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Proof of heaven popular, except with the church
They claim that they’ve glimpsed heaven but survivors of near-death experiences face a surprising skeptic: the church.
May 19th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Proof of heaven popular, except with the church

By John Blake, CNN

“God, help me!”

Eben Alexander shouted and flailed as hospital orderlies tried to hold him in place. But no one could stop his violent seizures, and the 54-year-old neurosurgeon went limp as his horrified wife looked on.

That moment could have been the end. But Alexander says it was just the beginning. He found himself soaring toward a brilliant white light tinged with gold into “the strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen.”

Alexander calls that world heaven, and he describes his journey in “Proof of Heaven,” which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 27 weeks. Alexander says he used to be an indifferent churchgoer who ignored stories about the afterlife. But now he knows there’s truth to those stories, and there’s no reason to fear death.

“Not one bit,” he said. “It’s a transition; it’s not the end of anything. We will be with our loved ones again.”

Heaven used to be a mystery, a place glimpsed only by mystics and prophets. But popular culture is filled with firsthand accounts from all sorts of people who claim that they, too, have proofs of heaven after undergoing near-death experiences.

Yet the popularity of these stories raises another question: Why doesn’t the church talk about heaven anymore?

Preachers used to rhapsodize about celestial streets of gold while congregations sang joyful hymns like “I’ll Fly Away” and “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” But the most passionate accounts of heaven now come from people outside the church or on its margins.

Most seminaries don’t teach courses on heaven; few big-name pastors devote much energy to preaching or writing about the subject; many ordinary pastors avoid the topic altogether out of embarrassment, indifference or fear, scholars and pastors say.

“People say that the only time they hear about heaven is when they go to a funeral,” said Gary Scott Smith, author of “Heaven in the American Imagination” and a history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

Talk of heaven shouldn’t wait, though, because it answers a universal question: what happens when we die, says the Rev. John Price, author of “Revealing Heaven,” which offers a Christian perspective of near-death experiences.

“Ever since people started dying, people have wondered, where did they go? Where are they now? Is this what happens to me?” said Price, a retired pastor and hospital chaplain.

A little girl’s revelation

Price didn’t always think heaven was so important. He scoffed at reports of near-death experiences because he thought they reduced religion to ghost stories. Besides, he was too busy helping grieving families to speculate about the afterlife.

His attitude changed, though, after a young woman visited his Episcopal church one Sunday with her 3-year-old daughter.

Price had last seen the mother three years earlier. She had brought her then-7-week-old daughter to the church for baptism. Price hadn't heard from her since. But when she reappeared, she told Price an amazing story.

She had been feeding her daughter a week after the baptism when milk dribbled out of the infant's mouth and her eyes rolled back into her head. The woman rushed her daughter to the emergency room, where she was resuscitated and treated for a severe upper respiratory infection.

Three years later, the mother was driving past the same hospital with her daughter when the girl said, “Look, Mom, that’s where Jesus brought me back to you.”

“The mother nearly wrecked her car,” Price said. “She never told her baby about God, Jesus, her near-death experience, nothing. All that happened when the girl was 8 weeks old. How could she remember that?”

When Price started hearing similar experiences from other parishioners, he felt like a fraud. He realized that he didn’t believe in heaven, even though it was part of traditional Christian doctrine.

He started sharing near-death stories he heard with grieving families and dejected hospital workers who had lost patients. He told them dying people had glimpsed a wonderful world beyond this life.

The stories helped people, Price said, and those who've had similar experiences of heaven should “shout them from the rooftops.”

“I’ve gone around to many churches to talk about this, and the venue they give me is just stuffed,” he said. “People are really hungry for it.”

Why pastors are afraid of heaven

Many pastors, though, don’t want to touch the subject because it’s too dangerous, says Lisa Miller, author of “Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife.”

Miller cites the experience of Rob Bell, one of the nation’s most popular evangelical pastors.

John Price ignored heaven until he met a woman with an amazing story.

Bell ignited a firestorm two years ago when he challenged the teaching that only Christians go to heaven in “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

The book angered many members of Bell’s church as well as many in the evangelical establishment. He subsequently resigned.

“Farewell, Rob Bell,” one prominent evangelical tweeted.

“It’s a tough topic for a pastor,” said Miller, a former religion columnist for the Washington Post. “If you get too literal, you can risk sounding too silly. If you don’t talk about it, you’re evading one of the most important questions about theology and why people come to church.”

If pastors do talk about stories of near-death experiences, they can also be seen as implying that conservative doctrine – only those who confess their faith in Jesus get to heaven, while others suffer eternal damnation – is wrong, scholars and pastors say.

Many of those who share near-death stories aren’t conservative Christians but claim that they, too, have been welcomed by God to heaven.

“Conservative Christians aren’t the only ones going to heaven," said Price, "and that makes them mad."

There was a time, though, when the church talked a lot more about the afterlife.

Puritan pastors in the 17th and 18th centuries often preached about heaven, depicting it as an austere, no fuss-place where people could commune with God.

African-American slaves sang spirituals about heaven like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” They often depicted it as a place of ultimate payback: Slaves would escape their humiliation and, in some cases, rule over their former masters.

America’s fixation with heaven may have peaked around the Civil War. The third most popular book in 18th century America – behind the Bible and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” – was "Gates Ajar," written in the wake of the war, Miller says.

The 1868 novel was “The Da Vinci Code” of its day, Miller says. It revolved around a grieving woman who lost her brother in the Civil War. A sympathetic aunt assures her that her brother is waiting in heaven, a bucolic paradise where people eat sumptuous meals, dogs sun themselves on porches and people laugh with their loved ones.

“This was a vision of heaven that was so appealing to hundreds of thousands of people who had lost people in the Civil War,” Miller said.

Americans needed heaven because life was so hard: People didn’t live long, infant mortality was high, and daily life was filled with hard labor.

“People were having 12 kids, and they would outlive 11 of them,” said Smith, author of "Heaven in the American Imagination." “Death was ever-present.”

The church eventually stopped talking about heaven, though, for a variety of reasons: the rise of science; the emergence of the Social Gospel, a theology that encouraged churches to create heaven on Earth by fighting for social justice; and the growing affluence of Americans. (After all, who needs heaven when you have a flat-screen TV, a smartphone and endless diversions?)

But then a voice outside the church rekindled Americans' interest in the afterlife. A curious 23-year-old medical student would help make heaven cool again.

The father of near-death experiences

Raymond Moody had been interested in the afterlife long before it was fashionable.

He was raised in a small Georgia town during World War II where death always seemed just around the corner. He constantly heard stories about soldiers who never returned from war. His father was a surgeon who told him stories of bringing back patients from the brink of death. In college, he was enthralled when he read one of the oldest accounts of a near-death experience, a soldier’s story told by Socrates in Plato’s “Republic.”

His fascination with the afterlife was sealed one day when he heard a speaker who would change his life.

The speaker was George Ritchie, a psychiatrist. Moody would say later of Ritchie, “He had that look of someone who had just finished a long session of meditation and didn’t have a care in the world.”

Moody sat in the back of a fraternity room as Ritchie told his story.

It was December 1943, and Ritchie was in basic training with the U.S. Army at Camp Barkeley, Texas. He contracted pneumonia and was placed in the hospital infirmary, where his temperature spiked to 107. The medical staff piled blankets on top of Ritchie’s shivering body, but he was eventually pronounced dead.

“I could hear the doctor give the order to prep me for the morgue, which was puzzling, because I had the sensation of still being alive,” Ritchie said.

He even remembers rising from a hospital gurney to talk to the hospital staff. But the doctors and nurses walked right through him when he approached them.

He then saw his lifeless body in a room and began weeping when he realized he was dead. Suddenly, the room brightened “until it seemed as though a million welding torches were going off around me.”

He says he was commanded to stand because he was being ushered into the presence of the Son of God. There, he saw every minute detail of his life flash by, including his C-section birth. He then heard a voice that asked, “What have you done with your life?"

After hearing Ritchie’s story, Moody decided what he was going to do with his life: investigate the afterlife.

Raymond Moody revived interest in heaven by studying near-death experiences.

He started collecting stories of people who had been pronounced clinically dead but were later revived. He noticed that the stories all shared certain details: traveling through a tunnel, greeting family and friends who had died, and meeting a luminous being that gave them a detailed review of their life and asked them whether they had spent their life loving others.

Moody called his stories “near-death experiences,” and in 1977 he published a study of them in a book, “Life after Life.” His book has sold an estimated 13 million copies.

Today, he is a psychiatrist who calls himself “an astronaut of inner space.” He is considered the father of the near-death-experience phenomenon.

He says science, not religion, resurrected the afterlife. Advances in cardiopulmonary resuscitation meant that patients who would have died were revived, and many had stories to share.

“Now that we have these means for snatching people back from the edge, these stories are becoming more amazing,” said Moody, who has written a new book, “Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife.”

“A lot of medical doctors know about this from their patients, but they’re just afraid to talk about it in public.”

Ritchie’s story was told through a Christian perspective. But Moody says stories about heaven transcend religion. He's collected them from Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists.

“A lot of people talk about encountering a being of light,” he said. “Christians call it Christ. Jewish people say it’s an angel. I’ve gone to different continents, and you can hear the same thing in China, India and Japan about meeting a being of complete love and compassion.”

It’s not just what people see in the afterlife that makes these stories so powerful, he says. It’s how they live their lives once they survive a near-death experience.

Many people are never the same, Moody says. They abandon careers that were focused on money or power for more altruistic pursuits.

“Whatever they had been chasing, whether it's power, money or fame, their experience teaches them that what this (life) is all about is teaching us to love,” Moody said.

Under 'the gaze of a God'

Alexander, the author of “Proof of Heaven,” seems to fit Moody's description. He’s a neurosurgeon, but he spends much of time now speaking about his experience instead of practicing medicine.

He'd heard strange stories over the years of revived heart attack patients traveling to wonderful landscapes, talking to dead relatives and even meeting God. But he never believed those stories. He was a man of science, an Episcopalian who attended church only on Easter and Christmas.

That changed one November morning in 2008 when he was awakened in his Lynchburg, Virginia, home by a bolt of pain shooting down his spine. He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a disease so rare, he says, it afflicts only one in 10 million adults.

After his violent seizures, he lapsed into a coma — and there was little hope for his survival. But he awakened a week later with restored health and a story to tell.

He says what he experienced was “too beautiful for words.” The heaven he describes is not some disembodied hereafter. It’s a physical place filled with achingly beautiful music, waterfalls, lush fields, laughing children and running dogs.

In his book, he describes encountering a transcendent being he alternately calls “the Creator” or “Om.” He says he never saw the being's face or heard its voice; its thoughts were somehow spoken to him.

“It understood humans, and it possessed the qualities we possess, only in infinitely greater measure. It knew me deeply and overflowed with qualities that all my life I’ve always associated with human beings and human beings alone: warmth, compassion, pathos … even irony and humor.”

Holly Alexander says her husband couldn’t forget the experience.

“He was driven to write 12 hours a day for three years,” she said. “It began as a diary. Then he thought he would write a medical paper; then he realized that medical science could not explain it all.”

“Proof of Heaven” debuted at the top of The New York Times bestseller list and has sold 1.6 million copies, according to its publisher.

Alexander says he didn’t know how to deal with his otherworldly journey at first.

“I was my own worst skeptic,” he said. “I spent an immense amount of time trying to come up with ways my brain might have done this.”

Conventional medical science says consciousness is rooted in the brain, Alexander says. His medical records indicated that his neocortex — the part of the brain that controls thought, emotion and language — had ceased functioning while he was in a coma.

Alexander says his neocortex was “offline” and his brain “wasn’t working at all” during his coma. Yet he says he reasoned, experienced emotions, embarked on a journey — and saw heaven.

“Those implications are tremendous beyond description,” Alexander wrote. “My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness; that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us.”

Skeptics say Alexander’s experience can be explained by science, not the supernatural.

They cite experiments where neurologists in Switzerland induced out-of-body experiences in a woman suffering from epilepsy through electrical stimulation of the right side of her brain.

Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of Skeptic magazine, says the U.S. Navy also conducted studies with pilots that reproduced near-death experiences. Pilots would often black out temporarily when their brains were deprived of oxygen during training, he says.

These pilots didn’t go to heaven, but they often reported seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel, a floating sensation and euphoria when they returned to consciousness, Shermer says.

“Whatever experiences these people have is actually in their brain. It’s not out there in heaven,” Shermer said.

Some people who claim to see heaven after dying didn’t really die, says Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things.”

“They’re called near-death experiences for a reason: They’re near death but not dead,” Shermer said. “In that fuzzy state, it’s not dissimilar to being asleep and awakened where people have all sorts of transitory experiences that seem very real.”

The boy who saw Jesus

Skeptics may scoff at a story like Alexander’s, but their popularity has made a believer out of another group: the evangelical publishing industry.

While the church may be reluctant to talk about heaven, publishers have become true believers. The sales figures for books on heaven are divine: Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” has sold 5 million copies. And “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” is the latest publishing juggernaut.

Colton Burpo says he saw heaven and describes the color of Jesus' eyes.

“Heaven is for Real” has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 126 consecutive weeks and sold 8 million copies, according to its publisher.

The story is told from the perspective of Colton Burpo, who was just 4 when he slipped into unconsciousness while undergoing emergency surgery for a burst appendix.

Colton says he floated above his body during the operation and soared to heaven, where he met Jesus. Todd Burpo, Colton’s father, says he was skeptical about his son’s story until his son described meeting a great-grandfather and a miscarried baby sister — something no one had ever told him about.

Todd Burpo is a pastor, but he says he avoided preaching about heaven because he didn’t know enough about the subject.

“It’s pretty awkward,” he said. “Here I am the pastor, but I’m not the teacher on the subject. My son is teaching me.”

Colton is now 13 and says he still remembers meeting Jesus in heaven.

“He had brown hair, a brown beard to match and a smile brighter than any smile I’ve ever seen,’’ he said. “His eyes were sea-blue, and they were just, wow.”

Colton says he’s surprised by the success of his book, which has been translated into 35 languages. There’s talk of a movie, too.

“It’s totally a God thing,” he said.

Alexander, author of “Proof of Heaven,” seems to have the same attitude: His new life is a gift. He’s already writing another book on his experience.

“Once I realized what my journey was telling me," he said, "I knew I had to tell the story.”

He now attends church but says his faith is not dogmatic.

“I realized very strongly that God loves all of God’s children,” he said. “Any religion that claims to be the true one and the rest of them are wrong is wrong.”

Central to his story is something he says he heard in heaven.

During his journey, he says he was accompanied by an angelic being who gave him a three-part message to share on his return.

When he heard the message, he says it went through him “like a wind” because he instantly knew it was true.

It’s the message he takes today to those who wonder who, or what, they will encounter after death.

The angel told him:

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”

“You have nothing to fear.”

“There is nothing you can do wrong."

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Culture & Science • Faith • God • Heaven • History

soundoff (4,945 Responses)
  1. N&W 1000

    The other day, on CNN, they had one of those people interviewing Bobo The Chimp, since he is our closest relative and shares 97.27777717171727272771617272771161761272818181727272% of our DNA, about how to solve malaria on his native continent.

    He said, "Oooh oooh oooh ooooh oooh ooohooohhoohhho"

    May 19, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • I Am God

      Typical. I am going to presume you are one of those conservative religious trolls that don't want to face reality. Just want to watch the country fall apart because you just don't like someone.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Fundies Gone Wild!

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-04VDrCbM&w=640&h=360]

      May 19, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • N&W 1000

      I do not in any shape, form, nor fashion support Benny Hinn; I have always believed him to be a false prophet; sorry to upset your "Gotcha."

      May 19, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • The real Tom

      You're "sorry" all right, N&W. You're making stupid posts about evolution theory and then whining when you're called on it.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • mama k

      Do you support the Mormons, N&W 1000? (After that, there are thousands and thousand more to discuss.)

      May 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • evolvedDNA

      N&W 1000 same response then as you may give explaining your understanding of evolution?

      May 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Our closest relative is the bonobo, second is the chimpanzee.
      H0m0 sapien means wise ape. We are apes. Deal with it.
      Why is there neanderthal DNA in every human on the planet?

      May 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • BukkakeJack

      Hey N&W, look up "No True Scotsman"

      May 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  2. N&W 1000

    IF you atheists have NEVER studied the Theory of Pre-Adamite creation, I would advise you to do so; it would very likely help enlighten you, and help answer your trick questions.

    FJ Dake wrote a lot about it, he may be a good source; others dispute the theory, but that's ok because the Bible, unlike atheism, allows room for different thought and opinion.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • .

      Silly Troll.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Danny

      I quit chasing the dragon a long time ago. Besides, if the Theory of Pre-Adamite creation is really all that, why is it not more popular?

      May 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • I Am God

      I don't read stuff that religion tries to incorporate as truth in the Bible.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • N&W 1000

      People who name call are really the trolls; they have nothing to say, except to name call.

      Also, since when is truth popular?????

      May 19, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      That is not a theory. A theory offers testable avenues of study. What you have is nothing more than pure speculation, with nothing that can be studied. Again, offering nothing but wild speculation is how religions spring from ignorance.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Atheism is simply not believing in gods. My mind is wide open and I have discussions with many, many people with varying points of view. I seriously doubt you could comprehend all that I have studied which leads me to the beliefs I have, and they change depending on what new REAL information we have found.

      You certainly are adept at jumping to conclusions aren't you.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • HotAirAce

      "Trick questions" – what trick questions? Oh, you mean the straight forward questions that you and your silly beliefs cannot answer!

      I sense that you will soon be announcing it is your bed time, or you have to go to work, or it's time to wash your hair, or . . . – anything but defend the crap you have been spewing and are unable to substantiate.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  3. Fraser Petrick

    Any possibility heaven and hell are political inventions intended to keep people in line? Any possibilty that when you're dead, you're dead? Any possibility "near death experiences" are mistakes made by a brain under stress? If there is an afterlife I'll have to die to find out. If there is no afterlife I won't find out one way or the other. No fair.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • terri

      What good does it do you to discover there is an afterlife only to realize you don't get to participate in it because of the choices you made while living? Jesus is the only "spiritual leader" who rose from the dead. Why put your trust in any number of other gods, including yourself, who don't have that power?

      May 19, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  4. N&W 1000

    OK OK OK OK HELLO MY FRIEND COLIN I GIVE UP I TOOK YOUR ADVICE YOU WIN

    I went to my pet cat, and explained the hard facts of life to her, that the bag of Friskies is empty, and she was going to be hungry for awhile, and you know what she said?

    "Well, dope, why don't you go to the refrigerator and get me some chicken scraps, or. load your butt into the car and go get another bag?"

    Sadly, though, she is the only animal on earth that I have ever found who could conceptualize an answer and actually voice it to me.

    But you are 100% right about Fluffy.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • I Am God

      N&W you must hate science don't you?

      May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • .

      Troll. Austintatious, a great word mama k.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • N&W 1000

      No I love science, and no, you are not god.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • The real Tom

      If you don't think animals conceptualize, you bonehead, you should spend less time in church and more time reading the research that shows they do.

      Apparently, you also need assistance to figure out the difference between "conceptualizing" and "speaking."

      May 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  5. yep

    those who live their lives in peace and doing good, seem to die a peaceful and happy death.

    Those who lived a life of religion, spend their last hours worrying if they followed the right path.

    In the end, the religious have wasted a life.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • faith

      yep
      those who live their lives in peace and doing good, seem to die a peaceful and happy death.
      Those who lived a life of religion, spend their last hours worrying if they followed the right path.
      In the end, the religious have wasted a life.

      thank you
      lol

      May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • Hm

      Ha! Said some someone who clearly hasn't seen enough people in the last minutes. As a doctor and before as a nurses assistant I've seen more people in their final moments than I'd like to recall. Many are with it enough to have any last thoughts of peace or anguish. Those who are with it don't find themselves in peace without religion. Peace is only based on whether you firmly believe you have taken the right direction with your life; religious or not. If a person 100% believes they are right in their direction; they have peace. If not, they don't.

      I do firmly disagree that religion is a waste of a life. If religion causes you to live a moral life, even if I don't agree with your religion I can hardly call that a waste.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Not necessarily wasted. I have many friends who are religious, that contribute greatly to society. It really does not harm anyone if I think the wind is caused by giant invisible dragons flying around. It isn't correct, but harms no one. It's when the push their beliefs on others either as a person in an authoritative position such as a priest or minister, or legislate from the bible that they do harm...otherwise it can be completely harmless, and not interfere at all.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  6. Danny

    Some seem to want to hijack NDEs as being of their religion. Truth is, they happen across all cultures and (non)beliefs. When I did believe, I believed that there was one God, but it manifested itself into forms we could recognize on earth, explaining the differences in experiences. And although I no longer believe in anything supernatural, I'm curious to see where further research takes us. As of now, the more we know, the more it looks like NDEs are a figment of our minds.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  7. RichardSRussell

    Heaven, Hell, God, Satan, angels, demons — all prove to be remarkably elusive. Lots of people SAY they've seen them, but nobody ever seems to have a video camera ready to hand when it happens. To me, this suggests that they all belong in the same category as Bigfoot and UFOs: either delusions or hoaxes.
     
    Face it: If God were real, why would there be the remotest doubt about it? It would be as obvious as the Sun coming up.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • faith

      "RichardSRussell
      Heaven, Hell, God, Satan, angels, demons — all prove to be remarkably elusive. Lots of people SAY they've seen them, but nobody ever seems to have a video camera ready to hand when it happens. To me, this suggests that they all belong in the same category as Bigfoot and UFOs: either delusions or hoaxes.

      Face it: If God were real, why would there be the remotest doubt about it? It would be as obvious as the Sun coming up."

      lol

      May 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • terri

      The sun comes up because of God, you idiot....Incidentally, the Bible speaks of those who worship creation (the sun) rather than the creator who made them. It's not a good end....

      May 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Hm

      At faith –

      The sun does come up.. we live on a massive planet completely suspended in space. Our population has been killed by asteroids, solar flares, or deadly epidemic. Some look at this and say luck, others science, and other God. You can't win an argument for or against God with nature. Some would say Nature is the clear evidence that God gives us that He exists.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Dean

      To many people there is absolutely no doubt about it. God is real.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  8. Laz

    this is all very biased to the christian ethos; what is the experience of jewish, moslem, hindi or other beliefs ? the same ? or something according to their faith ?

    and what heaven is there for earliest man ? the barely sentient nomad that outlasted the neanderthal ? speaking of which, are there neanderthals in heaven ?

    do dogs and cats, our beloved pets get to go to heaven ? what about other animals ? what about cattle who lived and died for mcdonalds? they committed no sin, but would they be denied an afterlife given to everyone else who does sin ?

    at what age do we meet our loved ones ? when they were children of or grandparents who we might meet as children too ? or is everyone old and infirm as when they left ? what about babies who died? would we meet them as babies or as grown persons they never became ?

    would we meet alien life forms in heaven too ? assuming mankind expands and does contact another race, man then can have a beloved friend who would be expected to meet in heaven too.

    how about a one-sided relationship ? one where one deeply loves another who feels nothing in return ? whose heavenly experience would result then ?

    isn t heaven a bit crowded up there ?

    finally, if heaven is really there, why wait ? why not blow up the eartjh and we all get to go without doing any more bad things to each other that would imperil our place in heaven ?

    just asking

    May 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • faith

      "Laz
      this is all very biased to the christian ethos; what is the experience of jewish, moslem, hindi or other beliefs ? the same ? or something according to their faith ?
      and what heaven is there for earliest man ? the barely sentient nomad that outlasted the neanderthal ? speaking of which, are there neanderthals in heaven ?
      do dogs and cats, our beloved pets get to go to heaven ? what about other animals ? what about cattle who lived and died for mcdonalds? they committed no sin, but would they be denied an afterlife given to everyone else who does sin ?
      at what age do we meet our loved ones ? when they were children of or grandparents who we might meet as children too ? or is everyone old and infirm as when they left ? what about babies who died? would we meet them as babies or as grown persons they never became ?
      would we meet alien life forms in heaven too ? assuming mankind expands and does contact another race, man then can have a beloved friend who would be expected to meet in heaven too.
      how about a one-sided relationship ? one where one deeply loves another who feels nothing in return ? whose heavenly experience would result then ?
      isn t heaven a bit crowded up there ?
      finally, if heaven is really there, why wait ? why not blow up the eartjh and we all get to go without doing any more bad things to each other that would imperil our place in heaven ?
      just asking"

      lol

      May 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • puddintane

      Its pretty simple – theres still waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more out there to discover than yer most self-satisfied, diploma'd green Thinker scientist can describe.
      At one point God decided modern humans are smart enough to tell right from wrong, gave them rules o follow and let them police themselves. Obviously not everyone gets to move to the next stage, which requires "love". Aliens, animals, aliens surely all feel this, just as they are mean to one another.

      Alas, I don't LIKE humans enough to want be with them here on earth most of the time.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • faith

      Laz
      this is all very biased to the christian ethos; what is the experience of jewish, moslem, hindi or other beliefs ? the same ? or something according to their faith ?

      and what heaven is there for earliest man ? the barely sentient nomad that outlasted the neanderthal ? speaking of which, are there neanderthals in heaven ?

      do dogs and cats, our beloved pets get to go to heaven ? what about other animals ? what about cattle who lived and died for mcdonalds? they committed no sin, but would they be denied an afterlife given to everyone else who does sin ?

      at what age do we meet our loved ones ? when they were children of or grandparents who we might meet as children too ? or is everyone old and infirm as when they left ? what about babies who died? would we meet them as babies or as grown persons they never became ?

      would we meet alien life forms in heaven too ? assuming mankind expands and does contact another race, man then can have a beloved friend who would be expected to meet in heaven too.

      how about a one-sided relationship ? one where one deeply loves another who feels nothing in return ? whose heavenly experience would result then ?

      isn t heaven a bit crowded up there ?

      finally, if heaven is really there, why wait ? why not blow up the eartjh and we all get to go without doing any more bad things to each other that would imperil our place in heaven ?

      just asking

      so, i agree

      May 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  9. paul46

    I appreciate the fact that these experiences happen to religionists & non-religionists alike. If true, they certainly undermine the credibility of the unique claims of salvation offered by every unique corner church in America.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Misinterpretations of mental images is all that is going on. Religions and gods came about because things happened that people had no explanation for, so there must be a god (fallacy). This is nothing but more of the same.
      I do not know what happened so I will a$$ume it was a god.

      And the religions continue their march of "knowing" through ignorance.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • faith

      so, you're becoming redundant. i agree

      where's al qaeda?

      hambone the sambone?

      so

      "Laz
      this is all very biased to the christian ethos; what is the experience of jewish, moslem, hindi or other beliefs ? the same ? or something according to their faith ?
      and what heaven is there for earliest man ? the barely sentient nomad that outlasted the neanderthal ? speaking of which, are there neanderthals in heaven ?
      do dogs and cats, our beloved pets get to go to heaven ? what about other animals ? what about cattle who lived and died for mcdonalds? they committed no sin, but would they be denied an afterlife given to everyone else who does sin ?

      at what age do we meet our loved ones ? when they were children of or grandparents who we might meet as children too ? or is everyone old and infirm as when they left ? what about babies who died? would we meet them as babies or as grown persons they never became ?

      would we meet alien life forms in heaven too ? assuming mankind expands and does contact another race, man then can have a beloved friend who would be expected to meet in heaven too.
      how about a one-sided relationship ? one where one deeply loves another who feels nothing in return ? whose heavenly experience would result then ?
      isn t heaven a bit crowded up there ?
      finally, if heaven is really there, why wait ? why not blow up the eartjh and we all get to go without doing any more bad things to each other that would imperil our place in heaven ?
      just asking"

      May 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  10. God

    It is still a mystery guys, no one knows.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • yep

      yeah, and science will figure it out. Just as christians claimed disease is from an angry god, science took care of it.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Matt Knott

      Still a mystery to you

      May 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  11. liz

    If you witnessed the dying of a true Christian believer vs any other religion, you would know who goes to heaven. I believe all the stories, except that the little boy say the face of Jesus. The bible says clearly that nobody can see the face of God.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • yep

      odd

      May 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      I witnessed by good Christian Mother die and she didn't go to heaven because there is no way to ascertain that heaven exists.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Dean

      God is made up of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In the book he saw the face of Jesus but not the face of God.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • paul46

      Completely disagree with you. People of all faiths & no faith at all seem to have, when dying, the same fear of the unknown coupled with a strong, strong hope or longing. The many warnings given by Christ should suffice to inculcate a certain humility in a "true believer".

      May 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  12. iluvpurple

    I really can't believe in NDE for the same reason that I can't believe one religion: believing that one NDE is correct would mean all the others one are also incorrect. Therefore, it's logically impossible to say that we really know what's going to happen when we do die and what interpretation of religion is correct, if any... Only people who really know these questions are the ones who have already passed away.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Danny

      It does bring credibility into question when some of these people claim to have a message from god, yet the messages contradict each other. The kid in this article takes the cake though. The angels sung a song to him about genocide, talking about Joshua and Jerico. I'm sure it's something he heard in church and simply associated it with an afterlife, not aware of the song's message.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  13. I Am God

    N&W must hate the fact that we found more fossils of our ancestors in Africa, which scientists and archaeologists now believe may have been where humans originated from.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  14. Shiyizh Tsosie

    If those pastors are a man of God? do you think they should know the answer about the afterlife? After all.. They are called from God. Another thing, What happen to those people never heard of Jesus? aren't baptized to be saved. Are they are going to hell?

    May 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Dean

      Nope. And by asking that question it is obvious you did not read the article.
      The woman rushed her daughter to the emergency room, where she was resuscitated and treated for a severe upper respiratory infection.

      Three years later, the mother was driving past the same hospital with her daughter when the girl said, “Look, Mom, that’s where Jesus brought me back to you.”

      “The mother nearly wrecked her car,” Price said. “She never told her baby about God, Jesus, her near-death experience, nothing. All that happened when the girl was 8 weeks old. How could she remember that?”

      May 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  15. Dalton

    "America’s fixation with heaven may have peaked around the Civil War. The third most popular book in 18th century America – behind the Bible and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” – was "Gates Ajar," written in the wake of the war, Miller says."
    I think you mean the 19th century. Also, this article should have just stated that they're called Near-death experiences for a reason. You never actually die. Unfortunately, no one in the history of the Earth has ever legitimately come back from the DEAD.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  16. Over-the-Moon

    "Atheism is a requirement for a complete human being. Religion is a crutch that is shackled to you, one you never really needed in the first place, but were convinced by others that you couldn't live without. Once you discover it's only an illusion, that it's not even a real crutch, you discard it gladly."
    ~-Brent Yaciw

    May 19, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Dean

      Being an athesist requires more faith than believing in God. As a believer we have some evidence of God. We have evidence of God in looking in a mirror or out of a window. As an atheist there is nothing to show that there is no God.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • puddintane

      lol so is rooting for yer neighborhood sports team and swilling near beer which makes you overweight and gives you diabetes. Why do so? Cuz your friends told you to. Thats always smart

      May 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • sanjosemike

      While I do agree with you that atheism (from organized religion) is a logical point of view and relieves us of unnecessary crutches, there are some problems with atheism that exclude these features:

      1. The NDE may originate from the brain, but there is evidence pointing away from that, in "survivors" relating things that they could not have had any idea about.
      2. Quantum physics requires organic measurement of systems in order to break them down into concrete particles, away from their wave forms.
      3. Weird action at a distance is not technically possible, because nothing (including information) can go faster than the speed of light. Yet it is proven to happen. This bothered Einstein terribly and he never really came to terms with it.
      4. Most of matter is really empty space.
      5. Materialism (which atheists propose) comes under some difficult scrutiny due to the proven fact of "remote" viewing.

      Organized religion seems to poison just about everything it touches. Atheism repairs that defect, but comes under some scientific scrutiny that requires a more "open" approach.

      I have been an atheist most of my life. But certain concrete features of science force me to consider that the universe itself may be alive. However, this probably has no connection with organized religion, to which I remain unalterably opposed, as completely un-scientific.

      sanjosemike

      May 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  17. mindie in indie

    he's trying to sell a book you gullible people

    May 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • sanjosemike

      Selling books to gullible people is a "useful" way to make money. However a board certified neurosurgeon generally does not need money, in the sense that you and I do. It may help him, but he certainly does not need it. An extra 200,000 dollars/year is nice, but if you are already worth 10 million dollars or more, it is just not necessary. It just goes to taxes anyway.

      sanjosemike

      May 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  18. To all you pseudoexperts

    There's actually a fascinating book about all this called "Consciousness Beyond Life", written by a cardiologist, and based on the science of near death experience.

    What they found, is that the majority of people who have these experiences are not religious. And those who are religious, almost always abandon their religion after the experience, because they now know that their religion is just a bunch on man-made BS.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  19. Rob

    So here's my theory - it's all a hallucination caused by chemicals released near death. Just like lots of religious figures hallucinated near death; Jesus in the desert for 40 days, Buddha fasting under a tree.. It's pretty common when your body is in extreme states.

    Now, some fun, absurd, less logical, thinking on if it's not hallucinations - since I'm an atheist. We know organisms require energy and ALWAYS act in their own self-interest (empathy is in self-interest of your individual genes acting against your own).

    So, why does god want your soul so bad? I don't know. But I know that people talk about wanting to go toward the light because it 'feels good'. Well, something drawing you in with feelings instead of logical discourse is probably trying to manipulate you.. That sounds awfully similar to how we manipulate cows into breastfeeding, and eventually kill them for our own energy.

    So, if I'm ever in that situation, I'm probably going to RUN away from it unless it tries to convince me logically instead of overpowering me with good feelings.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • acounselorsperspective

      Spock, is that you?

      May 19, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Dean

      As an atheist, you will never be in that position.

      May 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  20. Devon

    A massive problem on this board.

    A false dilemma is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. The options may be a position that is between two extremes (such as when there are shades of grey) or may be completely different alternatives.

    Now that you're familiar with a false dilemma. Let me break down what's wrong with 90% of these posts. Most are arguing points based off the christian bible or points about religion in general. However, the existence of an after life in not predicated on the truth of any one religion. So, every post about Jesus, God, Leviticus, Allah, ect. is completely off point. What we should be discussing is the facts surrounding their stories. The real blame lies with me though. I have never seen intelligent conversation on a cnn boards, so why should I expect it now?

    May 19, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • .

      So why are you here, why bother?

      May 19, 2013 at 11:36 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.