Thursday, August 15, 2013

Proof of Heaven, or Not

by Pa Rock

My Aunt Mary, an elderly lady who remains as sharp as a proverbial tack, recommended a book to me a few months back, and I have finally gotten around to reading it.  Aunt Mary, who is somewhere in her mid-to-late eighties, is of an age when the subject of mortality begins to be more and more at the forefront of a person’s thoughts.

(In fact, those same thoughts also are beginning to eat up vast amounts of my time as well.  When the dogs bark outside late at night, one of my first assumptions is that it is the Grim Reaper peeking in my windows and checking his watch.)

Mankind has spent millennia stumbling around in pursuit of the promise of an afterlife, often padding the pockets of ministers, psychics, and other charlatans in the process.    Death comes to all, but can’t there be something beyond so that one does not actually cease to exist at the point where our physical bodies give out?  That would be such a comfort.

The book that Aunt Mary recommended was Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, MD.  Dr. Alexander, a neurosurgeon, went into a six-day coma in 2008 due the sudden and unexplained emergence of bacterial meningitis.   He had, through his vocation, come into contact with people who had suffered “near death experiences” (NDEs) in the past, something that he and his colleagues had discounted as a burst of last-minute brain activity as the patient lay presumably dying.   Dr. Alexander’s opinion of these near death experiences changed dramatically after he had one of his own in 2008.

While Dr. Alexander is quick to point out that no two near death experiences are exactly the same, they often contain several of the same elements:  the person’s consciousness rising out of the body and observing the scene from an elevated position, being drawn toward a bright light, and the appearance of an afterlife guide in the form of a deceased loved one.  Usually the person in the process of almost passing retains a knowledge of who they are in life.

Dr. Alexander’s view into the afterlife was a tri-parte affair with the initial stage being a place of darkness that sounded like a view of his body from inside of itself.  He called this the Earthworm’s Eye View and soon became uncomfortable with it.  Beyond that a segmented bright light led him into an aerial view above a bucolic scene inhabited by people in peasant garb.  And beyond that was the Core, a place of comfort where he was able to communicate directly and completely with God through every aspect of his being.

The patient, Dr. Alexander, did not retain a knowledge of who or what he was during the six-days that he remained in the coma.  He did encounter a guide, a young woman sitting on a butterfly wing who imparted the sense that everything was going to be alright.

Dr. Alexander, who obviously had the very best of medical care, awoke after six days, something which surprised his physicians, doctors who had been preparing the family for his removal from life support.  His malady was a direct attack on the brain, so his physicians were further nonplussed when it became apparent that he was slowly regaining mastery of his medical knowledge and training.

It was an amazing medical case with an apparent miracle cure, and the patient emerged from the coma a changed man.  He came out of it with a belief in the existence of God and an afterlife.

Whereas the good doctor had routinely ignored or discounted the near death experiences of others, he now was a believer – primarily for two reasons:  first, his experiences in the great beyond were so vivid and realistic, and second, the guide on the butterfly wing turned out to closely resemble a deceased natural sister whom the doctor, adopted into another family as an infant, had never seen.

And those are the points at which I feel the need to part company with Dr. Alexander.  It sounds a bit egotistical and self-serving for something to be real only after it happens to you personally.   And when he first saw a picture of his sister (post coma), he did not immediately recognize her as being his afterlife guide.   I see nothing in his account that preempts the notion of a sudden burst of brain activity (and his brain was definitely under attack and fighting back) bringing on his visions of a next world.  And while Dr. Alexander may have never seen his birth sister or her picture prior to the medical incident, he had met his birth mother and another sister, both of whom could have had some impact – through appearance or mannerisms – on his vision of the ethereal guide.

Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe – and it pains me that Dr. Alexander’s book failed to take me to the plain of self-satisfaction where my Aunt Mary resides.  Maybe, if I make it into my eighties, I will reread it and be convinced, but for the time being I must remain skeptical.

More on this subject may be found at:

1 comment:

Xobekim said...

Skeptics are welcome. If it were science I could plot an empirical path to and from the City of God. It isn't science, its faith.

The recurring theme of Scripture, to me, is that no matter how much humans strive to be "holy" or "righteous" they always fail. And the only thing God seems to be immutable about is constantly being available to us.

In the final analysis the atheists and doubters may be correct. If that is the case I think the world is a little better off for folk like me tempering themselves with good intentions, a dose of humility, and having made the world a little better off.

If that is not the case, then I think the world is a little better off for folk like me tempering themselves with good intentions, a dose of humility, and having made the world a little better off.

I am not concerned about discovering scientific certainty in matters of faith. Now is the only time we have.