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Friday, July 31, 2015
Religion ... Science ... Spirituality ...

The Atlantic published an article not too long ago about near death experiences, and the latest edition (July-August, 2015) published a few reader responses to it. The author of the article, Gideon Lichfield, replied to these letters, and said something very interesting here. To quote:

It’s worth noting that some religious NDErs move away from their religion after the experience, because it can lead them to develop spiritual beliefs that conflict with their credos.

Whoa, now there’s a twist. You believe in God and follow a religion in order to live in accordance with that belief. Then one day, you get a message from God — or at least you imagine that you do, I’m going to stay agnostic here as to whether NDE’s are real or not — and you decide that your old religion just doesn’t cut it anymore; that there’s more to spirituality than what you were used to.

But hey, why not? If there is anything “substantial” about near death experiences, if not empirically “real”, it should convey a deeper and more mature understanding of the holy. I did a quick search to find some stories about nominally religious people who have NDE’s and then learn to put their traditions into context and thus find bigger and more universal concepts of divinity. There ain’t much out there; however, it turns out that Kevin Williams, a born-again Christian and NDE enthusiast / author who runs what is acclaimed to be the most comprehensive web site about NDEs, has accumulated of few similar stories. Interestingly for someone who himself seems to be “very religious”, Mr. Williams has a page on his site entitled “Religion is not as Important as Many People Believe“.

On this page, Williams talks about some people who claim to have experienced NDE’s, who likewise conclude that God is not quite what their religious peers had led them to believe. Nor, by the same token, is God quite as impressed with Religion X (pick a religion, any religion) as Religion X’s adherents might have expected. Williams quotes Dr. Liz Hale, another NDE researcher, who talks about a religious NDE experiencer who concludes that “the ‘God’ of his religious background wasn’t anything like the reality.”

Another story regards a Christian minister from London named Ken Martin who had a near-death experience. “Upon his return from his experience, he discovered that everything he had previously known – his ministry, his calling, everything – was insignificant in comparison to his experience with the afterlife.”

Sometimes you just can’t go home again — well, you can, but YOU are never the same, even if “home” still is. Maybe a religious person’s NDE is like growing up and then re-visiting the classroom where they went to kindergarten. It now seems so small, you couldn’t now sit in those tiny chairs; but when you were 5, it seemed so roomy and spacious.

Personally, I haven’t yet heard of an NDE case that clearly couldn’t be explained by at least one of the many psychological and physiological explanations that NDE critics put forth. However, if turns out that NDE-experiencers who are faithful adherents to a particular religious tradition come back to realize that their beloved traditions aren’t really all that important or infallible after all, i.e. that a divine reality would need to be a whole lot bigger than any human institution could grasp, then maybe there is something to it after all!!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 am      

  1. Jim, This idea doesn’t really surprise me — i.e., that people who have NDE’s find that the next life doesn’t really resemble anything in any religion (if I’ve got this correct). It seems to me that *all* religions are made up by human beings; they definitely are *not* “made up” by God himself. Thus, it seems to me that each religion (always the one that for sure will *save* a person) is really a representation of what the person who tho’t up the religion considered religion should be.

    So nowhere in the concept of any particular religion does God actually come into any kind of real expression of what it is he/she would prefer in a religion. I’d think God would have other things to do rather than go around making up *the* religion that would save the world. (In fact, I’ve never really understood what it is we are to be “saved” from [or for that matter saved for] when we are told we will be “saved”.)

    I’ve often tho’t that each one of us conceives of life on this planet in his/her own way. It may be that what happens when we die is similar: We simply leave one form of existence that we conceive of in our own particular way to go to another form of existence that we conceive of in our own particular way. I’ve often tho’t that maybe we should be a little careful of how we think about what the next life will be; one never knows.

    When one really finds out how other individuals conceive of this life, it’s always very different from how anybody else thinks of life on this planet. Why would any future life be any different – at least it seems to me in its initial stages. Perhaps after we are in another life a longer time, we may learn more about it and thus realize how complex and how unfathomable each new life actually is. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 31, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

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