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. Call me Bwana

    Jesus didn`t have blue eyes. He was purely Semitic with dark hair and eyes. I am sure these people believe what they have seen, but it still remains a fantasy. Blue eyes indeed!

    May 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      It is just further evidence that men create god in their image, not the other way around.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      It's not as if he actually existed anyway, so what's it matter. You may as well argue over the ingredients in Spider-Man's webbing.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Donald Shimoda

    Brain = God.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Science

      All for what james...........................The .HORN-Y RED DEVIL ?


      May 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Just Call Me Lucifer

      Thank you.... nothing else to see here.

      May 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  3. Brooke Willson

    As a Christian pastor for 39 years, I have seldom preached about heaven. The reality is that the Bible says almost nothing about it, so, if a Christian clergyperson is going to preach Biblical sermons, there's just not much there. There's John's vision of a new heaven and new earth in Revelation; Jesus has parables about the coming Kingdom of God; but there's not a whole lot more. There's virtually nothing in the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament). At funerals, I preach about the promise we have to be with God and with God's people; about Jesus' inclusive images of the great banquet; about Jesus' promise to take us to be with him where he is. If we are faithful in this life, then we don't need to be anxious about whatever is to come.

    So, if churches don't preach very often about heaven, maybe it's because they're being honest. Imagine that!

    May 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      I do have a hard time imagining an honest church.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • One one

      But the bible does speak of eternal damnation and eternal life after death. And, there is plenty of preaching about both.

      For example:

      2 Thessalonians, 8-9:"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."

      May 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Brooke Willson

      Secular Humanist, we try to be honest about being broken and sinful people. Yes, there are some churches that don't present themselves that way - but my churches have always been filled with sinners. Which is why I was sent to be their pastor.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Brooke Willson

      One one, yes, the Bible does speak about those things, but over the course of 66 books, not much. I won't get in a Bible quote-off with you, but look at Romans 5:18 and ponder the word "all."

      May 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Such a horrible thing teaching people that they are sinners and wretches.

      Why do you then take the immoral view that it is ok to let someone else take your just punishment....isn't that in itself a sin? Would it not make more sense that I am a decent person, and if I have transgressed that I take my own just punishment, and not allow another to stand in my place?
      And what of gods sense of justice that I can be sent to an eternity of hell for simply not believing the stories, and not feeling it is ok for another to take my just punishment, but someone like Hitler( he was a christian) can repent in his final moments and the pearly gates open wide for him?

      I do not mean to be disrespectful, I truly want your answer to those questions.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Not

      To tell children that they were born being evil and bad and icky because God hated Adam for eating an apple and that this is why God hates sinners is nothing less than child abuse.
      You traumatize these innocent children who nothing of either truth or lies and instead of truth you give them lies and instead of allowing them to be innocent, you blast them for being sinners the moment they are born.
      Child abuse. That's all religion is and all it will ever be. Telling innocent people that they are directly responsible for the actions of other people and that God says they must DIE because they are bad for being responsible for those other people is CHILD ABUSE!!!
      And then saying that God, the hater who kills everybody, is really a nice person who will forgive anyone who says magic words about Jesus, who had to DIE HORRIBLY because of what someone else did, is to TERRORIZE and ABUSE and it tells everybody that this religion is about HATE, UNDESERVED GUILT THAT NEVERTHELESS CONDEMNS YOU TO BOTH DEATH AND BURNING ALIVE FOREVER IS TERRORISM AND CHILD ABUSE AND VICIOUS.
      I am not responsible for some imaginary cave-man who discovered clothing. I am not an idiot.

      May 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  4. Either believe the scriptures or believe J. Blake

    We choose to believe the scriptures!!!

    May 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Athy

      It's your choice. But how did you decide?

      May 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Nate

      Grace abounds to all those who believe in Him and have accepted His plan of salvation in Christ Jesus.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Either believe the scriptures or believe J. Blake

      God's word prevails!

      May 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      The Babble is bullsh!t – prove me wrong!

      May 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Either believe the scriptures or believe J. Blake

      Those convinced by Beelzebub choose to remain convinced by Beelzebub, light shines through when you seek the truth earnestly.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      "scripture" simply means that someone wrote it down...do not believe everything you read, especially the bible which has had so many parts dis-proven it is a wonder anyone takes it seriously anymore.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • tallulah13

      @Either believe the scriptures or believe J. Blake

      You could always chose the logical answer: None of the above.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  5. Dan

    I get the impression that many churches are controlled by Satan now. They preach hatred and spew vitriol and essentially drive people away from religion instead of welcoming the vulnerable in.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • WhenCowsAttack

      The alternative point of view is that all religions are false and Satan doesn't exist.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      God created satan knowing full well the consequences. God is OK with anything satan does.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Billy

      LMAO @"vulnerable"

      May 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Billy

      Gullible would be a better word.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  6. Erica Nichole

    It amazes me, no; saddens me that those who do not believe are so eager to tell christians that they are "simple minded, stupid, ignorant, dumb, etc." for believing what we do. Never once have I approached my friends that do not believe and told them that I think they are "simple minded, stupid, ignorant, dumb, etc" for NOT believing. Why is it ok to attack those people that do believe? Why would you waste your time on those of us that have faith in God? Don't! Don't waste your breath. We're not worth your time, right? So leave those of us with faith in God and all that entails alone. Please! You will not change my mind and I will not change yours. (And now I will wait for the atheists to tell me I'm a bad Christian. Funny how eager they are to tell everyone else how wrong they are.)

    May 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • WhenCowsAttack

      Some people seem to be wired for belief, and some not.

      I do agree that nobody is going to convince anyone else via arguing on a blog.

      For me, it happened when I began questioning the bible for various reasons and then came to (my) revelation that it was all untrue.

      It's a deeply personal thing- and if one is going to come to a conclusion one way or the other, it will be based largely on personal experiences (except maybe for those who were just raised that way and never thought to question it- those are the people I pity)

      May 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Erica Nichole

      You are free to believe whatever nonsense you want. If you want to believe the Tooth Fairy is real, go right ahead. If you choose to display your beliefs on a public forum such as this, you should expect to have them questioned. If you don't like to have them questioned, keep them to yourself.

      You are free to come to a forum like this, and make unsubstantiated claims about the existence of gods and other imaginary creatures. You are not free to expect to not get called on such bullshit.

      I have no issue with believers as long as they refrain from expecting me to buy into the nonsense, and keep their religious beliefs out of public policy.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
  7. lol??

    Paul spoke of his own revelations,

    "2Cr 12:3-4 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."

    These authors sure uttereth a loteth.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm |

    • Saul of Tarsus = Chatty Cathy

      May 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • lol??

      Problems with s*exual ident*ity?? Surgeons can help. Don't count on help from the PC crowd.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's "sexual identity".

      May 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • lol??

      Dippy, you are not being PC.

      May 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  8. Jinm P.

    Oddly, Moslems don't see Jesus. Buddhists don't see Jesus, only Christians see "Jesus" in these events. If I recall correctly, this phenomenon is known and understood to be an affect of oxygen deprivation to the brain.

    I wonder if black people see a Jesus with "brown hair and sea-blue eyes"? Odd, he must have had his hair done since when he had a physical form he was Semitic and likely had black hair and dark eyes.

    The reports from a four year old are worth whatever you want to since they were obviously filtered through his religious

    This stuff sells because religious people need frequent confirmation that there are others who share their hallucinations. If a four year old wrote that he didn't see anything, no one would care but this sort of glurge makes folks "oooh" and "ahhhh".

    When a child claims to believe in Jesus, people nod at the innocent wisdom of children but if the kid said there is not such thing as a god, people will declare his parents brainwashed him.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • This


      May 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Saraswati

      A lot of the people who are into this stuff have a pretty inclusive view regarding religion. They tend to believe in multiple routes to heaven or the afterlife and that a person is greeted in a familiar way.

      But yeah, in each religion there are also people who just have their head in the sand and refuse to note the diverse experiences around the world. People who want to be ignorant can always find a way even if bathing in information.

      May 19, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  9. @OD

    Washing hands saves more lives then eating kosher food – science wins.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  10. cao cao

    People come back to life after being dead for a week in other countries as well, its actually pretty common. more likely in rural countries like africa because they don't cut you open instantly if at all.

    Never heard of the funeral bells?

    May 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • tallulah13

      They don't "come back to life". They aren't actually dead.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  11. what true believers really know

    Some people think that religion is nothing more than people making up an explanation for something we cannot understand. That is NOT what religion is. Religion refers to successfully marketing that bogus explanation. If it were not for religion, the world would be filled with sleazy used car salesmen, corrupt politicians and other folks who simply cannot make an honest living. I am thankful to JAYZUZ for this EVERY Day of mah life. Praise Jeeeeeezus

    May 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  12. Brian

    This is one person's perspective of how ALL(?) Churches or Christians(?) are void of any understanding of heaven. Never heard of most the references John Blake quoted and that means they’re of very little value or influence to main stream Christianity. The churches I’ve attended and religious media I listen to are constantly making reference to Heaven and eternity. This article doesn't offer the realistic proof needed to support his claim. Blake doesn't substantiate why he choose certain individuals who have little to no influence to pastoral sermons today. Rather it’s more isolated and reeks of ones personal opinion and points to an informational vacuum compared to current positions offered by most Churches today. It would have been more meaningful to have attended x-numbers Churches and quoting actual Pastors and members verses people who do not have the impact to make a difference to the listen audience.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Just because you have not heard of this author or the people he interviewed, it does not mean they are not credible. Maybe you need to step outside your cult and do some real research on this article and the people interviewed. Given that there is no evidence for your basic beliefs, why are you demanding more of this author?

      May 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Keith

      You can listen to as many pastoral sermons given by as many different pastors as you like. You see it makes NO DIFFERENCE as their source for their pastoral sermons is always THE SAME THE BIBLE. There is not one iota of research that can be done into the existence of HEAVEN, by definition the BIBLE is THE ONLY SOURCE.
      Unless I am very misinformed NO ONE has been to heaven and come back to report on it, all the so called NDEs are just that NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES. NO ONE has visited heaven and actually experienced it. So how can ANYONE bee so adamant as to believe it actually exists. Please show me some evidence on the existence of heaven, evidence that would pass the LAUGH TEST. Scientific evidence, rock solid evidence a post card etc etc etc. Without evidence then we can all say that we believe that the moon is made of cheese and until 1969 NO ONE could challenge that belief, but now we know that it is NOT made of cheese. Before Galileo the church KNEW that the Earth orbited the Sun and anyone who disputed that would probably be BURNED ALIVE. THE CHURCH WAS WRONG and religion is WRONG on almost everything, yet the sheep will not open their eyes and ask DIFFICULT QUESTION and DEMAND ANSWERS that are not based on Biblical quotes.
      Instead religion practices a campaign of REPRESSION, RIDICULE and VIOLENCE against everyone who tries to challenge their FAIRY TALES

      May 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Brian

      Hotair...I totally agree, it is about one basic beliefs and the "who and where" you draw your understanding. My point was that the references used and the significance these references have in order to influence others (today) if they're not people or issues being used in the main stream churches today. My basis is Biblically homed and I listen to those who can sensibly substantiate their Biblical point of view and not personal opinion of pursuits outside of Biblical doctrine. If opinions or research aren't Biblically, who then is part of a cult or something less? Heaven wasn't created by journalists; scientists or atheists.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  13. yep

    Religions and dictators,, they try to control others, expect people to believe what they say as fact and use fear. Not a good bunch.

    May 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  14. The real Tom

    Why do you need to know how others can think as they do, Chard? Certainly having been here as long as you have, you must have gathered sufficient information on those who don't believe as you do to come to some sort of conclusion and move on. It's pretty obvious you don't give a damn about anyone else's point of view; all you do is ridicule whatever is posted when it doesn't match your way of thinking. Why bother?

    May 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • Keith

      Does ANY of the televangelist or leaders of the religious community CARE about the point of view of the ATHEIST community. I am constantly amazed at how the sheep scream about the nasty remarks that the atheists make about religion. ALL religions have been doing the same thing for MILLENIA that is known as HYPOCRISY. Why is it OK for a pastor to stand up and describe the atheists as SINNERS, NONE BELIEVERS, EVIL SERVANTS OF SATAN etc etc etc. Yet we atheists must keep quiet and slink away to the holes in the ground where the sheep think we live and make NO PROTEST.
      Not any more. the atheists are fed up with this and we will demand our fair share of the media. You sheep should start treating us with the respect that you demand for yourselves, we have the right to our beliefs just as you have, so LEARN SOME MANNERS

      May 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • lol??

      Keith likes the "Wegodian" god, ".....................we will demand our fair share............." Socie roots??

      May 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Did he really say something like that?!?! Too funny. No, he doesn't care to actually understand how anyone else thinks. Chad is happy to invent the views he wishes others had and then write them into pat little dialogues that read like two elementary schoolers discussing religion on the playground. Really understanding others is something that would shatter his self-image and shake his world view until it broke.

      May 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  15. Heaven & Hell

    Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
    I'll fly away;
    To a home on God's celestial shore,
    I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

    I'll fly away, fly away, Oh Glory
    I'll fly away; (in the morning)
    When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
    I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

    May 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • yep

      interesting,, yet religion is against abortion. Must be there is no heaven. Then again,, we don't see fancy funerals for each christian miscarriage.

      May 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'll never understand why people feel compelled to quote song lyrics. Anyone can quote song lyrics. Why not take the opportunity to speak for yourself?

      May 19, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Dream On

      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
      There's a land that's fair and bright
      Where the handouts grow on bushes
      And you sleep out ev'ry night
      Where the boxcars are all empty
      And the sun shines ev'ry day
      Oh, I'm bound to go where there ain't no snow
      Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow
      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

      Oh, the buzzin' of the bees in the peppermint trees
      'Round the soda water fountains
      Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings
      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
      You never change your socks
      And little streams of lemonade
      Come a-tricklin' down the rocks
      The hobos there are friendly
      And their fires all burn bright
      There's a lake of stew and soda, too
      You can paddle all around 'em in a big canoe
      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

      Oh, the buzzin' of the bees in the peppermint trees
      'Round the soda water fountains
      Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings
      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

      May 19, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Check


      Heheheh... Voltaire said, "Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung"!

      May 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Heaven & Hell

      When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
      And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
      When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
      And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
      On that bright and *cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise, [*sabbath]
      And the glory of His resurrection share;
      When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
      And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
      Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
      Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
      Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
      And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

      May 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  16. sheilaenglehart

    Reblogged this on Sheila Englehart and commented:
    Science resurrected the afterlife, then spend time trying to disprove it.

    May 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Genuinely nonphysical mental states DO NOT exist

      All mental states depend on the brain (a physical object) for existence and in fact do not exist anywhere else

      May 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  17. Chad

    Came across this, fascinating stuff.. How can an atheist remain an atheist in the face of this?

    1. Genuinely nonphysical mental states exist.
    2. There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.
    3. Personal explanation (PE) is different from natural scientific explanation (NSE).
    4. The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a PE or a NSE.
    5. The explanation is not an NSE.
    6. Therefore the explanation is a PE.
    7. If the explanation is PE, it is theistic.
    8. Therefore, the explanation is theistic.

    Much of the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind is concerned with the clash between certain strongly held intuitions and what science tells us about the mind and its relation to the world. What science tells us about the mind points strongly towards some version or other of physicalism. The intuitions, in one way or another, suggest that there is something seriously incomplete about any purely physical story about the mind ... Most contemporary philosophers given a choice between going with science and going with intuitions, go with science.

    Physicalism is a philosophical theory holding that everything which exists is no more extensive than its physical properties; that is, that there are no kinds of things other than physical things.

    May 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Athy

      And this proves what?

      May 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Nothing, as usual. Chard's just got a stiffy now because he found somebody who has the same opinion he does. It's apparently the only thing he lives for.

      May 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • If this were true

      Tsk tsk tsk , An atheist epitaph would read
      'all dressed up and nowhere to go'

      May 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • mama k

      And where is that from, Chad?

      Can you prove #1?

      May 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • mama k

      "philosophy of mind"

      from "spooky" physics??

      May 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Chad

      1. Genuinely nonphysical mental states exist.

      If you dont believe that is true, you have 100% embraced physicalism and determinism.

      If you dont believe that #1 is true, then you believe that criticizing anyone for anything is immoral (because you would believe that there is no possible way for them to have done anything else).

      May 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • One one

      You left out big foot and Elvis sightings.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • mama k

      BS, Chad. I know you love to pull out your own definitions or quote snippets defining determinism in one simplistic unproven manner, but in the end, all you have is conjecture.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • mama k

      "1. Genuinely nonphysical mental states exist."

      We do not know this. I don't believe nonphysical mental states exist, but I don't claim they don't, either.
      If you have proof of such, Chad, then present it.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      chad throwing around labels again...
      You spew a lot but have provided nothing to back up your claims.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Genuinely nonphysical mental states DO NOT exist

      All mental states depend on the brain (a physical thing) for existence and in fact do not exist anywhere else

      May 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Genuinely nonphysical mental states DO NOT exist

      All mental states depend on the brain (a physical thing) for existence and in fact do not exist anywhere else.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Chad

      "All mental states depend on the brain (a physical thing) for existence and in fact do not exist anywhere else"

      =>then you have embraced several notions
      – free will does not exist
      – an after life does not exist
      – the only difference between you and a tree, is a more complicated biological machine. Both are equally deterministic.

      Fine if you want to believe that, just know that it does not agree with what we know intuitively to be true 🙂

      May 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • tallulah13

      In case anyone wonders, Chad's source is Wikipedia.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Well, no WONDER the Vegetable ran off.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  18. lol??

    A&A's doctrine:

    It's a, "Hear no evil
    See no evil
    Speak no evil" thang, and they're still workin' on it. No sin.

    May 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  19. Brian

    Interesting article and a decent read, but that's all. Science can prove their theories with data, evidence, and facts. Religion is just population control. If you give people a basic set of rules to live by and mix in a ton of guilt most will fall in line. It's also a way to ease people's fears of death and allow them to believe they'll be reunited with those that have died before them. I personally wish I still believed it was true, but I think if you're a logical person there's no way you can. I mean I'd love to believe there's something else for us after death, but I highly doubt it. Would you listen to anyone tell you to have blind faith in anything? Why do you think they don't want you to question it? Simple, it unravels quickly. It's, also, the biggest money making scheme in the world and it's responsible for more deaths than any war or plague in history. What other business would you pay every week and get nothing tangible in return? This is Madoff 101, isn't it? I'm a good person by choice and try and raise my kids the right way and teach them to have respect for others. You don't need a cow, statue, or any other fictional God to force you to do the right thing. You should just try and be a good person because it is the right thing to do and the way you'd want to be treated by others. Besides, priests etc... should fear God more than any other, right? Why are they the most corrupt and their crimes often hidden by the church? If religion was fact they should be the last to stray. Live your life. Love your friends and families. Treat others with respect. Save your money on Sundays for something real.

    May 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Athy

      Well said, Brian. Good comment. Unfortunately the religies won't understand it.

      May 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
  20. Correctlycenter

    Heaven and Hell are real. Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, talked about these places many times...

    May 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • nope


      May 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Athy

      Well if jeebus talked about it, they have to be real. That really settles it once and for all, doesn't it?

      May 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • snopes says

      nope is true.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • snopes says

      Correctlycenter is false.

      May 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
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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.