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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. Richard Cranium

    Evolution is known to happen, we see it daily. We create antiviral agents based on it. We created strains of bacteri that eat crude oil.

    Even Pope John Paul II said that evolution is more than a theory. He of course believed it to be part of gods plan, but then discounted all of the information we have gathered that shows the bible wrong.

    To argue that evolution does not happen is just denying mountains of evidence, more daily, and makes one that takes that argument look ignorant and foolish. You can of course agree that evolution happens, as we now know, but it is part of gods design. You would of course have to reject the biblical story of genesis, Adam and eve, and Noah's ark though to make that argument.

    I wonder how the religious believers will react when life is discovered on other planets. It will happen, hopefully in my lifetime so I can see the chaos of it, and then see the back-peddling the religions inevitably do whenever science disproves a portion of their beliefs.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • I Am God

      Probably pull another stunt like they did with the Dinosaurs.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  2. Daniel in California

    Funny how people can believe in Fairy Tales about a magical place after your energy leaves your body with no physical proof whatsoever except "visions" they've had while they were extremely ill or on their death bed...going against all logical.... but these same people refuse to believe in Global Warming when the evidence is OVERWHELMING and right in front of their eyes each and every day, and confirmed by scientists all over the globe. Once again I stand by my opinion that religious people are fools, lunatics and nut jobs.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • The Dude

      Christianity is a death cult. They want to go to heaven so they do not care if they destroy the planet.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      christians hate facts. silly fairy tales of talking donkeys and talking snakes are to be believed - but not CO2 admissions. religion teaches people to turn off their brains.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  3. Reality

    THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

    Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

    "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    Added details are available.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  4. Walter Weinzinger

    The author errs by making the generalization: "Why doesn’t the church talk about heaven anymore?" You can't throw all Christianity into a single bucket and call it "the church". Which church are you talking about? In my Christian church, there is plenty of discussion of heaven and always has been. We have the answers to the "big three" – Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going after this life?

    There are tons of books out there emotionally detailing people's near-death experiences. However, one of the best definitive books on the subject was written by two university professors. They took a more scientific approach towards understanding why people all around the world are having similar near-death experiences despite huge differences in their cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds. It's called "The Eternal Journey – How Near-Death Experiences Illuminate Our Earthly Lives" by Craig R. Lundahl, Ph.D. and Harold A. Widdison, Ph.D. – Read it, John Blake!

    May 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  5. The Dude

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    May 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  6. Matt Knott

    To everyone reading this.. please do yourself a favor and research the following subjects... The Pineal Gland (our biological Third Eye) and DMT or Dimethyltryptamine. This is our connection with the afterlife! You may change your life or views on the afterlife by researching the two! 🙂

    May 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • The real Tom

      If any of your claims had any validity, there would be a line of scientists who backed up this theory. There aren't.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      not if it's a real science book. biology doesn't back up a "third eye".

      May 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • nadinesh

      It's one of several wishful thinking explanations. None of them are proven or universally held. Don't mislead people.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  7. Gateway

    The whole thing is a con job to sell something.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      bingo.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  8. WhatASec

    He also met his miscarried sister. That must have been fun. Yeah, it sounds like the kid had a clear image of our typical western depiction of Jesus well before his NDE. People are experiencing something, and it's out of this world, I'm sure, but I'm not so sure it's some supernatural experience.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      At 4 years old, I doubt the kid was properly acculturated to produce that kind of experience.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  9. HairySausageMonster

    lack of oxygen to the brain explains NDEs very well:

    Woerlee’s Mortal Minds is a distinctive contribution to literature on NDEs. As Woerlee points out, the scientific literature on oxygen starvation establishes that certain parts of the body are more demanding of oxygen than others. As a consequence, these parts—including parts of the brain, which also happen to be implicated in NDEs —are more quickly affected as oxygen starvation takes place. Reports of a bright light, tunnels, and pleasant feelings are all accountable in terms of oxygen starvation in certain areas of the brain. Deprived of oxygen, consciousness begins to fade, and, as it does, NDEs arise. Those NDEs we know about are those that people can remember, of course, for the losing of consciousness is also associated with a loss of memory.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      In her 1999 essay, Susan Blackmore cites a study looking at the effects of drugs like LSD on oxygen in the brain. This study showed that a drug-induced lack of oxygen causes a disinhibition of certain neurons in the brain, including the visual cortex, which can then result in the perception of a tunnel. As Blackmore explains, the center of the visual field in the brain is represented by more cells than are the edges, which means that, as starvation occurs, the center of the visual field will be affected first.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      There's is equal evidence to refute that argument

      May 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      to refute that a lack of oxygen to the brain can cause hallucination? i've never seen it. pls present the evidence that this is not the case.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • nadinesh

      There are a number of theories. But they are all just informed speculation. I find it rather interesting that so many people want so very much to believe them. To confirm their world-view, I suppose. One day we may know. But we don't now. So everyone simply comes up with a theory that fits neatly into what they already *believe.*

      May 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      or you read about the subject, weigh both sides and then choose the one that makes sense - the scientific explanation.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  10. WhatASec

    Not a believer, but I would point out that the bible is very clear that when you die, you're dead and asleep until judgement day. For example, one verse: John 3:13 (ESV) No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. So if people are meeting dead relatives or going to heaven or whatever, something is not right, one way or the other. Also, how did the little boy meet his miscarried sister? Honestly, I believe people are having experiences based on their own cultural archetypes. I doubt people in non-Christian countries are meeting Jesus in NDEs.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      Well maybe Buddha's in heaven too. He just calls it by another name, and in his own language. And really, who cares what the bible says bout heaven? It appears to be wrong.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      And even when Judgement Day comes, Revelations and Matthew state that the only people allowed in Heaven are 144,000 people of jewish descent. That's about .0001% of all the people whoever lived. I hope Hell has a lot of square footage.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Adrian

      Your comment presumed a simple afterlife in which there is only heaven, hell, or no consciousness at all. In some religions, such as Mormonism, there is a more complex view, and which part is referred to as "heaven" is not clear. It could either be paradise, which is before resurrection and judgment, or it could be one of the kingdoms of glory, in which the soul enters after resurrection and the day of judgment.. There are two distinct points of resurrection. One occurred with the resurrection of Jesus. The next will occur at the time of his return. The scripture you were referring to seems to be referring to the highest degree of the kingdoms (celestial), and his comment was made before the first resurrection. Thus, in that context, people can experience Paradise (before the resurrection), and yet still Jesus' statement is true.
      .

      May 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Marc

    It's just your brain misfiring. This has pretty much been proven by science. It's also been suggested that people's brains are wired for religion as a last ditch effort coping mechanism when you're going to die. It really isn't anything more then a chemical battery trying to prevent itself from shorting out.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      Marc, that hasn't been proven by anybody.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      actually, it has. lack of oxygen to the brain can cause hallucinations, like seeing a light. proven.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • nadinesh

      No it hasn't been proven in science, actually. No explanation has been found, although many scientists believe ultimately it will be. See, you are starting with a belief system of your own and fitting the experience of others into that system. Which is what we all do. We evaluate on an a priori basis. Similarly, the person up there ^^ who said the Gospels don't believe in the afterlife, but instead in the resurrection of the body (perfectly true) thereby decides that these experiences must also be illegitimate, on the same basis, for different reasons.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  12. Carl Buick

    If these people saw heaven or Jesus, and these things are so immensely great and wonderful, why did they want to, or, come back to this "grubby" planet? Why aren't they scrambling to go back?

    May 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • nadinesh

      They almost always don't want to, according to the accounts. But they get sent back anyway.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  13. Skeptimist

    In one report from the afterlife St. Peter told a newcomer to heaven that he should be very quiet as he went past the red door because all the fundamentalists are in there and they'll be very upset if they find out they're not the only ones here.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  14. Jake

    Heaven is left out of Church teaching? I guess Blake just doesn't get it. The whole goal of Christianity is to make it to heaven.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      Yes well, apparently, everybody's going to heaven after we die whether they are christian or not. I guess the whole "faith" thing is not necessary to get into heaven, or is following all those rules just to please god.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Miss Demeanor

      Jesus had a message of altruism... giving out of love... not for reward. The dogma that you have learned: "trading favors with gawwwwwd" ... is only something you learn in churches that exist solely to make money and build the biggest cross-shaped building in town. An even more cynical variation of that kind of church, Prosperity preachin', claims you can have a heavenly automobile and a heavenly mansion NOW... you don't have to wait to die to live in heaven. You have missed learning the message. Love is not a business deal. It isn't hard to find a church where you can learn that.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  15. MathAtDeath

    Colton says that Jesus had brown hair, matching brown beard and sea blue eyes! Was Jesus born in Sweden or Germany? I thought Jesus was born in the middle east. 2000 years back they were brown skinned short people with broad jaws. So Colton saw the Jesus we show in pictures in the west. In Ethiopia they show Jesus as a black person. So people who experience hallucination due to blood/oxygen loss to the brains may see a charcoal black Jesus with dark eyes.

    Drop the crap guys!

    May 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • nadinesh

      See now you make an interesting (and true!) observation - and then you scramble to fit it into your own bias! That's one way to look at it. Another way is that perception without our physical senses is a much trickier thing, and people do just as you did - they fit what they perceive into the only template they have in their experience to perceive it. It's just like the old adage about Africans seeing zebras as black animals with white stripes and Europeans seeing them as white animals with black stripes. We see the world upside-down, but our brain quickly learns to compensate for that in our perceptions.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  16. critical thinking skills

    slow news day?

    May 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  17. laguna_greg

    Why follow the church's rules if they're wrong about where you're going to go after you die?

    May 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Skeptimist

      In my case, I have found some church rules problematic. And, like Doubting Thomas and Thomas Jefferson, I'm often skeptical and hypocritical. But... every time I have tried Jesus' specific instructions, they worked. That has gotten me past a lot of self-induced nonsense. It has also led me to suspect that mortal life is an educational process for the spirit which concludes with a graduation we call death. Perhaps it occurs when we have learned enough to continue learning at another level. Then we advance to post-grad work in one of many possible realms. I hope they serve chocolate. ####
      Postscript on the afterlife:
      As a Catholic, I'm required to believe there is a hell, but I've been pleased to learn that I don't have to believe there is anyone in there. The secret to theology is that when it becomes too ponderous you can exit through the back door marked "laughter". I think we pay far too little attention to God's sense of humor. That's why we take our opinions so seriously though it's probable that God only regards them with patient amusement.

      May 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  18. blacksheepuniversity2

    It's interesting to read the comments in which people are trying to justify the existence of god because they question its existence and those that claim he does not exist because there is a part of them that believes that maybe it does.

    The fact is, god exists because we are afraid of taking our lives into our own hands.

    We don't trust that we can make good choices.

    We are afraid to believe that we are alone.

    We are afraid.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      yes, that's true, we are afraid. however, if all those people who have NDEs are right, then there's no reason to be afraid, and we're not alone even though it looks like we are.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  19. Jeff

    This article is mostly ridiculous. Pastors aren't afraid to preach about heaven. Most pastors I know just preach what's in the Bible. When the Bible discusses heaven, they talk about it and what it says. They don't make stuff up that's not in there just to make people feel good.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • laguna_greg

      Well they all seem to be talking through their hat. Since they haven't been there, nor have all the writers of the Bible been there, their descriptions can't be very accurate. These people seem to know better.

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

      I wouldn't say "ridiculous." I'd just say that not everyone sees things the same way. Reading the Gospels it's pretty unequivocal that Jesus believed that the dead "know nothing" and will all be resurrected in their bodies when the Son of Man comes and destroys everyone he doesn't like. He was an apocalypticist - one of a number of such in Judea at the time. John the Baptist was another. And the gospels are pretty unequivocal about this view of the afterlife, a contemporary Jewish view, because, after all, Jesus was a first-century Jew. Paul believed this too, and the concept was pretty much standard, even among people who disagreed with Paul about other things. If you believe that, and that belief makes you scoff at our contemporary NDEs, you are being a very orthodox Christian. Personally, I'm not a Christian, so.....

      May 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  20. jrvinnh

    Fighter pilots are known to have the same experiences during periods of high G forces. Grey-out followed by black-out occurs because the brain experiences a lack of oxygen.

    Near death experiences are near death experiences, not death experiences. The brain doesn't completely and permanently shut down. When you can produce someone who has been dead for a whole week and then came back to life – call me and we can talk.

    May 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Marc

      Waiting for someone to mention Jesus in 3...... 2...... 1.......... >.<

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

      Well I'd read the above story again, then, since that is essentially what he said happened. I'm just sayin'...

      May 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
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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.