoe” report is debunked? If not, why not?

          • Reverend Robbie

            Agreed, Monimonika. I would like for Rebecca to present us with some compelling piece of evidence now that she has stated her qualifications and conclusions.

  • Jack

    Eben Alexander’s book is very thought provoking. If you are interested in NDEs or human consciousness, start with Proof of Heaven, then continue with the many resources listed in its appendixes. The guest blogger’s very sketchy summation gives a biased, inaccurate picture of it. In fact, his few references are unfairly dismissive. He uses it as a “straw man”, as in the following:
    “Despite the fact that near-death experiences are wildly divergent and dangerously subjective, they nonetheless serve to highlight the reality of consciousness—something Dr. Alexander should have comprehended long before flying off on the wings of a mythological butterfly.” Besides being flippant, this statement strongly suggests Hanegraaff didn’t read Alexander’s book, which discusses very seriously the reality of consciousness.

    Hanegraaff’s blog misfires numerous times:
    “the implications of such subjective predilections are profound.” How are the implications of someone’s personal experience profound, unless my personal worldview is so shaky that any contradiction threatens it? (Isn’t “subjective predilections” an oxymoron?) NDEs can only be subjective; when I die, it’s just me dying. Someone’s description of an NDE shouldn’t be taken as a definition of ultimate reality.
    “Both can be wrong. But both can’t be right.” Hanegraaff should have no trouble reconciling the presence of both hell and heaven in the afterlife; the church has been presenting both for nearly 2000 years. [BTW- The hell-guy didn't have a NDE. He's a Christian who experienced a vision of hell, and Hanegraaff is correct- it does not line up with most Christian theology on the subject.]
    Hanegraaff seems stuck on the idea that two different accounts of life after death must be the same, or their both wrong. But most of the time, people see the same thing differently. If I only notice Hank has glasses, and my friend only notices Hank is hair-challenged, are we both wrong for not getting the whole picture?
    “Statistically, one out of every twelve Americans is predisposed to creating a fantasy out of thin air and then believing it to be true.” Seriously? Who came up with those stats, and those conclusions? Does it mean 1 out of 12 bloggers is living in a fantasy world? Or 1 out of 12 bibliologians in America is just making stuff up? Those are some fantastic statistics, unless the statistician is the one out of twelve, then it makes perfect sense.

    Hanegraaff discounts NDEs, then makes a case for consciousness being separate from brain activity, when, if they do anything, NDE’s (especially Alexander’s) suggest that consciousness is separate from brain activity. But the Bible Answer Man is intent on bringing the discussion around to “the bible has the only correct answer”, and he’s sure his personal subjective predilections on what the Bible says is What You Need to Know. I’m not convinced, but that’s just my subjective opinion.

    • Jack

      Please excuse 2 of my self-editing fails- “subjective predilections” is a redundancy, not an oxymoron. And I said “their” somewhere that should have been “they’re.”

  • N. B.

    It is a big universe. Our personal experiences are important. Learn to own them.
    ““A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”
    ― Meister Eckhart
    This man it is said was put under pressure to say everything he taught was false. But I like what he said . Forget yesterday start fresh with God today. something like that

  • rumitoid

    It was stated that drugs can reproduce very similar results of NDEs. I have read that stimulating certain parts of the brain can also replicate many of the usual scenarios of NDEs. But neither have the transformational effect that many people have from an NDE. Of course, this in not proof of anything.
    Someone mentioned how unreliable memory is generally speaking. This provides those who do not believe in the supernatural (or humans as anything more than the puppets of flashy neurons) an easy dismissal. Yet there are those who have photographic memory and it seems far to assume a spectrum for the populace.

    If the testimony of people who have had hallucinations is overwhelming that the experience was recognized as unreal afterward and those who had NDEs that it felt real afterwards, what is the problem? Margarine and butter.

    I drowned when I was seven years old, that was almost sixty years ago and the memory of being exuberantly welcomed and loved by the Light is still vivid. Some will feel perfectly free to scoff simply because of “evidence” about the unreliability of memory. Yet that is not proof against me. That some rational explanations can be reached to question the experience is automatically taken by some as enough to disprove it, the foundation being the belief it couldn’t have happened, so ergo it didn’t.

    At eighteen, I died of heat exhaustion and had a NDE. It was of a different variety than the first one. I went to the bitchblack closet of my bedroom, feeling the floor to see if it was solid before entering. As soon as I went in, I had the sensation of moving upward. I looked up and there was and there was this grayish lit cloud. As I traveled upward at an ever-increasing speed, my joy increased and the cloud slowly coalesced and grew steadily brighter. At a point of indiscribable bliss, there came an unspoken awareness to proceed further would result in “changing forms.” (This “awareness” might be analogous to the experience of pain: when we find that we have inadvertently placed our hand on a hot stove, there is no thought to what comes next.) It is at that moment that I spontaneously resuscitated, shocking the EMTs and my mother. I had not been breathing and they had not found a heartbeat. I did not share either of these experiences with anyone until I went to school many years later for Hospice. I make no claims about either one. It happened and was, for me, transformative. End of story.

    • Monimonika

      I don’t doubt that you experienced what you say you experienced. I don’t even doubt it when people insist they experienced something like an out-of-body experience. I would also say I don’t doubt people who say they saw or heard things while they were hallucinating. If it was a profound experience for you, it was a profound experience and that’s a fact.

      What I do doubt is that a person’s so-called “soul” can leave their body and continue to sense and memorize things. I do doubt that the “places” described (whether it be heaven, hell, misty clouds, etc.) actually exist beyond human imagination. I do doubt claims of supernatural knowledge of things that supposedly “could not possibly have been known” by not just people who experienced NDEs but also people who claim to be psychic.

      When people say that they heard/felt God tell them something, I do not believe that a being called “God” actually contacted them, but I do not and could not deny what these people FEEL about the experience that they had.

      Look, your story is not the type I am skeptical of. What I’m skeptical of are the claims that souls, angels, devils, and/or God actually exist, and that NDEs are somehow “evidence” of their existence. To me, NDEs are an actual phenomenon. Supernatural beings are just not.

      • Reverend Robbie

        Whether Rumitoid “makes no claims about either” or not, the topic really is about whether NDEs indicate the existence of an afterlife. That is either true or false, and has little to do with whether the experience was transformative.

        Terribly unfortunate typo in the last paragraph of Rumitoid’s post. I wonder if it will show up in urbandictionary tomorrow.

  • rumitoid

    monimonika, I appreciate your comments and your position. I was raised in da Bronx in what might be considered a slightly upper middle class family and taught mostly by the Jesuits both in HS and college. Being rational and reasonable is highly prized. A scholastic education, and I assume you know the roots of that phrase. Claiming something to be what I cannot prove is not unlike sin and can be sometimes considered worse. The experience at seven radically changed my personality. It was immediately noticeable to my rather large extended family with whom we vacationed in Rockaway. The next day, I began to visit the elderly on beach 113th. I was suddenly quiet and shy and given to being “too helpful.” The fact that I do not recall any of these changes being a conscious decision or perhaps the effects of something else does not mean there is a more practical explanation for these shifts in character. And even if it was due to the encounter with this “loving light,” it could merely be the effect of a natural brain activity which, incapable at that age of properly assessing and no study to explain it or ground it, it influenced a profound alteration of my personality. The fact that it was not toward antisocial behavior but a gentler state of being, is not sufficient to say it was an encounter with God.

    This piece you may strenuously object to. I began to know things. Looking back, I can see explanations for most of it but others escape being tied down. An example of the explainable. Back in the city after my drowning, my mother sent to the store across the street to pick up a few items, watching me from the window and yelling instructions when it was good to cross. Two brothers owned this market and I had just begun to like the more businesslike one. He was the one at work that day. As soon as I walked in the door and saw him, I knew he was going to die that day. By my description to my mother when I returned–pale, waxy skin, out of sorts–that could simply be seen as a subliminal species awareness. There could be a certain smell buried in our genetic code. The same might be true of knowing that Mrs. Wallace and Mr. Burns were close to death.

    But knowing that my Uncle, and godfather, Jimmy would not be at my mother’s birthday party is more difficult. He was shot to death a week before that date. Perhaps because I cared so much about him, I worried something bad might happen to him. Maybe a dozen or more scenarios as to how this might happen was sub-consciously calculated. That I told my mother a day before he was shot, that was how he would die, might have been, given his apparent health and vitality, the one incidental scenario that seemed most likely. Unknown. If I take it that such foreknowledge is impossible, I am left with no choice but to reach the conclusion of an unfortunate but nonetheless lucky guess. Explainable, yes, but factual?

    A lifetime of such experiences has me merely persuaded to allow for mystery. I don’t know what is possible. I feel that it is as much a failing on my part to assign such “knowing” to the supernatural realm of God as it is to dismiss it as the natural realm of Evolution, what we take as the mundane workings of species survival. The complexity and attributes we assign to our humanity may be delusional, just a superfluous effect of vanity or hubris. Or not.

    • Monimonika

      rumitoid,

      You have definitely led a more… I don’t want to say “interesting life” because it sounds disrespectful of what you’ve been through. Uhm… What I want to say is that you have definitely experienced a lot more things than I have in my more mundane life.

      As for your “knowing” of things (I’ll just use “premonitions” as shorthand), I am a bit skeptical about the “lifetime of such experiences” part. The reason why is because I cannot help but feel there is the possibility of confirmation bias clouding such events. The only method I could come up with that would make me trust another person’s recollection of times they were able to foresee the unknown is the following:

      1) Keep a meticulous journal of times the person has had a premonition. The entries have to be made immediately after or during a premonition and accompanied with any thoughts that came along and maybe how intense it was. Specific dates and times should also be noted of when these premonitions occurred. No going back to revise anything!

      2) Record any events (happy/tragic/significant/notable) that happens along with details like dates/times/people involved/etc. This should preferably be done in a separate journal from the one above.

      3) Do not compare the above two types of journal entries until after a certain long period of time (maybe a year or three). Once a sufficient period of time has passed, the person can look back and see how many of their premonitions actually corresponded with events as well as how much time passed between the premonitions and the related events.

      The point of the above method is to have a tangible record of what actually occurred rather than relying on past recollections. By recording the person’s premonitions as soon as they have them, it prevents them from later on recalling the premonitions with slightly distorted details that would ad hoc match later events to an eerie degree. Same goes with the details about the events as well. It would also note any premonitions that may have been forgotten if no corresponding events occurred later on to validate them.

      I personally do believe what you say happened with your Uncle Jimmy, but that and/or similar events may have reinforced your focus on seeing such event patterns and thus you may be unconsciously forgetting about the several times when that pattern did not hold true.

      If you’re still experiencing any such “knowing” moments, maybe you can try out the above? Of course, you’re not obligated to do so, and I honestly wouldn’t hold it against you (especially since I myself probably wouldn’t put in the effort either just to sate some internet denizen’s curiosity).

      Thank you for sharing your experiences! :-)

      • Reverend Robbie

        Excellent, constructive advice, Monimonika! Cheers to both of you for chatting through this in a productive and cooperative manner.

  • Matthew

    The fact that NDEs are different does not mean that they are irreconcilable or wrong; Vatican City and a Franciscan homeless shelter in the Bronx are vastly different places, yet the Catholic Church is to be found in both places.

  • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

    How fascinating that just this weekend I read what David Kupelian has to say about near death experiences in his enlightening book How Evil Works. It stirred up controversy among my family members, as we discussed the varying views we’ve heard. Apparently, Dinesh D’Souza has written an entire book on the subject. To me, what Mr. Kupelian says is compelling.

  • tom anderson

    A year ago last Aug. I had a aortic desending anurism and had a near death experiencein that I saw Heaven and I saw Hell too as well as my Grandfather Tom Frasher who died years ago, he spoke to me and said Tommy don’t go down threre!, it was to the left of where I was standing, I turned and walked away through these high gates made of Gold and walked down this long pathway to the right and there was no one entering into the gates, but on the other side there were many people being beaten and drug off down this other pathway, the smell was like that of burning flesh and the screams were like nothing I have ever heard before, the only thing I could do was walk away down this long road. after 30 days in the hospital I came to woke-up and found myself with tubes and all sort of wiring sticking out of me, after 40+ days in the hospital I was permited to go home. and one thing I will add to this is I was sitting in my living room when the phone started ringing and my wife answered it, it was our oldest son, and I heard my wife say as I was walking down the hall, I don’t know where your Dad is going in the phone, I stopped turned and stated I was going to the restroom, but only it was Jewish that I was speaking, I know due to I had a friend who was Jewish as a teenager, I’ve never spoke in that before or since. Now I sit and wait for God to tell me what I am to do with this. Come on God talk to me please!

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Tom, I tried to reach you at the email address you left, but it didn’t work. Would you mind contacting me? Use the first letter of my first name, then the whole of my last name, at patheos dot com. Thanks! All one word, all lower case.

      Hope to hear from you.


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