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. a dose of reality

    Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species

    May 19, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • DJP

      As a Christian myself I certaily agree with some of the rules you suggest teaching such as 1 through 4 but then you get hypocrtical in the list as number 5 is a specific DO THIS statement much like the Christainity you believe you are dismissing. Too bad you mixed the concepts and missed your own point. As a Christian I believe we should question, evaluate, research, and constantly review what we believe and have faith in I can do that and do do that without losing faith in Christianity or the baisis of it's teachings.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • jesuswithoutbaggage

      You have a great list, and I think they are good recommendations, but they will not always lead to the result that "any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era."

      May 19, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • yo yo

      Nice list, but there's something in the details that will always get in the way, it's called human nature.

      June 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  2. lynard

    It is interesting that practically all the comments about this article focus on religion. Anyone who has experienced a near-death-experience must work very hard to force the experience into a religious context. The experience of “heaven” is not about religion, it is about love. This may be one reason organized religions do not talk about heaven. I enjoyed Dr. Alexander’s book and many others on the subject. The three statements he reports the angel telling him are the ONLY consistent message you get from reading about near-death-experiences. The rest—Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed, the Great Pumpkin—is all filler to bridge the gap between belief and rationalizations.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Austin

      oh really so there is heaven and love, but not Jesus? Give me a break. The eternal life truth is ALL ABOUT JESUS WHO IS RISEN.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Austin

      this is robbery.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • DWH

      Austin, I don't dispute that 'Jesus' (not his real name) is in heaven, but maybe you shouldn't assume you 'know everything' there is to know about the afterlife, either. 🙂

      May 19, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • yo yo

      It just hit me, why should near-death experiences have anything to do with religion or faith? hmmmmm, never thought about it that way.

      June 1, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  3. richy rich

    health/wealth preaching has marginalized heaven imo.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • DWH

      Agreed. Materialism is easy – spirituality.... not so much. Churches try to reach people any way they can.... its too bad most of them are interested – ironically in taking what material they can out of their adherants!

      May 19, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  4. akis vassilleiou

    the usual. whatever we cannot explain we call it "god", "miracle" etc.if we come up with a rational explanation we find something else that cannot be explained and we call it again "god", "miracle" etc. if this does not quench your thisrt for answers and new questions it can be fun. you search, you find, you move on. the problem is when you use the transcendent as a pretext to deny the obvious.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  5. Mark Robertson

    Danny, I wish I could send you a copy of "What Does The Bible Really Teach?' I think with an open mind and heart a lot of things could be answered and settled for you (and many others). It is Satan and humans who have blurred what is clear and true, not God. Don't forget to read II Corinthians 4:4 that states "the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers".

    May 19, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • .

      I will send you a copy of the Vedas, you might like that delusion better than yours. Somehow I think you would not read it.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Danny

      I used to read such books and was moved by them. But when I decided to be honest with myself, I had to acknowledge that such books contradicted each other. It begged the question, can anyone claim absolute knowledge of the supernatural? I don't believe, but remain open to the possibility.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  6. ankenyman

    Forgive me for being skeptical about these people who all seem to be making millions from their books about their unverifiable "experiences" of heaven. An angel saying, "You can do nothing wrong" is absurd.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • DWH

      It was a kid.... most kids don't intentionally do bad things without having been influenced to do so. While its reasonable to question that message... and then wonder if the whole thing is a sham – its also fair to say ... it might have just been misunderstood or misquoted. You have to consider that sometimes the messages are mainly for the people recieving them – not always for us to dissect.

      That said, yes I think applying that message 'you can do no wrong' to everyone is obviously ridiculas.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  7. Genghis

    The after life world is actually that one second or a few seconds before you die and your brain shuts off. It seems eternal because that's how it is. Like a few hours in your dream could be a split second in real life but it's actually a lot longer during the dying process.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • jimmy23

      and you know this how?

      May 19, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • jimmy23

      I suppose you could be a ghost, explaining your dying experience.... however, that would invalidate the content of your whole post. People believe what they want.... in the end, everyone has faith in something.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  8. pauleky

    Ugh...more mumbo jumbo. There are all kinds of scientific explanations for the "white light" phenomenon, but like a lot of other things, the Bible thumpers would rather believe in fairy tales. Maybe the reason more people no longer talk about it is because, as a society, we're becoming more educated on this topic. Believe in fairy tales as you wish, but please keep it to yourself.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • DWH

      Thats nonsense. Its precisely nonsense like what you just uttered that should be shuttered. Yes I just came up with that, and it rhymes! so rare 🙂 Anyway....

      As if 'society' has all the answers and anything that anyone else believes (regardless of WHO, especially if they are bible thumpers) is to be auto relegated to garbage? Have you looked around lately? This society is a MESS. Even if you dislike some religionists... acting as if today's so called 'advanced' society is so great leaves room for SERIOUS doubt.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  9. Sean Dudley

    Very good article.. I enjoyed reading it. In addition to past life experience stories, EVPs can also be very intriguing. Spirits stay earthbound for a while sometimes, and can be picked up through audio recorders. I've personally recorded many amazing spirit voices. Anyone interested can check them out at http://www.bestevps.com.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Danny

      How do we know that these recordings are not fake? People lie all the time to try and dupe people. The TV show ancient aliens is a perfect example?

      May 19, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Jeebusss

      LOL. Yeah more grown adults trying to convince themselves they hear something in garbled static.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  10. a dose of reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Jon

      Boy, I wish I had the time to collect all the statistics and then twist them to fit your views. You need to pull your head out, give it a shake, and find something meaningful to do with your time.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • ankenyman

      Who believes that something came from nothing; that life somehow came from inanimate objects; that chaotic, unintelligent matter just happened to arrange itself in an orderly, purposeful manner which is conducive to life; that intelligence, love and compassion eventually emerged from inanimate objects? Who believes in an almost infinite number of metaphysical and logical absurdities and coincidences? Answer: ATHEISTS.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Jon: Where exactly is he/she wrong? Maybe it is you that needs to pull his head out of the sand (aka buybull).

      May 19, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Mark

      They actually believe that all the letters in the alphabet were sitting on a floor in large building, and eventually without any help, randomly formed the Library of Congress. Comical!

      May 19, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  11. jimmy

    Crap. All of it. And if I'm wrong, apparently it doesn't matter anyway; I still get in, so actually you get to believe anything you like.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:30 am |
  12. TG

    Most churchgoers have been ingrained with the idea of going to heaven as a reward for being "Christian". And the thought of near-death experiences where a person may feel that he has felt the heavenly presence or that they saw others "from above", often can be traced to a neurological origin.

    In 2003, researchers from the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne (Switzerland) found that OBEs (Out of Body Experiences) can be produced by direct electrical stimulation of a specific part of the brain. Dr. Olaf Blanke (of the Department of Neurology) and his colleagues worked with a 43-year-old female patient who suffered from right temporal lobe epilepsy.

    In order to identify the location where the seizures occurred, the researchers implanted electrodes on the brain under the patient's dura. While the patient was awake, the researchers could pass electrical current through the electrodes to identify the function of the brain area under each electrode.

    Electrical stimulation of the angular gyrus on the right side of the patient's brain produced unusual sensations. Weak stimulation caused the patient to feel as if she was "sinking into the bed" or "falling from a height." Stronger electrical stimulation caused the patient to have an OBE.

    For example, the patient said, "I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk." Stimulation of the angular gyrus at other times caused the woman to have feelings of "lightness" and of "floating" two meters above the bed.

    The angular gyrus is located near the vestibular (balance) area of the cerebral cortex. It is likely that electrical stimulation of the angular gyrus interrupts the ability of the brain to make sense of information related to balance and touch. This interruption may result in OBEs. Blood flow changes within the angular gyrus may alter brain activity during "near death experiences." This may result in OBEs reported by people who survive such events.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  13. a dose of reality

    Faith that could stand up to any form of reason is long gone. Our knowledge of the world from 2000 years ago to what we now know about the world has irrevocably changed the need for religion. We do not need God to explain things; and religion becomes obsolete as an explanation when it becomes optional or one among many different beliefs. We now see that the leap of faith is not just one leap; it is a leap repeatedly made, and a leap that becomes more difficult to take the more it is taken, reaching its pinnacle in blind allegiance and active denial and rejection of any other possibilities. At that point, the credibility of the faithful is entirely lost.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Mark

      You appear to know a lot about the leap of faith, have you taken one? Because empirical knowledge would be a more efficient thrust than simply opinion.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • ankenyman

      An atheist has to take a bigger a leap of faith than a Christian to believe in all the astronomically improbable coincidences and logical absurdities to explain the existence and order of the universe.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  14. ohthatchar

    The TRUEST message to us is "No Fear."

    May 19, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  15. GI Joe

    Most don't preach at all these days

    They use the church to practice politics. Nothing else. It's a tax free ride to a captive audience that donates 10%.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:22 am |
  16. centeredpiece

    This is a very interesting story. I had no idea that NDEs were described as long ago as in Plato's Republic! Those so-called scientists who tried so hard to debunk NDEs aren't really "scientists" at all. Scientific experiments are not supposed to have an agenda and these clearly did. Moreover even accepting that they could recreate an experience similar to NDEs with one woman with epilepsy (what are the ethics of doing this on a human patient, I wonder) and in Navy pilots, how does this prove or disprove other peoples' experiences? It really has no bearing on the authenticity of other experiences. How can one quantify such experiences and compare them? And even if several factors were similar, what does that really mean? If I can put people "to sleep" using anesthesia does that mean that normal everyday sleep doesn't exist? Merely because doctors can create a similar state has no significance.
    I think the fact that the NDE is extra-cultural (meaning that it seems to happen in all cultures and with people of any or no belief system) is quite intriguing. The experiences described resonate with people at a very deep level and I think it's more than just the individual need to believe we go one after physical death. I think people somehow, deep inside, know this truth and yearn for it to be validated because if they really knew it – as do those who have experienced it – they could and would change their priorities in this life.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  17. Eric

    When your brain is shutting down you see what you WANT to see. That is why people see what matches their belief system. There IS NO AFTERLIFE.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Danny

      While I think it's safe to say that NDEs are not proof of the afterlife, can anyone really claim to know that they are certain there is no afterlife?

      May 19, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Danny: There is no evidence to support an afterlife, so why believe it?

      May 19, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Mark

      There is no evidence to support that hope exist, but I'm sure you have expressed it as if it does. Whoops!

      May 19, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Danny

      Toilet Paper, I agree. However, there is a difference between claims of faith and knowledge. I don't believe, but I can't claim to know that an afterlife doesn't exist since it is something I can't disprove.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Danny: I asked why believe...nothing more (it certainly didn't call for your ignorant childish name calling)! There is not evidence to support life after death (regardless of what Mark and his ilk have been brainwashed to believe), and faith is belief without evidence...so you either care that what you believe is true or you don't. One difference between theists and atheists is that atheists are likely to change their opinion based on evidence as it is provided, the theist rarely changes their opinion.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Austin

      Eric your donkey will show you the way. Don't beat your donkey.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Mark

      Being a former atheist nobody forced me to believe anything. I researched it to determine feasability. Was awed by His eventual presence in my life and now I am a believer. How much have you tried to truly uncover God?

      May 19, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Austin

      I experienced revelation of God's presence. It was through the Wiord of God the majority of times. But even the times that were not centered in the text I would read, spiritual principals like evil, and satan, were directly revealed. I have personally experienced the evidence of the living God. Eternal life is through Christ.

      There is only one way to the risen Lord, forgiveness for sin. He died for all.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Danny

      TP, I agree with you, but I was originally addressing Eric's claim that there is no afterlife, which is a claim of knowledge.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Danny

      Mark, I remain open minded about it, but I don't feel the need to commit to a belief in lieu of solid evidence. For now, I say I don't know.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Austin

      seriously, i was reading through the old testament, and the Holy Spirit started giving me dreams about precise things out of the bible that I had no recollection of, no knowledge of. The Holy spirit is a sanctifying spirit that bears the truth of God's word on a persons heart. In my case, this happened 12 times as a simple Hello from and Angel or Holy Spirit. Why would supernatural beings be teaching the bible?

      May 19, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Mark

      Danny you are on your way to knowing the truth which will set you free. He came to give you life and give it to you more abundantly.

      May 19, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  18. ronvan

    SAME STORY, DIFFERENT DAY! NO ONE on this planet can PROVE either side of these arguments! Again I will say, BELEIF & FAITH! Both words can be used by either side. While I personally, beleive & have faith in my lord & savior, it does not mean that I follow blindly & do not have MANY unanswered questions! IF an atheist were to have one of these NDE's, and changed their beleifs & faith, many would say that is the "proof" of life after death? NO, it is just one persons esperience. WHY, do churches BEND to modern day times? Either they are preaching the gospel or they have "doubts"
    as to right or wrong? WHY, is it that many "sermons" today, are personal ones, talking about politics & not religion? This article is an interesting one, but in the end just brings up the same questions & agruments. BELEIF & FAITH, SIMPLE!

    May 19, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • God Stays Crispy In Milk

      A... a rational person??? What the h-e-double-hockeysticks are you doing in this thread????

      May 19, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  19. Danny

    I wonder why only westerners experience heaven or hell during NDEs while people of other belief systems experience what they are taught of the afterlife.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Danny – I googled "Plato's Republic soldier return from death" because I was intrigued by the idea that Plato so long ago recounted a NDE story. You should do that and read what he wrote. Clearly this was long before Christianity as Plato lived from 424 BC to 347 BC and this experience is similar to those recounted today. Also even if people of specific cultures and religions report that they saw Jesus or they saw a figure from another religious tradition, this could be u by their personal interpretation of the same experience and doesn't necessarily mean that the experience did not happen. If I saw a golden figure welcoming me to the hereafter I might tell people later that it was Jesus; a Jewish person having the same experience might say it was G_D. Same experience, same figure, different interpretation. But, of course, I don't think NDEs can be proved or disproved because they are matters of faith and not of fact.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • ohthatchar

      That is a very good question.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • pragma tist

      You raise an excellent point. In buddhist countries we see incredible stories of rebirth recalled by kids who even identify their kith and kin in their past life, living hundreds of miles away. They recall how they died etc. How come we do not see similar stories in the US or in western europe. Both these versions of lives after death cannot be true – if they are, do people living in different continents have different after life plans?

      May 19, 2013 at 9:14 am |
  20. Mark Robertson

    The Bible gives clear answers about what happens to us when we die, but most people don't want to accept it since it seems bland and isn't full of mystery. The Bible states at Psalms 146:3,4 that the day we die, "our spirit goes out, we go back to the ground, our thoughts perish." And don't forget Ecclesiastes 9:5,6 which states that "the dead are conscious of nothing at all." Everyone may have their own opinions of life and death events, but the Bible is clear. And don't forget that the wages of sin is - Death.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Danny

      Wage of sin is death? How does that explain infant deaths?

      May 19, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Peteyroo


      May 19, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Mark

      @Danny..The wages of sin is death eternally not the actual physical death.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Mark, you still didn't answer Danny's question about what "wages of sin" an infant earned that deserved death? I believe in a God of love, a God that loves all people. Yes, I have read the Bible (many times) and know what Jesus said – "I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except through me." But what – exactly – does "through me" mean? Perhaps it' means that only those who label themselves Christian get to the happy hereafter. OR maybe it means that Jesus' coming opened the doors for all who meet the criteria set out in Matthew 25. Remember the sheep and the goats? They were judged not by what they called themselves but by their actions towards the "least of the brothers." Jesus' words tell me that it is not calling him "Lord" that is the key, it is caring for the last and the least. And this is a job open to all people in all times.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Mark Robertson

      Don't forget that we as humans inherited death from our first parents who disrespected their creator. Since that time this world is in the power of the wicked one, (I John 5:19) "the god of this system of things - Satan the Devil. God doesn't cause death, Satan does. The Bible is clear about a resurrection of both the righteous AND unrighteous at John 5:28,29.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Danny

      Mark, I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but to me it sounds like more shoehorning of the evidence. Correlation does not equal causation. And I'm sure if I discussed with five other people, I would get 5 different answers, all of which make sense at face value.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Jeebusss

      "most people don't want to accept it since it seems bland and isn't full of mystery."

      No, I don't accept it because it is pretend.

      May 19, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Mark Robertson

      Danny, I wish that I could send you a copy of "What Does The Bible Really Teach?" With an open heart and mind you could have CLEAR answers (with corresponding scriptures). Don't forget II Corinthians 4:4 which states that "the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of unbelievers..."

      May 19, 2013 at 8:53 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.