Near Death Experiences?

By Samuele Bacchiocchi

*Additions made by Peter Salemi

In recent years, courses on death and dying have been introduced in many colleges and high schools. Some colleges and universities also offer courses on near-death experiences which allegedly offer scientific evidence for life beyond death. Is this true?

The evidences are based on reports from people who have been resuscitated from a close encounter with death, and from doctors and nurses who have recorded the deathbed experiences of some of their patients.

The experiences reported by persons who have had a close encounter with death often parallel what many believe to be the life of the soul in Paradise. Though no two reports are the same, some of the common characteristics are: the impression of peacefulness, the sensation of being pulled very rapidly through a dark space of some kind, floating in a weightless, spiritual body, the awareness of being in the presence of a spiritual being, an encounter with a bright light, often identified with Jesus Christ or an angel, and a vision of a city of light.  Such experiences are interpreted as proof that at death the soul leaves the body and lives in a disembodied condition.

The study of near death experiences was largely pioneered by American psychiatrist Raymond A. Moody. His two seminal books, Life after Life (1975) and Reflections on Life after Life (1977) have generated a multitude of books, articles, and debates that address out-of-body experiences. “More recently, a bibliography of books and articles relevant to near-death experiences has been published, listing two and a half thousand titles.”

Moody studied 150 persons who had near-death experiences and, in some cases, who clinically were dead. The question is how the data should be interpreted. Moody’s publisher asserts that the reports are “actual case histories that reveal there is life after death.”  Moody himself, however, is far more cautious. He explicitly denies that he tried “to construct a proof of survival of bodily death,” even though he regards the data as “highly significant” for such a belief.  He leaves open the possibility of conceiving of near-death experiences as intimations of immortality or merely as the result of terminal physiological events.

The Process of Dying Not Death

First, there is the problem of defining death. The Editor of Lancet, a journal dedicated to medical research, points out that “only a deliberate use of obsolete definitions of death can enable one to claim that anybody has, under clinical conditions, returned to tell us what lies beyond death, for by working definition, periodically updated, death is just beyond the point from which anybody can return to tell us anything.” Similarly, Professor Paul Kurts comments, “We have no hard evidence that the subjects had in fact died. Such a proof is not impossible to obtain: rigor mortis is one sign and brain death is another. What the accounts actually describe is ‘dying process or near-death experience, not death itself.’” We have to remember it’s NEAR death and not death itself!

Second, we need to remember, as Paul and Linda Badham observe, that “any person hovering between life and death must be suffering profound physical and psychological stress. A brain starved of oxygen, drugged by hallucinatory painkillers, or excited by fever is hardly likely to function properly and who knows what visions could be accounted for by its disturbed conditions?” Some research has shown the similarity that exists between near-death experiences and the effects caused by psychedelic drugs. “Modern consciousness-research has shown that these similarities can be reproduced by drugs in psychedelic sessions. These experiences, thus, tend to belong to the continuum of psychic experiences, which have proved, not life after death, but that the relation between the conscious self and the embodied self is more complex than previously thought.”

One’s Cultural Background as a factor

The vision of heaven depends largely upon one’s religious background.

Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson evaluated the reports of more than 1,000 deathbed experiences in the USA and India. They found that the vision of the Hindu patients was typically Indian, while that of the American was Western and Christian. For example, one college-educated Hindu woman had the experience of being brought to heaven on a cow; while an American patient who had prayed to St. Joseph encountered her patron saint in the experience. Such reports about afterlife experiences reflect the personal beliefs of the patients. What they experienced in the process of dying was most likely conditioned by their personal beliefs. Their minds were still functioning and saw what they thought was their idea of the after-life, the idea ingrained in their subconscious.

We should always remember that deathbed or near-death experiences are experiences of people who are still alive or whose mind has regained consciousness. Whatever they experience under such circumstances is still part of their present life and not of life after death. The Bible does report the cases of seven of people who were raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:25-37; Luke 7:11-15; 8:41-56; Acts 9:36-41; 20:9-11), but none of them had an afterlife experience to share. The Bible about real death, “the dead know not anything” (Eccl 9:5), and in the day they actually die-REAL death, “in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Psalm 146:4).

Lazarus a Real-Death Experience

Lazarus was brought back to life after being clinically dead for four days did not report any exciting out-of-the-body experiences. Why is it not reported in the Bible of Lazarus speaking of heaven and seeing the Father? Or of his experience of his soul getting taken out of his body and going to the pearly gates? It is not reported because “the dead know not anything” “in that very day [of his death] his thoughts perish.” Death according to the Bible is the cessation of life of the whole person, body and Mind. There is no form of conscious existence between death and resurrection. The dead rest unconsciously in their tombs until Christ will call them forth on the glorious day of His coming.

From the Book Immortality or Resurrection by Samuele Bacchiocchi

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