Ned Dougherty and Near Death Experiences

JR asks: “Has Johnnette ever made any comment about Mr. Dougherty?  I’ve read his book, Fast Lane to Heaven, and have read everything on his website.  Nothing seems to be contrary to Church teaching, and he seems to be a very honorable man, but I’d like another opinion.”

For those who may not know, Ned Dougherty is a former successful nightclub owner who experienced a near-death experience (NDE) after suffering a heart attack. During this NDE, Mr. Dougherty received messages about the future from a “Lady of Light” who he believes was the Virgin Mary. He experienced a profound conversion of heart after this episode and authored a book about the experience, Fast Lane to Heaven, in March 2001 which contained a prediction about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Ned claims to have had several life-changing encounters with the “Lady of Light” since the NDE and says he receives messages from Jesus, Our Lady, and St. Michael, which he publishes on his website. The primary mission of his apostolate, the Mission of Angels Foundation, is to help people recognize that “we are primarily spiritual beings.”

Some of the goals of this apostolate are to promote an understanding of the dignity of human life at all stages, to promote hospice care and end-of-life support for the dying, and to share “spiritually transformational experiences” such as “pre-birth experiences” (very New Age) and NDEs. He also wants to establish a spiritual community center which would include a holistic healing center and “health spa with facilities that integrate spiritual healing arts with conventional disciplines of science and medicine.”

There are two big warnings I would like to give about purported visionaries and NDE prophets such as Ned Dougherty, precautions that I’m sure he would wholeheartedly agree with.

First, our Church teaches that public revelation was completed, and concluded, with the death of the last apostle (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 4). While private revelation continues and can help us to more fully grasp what has already been revealed, the faithful are under no obligation to believe in apparitions or messages such as those allegedly being experienced by seers such as Ned Dougherty. (See Catechism #65-67)

Second, while the Church has made no pronouncement about NDEs and science is still studying the phenomena, this fascinating subject has become the unfortunate victim of New Agers. This is why we so rarely hear about NDEs that name the “being of light” as Jesus Christ, that involve a specific judgment, or that involve anything negative such as an experience of hell (even though these NDEs definitely occur!)

[One caution I might add about Mr. Dougherty is that he supposedly served as a media spokesman for the International Association of Near Death Studies, a site which stakes many of these New Age claims, saying that negative NDE’s are rare and that the “rarest of all” are NDEs in which a person “feels negatively judged by a Higher Power.”]

The reason behind all the New Age “spin” in the study of NDEs is because the founders of the modern NDE movement were heavily involved in the New Age.

For instance, the man considered to be the father of the modern NDE movement is Raymond A. Moody, M.D. whose 1975 book Life after Life was considered groundbreaking because it documented the 15 elements commonly found in all NDEs such as the tunnel, buzzing noise, light, etc. A parapsychologist with a medical degree, Moody also dabbles in the occult and is currently conducting paranormal studies at a private research institute in Alabama. These studies include scrying, a form of divination also known as crystal gazing.

Dr. Moody openly admits that his background, opinions and prejudices influenced the way he wrote the book. What were those influences? Although raised a Methodist, he openly mocks Christianity in some places in his book, such as when he dismisses the traditional concept of heaven and hell as “a cartoonist’s heaven of pearly gates” which he claims no one ever described to him. (That might explain why Jesus, judgment and hell are all missing from his NDEs.)

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., the famed thanatologist (a person who studies the medical, social and psychological aspects of death) worked closely with Moody and wrote the foreword of his book. She was very involved in spiritism and claimed to have a personal spirit guide named Salem. Kubler-Ross was also closely associated with Jay Barham, a man who claimed to be psychic and who conducted seances that included sexual intercourse between participants and entities from the spirit world. By the time of her death in 2004, she lost all credibility with the medical community and was ultimately awarded a “Loose Screw Award” by Psychology Today magazine in 2005.

Kenneth Ring, another New Age NDE pioneer, author of Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience, is a trained psychologist. Ring claims to be of no particular religious persuasion and once told an interviewer that he could not recall a single case of someone who reported being judged by God. Instead, he spews the typical New Age “talking points” in his book, saying the “light” is “actually a reflection of one’s own inherent divine nature and symbolizes the higher self.”

These are only a few of the characters who inspired the modern NDE movement, a phenomena that has spawned dozens of tales similar to Ned Dougherty’s including the multi-million dollar best seller Embraced by the Light by Betty J. Eadie which claimed everyone went to heaven, even the likes of Hitler and Pol Pot.

But what most people don’t know is that the scientific study of NDEs presents a much different picture. Notwithstanding the large school of thought in the medical community that these experiences could be the result of drugs or neurological functions that occur at the end of life, disinterested researchers such as Carol Zaleski, a professor of religion at Smith College, record not only heavenly but hellish NDE experiences. Her book Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experiences in Medieval and Modern Times is widely respected for its academic excellence.

Not surprisingly, Christian researchers such as cardiologist Maurice Rawlings, author of Beyond Death’s Door, also record hellish NDEs that include encounters with Satan and sensations of being in a lake of fire. Some of these experiences were so traumatic that those who had them psychologically suppressed them.

Then there is the famous story of Father Steven Scheier, a parish priest from Kansas who suffered a broken neck during a head-on collision in 1985. During a time when he thought he had died, he remembered being judged worthy of hell and said he heard the voice of Our Lady pleading for him. The Lord relented and gave Fr. Scheier a second chance.

New Agers like to say that NDEs change people’s lives in positive ways, but there is evidence to support the opposite point of view. For instance, P. M. H. Atwater, who is deeply involved in the occult and mediumship, describes many unpleasant aftereffects of NDEs in her book Coming Back to Life. She found that many people who had NDEs later experienced family problems, divorce, the inability to hold a job and/or make a commitment to either a relationship or a vocation.

While NDEs make fascinating reading, some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten on this subject came from Reality magazine, which is a publication of the Irish Redemptorists.

” . . .(W)e might say that widely reported incidents of near-death experiences are at least an indicator that what we assert by faith might well correlate with what some have experienced. Beyond that, however, we ought to place the mysterious issue of death squarely where it belongs: under the wide mantle of God’s merciful love.”

Send your New Age question to newage@womenofgrace.com!

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