Being a devotee of near-death experiences, I was disappointed to read some of the descriptions of the heaven seen by Dr. Eben Alexander, an academic neurosurgeon whose new book, “Proof of Heaven” is featured in the latest issue of Newsweek.
Although the book is not out yet and I can only judge by the statements Alexander is making to the press, the field of near-death experiences is heavily influenced by New Age thinking and I found several signs that his experience may also be infested with this worldview when reading his descriptions.
First, for some background.
Dr. Alexander’s story begins in 2008 when he went into a coma after coming down with a rare bacterial meningitis.
“My entire cortex – the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human – had shut down,” he writes. “Doctors determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.”
He did not rouse from the coma for seven days, during which time he had what he says was an experience of the afterlife.
He claims to have found himself in a place full of white-pink clouds above which he observed “flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky.” These objects were higher forms of being and said they created a “glorious chant” as they moved.
He also stressed the interconnectedness of everything he observed, writing, “Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else, like the rich and intermingled designs on a Persian carpet … or a butterfly’s wing.”
Here’s one of the places where Alexander’s story troubles me. He claims that a woman was with him during this visit and delivered messages to him via a kind of interior locution. The general messages were: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever,“ ”You have nothing to fear“ and ”There is nothing you can do wrong.”
This last statement instantly raised a red-flag with me as it is reminiscent of many other New Age near-death experiences which were supposedly devoid of judgment. This is contrary to Church teaching and Scripture. For instance, in Hebrews 9:27, we read that “Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment . . .”
Rev. 20:4 also clearly speaks of judgment after death: “And I saw seats. And they sat upon them: and judgment was given unto them. . . ”
We know that Jesus referred to the need for repentance before death when he forgave the penitent thief and promised “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
St. Paul expresses his longing to be in the presence of God, understanding that death is the entrance to his reward (2 Corinthians 5; Philemon 1:21).
Another troubling aspect of his story is the way he describes who he perceives to be God – as a “vast presence” who does not name himself. This is another hallmark of New Age interpretations of near-death experiences. Jesus never names Himself, which is utterly contrary to the whole point of the Gospels in which Jesus instructs His disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . .” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Jesus’ Gospel is aimed at making all people believers in Him, which makes it difficult to believe that a person who has a near-death experience would not be told that the bright light or “vast presence” is Jesus Christ.
To be fair, I will get the book when it comes out and read it before coming to any definitive conclusions but I have to confess that, judging by the extensive research that I’ve done into this area, Christians should approach this book with caution.