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God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 16: Magic, Deeds, and Universalism: Afterlife in the World’s Religions

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

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Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to the Developmental View of Religion
  2. Magic, Deeds and Universalism as Levels of Religious Development
  3. A Final Judgment of Deeds as the Intermediate Level of Religious Development
    a. The Egyptian Book of the Dead
    b. Zoroastrianism
    c. The Abrahamic Religions
    d. The Eastern Religions
  4. Magic as the Rudimentary Level of Religious Development
    a. Magic in the Egyptian Book of the Dead
    b. Magic in Greek Mythology
    c. Magic in Judaism’s Day of Atonement
    d. Magic in Christianity’s Faith in the Name of Jesus
    e. Magic in Hinduism’s Devotion to a God’s Name
    f. Magic in Buddhist Texts and Chants
  5. Universalism as the Highest Level of Religious Development
    a. Universalism in Zoroastrianism
    b. Universalism in Judaism
    c. Universalism in Christianity
    d. Universalism in Islam and the Eastern Religions
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

1. Introduction to the Developmental View of Religion

When I was a freshman at Baylor University, I took a required religion class from Prof. Kyle Yates. Professor Yates was one of the scholars who worked on the Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament (a.k.a. the Hebrew Bible). When we got to the Persian period of Hebrew history, he began to talk about Zoroaster, the prophet of the Magi. Inspired by his lectures, I went to the library and read the hymns of Zoroaster and thought to myself, “Wow! God talked to someone who wasn’t Jewish!” This started my life-long quest for the generic God in the world’s religions.

For many years, I’ve been active in interfaith work, and my friends and colleagues here in Houston form a tapestry of the world’s religions. I have learned from them. Now that I’m retired, I’m a little old man who lives on the fourth floor of the Rice University Library, still steeped in the world’s religions.

Today, I will be your guide to the Afterlife. You may have been hoping for Beatrice and Dante, but the worship committee wasn’t quite able to conjure them up. I’m going to give you a three-layer view of how people — both ancient and modern — have viewed Afterlife. This is what we in psychology call a “developmental” view of religion because it reflects the way both individuals and societies normally mature.

2. Magic, Deeds and Universalism as Levels of Religious Development

The most rudimentary level of religious development is MAGIC, which includes bribery or other manipulation of the gods in order to guarantee a positive outcome for your Afterlife. In the middle layer, Afterlife is dependent on your DEEDS during your life on Earth, and the history of religious art illustrates the development of this idea across time and cultures. (Interestingly, MAGIC has often been practiced in conjunction with GOOD DEEDS.) The top layer of development is UNIVERSALISM, the concept that God is too good to condemn anyone to Eternal Hell, and that all humans will go to Heaven, either immediately or eventually.

One important thing to know about the study of comparative religion is that it is a wide-open field with many scholars from various disciplines participating, such as Joseph Campbell (literature), Mircea Eliade (history), Paul Brunton (philosophy), Carl Jung (psychiatry), and Sir James Frazier (anthropology). Today, we’ll touch on the Afterlife from the perspectives of religion, history, psychology, sociology, and art.

Most people in the world, regardless of their religion, believe that judgment for the Afterlife is determined by one’s deeds in this life. Simply stated, if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you go to Heaven. But if your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds, you go to Hell.

This is the story of humanity. My point is that human beings across time and culture share one story, although I must tell you that in the East, after an intermediate stage of Heaven or Hell, you have a “sequel” — called “reincarnation“. In other words, in the East, your deeds affect not only your intermediate destination of Heaven or Hell, but also determine the condition of your next life.

3. A Final Judgment of Deeds as the Intermediate Level of Religious Development

a. The Egyptian Book of the Dead

The oldest judgment scene we have in art is a depiction of the EGYPTIAN Book of the Dead which has been seen in tomb art as early as about 3,000 BCE. After the deceased goes into the darkness (which is the body of Nut), he or she comes forth into the light, into the Great Hall of Truth. Osiris is the King of the Afterlife, and Isis is his queen. For over 3,500 years, Osiris was known as the “Resurrection and the Life”. Your deeds in life were judged by weighing your heart against a feather, and woe to those whose heart is heavy with sin!

b. Zoroastrianism

Next we have judgment in ZOROASTRIANISM, the religion of the Magi. Here, three angels preside over judgment — Mithra, Sraosha, and Rashnu. Rashnu holds the scales, Sarosha is the judge, and Mithra listens to appeals. Your good deeds are weighed against your bad deeds, and then you pass over a bridge. If your good deeds are heavier, the bridge is wide open to you, and you pass over easily. If your evil deeds outweigh your good ones, the bridge becomes narrow, and you fall into Hell. This razor-sharp bridge imagery lives on in Shi’ite Islam.

c. The Abrahamic Religions

In the HEBREW Bible, in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 12:1-3), it is the Archangel Michael who presides over the resurrection. Judaism for the most part forbids artwork, but in CHRISTIANITY, Michael takes his place right below Jesus in the judgment of the dead. It is Michael who holds the scales in which your deeds are weighed. This same scene is repeated in ISLAM, but here the Archangel holding the scales is Gabriel.

d. The Eastern Religions

Next we move from West to East. Most Westerners think that reincarnation is instantaneous, but this is not generally so. For the overwhelming majority of HINDUS and BUDDHISTS, there is an intermediate state between death and re-birth. This intermediate state is presided over by Yama or Yamaraj. In HINDU mythology, Yama was the first king and king of the dead. His assistants weigh your good deeds and, depending on the outcome, you go to Heaven or Hell for three generations. In BUDDHISM, as in its parent religion, Yama judges the dead. Yama is known as “Yama” in Tibet, Nepal, Southeast Asia and Western China. In Eastern China, Korea, and Japan, his name changes, but he is always the same fair judge of the dead. Where he is the king of Heaven in Hinduism, he presides over Hell in Buddhism. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a twelfth-century Buddhist work, the intermediate state lasts for 49 days before you are re-born.

4. Magic as the Rudimentary Level of Religious Development

Now let’s step back to analyze the way MAGIC is used to influence Afterlife. Obviously, we are aware of cultures in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres that have used human or animal sacrifice to bribe the gods to do or not do something the petitioner asks. However, this practice has been abandoned by the world’s major religions and can be found in only indigenous religions today. On the other hand, belief in magical powers is still very much a part of our modern culture when it comes to “stacking the deck” in favor of a Heavenly Afterlife.

In most religions, there is a tension between the moral justice of judgment according to deeds and magic to insure a positive verdict. The keys to effective magic are that:

(1) You have to be “in the club”, and
(2) You or your priest must know the “secret words”.

a. Magic in the Egyptian Book of the Dead

In ancient Egypt, the scales of judgment are older than the pyramids, but they co-exist with the magic text of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that enables the deceased to overcome past sins. Countering this are not only the scales, but the instruction for Merikare (2200 BCE) which reinforces the idea of judgment according to deeds.

Additionally, there is the story of Si-Osiris (son of Osiris) and his father, Setne Khaemweset (fourth son of Ramesses II). Si-Osiris is a seer. He and his father watch a funeral procession in which a rich man was being carried with his elaborate belongings to a princely tomb. Shortly after this, they observed the funeral of a poor man wrapped only in a cloth who was being taken for burial in the desert sand. The Egyptian prince remarks to his son that he hopes for a good funeral in preparation for a glorious Afterlife, but his seer son remarks that all things are not as they appear to be. He puts his father into a trance, and the two are transported to the land of the dead where the evil rich man is suffering a hellish fate and the righteous poor man is being comforted by Osiris, Isis, and the Egyptian gods, and is living afterlife in regal splendor.

This shows the development of morality and justice in the Egyptian religion, and some Christian scholars think this is the origin of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-31). The main point here is to underscore the great antiquity of the belief that salvation is by works.

b. Magic in Greek Mythology

In ancient Greece, the Afterlife in very early times was seen as a very gloomy place where everyone went. But by the time of Plato, the idea of judgment according to deeds had developed. In Plato’s Republic, the story is told about Er, the world’s oldest recorded near-death experiencer, who revives on his funeral pyre and tells of a judgment at death by three judges. The good ascend to Paradise, and the evil descend to Hell. But after a period of time, Plato also mentions the possibility of reincarnation. Pythagoras also was an advocate of reincarnation. In the mysteries that were popular in the later Greek and Roman periods, we are given a chance for an “up-grade” in the Afterlife via the magical rites of the mysteries of Orpheus, Dionysus, Demeter and Persephone, Mithra, Isis and Osiris, etc. According to the mysteries of Orpheus, one of the things you were to say was, “I am a child of Earth and the starry Heaven, but Heaven is my home”. Here again, you have to be in the club, and you have to know the secret words.

c. Magic in Judaism’s Day of Atonement

In ancient Judaism, the sins of the Jewish people were magically put into a goat (scapegoat) on the Day of Atonement. Here again, you have to be “in the club” and you (or the priest) have to know the secret words (Leviticus 16:21-22). Modern Jews no longer do this, knowing that God hears our prayers.

Judaism in its early years presented a shadowy Afterlife called Sheol which was very similar to the Hades of early Greece. Jewish writing from 400 – 100 BCE which is found in the Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic Christian Bibles (which Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha) have some references to a Heaven or Hell state prior to the last judgment (2 Esdras 7:75-101). The Apocryphal books also abound with angels who are named (e.g. Raphael in the Book of Tobit). The Jewish Pseudepigrapha (200 BCE – 70 CE) have Heaven and Hell (especially Enoch I, Enoch II, and Enoch III). These books of Enoch are not in the Hebrew Bible, and only 1st Enoch made it into the Coptic Christian Bible. The books were, however used by the Essenes and figure into the Judaism prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The Rule of Community (also known as the Manual of Discipline) and the War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes are especially rich in imagery of Heaven and Hell. After 70 CE, Rabbinic Judaism developed, and the resulting Hebrew Bible has references to Sheol, the Messianic Time and to the Last Judgment in the Book of Daniel.

d. Magic in Christianity’s Faith in the Name of Jesus

In Christianity, this magic level is practiced by those who say that “belief in Jesus” assures an exclusive ticket to Heaven. You have to be “in the club” (that is, be a Christian), and you have to know the secret words, which in Fundamentalist Christianity are found in John 3:16 or John 14:6. While Liberal Christians and many moderate Christians see Jesus as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah who died to bring us the word, Fundamentalist Christians delight in being “saved“. That belief alone will save you is an idea as old as the followers of the Hindu gods Shiva and Lord Krishna. Its positive side is the devotional path in which the followers identify with and emulate the god. In Christianity, we see this positive emulation in those kind and loving souls who model their lives on Jesus. One is reminded of the words of the beautiful old Gospel hymn, “In the Garden”:

“He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.”

e. Magic in Hinduism’s Devotion to a God’s Name

In Hinduism, the devotional path is expressed in the prayer:

“Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare”, in other words, “Krishna, Krishna, Redeemer, Redeemer.”

Magic in Hinduism is best illustrated by the idea that if you die with the name of Vishnu or one of his incarnations, such as Rama or Krishna, on your lips all of your sins are taken away and you go straight to Nirvana (heaven). There are times when we all need a little magic. The last words of Gandhi were “Rama, Rama.”

f. Magic in Buddhist Texts and Chants

In Buddhism, magic is represented in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Being “in the club” (that is, being Buddhist) and having your relative or a monk read the secret words of the Book of the Dead by your corpse. This will enable you to become aware in the Afterlife and chose the things which will assure you a good re-birth. Also in Pure Land Buddhism by invoking the name of the Buddha at death, you will be transported to a Pure Land of Bliss in the West by Amitabha (the Buddha of Infinite Light), who is also known as O-Mi-To (China) and Amida (Japan) (Flotz, 2004, p. 73; Nigosian, 2000, p. 89). There you can continue the process of liberation under blissful conditions. Another “savior” Bodhisattva is Ti-tsang and anyone who chants his name will have their sins wiped away (Teiser, 1988, p. 187).

5. Universalism as the Highest Level of Religious Development

a. Universalism in Zoroastrianism

Having looked at the developmental level below judgment by deeds, let us look at the level above it — UNIVERSALISM. The concept of Universalism as an idea is as old as Zoroaster. Around 1600 – 1200 BCE (like Moses, the exact date of his life is not known), Zoroaster preached these basic concepts; see if they sound familiar:

“God – Satan, Good – Evil, Light – Darkness, Angels – Demons, Death – Judgment, Heaven – Hell, and at the end of time, Resurrection of the Body and Life Everlasting”

He also preached that:

“There is a long period of punishment for the wicked and reward for the pious, but thereafter, eternal joy shall reign forever” (Yasna 30.11).

In other words, Hell is for rehabilitation, not for torture.

This idea may be as old as Zoroaster, but it is as new as modern-day near-death experiencers, many of whom died into Hell but found themselves rescued when they called out to God or (in the West) called out to God or Jesus.

b. Universalism in Judaism

In Judaism, Universalism is reflected in the Messianic Time described primarily in the Book of Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 12:1-2, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 39:3-5, Isaiah 66:18, Isaiah 66:23, Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Rabbis of the Midrash say that one can stay in Hell only one year.

c. Universalism in Christianity

In Christianity, the idea of Universalism is a very old and enduring theological position. Its major proponent in early Christianity was Origen (185–254 CE). In the nineteenth century, the Universalist Church was for a time the fifth or sixth largest denomination in the United States. In the twenty-first century, Universalism is advocated by Christians from diverse backgrounds, including some post-Vatican II Catholics and Primitive Baptists. The Biblical references which support Universal Salvation [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] are second in number only to Good Works as the way to Salvation [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11].

d. Universalism in Islam and the Eastern Religions

Other religions have Universalist hopes too. Although not in the Koran, it is written in the Hadith (the oral history of Muhammad) that:

“Surely a day will come over Hell when there shall not be a human soul in it.”

The Bahai religion sees a continuous progression of souls toward perfection after death. In the East, Hinduism and its children — Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism — all allow for the potential for all to be saved. When Pam and I attended the Jade Buddha Temple a few years ago, they were singing:

“We are not discouraged by the time it takes to save all the humans and all of the animals.”

6. Conclusion

When one looks at the plight of humanity through the eyes of a parent, it is easy to see that Universalism makes sense. God is infinitely nicer than the best human beings you know. If you are a panentheist like me, you know that God is in all of us, and we are all in God. God knows the assets and limitations of each human soul. Unlike the State Board of Pardons and Parole, God knows how to rehabilitate people.

Once upon a time before time mattered, people worshiped the Great Spirit, saw every living thing as possessing a spirit, and saw Afterlife as a Happy Hunting Ground. That sounds Universalist to me. So maybe we have come full circle. To quote Jesus in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas:

“Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is, the end will be.”

As a Universalist Christian, I look forward to the time when, as Jesus taught, God will save the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son.

7. References

Flotz, R. (2004). Spirituality in the land of the noble: How Iran shaped the world’s religions. Oxford: Oneworld, p. 73.

Nigosian, S. A. (2000). World religions: A historical approach (3rd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan, p. 89.

Teiser, S. (1988). Having once died and returned to life: Representations of hell in medieval China. Harvard Journal of Asiatic studies, p. 187.

Vincent, K. R. (2005). The golden thread: God’s promise of universal salvation. New York, NY: iUniverse.

Categories
Articles Science

Religious Interpretations of Near-Death Experiences

Dr. David San Filippo is a licensed mental health counselor, a certified disability management specialist, and a certified cognitive behavioral specialist who has been working in human services for more than 25 years. His counseling and consulting service specializes in helping adults overcome issues related to personal development, trauma, grief, and vocational rehabilitation. His intellectual properties company deals with human and artificial intelligence by combining the collective knowledge of human intelligence and dynamics with modern computer technology to produce software products designed to enhance people’s personal and work lives. His educational products consist of the workshops and seminars that Dr. San Filippo offers for human growth and development. His website contains a library section which is an outstanding resource for general research in human science in the areas of philosophy, psychology, sociology and theology.

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Near-Death Experiences
  4. The Phenomenology of the Near-Death Experience
  5. Models of Near-Death Experiences
  6. Transpersonal and Reductionist Theories Concerning Near-Death Experiences
  7. Out-of-Body Experiences
  8. Children and Near-Death Experiences
  9. Attitudinal and Personality Changes Following Near-Death Experiences
  10. Religious Beliefs Concerning Death, Afterlife, and Near-Death Experiences
  11. Agnostics and Atheists
  12. Buddhism and Hinduism
  13. Islam
  14. Judaism
  15. Christianity
  16. Mormonism
  17. Conclusion
  18. References

1. Abstract

Interpretations of near-death experiences are influenced by religious and psychosocial teachings about death and afterlife beliefs. Different religious beliefs have resulted in the formation of numerous religious groups who have fostered their own interpretations of death, afterlife, and the immediate transition period between life and afterlife. This essay provides an overview of reductionist theories and for the plausibility of transpersonal theories of near-death experiences. The essay then provides an overview of the human consciousness of what seems to be life after death, religious beliefs concerning death and afterlife, and interpretations of near-death experiences by different religious groups. This essay contends that religious interpretations combined with the contemporary work on near-death experiences and the arguments against reductionism provide grounds for the plausibility of the transpersonal theories concerning near-death experiences.

2. Introduction

A near-death experience is a conscious experience in which the individual experiences a sense of being detached from the physical world during the process of physiological dying. Individuals may experience their own physiological dyings and deaths and at the same time become aware of their disembodied existences in an altered state where they may experience a sense of peace, a separation of consciousness from the body, entering darkness, seeing a light, meeting spiritual entities, having a panoramic life review, and a sense of judging their lives (Moody, 1975; Morse, 1990, Ring, 1980). Near-death experiencers are generally positively affected by their experiences and their confrontation with death seems to give more meaning to the individual’s life (Kalish, 1981). Near-death experiences could be considered “transpersonal” experiences due to their nature of transcending the usual “personal” physical and mental realms of human consciousness. Transpersonal experiences are those incidents that are of the highest or ultimate human potential and beyond the ego or personal self (Lajoie & Shapiro, 1992, p. 90).

In order to evaluate near-death experiences effectively, it is necessary to have an understanding of personal beliefs concerning life after death. According to Kellehear & Irwin (1990), the interpretation of the near-death experience may be related to the social conditioning and beliefs of the experiencer, such as interpreting the experience in relationship to the experiencer’s religious beliefs concerning life after death.

Numerous surveys have documented that the majority of people in the United States believe in life after death (Kalish, 1981; Kellehear & Irwin, 1990; Klenow & Bolin, 1989, Rodabough, 1985). Psychologist Charles Tart (1991), in his article, “Altered States of Consciousness and the Possibility of Survival of Death“, discusses his belief that humans regain some type of consciousness after death. He states:

“The direct experience of existing and experiencing in some form that seems partially or fully independent of the physical body is relatively common in various altered states of consciousness, and this kind of experience constitutes the most direct knowledge of survival an individual may have” (p. 37).

Past-life researcher Brian Weiss (1988) reports there are experiences of what seems to be life after death, as reported by many of his subjects, and that the different experiences and concepts of the subject’s lifetime, involving religion and death, can influence the individual’s understanding of death and afterlife.

Religions involve group practices of similar religious beliefs. An individual’s personal religious beliefs are experienced within the individual’s consciousness and may be related to others through various religious practices. Through social participation individual beliefs may be formed and heightened. Religious beliefs may both provide explanations for unexplained phenomena and communicate the essence of human transpersonal experiences.

Interpretations of near-death experiences can be influenced by religious beliefs in life after death. The effects of religious diversity may not only influence the interpretations of near-death experiences but also may account for some of the differences in the descriptions of encounters with incorporeal entities, the setting of the experience, and in the activities reported during the experience. Religious beliefs can provide references to explain the “difficult to explain” experiences associated with a near-death experience (Foos-Graber, 1989; Kubler-Ross, 1991; Moody, 1975, 1977, 1988; Ring, 1980, 1982). Most reported near-death experiences appear to support many philosophical and religious theories of what is anticipated in life after death such as communion with incorporeal beings and the existence of afterlife polar planes of good and bad, heaven and hell.

It is the intention of this essay to provide a review of the near-death experience phenomenon and the beliefs in life after death of some religious denominations who have reported near-death experiences, as well as their interpretations of these experiences. The essay will conclude that these religious interpretations, combined with contemporary near-death research, and arguments against reductionist interpretations provide grounds for the plausibility of transpersonal theories concerning near-death experiences.

3. Near-Death Experiences

Near-death experiences appear to be a universal phenomena that has been reported for centuries. A near-death encounter is defined as an event in which the individual could very easily die or be killed, or may have already been considered clinically dead, but nonetheless survives, and continue his or her physical life (Moody, 1977, p.124). Reports of near-death experiences date back to the Ice Age. There are cave paintings, in France and Spain, depicting possible after life scenes that are similar to reported scenes related to near-death experiences (Zaleski, 1987). Plato’s Republic presents the story of a near-death experience of a Greek soldier named Er. In this account, the soldier is killed in battle and his body is placed on a funeral pyre. Just before he is to be cremated, he awakens and tells a story of leaving his body and traveling with others to a place where they were all to be judged (Plato, 1928). Historical figures such as Carl Jung, Thomas Edison, and Ernest Hemingway have also reported their own near-death experiences (Jung, 1961; Moody, 1977, Zaleski, 1987). Modern researchers, such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, and Melvin Morse, have provided modern accounts of near-death experiences. Through their research, they have been able to provide phenomenological evidence regarding these experiences as altered states of consciousness, and qualitatively demonstrated that the great similarities between the different reports of these experiences are not a result of chance or accident.

According to a 1991 Gallup Poll estimate, 13 million Americans, 5% of the population, reported they have had a near-death experience (Greyson, 1992). Research has demonstrated that near-death experiences are no more likely to affect the devoutly religious than the agnostic or atheist. Near-death experiences can be experienced by anyone (Moody, 1975, 1977, 1980, Morse, 1990; Ring, 1980, 1985). According to Talbot (1991), near-death experiences appear to have no relationship to “a person’s age, sex, marital status, race, religion and/or spiritual beliefs, social class, educational level, income, frequency of church attendance, size of home community, or area of residence” (p. 240).

Near-death experiences have been recorded in folklore, religious, and social writings throughout the world. Reports have been recorded from societies such as Native American, Tibet, Japan, Melanesia, Micronesia, Egypt, China, India, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the United States (Greyson, 1992; Mauro, 1992). According to Ring (1980), there does not appear to be any relationship between, on one hand, an individual’s spirituality and religious practices, and on the other hand, the likelihood of experiencing a near-death experience or the depth of the ensuing experience.

4. The Phenomenology of the Near-Death Experience

Near-death experiencer consistently report similar experiences. According to Talbot (1991), “One of the most interesting aspects of the ND phenomenon is the consistency one finds from experience to experience” (p. 240). Although most near-death experiencers may not experience all of the traits associated with near-death experiences or in the same order, experiencers consistently report similar experiences. The following is a constructed description of the content of a near-death experience representing most of the major traits:

At the onset of the near-death experience, the individual may experience a sense of being dead, and surprise at being dead, yet will remain peaceful and have no feelings of pain. Following the peaceful awareness of being dead, the experiencer may have an out-of-body experience, a perception of separating from the physical body and moving away from the deceased body. The individual may experience a sense of moving through a tunnel, during the stage of entering into the darkness. As the individual passes through the tunnel, there may be an awareness of a bright light towards the end of the tunnel. While experiencing the consciousness of the light, ethereal forms recognizable by the experiencer may be seen in the light. In the later part of the near-death experience, the individual may sense he or she is rising rapidly towards the light into what he or she may consider heaven or another plane of consciousness. During this ascension, the experiencer may encounter a Being of Light reported to be either God, another spiritual deity, or an energy form recognized by non-theists. The encounter with the Being of Light engulfs the experiencer with a sense of unconditional love emanating from the Being. During this encounter, the near-death experiencer may become conscious of having a total panoramic review of his or her life and may experience a sense of self-judgment when observing his or her life events in review. The judgment is not by the Being of Light but is a personal judgment by the experiencer. Throughout each of the stages, and particularly in the latter stages of the near-death experience, the individual may be reluctant to return to his or her former life.

Although most near-death reports are positive, in that they are pleasurable experiences, there are some reports of negative or “hellish” type experiences. The reports of negative near-death experiences appear to be rare. Of all the reported near-death experiences, a 1982 Gallup poll estimated that less than 1% are considered to be negative, hellish, and frightening experiences. The negative near-death experiences are reported to contain similar traits as positive experiences but are associated with a sense of extreme fear, panic or anger, a sense of helplessness, and possible visions of demonic creatures (Moody, 1988, p.25, 27; Staff, 1992 p. 1-2; Horacek, 1992, p. 3).

Many individuals who have experienced a near-death experience claim a fuller understanding of their religious or spiritual insights and their impact on their lives (Moody, 1988; Peay, 1991; Ring, 1985). They report feeling closer to God after their near-death experience. Ring (1980) comments:

“The way in which post-incident religiousness reveals itself among core experiencers is primarily in terms of an inward sense of religion: They feel closer to God, are more prayerful, are less concerned with organized religion and formal ritual, and express a sense of religious tolerance and religious universalism. It isn’t clear that their belief in God per se grows stronger, although it is clear their religious feeling does. Following their incident, they are significantly more inclined then non-experiencers to be convinced there is life after death” (p.173).

The effect of this spiritual awakening on the experiencer is a more positive attitude towards life, a lack of fear of dying, and a sense of service towards others (Moody, 1977, 1980, 1988; Ring, 1980, 1985).

5. Models of Near-Death Experiences

The phenomenology of the near-death experience can be described by reporting the various stages of the experience, the characteristics or traits of the experience – which occur during various stages of the experience, by the constellations or related conscious experiences associated with near-death experiences, or by the experiential grouping of stages, traits, or constellations of the experiences. Experiencers may experience some or all of these stages, traits, consciousness, and types. The stages of near-death experiences relate to the experiencer’s sense of progression towards a destination. The traits are associated with a sense of consciousness or knowledge concerning the activities within the near-death experience. Noyes and Slymen (1978-79) and Sabom (1977) further categorize the stages and traits of near-death experiencers into constellations and group types to analyze further the phenomenology of the near-death experience. The statistical analysis of the data presented in the Ring (1980, 1985), Evergreen (Lindley, 1981), and Noyes and Slymen (1978-79) studies, and the research of Sabom (1977) demonstrate the consistency of these models of classification of near-death experiences.

Kenneth Ring (1980) has devised a model of the stages of near-death experiences recognized by near-death experiencers. The stages are:

Stages of the Near-Death Experience

  1. A sense of peace at the time of death.
  2. A sense of separation from the body.
  3. A sense of entering into darkness.
  4. Seeing a bright light.
  5. A sense of entering the light

Raymond Moody (1988), identifies nine distinguishing qualities, characteristics or traits that have been associated with near-death experiences and may be perceived within the stages of the near-death experiences identified by the Ring study. The Moody defined near-death experience traits are:

Distinguishing Qualities and Characteristics of the NDE

  1. A sense of being dead.
  2. A sense of peace and painlessness.
  3. A sense of separation from the physical body.
  4. The sense of passing through a tunnel.
  5. A sense of an encounter with recognizable ethereal entities, such as family, friends, angels or religious personages. These spirits may appear to be enveloped in light.
  6. A sense of rising rapidly into the heavens.
  7. A sense of an encounter with a Being of Light which emanates unconditional love. This being has been described as God or Allah.
  8. An experience of a panoramic, total life review and sense of self-judgment about one’s life while bathed in the unconditional love of the Being of Light.
  9. A sense of reluctance to return to the world of the living.
  10. A sense of a compression or absence of time and sensing no restrictions of space but a freedom to go where the experiencer chooses.

According to a study performed by Noyes and Slymen (1978-79), near-death experiences can be classified further into three consciousness constellations of the type of event: (1) mystical, (2) depersonalized, and (3) hyperalert. The mystical type includes a sense of harmony and unity, color or visions, and a feeling of great understanding. Depersonalization relates to the loss of emotion, detachment from the physical body, and an altered sense of the passage of time. The hyperalert constellation refers to the experiencer’s sense that his or her thoughts are sharply defined, vivid, and accelerated.

Sabom (1977) also has divided near-death experiencers into three experiential group types: (1) autoscopic, (2) transcendental, and (3) mixed experiences. The autoscopic experiencers include the individuals who have experienced the sense of leaving their bodies, having out-of-body experiences. The transcendental group include individuals who have a sense of entering into a “spiritual realm”. In the mixed experiences, the near-death experiencer may experience a mixture of autoscopic and transcendental experiences (Moody, 1988). Regardless of the methodology used to classify near-death experiences, the anecdotal nature of the near-death reports are similar and consistent between experiencers (Moody, 1977, 1988; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1980, 1985).

6. Transpersonal and Reductionist Theories Concerning Near-Death Experiences

Near-death researchers Moody (1975, 1977, 1988), Morse (1990), and Ring (1980, 1985) suggest that near-death experiences are related to a state of consciousness, separate from the physical body, which occurs at the time of death. Near-death researchers have collected hundreds of phenomenological descriptions of individual near-death experiences and have statistically correlated the occurrences of the stages and traits associated with these experience. The consistency of near-death experience reports provide support for the theories that these experiences are not a result of hallucinations or mental dysfunctions. Individuals, regardless, of age, race, religion, or national origin have reported similar experiences during a near-death episode. The chi-square method of statistical analysis has been used by near-death researchers to determine if the similarity of events reported during the near-death experience, by experiencer, are a result of chance or are to be expected elements of the near-death experience (Morse, 1990, Ring, 1980, 1985). The chi-square method is a non-parametric statistical test used to determine the statistical significance of the difference between the frequencies of reported outcomes with the expected frequencies of outcomes. In other words, did the events reported in near-death experiences happen by chance or can the events anticipated (Borg & Gall, 1989). The statistical significance of near-death research provides that the similarity in the reports of near-death experiencer do not happen as a result of chance but are consistent phenomena of the near-death experiencers (Morse, 1990; Ring, 1980, 1985, Rodabough, 1985; Sabom & Kreutziger, 1977).

Some theologians, medical practitioners, and psychologists do not believe near-death experiences are paranormal experiences. According to Moody (1988), some theological, medical, and psychological theorists attempt to explain near-death experiences as physical or mental phenomena that has more to do with brain and neurological-biological dysfunctions associated with the dying process.

Researchers such as Sagan (1979) and Siegel (1981) attempt to debunk the near-death experience by stating it is a result of a chemical reaction within the brain during the dying process. They postulate that as the eyes deteriorate following death they produce the bright light reported to be seen during the near-death experience. The tunnel effect and a sensation of being out-of-body is believed to be caused by the chemical reactions in the body during the death process (Moody, 1988, p.178). According to researcher Ronald Siegel (1981), “The descriptions given by dying persons are virtually identical to descriptions given by persons experiencing hallucinations, drug-induced or otherwise,” (p. 65). Carl Sagan (1979) states that some of the near-death experiences can be associated with “a wiring defect in the human neuroanatomy that under certain conditions always leads to the same illusion of astral projection/out-of-body experience,” (p. 47). According to Moody (1988) and Morse (1990), some researchers attempt to explain near-death experiences as the mind’s defense against the fear of dying, that the mind creates positive images of an afterlife in order to control the fear of dying.

Many near-death researchers regard three consistently repeated reports as providing credibility for the transpersonal theories that near-death experiences are the expression of an altered state of consciousness separate from the physical or mental realm of human existence having a profound impact on the experiencer’s life. These reports thus are crucial to cite in responding to the theorists who attempt to debunk the near-death experience as a transpersonal phenomenon. These three factors reported are:

Reports That Provide Credibility for the Transpersonal Theory of the NDE

  1. Consistent reports of out-of-body experiences of individuals who sense they separate from their physical body during the near-death experience and can observe their body and surroundings from a detached position.
  2. The consistent reports of near-death experiences of children are similar to those experiences reported by adults.
  3. The attitudinal and personality changes of the near-death experiencers following their experience (Moody, 1988; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1980, 1985).

The following discussion of out-of-body experiences, children’s near-death experiences, and the post-experience attitudinal and personality changes of near-death experiencers, suggest reasons why the reductionist or debunking theories are implausible.

7. Out-of-Body Experiences

During an out-of-body experience, experiencers report leaving their physical body and viewing their body and other activity from a detached, uninvolved perspective. Upon recovery from the near-death experience, many experiencers recall details of medical procedures being performed on them that they had no prior knowledge of the technique. Some experiencers report traveling to other locations, other than the place where the body may be lying “dead.” The out-of-body experiencer is then able to report things he or she may have seen during the out-of-body experience, and there is no other logical explanation for the source of this knowledge (Eadie, 1992; Moody, 1988; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1980, 1985; Ritchie, 1978; Zaleski, 1987). An example of this experience is a story told by a very near-sighted woman. During her out-of-body experience, she reports that she was first lying on an operating table with the anesthesia machine behind her head. She then became aware that she had detached from her body and was able to see, without difficulty, the equipment identification numbers on the anesthesia machine. These numbers were out of her normal visual range and behind her body’s head. She then floated up to the top of the room and noted how the top of the light fixtures were dirty. After her recovery from her near-death experience, she returned to the operating room and was able to ascertain that the numbers she had seen on the machine were correct and that the light fixtures were in need of cleaning (Ring, 1985, p. 42-43). This experience supports the belief that near-death experiences involve separation from the physical body and mind.

Studying the out-of-body phenomenon leads to doubt about the beliefs of those who attempt to debunk the theory that near-death experiences are transpersonal experiences transcending the physical and mental realm of human consciousness. The knowledge the experiencer gains during the out-of-body experience, in most cases, could not have been learned by any other method other than by a consciousness detached from the physical body (Moody, 1988; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1980, 1985). The ability of experiencers to report things and events they had no prior knowledge of provides for the plausibility that the out-of-body experience is a transpersonal event and not a psychological response to dying.

8. Children and Near-Death Experiences

Young children have reported having near-death experiences. Their reports are similar to adult near-death experiences even though they may not have had time to be enculturated with the same socio-religious beliefs regarding death as adults, or developed a fear of death through their psychological development. Children report having out-of-body experiences, passing through a tunnel, and encountering spiritual forms during their near-death experiences. Of interest are the reports of children who meet spiritual entities that are later identified as deceased relatives whom the child could not have known prior to his or her near-death experience (Moody, 1975, 1988, Morse, 1990).

The accounts of young children’s near-death experiences suggest the unlikeliness of the debunking theory that near-death experiences are the mind’s psychological defense towards dying. Children who have not had time to learn of their mortality do not usually fear dying. According to Frank (1982) and Anthony (1967) children, until between the age of five and seven, consider death to be reversible and generally do not have a fear of dying. They, therefore, do not have a need to create an afterlife experience, such as is experienced in a near-death experience, in order to overcome a fear of dying (Moody, 1988; Morse, 1990). Furthermore, following near-death experiences, children share similar after-effects of the experience as adult experiencers. They grow to have a sense of purpose and direction in their lives, and as they mature, do not develop a fear of dying (Morse, 1990).

9. Attitudinal and Personality Changes Following Near-Death Experiences

According to Wilson (1987), the real importance of the near-death experience is in the after-effects it has on the life of the experiencer. The usual psychological and spiritual after-effects of a near-death experience consist of changes in personality and values and an attitudinal change towards religion and death. There is a heightened sense of appreciation of life, especially of the world of nature and of other people. The near-death experiencer achieves a sense of understanding of what is important to him or her in life and strives to live in accordance with his or her understanding of what is meaningful. Consistently reported after-effects of near-death experiences are the lack of fear of death, an attitude of unconditional love and service towards others, and the desire to seek knowledge (Kalish, 1981, Moody, 1977, 1988; Peay, 1991; Ring, 1980).

According to Ring (1985), many near-death experiences act as a catalyst to a spiritual awakening for the experiencer:

“What is noteworthy … is the particular form this spiritual development takes in many NDErs – i.e., the real significance of the NDE here may not be simply that it promotes spiritual growth as much as the kind of spiritual growth it promotes” (p. 144).

This awakening appears to move the experiencer toward what Ring (1985) calls a “universalistically spiritual orientation” (p. 145). He defines universalistically spiritual orientation as consisting of:

Definition of Universalistic Spiritual Orientation

  1. A tendency to characterize oneself as spiritual rather than religious, per se.
  2. A feeling of being inwardly close to God.
  3. A de-emphasis of the formal aspects of religious life and worship.
  4. A conviction that there is life after death, regardless of religious belief.
  5. An openness to the doctrine of reincarnation (and a general sympathy towards eastern religions).
  6. A belief in the essential underlying unity of all religions.
  7. A desire for a universal religion embracing all humanity (p. 146).

The long-term positive effects the near-death experience has on the experiencer’s life gives evidence for supporting a plausible argument for the transpersonal nature of the near-death experience. This aspect of the near-death experience has not been addressed by reductionist theories in the literature reviewed. The profundity of the after-effects of a near-death experience on the experiencer’s life have not been able to be achieved through pharmacological or psychological methods. Most of the sensory nature of the near-death experience can be induced through drugs or hallucinations but the positive change in the individual’s personality and attitudes do not appear to be capable of replication (Moody, 1988; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1985). Ring (1980) reports these after-effects appear to remain with the individual for the remainder of his or her mortal life.

In the first part of this essay, I have reviewed some of the contemporary near-death research and some of the arguments against the plausibility of the reductionist theories and for the plausibility to transpersonal theories explaining near-death experiences. In the following part of this essay, religious beliefs concerning death, afterlife, and near-death experiences will be discussed. This discussion will provide commentary regarding the similarities between different religious beliefs and experiences concerning death, as well as between religious interpretations of near-death experiences.

10. Religious Beliefs Concerning Death, Afterlife, and Near-Death Experiences

Polls and studies support the assumption that the majority of people believe death is not the end of one’s existence but rather a transition from one life to another (Gallup & Castelli, 1989; Kellehear & Irwin, 1990; Klenow & Bolin, 1989). Different religions have provided belief structures supporting the religious and social needs of practitioners. Rituals and sacred writings support the various religious interpretations of what death is and what it will be like in the afterlife. However, even with the differences in religious beliefs, there are similarities between many different religious groups regarding afterlife beliefs. One similarity among religious groups is the belief in an afterlife following physical death. Another similarity is the presence of “the two polar images of life after death – the abode of the righteous, heaven or paradise, and the place for the wicked, or hell” (Grof & Grof, 1980, p. 13). These polar images are also recognized by many near-death experiencers.

According to Hick (1980), a belief in the immortality of the spirit has been present in most religions for centuries. The belief in a life after death is one of the oldest concepts of human history (DeSpelder & Strickland, 1983). Proving the immortality of the human soul has been the objective of many philosophers, theologians, and scientists. Freud (1961) stated:

“Our own death is indeed unimaginable, and whenever we make an attempt to imagine it we can perceive that we really survive as spectators.”

Hence the psychoanalytic school could venture on the assertion that, at bottom, no one believes in his own death. Or to put it in another way, in the unconscious everyone is convinced of his or her own immortality (p. 154). Many beliefs in life after death have concerned a non-physical transition into a serene spiritual world with encounters of other deceased people and possible religious figures. There may be a judgment or accounting of one’s life with a final disposition of the individual spirit following the period of judgment or personal assessment.

Near-death experiences and the reports of a consciousness of life after death have been provided by members of Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Jewish, Christian, and Mormon religions, among others. Agnostics and atheists also have reported near-death experiences even with their predisposed lack of belief in anything greater than personal self and this life. The following are brief commentaries regarding the beliefs concerning death, afterlife, and near-death experiences within these religious and irreligious frameworks.

11. Agnostics and Atheists

Agnostics believe it is impossible to know whether there is a God or life after death. Atheists believe there is no God and no life after death and that death is the cessation of the existence of the individual.

Agnostics and atheists have reported having near-death experiences. These experiences are similar to the reports of individuals who have professed a spiritual belief prior to their near-death experience (Moody, 1977; Rawlings, 1978; Ring, 1985). Agnostics and atheists report achieving an altered state of consciousness in which they have experienced some or all of the traits Moody attributes to a near-death experience. Most agnostics and atheists interpret their near-death experiences as a glimpse of life after death (Rawlings,1978; Ring, 1985). Prior to the near-death experience, they did not believe in life after death. As a result of the experience, most agnostic and atheist experiencers eventually move toward a more spiritually guided life with a new found belief in life after death (Rawlings, 1978; Ring, 1985, p. 151). Maurice Rawlings (1978) reported he did not know of any agnostic or atheist individual from his research who, after experiencing a near-death experience, remained convinced of there being no God, no life after death, or nothing else beyond the material existence.

12. Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhists believe that upon death, there is rebirth to another life. Death is accepted as inevitable and not feared. The believer’s actions in this life will determine his or her level of rebirth. Karma is the force created by the actions of the individual – the effects of actions. Good karma, which is achieved by compassionate actions in this life, leads to a higher existence in the next life. Nirvana is reached by achieving an understanding of the nature of reality. This must be discovered through the experiences of other dimensions of human consciousness (Klein, 1991, p. 103).

According to Buddhist cosmology, numerous, hierarchically arranged heavens exist along with eight hot and cold hells. The individual spirit exists in one of these realms, based upon the karma created in the previous life, until reborn into another life. This cycle continues until the enlightenment of nirvana is achieved (Klein, 1991).

According to Swami Adiswarananda (1991), in the Hindu religion, death comes as a break in the continued events of life and brings about a change in the form in which the spirit resides. Hindus believe the afterlife is a passage of time in a heaven or hell, dependent upon the karma built up in life. The judgment about one’s life is based upon the karma the individual created in his or her past lives. The rebirth of the spirit into the next life, through the transmigration of the soul, is determined by the developed karma and the individual’s last thoughts in the present life. An individual’s search for eternal happiness and immortality results in the rebirth of the spirit in different bodies until the spirit learns that happiness and immortality are not a result of the fulfillment of desires but are attained when all desires and needs are no longer important (Adiswarananda, 1991; Elb, 1906). According to some Hindus, the various religious faiths are “different paths to reach one and the same goal – union with God as ultimate Reality” (Johnson & McGee, 1991).

There are reports of Chinese Buddhists having near-death experiences (Kellehear, Heaven, Gao, 1990). Becker (1981) suggests that near-death experiences may have been responsible for part of the development of Pure Land Buddhism in China. A Hindu report of a near-death experience relates how the experiencer entered into heaven on the back of a cow (Ferris, 1991).

According to Mauro (1992):

“East Indians [Hindus] sometimes see heaven as a giant bureaucracy, and frequently report being sent back because of clerical errors,” whereas Japanese experiencers report seeing symbolic images, such as “long, dark rivers and beautiful flowers” (p. 57).

During the near-death experience, the Buddhist experiencers have reported seeing the personage of Buddha, and Hindu experiencers report seeing Krishna (Rawlings, 1978; Ring, 1980; Talbot, 1991). The difference in Buddhist and Hindu reports of near-death experiences is predominately associated with the afterlife setting and the personages the experiencer reports encountering.

Buddhist and Hindu near-death experiencers may report different interpretations of the specifics of their experiences; however, the experiences are consistent with other stages, traits, constellations, and group types reported by near-death experiencers in other cultures and religions. Some members of the Buddhist and Hindu religions interpret near-death experiences as providing afterlife visions similar to visions ascribed to some Eastern religious experiences associated with death and afterlife. Becker (1984) comments “that ancient Japanese Buddhist meditative and deathbed visions closely parallel modern American near-death and deathbed visions” (p. 51). The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1973) describes the Bardo, the three stages of the transitionary “disembodied state” following death. In the first stage, the departed have visions of the “Blinding Clear Light of Pure Reality.” In the second stage, the departed encounter a succession of “deities.” In the third stage the departed is judged based upon past deeds by the “Dharma Raja, King and Judge of the Dead” (Grof & Grof, 1980). These stages are similar in content to other reported near-death experiences from other religions and cultures. These similarities include a movement through levels – such as passing through a tunnel, visions of pure light, meeting incorporeal beings, powers of astral projections or out-of-body-experience, and a judgment about one’s life (Becker, 1985).

13. Islam

Death, in the Islamic faith, is the cessation of biological life and the resting of the spirit, in the grave, until the Judgment Day. Some Muslims believe “good souls” see visions of God, and the wicked see the hell awaiting them. From the time of death to the time of judgment, Muslims believe the spirit remains in a state of “dreamless sleep,” with the exception of possible visions of eternity (Galloway, 1991; Johnson & McGee, 1991).

Faith in an afterlife is based upon the belief in the oneness of God and the belief in a day of resurrection and judgment for all regardless of religious belief. At that time, the spirit will be judged based upon its deeds in life, and allowed either to enter into Paradise and be with God, be thrown into the Fire for a period of purgation, or condemned to everlasting punishment in the Fire. Most Muslims believe that non-Muslims can reach Paradise only after a period of purgation (Johnson & McGee, 1991; Smith, J. 1991).

Muslims have reported having near-death experiences (Flynn, 1986; Rawlings, 1978). Muslim near-death experiencers report seeing and meeting recognizable spirits (Flynn, 1986; Rawlings, 1978). This conforms with the Islamic tradition that the souls of the faithful, in paradise, welcome the “incoming souls” and with other reports of visions of people awaiting the newly deceased (Holck, 1980; Moody, 1975, 1977; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1985). In Muslim near-death experiences, the Being of Light is identified as Allah, whereas in other religions the light might be identified as God (Ring, 1985).

Some Muslims interpret the near-death experience as a possible glimpse into life after death due to the similarity of the experience with the religious visions of Muhammad and their expectations of life after death (Ring, 1985; Zaleski, 1987). An Islamic myth describes Muhammad’s “Night Journey” as his experience of passing through the realms of the afterlife where he encounters spirits who have died, has a vision of heaven and hell, and communes with Allah (Couliano, 1991; Grof & Grof, 1980, Zaleski, 1987).

14. Judaism

The Jewish religion generally emphasizes the current life, and not life after death. Although Judaism recognizes that the life of the spirit does not end at the point of bodily death, it is the Jew’s responsibility to focus on a meaningful life and not speculate on life after death. According to Elb (1906), the Jewish Bible states that actions taken in the present life will reward the righteous and chastise the wicked. It does not specifically address the concept of an afterlife. Even though the Jewish Bible does not directly address immortality, traditional Jews believe immortality will bring the resurrection of the body and soul, followed by the judgment of the worth of their lives by God. The Reformed Jew believes resurrection involves only the soul. Jews believe they live and die only once (Ponn, 1991).

Since there is no discussion, in the Jewish Bible, of afterlife, there is no official Jewish religious opinion regarding life after death. However, according to Ponn (1991), many Jews believe human souls will be held accountable before God for what has been accomplished in the current life. After death, many Jews believe they will be reunited with family members in heaven. Their belief in God’s caring nature disavows a sadistic punishment in hell. Entrance into heaven is accomplished by righteous living and repentance. Heaven is considered a place where anxiety and pain is ended (Galloway, 1991; Johnson & McGee, 1991).

There have been a number of reported near-death experiences by members of the Jewish faith. Barbara Harris, a practicing Jew, reports having had several near-death experiences since 1975. Harris and Bascom’s (1990) book, Full Circle: The Near-Death Experience and Beyond, is a narrative of Harris’ near-death experiences. Jewish people who had a near-death experience relate similar observations and experiences as the experiences of other religious-spiritual believers. During the near-death experience, individuals report being in the presence of the Being of Light and judging their own lives (Harris & Bascom, 1990). This experience is similar to the Jewish belief that what is important in life is the attending to the responsibilities of living a meaningful, productive life. Many near-death experiencers report being met by family members. These reports are consistent with the Jewish belief that after death they will be reunited with family members in heaven (Galloway, 1991; Johnson & McGee, 1991; Moody, 1975, 1977, 1980; Ring, 1980, 1985).

15. Christianity

Modern Christians are united in their belief that Jesus is the son of God and that there is an afterlife. Upon death, Christians believe they come before God and are judged. According to Smith (1991), “Following death, human life is fully translated into the supernatural domain” (p. 355). Fundamentalists and conservatives interpret the Holy Bible (1952) literally and believe there is a specific heaven and hell and only Christians are admitted to heaven. All others are condemned to hell. Other Christians interpret Biblical scripture more symbolically, taking into consideration the language and culture of the time when the Bible was written. Heaven and hell are viewed as a “condition,” such as happiness or peace, rather than a specific place. Regardless of whether the afterlife beliefs are interpreted conservatively or liberally, the Christian believes he or she dies only once and, after death, the spirit is judged and then exists in an afterlife for eternity (Galloway, 1991; Johnson & McGee, 1991). “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Near-death experiences appear to be familiar paranormal occurrences to Christians. Bechtel, Chen, Pierce, & Walker (1992) reported that 98% of the clergy they surveyed were familiar with near-death phenomena and that almost half of them have counseled parishioners who had a near-death experience. As with other religious interpretations of the near-death experience, Christians also report encounters with religious beings such as Jesus, Mary, or angels (Flynn, 1986, Moody, 1977, 1988; Morse, 1990, Ring, 1980, 1985). Experiencers report similar out-of-body experiences, meeting recognizable spiritual entities, movement toward a bright light, and a sense of being in the presence of an energy of “unconditional love” while the experiencer judges his or her life (Moody, 1975, Morse, 1990).

Some Christians refute the near-death experience as being a demonic deception. They believe the entire near-death experience is a trick of Satan to pull believers from the teachings of Christianity and lead them into sin (Harpur, 1992). Other Christians interpret the near-death experience as a glimpse of an after death state that may exist prior to the afterlife judgment by God. Near-death experiences and experiences similar to the altered state of the near-death experiences are recorded in the Holy Bible (1952). These experiences are not reported as being evil or sinful. The scripture writers have recorded visions of bright lights, life reviews, the presence of the unconditional love of God, and visions of heaven and hell from Biblical individuals who have been close to death (Morse, 1990; Rawlings, 1978). In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul records a “vision” he had. This vision resembles the content of a near-death experience. It involved Paul being “taken up to heaven for a visit” and “hear[ing] things so astounding that they are beyond man’s power to describe or put in words.” Near-death experiencers consistently report the difficulty of verbalizing what they experience. The effect of this experience, on Paul, was a personal confirmation and assurance of his work (Hunter, 1985; Living Bible, 1971).

According to Flynn (1986), to many experiencers:

“The near-death experience affirms the uniqueness and centrality and indispensability of Christ, but in a universalistic way that does not negate or diminish the value of other religious traditions…[It will] break through sectarian and other barriers and shine a laser beam of Light on the true essence and meaning of Christ for all people” (p. 80).

Ring (1985) supports Flynn’s comments, in his conclusions regarding the universalistically spiritual orientation of experiencers following near-death experiences. He found that following a near-death experience, the Christian experiencer “gravitated towards a religious world view that may incorporate and yet transcend the traditional Christian perspective” (p. 147).

16. Mormonism

Death in the Mormon religion is not considered to be the end of existence of the individual but the beginning of a new existence as the same person. Mormons believe they have always lived and will always live as the same individual, “never as someone else or in another life-form” (Eyre, 1991, p. 139). Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints are saddened by the death of a loved one but are comforted in the belief that upon death the spirit is united with God in a spirit world, continuing to progress in knowledge, and await the coming of other family members, the resurrection of the physical body, and the final judgment. A belief in an afterlife is an essential part of the faith of the members of the Church of the Latter-day Saints.

In Mormonism, only “sons of perdition” – former believers who betray the church – are destined for eternal punishment. All others are assured at least an entry into a lesser Paradise, called the “telestial kingdom,” where one spends eternity apart from God. The most faithful attain the “celestial kingdom,” where they commune directly with God and eventually may themselves become gods and populate new universes with their own spiritual offspring. The Mormon Church is the only church that has a “safety net.” Any spirit that has not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in life will, before Judgment Day, will be given a chance in Paradise to hear it, and if the spirit accepts the teachings, it will receive equal blessings from God (Staff, 1992, p. 74).

The judgment reported by Mormon near-death experiencers is essentially a self-judgment. This self-judgment is similar to the reported life reviews and self-judgment reported in near-death experiences. Experiencers report seeing a panoramic review of their entire life and then judge their own actions while awash in the “unconditional love” of the Being of Light. After the judgment, the spirit dwells with others most like it (Eyre, 1991). As with many other religious groups, Mormon near-death experiencers consistently report meeting with deceased family members, and being in the presence of a being of light which they call God. However, some Mormon near-death experiencers report two events that appears to be uncommon with non-Mormon experiencers. They report they are requested to do something in the world, when they return to life, by the personage(s) they encounter during their experience. They also report receiving religious and other types of instructions from the “other world” beings (Lundahl, 1982).

According to Lundahl (1982), members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints report a high number of near-death experiences per capita of their religion. The high number of reported near-death experiences is probably due to the social values of the Latter-day Saints which encourages individuals to share their near-death experiences much more openly than most other social groups (p.166). Mormons interpret near-death experiences to be part of their religious beliefs and a glimpse of life after death.

17. Conclusion

In this essay I have discussed the contemporary work on near-death experiences and some of the arguments against the plausibility of reductionist theories and for the plausibility of transpersonal theories of near-death experiences. I have also provided an overview of the human consciousness of life after death, religious beliefs concerning death and afterlife, and interpretations of near-death experiences by different religious groups. I believe the consistency between numerous reports of near-death experiences, regardless of religious beliefs, and the similarity of the near-death experiences to reported religious experiences, provide plausible arguments for the transpersonal theories of this experience.

Throughout history Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Mormons have all reported having near-death experiences. These experiences are similar to some of the visions or journeys into the afterlife described in some of the sacred texts of their religions. The descriptions of the near-death experiences by members of these religious groups are believed, by many, to be a glimpse into life after death, and appear to be consistent with each religious group’s interpretation of the afterlife. However, there are some religious leaders who do not believe the experiencer has been indisputably dead and returned to life when he or she reports having a near-death experience. These leaders interpret these experiences as being pre-death visions of a transitory state prior to the individual’s final death and judgment.

Due to the subjective nature of near-death experiences there can be no conclusive proof that these experiences provide visions of life after death: however, the reports of out-of-body experiences, the near-death experiences of children, and the notable changes in the near-death experiencer’s life following his or her experience support the possibility of the validity of this theory (Moody, 1988; Morse, 1990; Ring, 1985). Because of the transpersonal nature of near-death experiences, it is sometimes reported that it is difficult to describe the experience in words. Near-death experiencers report there are no appropriate words to accurately describe their near-death experiences. They therefore interpret the experience using words, phrases, and metaphors reflecting their religious-cultural backgrounds and experiences.

The near-death experiences of individuals of various beliefs are consistent with many religious beliefs concerning life after death and do not compromise the foundations of their religious traditions. The descriptions of the mystical, depersonalization, and hyperalert constellations of near-death experiences and the autoscopic and transcendental grouping of these experiences appear to closely relate to the levels of heightened sense of consciousness associated with some religious rituals. However, the shift from an organized religious practice to a universalistically spiritual orientation may have an effect on the religious practices of some experiencers. Many choose to practice their new sense of universal spirituality within their earlier religions; however, many near-death experiencers move toward a religion more congruent with their new found knowledge, or choose to practice their spirituality through irreligious rituals and practices.

According to Ring (1985) many near-death experiencers attempt to incorporate their new sense of spirituality into their lives. This removes some of the limits of religious parochialism. To many experiencers it becomes less important to be a member of a specific religious group than to practice a more spiritual life not based upon specific religious doctrine. However, some experiencers chose to remain or become active in an organized religion in order to practice their new spirituality. It is therefore important for there to be an openness by religious groups towards individuals who report near-death experiences and not condemnation of the phenomenon as religious heresy.

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Categories
Religion

Near-Death Experiences and Islam

Table of Contents

  1. Mebruke’s Near-Death Experience
  2. The Sufi Way of the Heart
  3. The Prophet Muhammad’s Journey to Heaven
  4. Muslim Afterlife Beliefs

1. Mebruke’s Near-Death Experience

Melvin Morse reported the following Muslim near-death experience in his book, Parting Visions:

Mebruke is a thirty-year-old Saudi Arabian living in New York City. At the age of twenty she was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy when she became tired. As she headed for shore, she realized that she was too far out to make it back. She began to struggle and swallow water. Finally she slipped beneath the waves.

“I went under for the fourth time, and my body went limp and I wasn’t aware of it anymore. It was at this point that I saw a beautiful white light. It was so bright and yet it had such a calming effect that the more I looked at it, the calmer I felt. To this day I can’t really say what that light was. In my religion (Muslim) there are beings called angels who are made out of pure white light. Maybe that is what I saw.

“Anyway, while I was underwater, I heard a voice say, ‘You are not to die like this.’ Suddenly I felt this energy shoot through me from my feet to my head, and at the same time I seemed to be propelled out of the water. It was as if someone was physically bringing me out of the water, but I can swear that there was no physical being there.

“I was moved through the water, I don’t know how else to describe it. Before long a boat came, and a man reached over the side and pulled me out. When he did that, I started to laugh because I was so glad to be out of the water.”

2. The Sufi Way of the Heart

In the eighth century, a mystical sect of Islam began which merged the mystical traditions of the Greeks, Buddhists and Hindus with traditional Islamic faith. Concepts found in Sufism can be found in a great many near-death experiences which have been reported. The Sufi masters teach that, after death, a person judges himself thereby bringing about their own heaven or hell. Sufism is known as “the Way of the Heart” and the “Way of the Pure.” It is a means by which one can move from the lower level of self to ascend to the Divine Light that penetrates the entire universe. This light concept is common to many other religions as well as the near-death experience. According to Sufi tradition, there are many ways to ascend, but the essence of the path to God is to find yourself. As the Sufi saying states, “Know yourself, know your Lord.”

Perhaps the most influential Sufi in history is Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), more simply known as “Rumi”, who was a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and his poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has been described as the “most popular poet” and the “best selling poet” in the United States. The general theme of Rumi’s thought, like that of other mystic and Sufi poets of Persian literature, is that of tawhid — union with the Beloved, from whom he sees himself as being cut off and aloof. His longing and desire to attain it is evident in the following poem from his book the Masnavi:

I died to the mineral state and became a plant,
I died to the vegetable state and reached animality,
I died to the animal state and became a man,
Then what should I fear? I have never become less from dying.
At the next charge (forward) I will die to human nature,
So that I may lift up (my) head and wings (and soar) among the angels,
And I must (also) jump from the river of (the state of) the angel,
Everything perishes except His Face,
Once again I will become sacrificed from (the state of) the angel,
I will become that which cannot come into the imagination,
Then I will become non-existent; non-existence says to me (in tones) like an organ,
Truly, to Him is our return.
— Rumi

Rumi believed passionately in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God. For Rumi, music helped devotees to focus their whole being on the divine and to do this so intensely that the soul was both destroyed and resurrected. It was from these ideas that the practice of whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form. His teachings became the base for the order of the Mevlevi, which his son Sultan Walad organised. Rumi encouraged sama, listening to music and turning or doing the sacred dance. In the Mevlevi tradition, sama represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. In this journey, the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth and arrives at the Perfect. The seeker then returns from this spiritual journey, with greater maturity, to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination with regard to beliefs, races, classes and nations.

3. The Prophet Muhammad’s Journey to Heaven

According to the Islamic legend called “Miraj,” the Prophet Muhammad had an experience that is similar in many respects to a near-death experience. Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven to visit the seven heavens (and, in some accounts, the fires of hell) in the company of the archangel Gabriel. In the Quran, Muhammad’s enemies are quoted as saying that they would not believe him unless he ascends to heaven and brings down a book (Sura 17:92-95).

In Islamic legend, Muhammad is reported to have gone on a mysterious night journey into heaven. Islamic sources state this happened “in the spirit,” his body remaining behind. In this legend, Muhammad is prepared for his meeting with God by the archangels Jibril and Mikail one evening while he is asleep in the Ka’bah, the sacred shrine of Mecca. They open up his body and purify his heart by removing all traces of error, doubt, idolatry, and paganism and by filling it with wisdom and belief. An animal by the name of Buraq, apparently horse-like and white, and with a human face, was provided for a ride from the mosque in Mecca to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, from where he ascended, supposedly on a ladder of light to the seven heavens. In the first heaven Muhammad meets Adam; in the second, John the Baptist and Jesus; in the third, Joseph; in the fourth, Enoch; in the fifth, Aaron; in the sixth, Moses; and in the seventh, Abraham (who welcomed him as “Good son and good prophet”). Fifty prayers were ordained by Allah to be said by all believers daily. On the journey back, Moses, in the sixth heaven, encouraged Muhammad to go back to the seventh heaven and request a smaller quota, since this large number would be rather impractical to execute. Ten daily prayers were deducted. Again Moses encouraged Muhammad to go back and ask for still fewer prayers, which was repeated three times, until five daily were set for observance. This Muhammad did not dare query.

The legend also provides teachings on what to expect at the time of death. According to legend, Muhammad states that the ladder on which he ascended to heaven was “that to which the dying man looks when death approaches.” A similar concept is described in medieval literature where, at death, the soul is escorted by angels through seven heavens to the throne of God where it receives a preliminary reckoning and is then returned to the grave to await Judgment day.

The following is the full account Muhammad’s Journey to Heaven from the “Sīrat Rasul Allah” verses. 270-271.

“After the Prophet took this night journey from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa, he ascended to the upper heavens. When the Prophet and Jibril arrived at the first heaven, Jibril requested the gate to be opened. The angel assigned to that gate asked Jibril, ‘Who is with you?’ Jibril answered, ‘It is Muhammad.’ The angel asked Jibril, ‘Was he dispatched? Is it time for him to ascend to the heaven?’ Jibril said, ‘Yes.’ So, the gate was opened for him, and Prophet Muhammad entered the first heaven.

“There, Prophet Muhammad saw Prophet Adam. To Adam’s right, the Prophet saw some bodies, and to Adam’s left, other bodies. If Adam would look to his right he would laugh, and if he would look to his left he would cry. Adam was seeing the souls of his descendants. Those on his right were his descendants who would die as believers and those on his left were his descendants who would die as non-believers.

“Then the Prophet ascended to the second heaven. In this second heaven was where Prophet Muhammad saw Prophets Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus and John the Baptist are cousins; their mothers were sisters. They welcomed the Prophet and made supplication for him for good things. The Prophet ascended to the third heaven, where he found Prophet Joseph. Prophet Joseph was extremely handsome. Allah bestowed half the beauty on Joseph. Joseph received the Prophet with a warm welcome and made supplication for him for good things.

“Then the Prophet ascended to the fourth heaven, where he found Prophet Enoch. Enoch welcomed the Prophet and made supplication for him for good things. In the fifth heaven, the Prophet encountered Aaron, the brother of Prophet Moses. In the sixth heaven, he encountered Prophet Moses. Each of these Prophets received Prophet Muhammad with a warm welcome and made supplication for him for good things.

“Then the Prophet ascended to the seventh heaven, and that is where our Messenger saw Prophet Abraham. The Prophet saw Prophet Abraham with his back against al-Bayt al-Ma^mur. To the inhabitants of the skies, al-Bayt al-Ma^mur is like the Ka^bah is to us, the inhabitants of the Earth. Every day 70,000 angels go there; then exit from it, and never return. The next day another 70,000 angels go, come out, and never return. This will continue until the Day of Judgment. In this, there is an indication as to the greatness of the numbers of the angels – their numbers are far more than the numbers of the humans and the devils together.

“In the seventh heaven, Prophet Muhammad saw Sidrat al-Muntaha – a very big tree of sidr. Each of the fruits of this tree is as large as a big jar. The leaves of this tree are similar to the ears of the elephants. Sidrat al-Muntaha is an extremely beautiful tree. It is visited by butterflies made of gold. When these butterflies gather on this tree, its beauty is beyond description.

“Then the Prophet ascended to what is beyond the seven skies; he entered Paradise. He saw examples of the inhabitants of Paradise and how their situation would be. He saw most of the inhabitants of Paradise are the poor people.

“The Prophet saw other things on the night of his ascension. He saw Malik, the angel in charge of the Hellfire. Malik did not smile at the Prophet when he saw him, and the Prophet asked why. In answer to the Prophet’s question, Jibril said, ‘Malik did not smile since the day Allah created him. Had he smiled for anyone, he would have smiled for you.’

“In Paradise, the Prophet saw some of the bounties Allah prepared for the inhabitants of Paradise. He saw the Hur ul-^In: females Allah created who are not humans or devils. They are in Paradise and will be married to those men Allah willed them to marry.

“The Prophet saw the wildan ul-mukhalladun: creations of Allah who are not human, devils, or angels. They are a very beautiful creation of Allah whose appearance is like laid-out pearls. They are servants of the inhabitants of Paradise. The least in status of the People of Paradise will have 10,000 wildan ul-mukhalladun to serve him. Each one of them would carry a tray of gold in one hand and a tray of silver in the other hand.

“The Prophet saw the Throne, which is the ceiling of Paradise. The Throne is the largest creation of Allah in size; Allah did not create anything bigger in size than it. The seven heavens and the Earth in comparison to the Kursiyy are like a ring thrown in a desert, and the Kursiyy in comparison to the Throne is like a ring thrown in a desert. The seven heavens and the Earth in comparison to the Throne are like a seed of mustard compared to the ocean. Allah created the Throne as a sign of his Power and he did not create the Throne to sit on it.

“Allah created the Throne to show his Power. It is carried by four angels, and on the Day of Judgment, it will be carried by eight. The Prophet said he was permitted to speak about one of these angels who carry the Throne. In describing this angel, the Prophet told us the distance between his ear lobe and shoulder is the distance a fast-flying bird would cover in 700 years.

“Then the Prophet ascended beyond Paradise. He reached a place where he heard the creaking of the pens used by the angels who are copying from the Preserved Tablet. It is at that location Prophet was given the obligation of the five Obligatory Prayers.

“At first, Allah obligated fifty prayers. When Prophet Muhammad encountered Moses, Moses told him to make supplication to his Lord to ease the obligation of fifty prayers, because his nation could not handle that. Moses said, ‘I have experience with the people of Israel, and I know your nation cannot bear that.’ So the Prophet asked his Lord to lessen these prayers for his people. Five prayers were eliminated. Once again, Moses told the Prophet to ask Allah to lessen the number of prayers. Allah did. Nine times the Prophet made supplication to Allah to lessen these prayers – until these prayers were lessened to five Obligatory Prayers. So Prophet Moses was a great benefit to us. Had we been obligated to pray fifty prayers a day, this would have been a difficult matter for us.

“Also, Allah told the Prophet a good deed would be written for the person who intends to do a good deed, even if he did not do it. Also, the good deed performed would be registered for he who performs it as at least ten good deeds – up to 700 good deeds. For some people, Allah would multiply the reward of their deeds more than that. Additionally, if one performs a bad deed, it is registered for him as one bad deed; yet for the one who inclines towards committing a bad deed and then refrains from committing it, a good deed would be registered for him. Here, one should note the difference between two matters. If a thought crossed a person’s mind about doing something sinful, and this person wavered in this thinking, i.e., considered whether he should do it or not, then he refrained from doing this for the sake of Allah, this is written as a good deed. However, if a person has the firm intention in his heart that he wants to commit a sin, it would be written for him as a sin, even if he does not do it.

“Although Muhammad’s ascension, considered strictly, was a unique privilege, it became common for religious writers to speak of devotional practices (from ordinary ritual prayer to the ecstatic invocations and dances of the Sufi brotherhoods) as ways to accompany the Prophet on his journey to heaven. The Miraj was a favorite theme of Sufi poetry and art. Jalaluddin Rumi, the thirteenth-century Sufi poet, declares that the aim of spiritual life is to “die before you die” and, like Muhammad, to ascend to that intimacy with God which he has withheld from angels and yet granted to his servants and lovers.

4. Muslim Afterlife Beliefs

The notions of resurrection, heaven, and hell have been part of Islam since the time of Mohammed. Both the Quran (Islamic scriptures) and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) refer to the afterlife.

The human being, created in God’s image, is composed of a body, the outer shell of which originated in clay, and spiritual breath, which can communicate with God and which is located at the center of the body. This is the microcosmic reflection of the Islamic macrocosm, which is viewed as a globe of infinite realms whose center is full of light, the purest of God’s creations. Its outer shell is made of clay, which represents darkness. The human soul resides within the human being somewhere between these two opposite principles – light and darkness – and is a mixture of the two, unique to each individual, while the spirit that resides at the center (being of godlike nature) is the same for everybody.

When human beings die, they remain in a sort of interworld (Barzakh), a realm located closer to the luminous cosmic center, until the day of resurrection. In this interworld, which somewhat resembles dreaming, the soul of the deceased, liberated from its bodily layers, can awaken and become aware of its true nature. The interworld period is important in preparing for the day of resurrection, which occurs at the end of time, that is, when human possibilities and potential have been exhausted. The day of resurrection (qiyama, the return, or ba’th, awakening), which constitutes one of the essential beliefs of the Islamic faith, is believed by some to last thousands of years. On this day, the souls, rejoined with their bodies, will be assigned eternal life either in paradise (literally, “garden”) or in hell (fire), depending on their merits.

Although the figure of the Madhi is more central to Shiite Islam, it is a popular belief among many Sunni Muslims that a righteous leader (a Madhi, or “rightly guided one”) will reign for a brief period in the last days. He will be followed by an impostor messiah (a parallel to the Christian notion of the Antichrist) who will attempt to lead the world astray. Finally, however, the prophet Jesus will appear to usher in the final judgment. On Judgment Day, the Earth will quake and mountains will become a heap of sand. As in the Judgment Day scenarios of other Middle Eastern religions, the dead are resurrected and the dead are judged.

Paradise (al-Jannah) is located at the macrocosmic center of light and is composed of eight levels (or, according to some authorities, as many as the number of souls inhabiting paradise). It is thought to be a garden where all kinds of delights are prepared for the saved. On the far outer part of the macrocosm lies hell (an-nar), arranged in seven layers, where the soul’s punishment consists of being far from God, which is considered to be the worst chastisement.

More so than Judeo-Christian scriptures, the Quran contains vivid descriptions of both paradise and hell. For instance, in the chapter entitled “The Terror,” the Quran says: “They are brought nigh the Throne, in the Gardens of Delight upon close-wrought couches reclining upon them, set face to face, immortal youths going round about them, with goblets, and ewers, and a cup from a spring and such fruits as they shall choose, and such flesh of fowl as they desire, and wide-eyed houris as the likeness of hidden pearls, a recompense for that they labored.”

Equally vivid descriptions of hell can be found throughout the Quran, as in the chapter “The Pilgrimage”: “Garments of fire shall be cut, and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatsoever is in their bellies and their skins shall be melted; for them await hooked iron rods; as often as they desire in their anguish to come forth from it, they shall be restored into it, and taste the chastisement of the burning.”

Islamic theologians, particularly those of the Asharite school, believed that if a believer entered hell, God could forgive his sins or nonconformities and remove him, either immediately or after a certain period during which imperfections had been “burned away.” The basis for this doctrine is the Hadith: “He shall make men come out of hell after they have been burned and reduced to cinders.” In addition to this purgatory of suffering, there is another Muslim limbo – al-A’raf (the “heights” or “ramparts”), described in a chapter of the Quran by that name – in which those souls reside that do not merit damnation yet are unable to enter paradise.

Beyond certain commonalties, the views of Shiites and Sunnis (the two principal Muslim “denominations”) on the destiny of the body and the soul differ greatly. Shiites hold that the human being is a spirit, the “ruh” (spiritual breath, which is immortal by nature), which uses the body as instrument. Upon death, the spirit, liberated from the body, can rediscover its true nature. The souls of those who believed in God live until the day of resurrection, enjoying the vision of God. On the day of resurrection, the bodies of the righteous will join their soul and will enter paradise forever, whereas the unbelievers’ souls will suffer until the last day and, once rejoined with their bodies, will suffer eternal punishment.

Sunnis, in contrast, consider the human being a material compound of body and soul. Upon death, both body and spirit die and spend a certain period in the grave where they undergo a personal judgment by two angels and a divine judge. This personal judgment is followed by a second death, which is abrogated, however, for those who died in the name of God. Souls are then believed to vanish, and to appear again on Judgment Day when they rejoin their original bodies.

Categories
Research Conclusions Science

Religion and the Near-Death Experience

Heaven is not about religious beliefs, but about spiritual actions. It is not true, as some people believe, that we get to heaven by giving verbal assent to belief in God. It is love, not religious doctrines, that creates spiritual growth. Religions are cultural institutions but love is universal. Those religions which claim superiority over other religions or exclude people for various reasons, go against God’s law to love others as we love ourselves. Although religion, in itself, is not important to God, all religions are necessary because there are people who need what they teach. For this reason, all religions are precious in the sight of God. All religions refer to the same God. All religions are different ways of trying to describe the same God. After death, if you insist upon searching for an old man on a throne as God, you will do this for awhile until you get the idea that you are following an illusion. These insights into religion, and more, come from people who have experienced heaven through near-death experiences (NDEs) which you will discover in the article below.

Table of Contents

  1. Religion is not as important as many people believe
  2. Emanuel Swedenborg’s discourse on religion
  3. Love is the true “religion”
  4. Religions have an important purpose
  5. NDEs are the source of many religious concepts
  6. Some religious beliefs can be harmful
    a. Harmful belief — soul sleep
    b. Harmful belief — strict religious fundamentalism
    c. Harmful belief — religious bigotry
    d. Harmful belief — extremely faulty religious doctrines
    e. Harmful belief — atheism (under certain conditions)
  7. Religious aftereffects resulting from NDEs
  8. Miscellaneous NDE and religion insights
  9. Spiritual concepts of religion
  10. The Bible in light of NDEs

1. Religion is not as important as many people believe

An example of the spiritual change that often takes place in near-death experiencers can be found Tom Harpur’s excellent documentary entitled Life After Death (YouTube video). In it, he profiles a minister 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.

“Doctrine and creed and race mean nothing. No matter what we believe we were all children joined under one God. The only rule is God’s true law: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (May Eulitt)

“God does not care which religion is best. God does not care what religion people practice. They are all a blooming facet of the whole. All religions refer to the same God.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“One man who had a near-death experience realized that the “God” of his religious background wasn’t anything like the reality. He learned that it doesn’t matter if people call him God, Allah, Great Spirit or whatever, he is one and the same.” (Dr. Liz Dale)

“Everyone, religious or not, believing in God or not, transitions to the spirit world as part of the natural process of life. Just as one does not need to be religious to live in the physical world, one does not need to profess a particular faith to live in the spirit world.” (Nora Spurgin)

“Heaven is about deeds, not creeds. Therefore, persons of many cultures and religions form the societies of heaven.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

“Religious beliefs have little to do with what we experience in the transition from one realm to another, except that we are allowed to see briefly the teacher or guru that we followed. Regardless of cultural or religious beliefs, we have the same basic experience at death.” (Betty Bethards)

“God is not dependent on our belief, for our belief or disbelief in God does not affect God – only us.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“God cares little about our religious affiliation or church membership. Love is not limited to any one religion or even religion at all. Religions are cultural institutions but love is universal.” (Kevin Williams)

Kenneth was born and raised a Southern Baptist. As a child, he first made his commitment to Christ and was baptized with water. He was a member of the church all his life. He was saved, on the path toward heaven, a believer, a follower of Jesus, and he knew this assured him a place in heaven. Nevertheless, he had an NDE and it sent him straight to hell. (Rev. Kenneth Hagin)

“God is not a member of any church or religion. It is the churches and the religions that are members within the vastness and the glory that is God. There is no one religion just as there is no chosen people or person, nor any single way of regarding what cannot be fully comprehended. We are all sons of God in the sense that we are all souls of God’s creation, without gender, without form, without nationality, complete and whole and perfect as we explore the never-endingness of God’s wonderment.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Having faith IN Christ doesn’t matter as much as having the faith OF Christ. It is foolish to think that Jesus will carry your cross for you because he taught people that they must take up their own cross. Having the faith of Christ means to practice unconditional love.” (Kevin Williams)

“There is a lot of solid evidence in the Bible itself that the Bible has serious and devastating errors in it.” (Kevin Williams)

2. Emanuel Swedenborg’s discourse on religion

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a renowned Swedish scientist and Christian mystic whose spiritual visions led to experiences which have remarkable similarities to the NDE. So remarkable are these similarities, that in Dr. Raymond Moody‘s ground-breaking book on NDEs, Life After Life, he devotes an entire section of his book to describe these similarities. Dr. Moody describes how Swedenborg described death as a pulling away from the physical body, followed by encounters with departed ones and a life review drawn from the person’s memory. Most notably, is his description of encountering a supreme Being of Light which Swedenborg described as “the Sun of heaven in which the Lord resided.” The following are just a few of Swedenborg’s insights about religion and the true path to attaining heaven according to Swedenborg’s most famous work Heaven and Hell which was translated into the book entitled Awaken From Death:

“Some people believe that it is hard to lead a heaven-bound life (which is called a spiritual life) because they have heard that a person needs to renounce the world, give up the appetites that are associated with the body and the flesh, and live like spiritual beings. They take this to mean nothing other than rejecting what is worldly – especially wealth and prestige – and walking around in constant devout meditation on God, salvation, and eternal life, passing their lives in prayer and in reading the Word and devotional literature. They think that this is renouncing the world and living by the spirit instead of by the flesh.

“But an abundance of experience and discussion with angels has enabled me to know that the situation is completely different from this. In fact, people who renounce the world and live by the spirit in this fashion build up a mournful life for themselves, one that is not receptive of heavenly joy; for everyone’s life on earth stays with them when they enter the spiritual realm. On the contrary, if people are to accept a life in heaven, they must by all means live in the world and become involved in its functions and dealings. Then through a moral and civic life they will receive a spiritual life. This is the only way a spiritual life can be formed in people and their spirit be prepared for heaven.

“Living an inward life and not an outward life at the same time is like living in a house with no foundation, which gradually settles, or develops cracks and gaps, or totters until it collapses.

“If we examine a person’s life with rational acuity, we discover that it is threefold: there is a spiritual life, a moral life, and a civic life; and we find these lives distinct from each other. There are people who live a civic life but not a moral or a spiritual one. Then there are people who live both a civic life and a moral life and a spiritual as well. These are the ones who are leading heaven’s life – the others are leading the world’s life separated from heaven’s life.

“A heaven-bound life is not a life withdrawn from the world but a life involved in the world. A life of piety without a life of love (which occurs only in this world) does not lead to heaven. Rather, it is a life of love, a life of behaving honestly and fairly in every task, every transaction, every work, and from a more inward source that leads to a heavenly one. This source is present in that life when a person behaves honestly and fairly because it is in keeping with divine laws. This life is not hard.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

3. Love is the true “religion”

Sandra Rogers wrote: “I asked the light, which I call Christ, how people from other religions get to heaven. I was shown that the group, or organization, we profess alliance to is inconsequential. What is important is how we show our love for God by the way we treat each other. This is because when we pass to the spiritual realm we will all be met by him, which substantiates the passage, ‘No one comes to the Father, but by me.’ The light showed me that what is important is that we love God and each other, and that it isn’t what a person says, but the love in their being that is examined in the afterlife.” (Sandra Rogers)

“What is truly important is love, not religion.” (Beth Hammond)

“The best religion is the religion that brings you closest to God.” (Howard Storm)

“There are only two true religions – the religion of love and the religion of fear.” (Sandra Rogers)

“Your religion is where your love is.” (Henry David Thoreau)

“How are we saved? By unselfish love. When we love unselfishly, our vibrations are so high that the only place we’ll fit into is heaven. There is no other place we can go if we want to. This is divine justice because it gives all the people who ever lived, as well as all the higher animals who know right from wrong, an equal chance to eventually attain internal harmony which will fit them into some kind of heaven – regardless of their intelligence, education, indoctrination, ignorance, wealth or poverty.” (Arthur Yensen)

“The central message that Buddhist near-death experiencers bring back from their journey is that the most important qualities in life are love and knowledge, compassion and wisdom.” (Lingza Chokyi)

“People who truly practice the religion of love will find themselves in a universal sphere where everyone understands that true religion is to love others as ourselves.” (Nora Spurgin)

“There is light that can be found in many, many other faiths. All faiths which stress love have this focus. All have their own paradise, but the devoted eventually learn the tremendous experience that all is one under God and that there is no division in purpose. There is one God of us all.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“Near-death accounts suggest that unconditional love is the highest form of religion there is.” (Kevin Williams)

“Jesus didn’t come to preach a new religion. Jesus was a Jew who preached unconditional love.” (Kevin Williams)

4. Religions have an important purpose

Betty Eadie wrote: “I wanted to know why there were so many churches in the world. Why didn’t God give us only one church, one pure religion? The answer came to me with the purest of understanding. Each of us, I was told, is at a different level of spiritual development and understanding. Each person is therefore prepared for a different level of spiritual knowledge. Each church fulfills spiritual needs that perhaps others cannot fill. No one church can fulfill everybody’s needs at every level.” (Betty Eadie)

“The different religions just have different ways of explaining the same Creator.” (Dr. Liz Dale)

“God created differences in religion because of the different lessons we all need to learn.” (Sandra Rogers)

“All religions are necessary because there are people who need what they teach.” (Betty Eadie)

“Religions have a place and any one person in that religion is on the path of learning what is important for that soul.” (Darlene Holman)

“The most important thing is to really live what our religion teaches. Even if we have the greatest religion of all, it won’t do us any good if we don’t put it into practice in our lives. Whatever we practice becomes a part of us.” (Daniel Rosenblit)

“Religion is used as a stepping stone to further knowledge. As an individual raises his level of understanding about God and his own eternal progress, he might feel discontented with the teachings of his present church and seek a different philosophy or religion to fill that void. When this occurs he has reached another level of understanding and will long for further truth and knowledge, and for another opportunity to grow. And at every step of the way, these new opportunities to learn will be given.” (Betty Eadie)

“One does not have to be religious to dwell in the spirit world, but one inevitably will benefit from a thorough understanding and practice of a particular tradition.” (Nora Spurgin)

“We have no right to criticize any church or religion in any way. They are all precious in God’s sight. Very special people with important missions have been placed in all religions that they might touch others.” (Betty Eadie)

“It is possible for the uneducated and unbelieving spirit to be a virtual prisoner of this earth. Such spirits may not recognize the energy and light which draws one toward God. Lacking the faith and power to reach for the light, unenlightened spirits may actually stay on earth until they learn of the higher power which surrounds, and is available to them.” (Betty Eadie)

5. NDEs are the source of many religious concepts

a. NDE archetypal images: NDE archetypal images have been consistent throughout history. Jenny Yates describes how the phenomenology of the archetypal Being of Light in world myths and religions shows the archetypal parallels with the Light in the NDE that are consistent across time and cultures. Yates shows how the phenomenon of the Being of light of the NDE has parallels to:

  1. The light of God’s presence reflected in the shining face of Moses on the mountain.
  2. The light of the Shekinah in mystical Judaism.
  3. The transfiguration of Christ.
  4. The light of Sophia (Wisdom) in Christian Gnosticism.
  5. The union of the individual and the universal soul called AtmanBrahman in Hinduism.
  6. The clear light of enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism.

b. NDEs correlate with Judaism: Jewish scholars have discovered contemporary NDEs in Israel and found parallels in the Talmud, Zoharic traditions, and later Rabbinic literature and folklore. The theme of judgment before a heavenly court is particularly prominent in the Jewish NDE tradition (Jonathan Neumann).

c. NDEs correlate with Buddhism: Carl Becker reports that Japanese Pure Land Buddhism is grounded upon the reality and accessibility of NDEs for all (1984 b.c). Becker also explores the strong parallels with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Tibetan Buddhist leader Sogyal Rinpoche explores the parallels between NDEs and the classic Tibetan Book of the Dead in his article in this book.

d. NDEs correlate with Hinduism: The Hindu subtle body that leaves the body at death, Arvind Sharma shows, is analogous to the spiritual body described in Hindu NDEs. The flash of light experienced by the youthful guru Yogananda is an archetypal parallel to the NDE light. (Yogananda, 167).

e. NDEs correlate with Christianity: The New Testament describes Paul’s NDE because Paul is defending his authority as an apostle on it. John describes an NDE in the Book of Revelation. Some Christians consider NDEs to be very much like Biblical resurrections (Wilkerson). The Mormon faith is very open to NDEs because it already has a well-developed picture of the next world. Mormons who have reported NDEs are well-received in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Craig Lundahl, Arvin Gibson).

f. NDEs correlate with mysticism: NDEs have also been compared to mystical shamanic journeys (Kenneth Ring) and to Kundalini yoga’s mystical states (Dippong; Ring, 1984). Christian mystics such as Edgar Cayce and Emanuel Swedenborg describe having visionary experiences identical to NDEs. John Pennachio defines an NDE as a mystical state, since NDEs show congruence with Walter Pahnke‘s nine categories of a mystical experience:

  1. Intuitive unity (a sense of cosmic oneness)
  2. Transcendence of space and time
  3. A deeply felt positive mood
  4. A sense of sacredness
  5. A feeling of insight or illumination
  6. Paradoxicality
  7. Ineffability
  8. Transiency yet persisting positive changes in attitude and behavior (the experience passes)
  9. Persisting positive changes in attitudes and behavior
  10. David Lorimer interprets NDEs and the psychic experiences of NDE survivors as their participation in the immanent, divine presence described in the mystical literature of the Perennial Philosophy, from Plato’s Being to Emerson’s Oversoul. Judith Cressy shows a number of specific parallels between NDEs and mystics in the classical tradition, such as St. Teresa and John of the Cross. In her essay in this book, she encourages NDE survivors to seek supportive spiritual communities that can support their journey of integrating the Light into daily life.

6. Some religious beliefs can be harmful

a. Harmful belief — soul sleep

Throughout history, many Christians have believed in the idea of soul sleep. This is the repulsive doctrine that people sleep in their graves until the second coming of Christ at which time their corpses come alive and crawl out of their graves like the movie Night of the Living Dead. Near-death experiences show that this doctrine is not only false, but is a very harmful doctrine to believe in. The following are NDE insights that show the dangers of believing in this doctrine:

According to Dr. George Ritchie: “One of the places we observed seemed to be a receiving station. Beings would arrive here oftentimes in a deep hypnotic sleep. I call it hypnotic because I realized they had put themselves in this state by their beliefs. Here were what I would call angels working with them trying to arouse them and help them realize God is truly a God of the living and that they did not have to lie around sleeping until Gabriel or someone came along blowing on a horn.” (Dr. George Ritchie)

“Things change little in the hereafter. Suppose we have the fixed idea that we’ll sleep till the resurrection of the body. Then suppose there isn’t a resurrection of the body. We might sleep a very long time.” (Arthur Yensen)

“Those that died believing they would sleep until awakened by Gabriel, reported a black darkness, a feeling of being trapped and alone, stranded. What I’ve finally come to realize is we truly and most literally create our own realities. When we die, the reality we created is where we will live and what we will become.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

Betty Bethards has this to say about not believing in life after death:

“You will probably be kept in a sleep state for the first two to three day period. You will wake up in a beautiful meadow or some other calm and peaceful place where you can reconcile the transition from the death state to the continuous life. You are given teachings in the hope that you do not refuse to believe that you are dead.” (Betty Bethards)

Ruth Montgomery has this to say about a person who does not believe in life after death:

“He expects to find nothing when he passes through the door called death, and for a long time that is usually what he finds – nothing. He is in a state like unto death for a goodly while, until at last something arouses him.” (Ruth Montgomery)

b. Harmful belief — strict religious fundamentalism

People who have strong and uncompromising religious beliefs generally have temporary problems after death when they discover their beliefs to be false. The following are insights that support this:

“If we have no fixed beliefs about anything, we’d be free to adapt to the new surroundings and fit in where we belong with no unusual difficulty. Everything has its place. Fixed beliefs are useful in prayer where doubt is fatal. Yet doubt is always useful in sizing up religious dogma, reading junk mail, listening to commercials, and the promises of politicians.” (Arthur Yensen)

“Deeply held religious beliefs come into visible expression in the spirit realms, just as they do in the physical realm. We create our own experience. Eventually, restrictive minds slowly open and expand allowing them to accept greater understanding. Then they are ready to move from their limited concept of life to the eternal adventure, for there is ever more to know, to do, to be.” (Jan Price)

“Some people believe that to be a spiritual person, we must renounce the world, give up worldly things and read the Bible all the time. But people who live this way create a mournful life for themselves and one that is not receptive of heavenly joy. Everyone’s life on earth stays with them when they enter the afterlife. If people want to live a heavenly life, they must live a moral and civil life in the world. Living an inward life and not an outward life at the same time is like living in a house with no foundation which gradually develops cracks and collapses.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

“The most difficult thing for a person who has been deeply steeped in a particular religious tradition is to realize that the form alone is not what elevates a person; it is the heart.” (Nora Spurgin)

“Some Christians enter the spirit world and are led into thoughts they had during their physical life about the soul’s state after death, heaven, and hell, until they come to resent their former utter ignorance of things like this, and resent the Church’s ignorance of such matters.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

“Many people, when they come to the astral world, experience a great deal of turmoil and distress because they have been too positive and too dogmatic in their earthly lives and have tried to impose that dogmatism on other people. I think you can find, if you will think about it and look back at your own lives, that there are times when you wish you hadn’t been so forceful in persuading someone to do something. When one does this he is cutting across a divinely given attribute of each person, which is free will.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“After death, people do not keep their religious faith if it does not come from a heavenly love.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

The following revelation from Ruth Montgomery is an example of a fundamentalist preacher’s death experience:

“First, he is shocked to find that God is not sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. He may think this is only a brief interlude until he adjusts. He may begin to preach to people there who he believes are lost souls who lack the righteousness to advance to heaven. His sermons may attract some people. But he begins to demand that the older souls around there help him find the way to the throne of God. He may honestly believe that it is being concealed from him in some mysterious way. At last the old souls gather around and explain to him that he is preaching a false doctrine; that heaven is within each man, and so is his private hell; that he has arrived, and nothing is being hidden from him. It is up to him to begin work on his own spiritual advancement, and he is retarding the progress of others by misleading them with false hopes of a promised land. For this is the promised land, and we make of it what we will through our own endeavors.” (Ruth Montgomery)

“Some people believe we must be baptized to go to heaven. Some people believe we must speak in tongues. Some people believe we must accept Jesus as God or savior. Such people believe that religion is the way to heaven. But unless the religion we practice is unconditional love, then we are not following in Jesus’ footsteps.” (Kevin Williams)

Bible: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

c. Harmful belief — religious bigotry

Many religious people have the erroneous and bigoted belief that only their religion is true and that all other religions are false. Such a belief has been the scourge of humanity and has been the source of the multitude of horrible religious wars and atrocities that have plagued humankind. The following are some NDE insights concerning this problem:

In the hell realms, there are souls who argue over some religious doctrine and try to kill those who do not agree with them. (Dr. George Ritchie)

“Those religions which claim some singular relationship with God, claim superiority over others, or exclude people for various reasons, go against God’s law that we love one another as we love ourselves.” (Sandra Rogers)

“God is not a member of any church or religion. It is the churches and the religions that are members within the vastness and the glory that is God. There is no one religion just as there is no chosen people or person, nor any single way of regarding what cannot be fully comprehended.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“We are all different aspects of the same being who is not committed to one particular religion.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“Not all teachings described as religious are beneficial. Religion which is judgmental, prejudicial, critical, and narrow may impede the spirit’s natural growth. Where religion teaches love, there is growth. Where religion impedes love, there is stagnation.” (Nora Spurgin)

“Many religionists think they have the whole truth and the only short-cut to heaven. Some churches force their particular brand of God’s love on people who were perfectly satisfied and thought they were on good terms with God already. But even though the churches have abused religion, I believe everyone should have some kind of a religion, or philosophy, to encourage them to think and grow spiritually.” (Arthur Yensen)

“Despite what some people think, heaven is not limited only to Christians. Jesus reveals the way, the truth, and the life. However, unless we can give someone the true Christian experience of the Christ, it is not right for us to say to them, ‘You must not be a Buddhist -you must be a Christian.'” (Margaret Tweddell)

“Many faiths on earth do not include Christ but are loved and used by God nevertheless. Our Father never turns away a person who searches for him. He created our mortal conditions and knows perfectly what we face in sometimes godless circumstances. A person born to a home that does not recognize God is not cursed, but rather blessed with the needed opportunities of growth uniquely available in that home. Any person searching for any degree of light, in any religion or system of belief, is graced by God with opportunities for greater light.” (Betty Eadie)

“There is a tendency among certain religious people in the afterlife to congregate in their little groups and have their little sessions of what they feel are heaven. Eventually they become very bored with this narrowness, and then their own helpers and teachers will try to give them another idea to help them to break away from this narrow mindset. In the higher realms there is a unity of God-praise, not a segregation of the praise of God.” (Margaret Tweddell)

d. Harmful belief — extremely faulty religious doctrines

Within some religions are various sects or denominations that are often based upon the magnification of some particular religious doctrine. Below are some insights about this:

“Some Christians expect heaven to be a place where people stand in front of the throne, worshipping forever. Such a view of heaven is boring and childlike. There are so many heavenly realms and in each of them there is a fractal that is your particular interpretation, unless you are part of the group soul that believes in only the God of a particular religion.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“Insincere prayers of repetition have little, if any, light. These, having no power, are not heard. But there is no prayer greater than that of a mother for her children.” (Betty Eadie)

“The belief that we are separate from God is the only real sin.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“When we die, there is no so-called Judgment Day involving the hellfire and brimstone that is described in the Bible. God judges no one. The only judgment is self-judgment.” (Sherry Gideon)

“We do not sit at the feet of a man with a long white beard called God. God is within, whether you are in or out of the body.” (Betty Bethards)

“There is no doctrine and no belief to pursue other than knowing that the Being of Light is God.” (Norman Paulsen)

“When we enter the spirit realm, we are given glimpses of things we expected to see in order to bring us comfort. We may briefly see a teacher we worshipped in our lifetime: Jesus, Buddha, or another guru, according to your expectations. But gently we are brought out of many of our illusions and are shown that we have not landed in an ultimate paradise with gold paved streets.” (Betty Bethards)

“It is not true, as some people think, that if we only give verbal assent to belief in God, that is our passport to heaven and everything will be all right. Not so. God helps those who help themselves.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“We do not go to heaven by worshiping Jesus, or by believing in his name, or by believing in his work on the cross, or by accepting him as our Savior. The way to heaven is through love. God is love. We grow to heaven by allowing love to grow in our hearts and create heaven within us by practicing unconditional love.” (Kevin Williams)

“Being a Christian is not enough to attain heaven. We grow to heaven by emulating the unconditional love of Jesus rather than by worshiping him.” (Kevin Williams)

“If you insist upon searching for God, you will do this for awhile until you get the idea that you are following an illusion. God is love in all religions, so the more we live love the closer we are to God.” (Betty Bethards)

“Religious beliefs can limit an open mind. Any belief such as soul sleep, God on a throne, angels with wings, the trinity, etc. etc., is initially carried over at the time of death, but very soon, all beliefs that don’t correlate with afterlife reality will just simply not be believed anymore. This is all a process of instruction.” (Kevin Williams)

e. Harmful belief — atheism (under certain conditions)

There is a misconception that people who don’t believe in God or an afterlife are heading straight to hell after death. Believing that all atheists go to hell is, in itself, a harmful religious belief. And like all rigid beliefs, the belief that death is the end of everything can create problems for those who hold this belief. Here are some insights:

“Disavowing the possibility of the existence of a Higher Power may contribute to the why of a “Less Than Positive” (LTP) near-death experience: 19.4 percent of my LTP study group labeled themselves as atheist or agnostic prior to their experience.” (Dr. Barbara Rommer)

“An atheist is as likely to have an NDE as was a devoutly religious person. Regardless of their prior attitudes – whether skeptical or deeply religious – and regardless of the many variations in religious beliefs and degrees of skepticism from tolerant disbelief to outspoken atheism – most of these people were convinced that they had been in the presence of some supreme and loving power and had a glimpse of a life yet to come. Almost all who experienced an NDE found their lives transformed and a change in their attitudes and values, and in their inclination to love and to help others.” (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

“If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife, you will probably be kept in a sleep state for the first ‘two to three day’ period. You will wake up in a beautiful meadow or some other calm and peaceful place where you can reconcile the transition from the death state to the continuous life. You are given teachings in the hope that you do not refuse to believe that you are dead.” (Betty Bethards)

“People do not have hellish NDEs because they are atheists. My research shows that it is what is within us that matters, not the religious belief we have or don’t have. Nevertheless, not having a belief in life after death can lead to serious problems such as having an excuse to treat others badly. Before his NDE, Howard Storm was such a person and his NDE was certainly very hellish because of it. Interesting enough, his NDE is remarkably similar to the hell witnessed by Dr. George Ritchie during his NDE. Another remarkably similar hellish experience was documented by Ruth Montgomery through her paranormal research. Also, the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes a similar hell for people who lack spiritual development. All four of these sources agree that having an excuse to treat others badly can create a hellish condition. Such a hellish spiritual condition is certainly not limited to atheists.” (Kevin Williams)

7. Religious aftereffects resulting from NDEs

“One of the truths about NDEs is that each person integrates their NDE into their own pre-existing belief system.” (Jody Long)

“The Beings of Light found in NDEs usually conform to the predominant religion the person was exposed to, but not always. Jesus has appeared in near-death scenarios of Jewish people, for instance; a Muslim man once told me he was met by Buddha.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Some experiencers find joining a church to be helpful. Others find quitting their church to be helpful. Near-death experiences tend to make people less religious and more spiritual.” (IANDS FAQ)

“Experiencers tend to become more spiritual – though not necessarily more involved in organized religion.” (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

“No matter what the nature of the NDE, it alters some lives. Atheists embrace the existence of a deity, while dogmatic members of a particular religion report feeling welcome in any church or temple or mosque.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“After having an NDE, people tend to exhibit a significant shift in their beliefs on a wide range of subjects including a general tendency toward an increased openness to the idea of reincarnation.” (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

“After having an NDE, religious observance may increase or lessen, but a deepened belief in God, or a Higher Power, is almost certain. People say, ‘Before, I believed; now I know.'” (IANDS FAQ)

“Religious orientation is not a factor affecting either the likelihood or the depth of the NDE. An atheist is as likely to have one as a devoutly religious person. Regardless of their prior attitudes – whether skeptical or deeply religious – and regardless of the many variations in religious beliefs and degrees of skepticism from tolerant disbelief to outspoken atheism – most of these people were convinced that they had been in the presence of some supreme and loving power and had a glimpse of a life yet to come. Almost all who had an NDE find their lives transformed and are changed in their attitudes and values, and in their inclination to love and to help others.” (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

“An experiencer’s religious beliefs do not prevent the expansion of psychic abilities resulting from their experience.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Death does not suddenly turn a non-religious person into a religious person.” (Margaret Tweddell)

8. Miscellaneous NDE and religion insights

“I saw that we could literally call down thousands of angels in our aid if we ask in faith.” (Betty Eadie)

Sandra Rogers wrote: “The universe is God’s cathedral. There is one God who is worshipped through many different teachings of many different religious faiths. The gods of one faith are the angels, saints, or supernatural beings of other faiths. God is in all of us. God is male and female, all races, and the reason for all religions. Even those who say they do not believe in God believe in energy and/or a life force; therefore, they do actually believe in God, they just have not figured out the name for ‘God’ yet. God created differences in religion because of the different lessons we all need to learn. The problem with institutionalizing God’s church through religions is that each religion tries to limit that which is limitless. God created differences because there are different ways to serve God, and different lessons we all need to learn. The more spiritually evolved one is, the more one sees truth in different religions; one less spiritually evolved sees only differences. To be fixed in beliefs is to try to make the infinite finite. The belief that we are limited is an illusion. We are limited only by our beliefs. Cries, wishes, hopes, desires, and thoughts are all forms of prayer. Prayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God. Angels only need to be asked to intervene in your life. A wrathful and threatening god is a god of man’s creation. Satan and demons are what you make them. Evil only exists because we fear and think unkind thoughts. The beginning of all sin is seeing self as separate from others and God, creating the illusion that the deeds of self will not cause harm to others. Anger is not the opposite of love. Indifference is. Anger is an expression of our free will, often manifested as a result of feeling controlled and feeling the need to assert our will power over others. There is no unforgiveable sin. It is best to think of sin as the mistake of forgetting our oneness with God.Anger is love’s energy misused. Bigotry is self-hate. When we hate others, we hate ourselves. When you see someone full of hatred or anger, treat them with love so that you can be an example they may later reflect. An act of hostility, like a ripple on a pond, radiates out from the giver until eternity. As long as you are a child of rage, you will not find the power to know your potential as a child of God.” (Sandra Rogers)

“Prayer is a tangible force – a power for good here on this earth! Many people ask me what was the first thing I thought or felt when I came out of my coma, about 3 weeks after the accident. I could feel Christ’s love and compassion for me and I believe the prayers of many for me made him tune into me personally, and led to my incredible experience with Christ in that heavenly garden.” (Derry Bresee)

“NDErs are not more or less religious than in the cross-section of the population. They come from many religious backgrounds and from the ranks of agnostics and even atheists.” (IANDS FAQ)

“Religious backgrounds do not affect who are most likely to have an NDE.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Many people are turned off by religion. Any complete body of knowledge is like a spoke in a wheel – pointing to the center of ultimate truth. Science, art, music, philosophy and religion run into trouble because they are not yet complete bodies of knowledge even though religion is advertised and sold as such.” (Arthur Yensen)

“Evil and the devil do not exist. What people consider evil is really ignorance. Hitler was not an evil man per se. He was just so incredibly ignorant of spiritual realities that he was practically retarded at a spiritual level. Such people are to be pitied and our unconditional love should extended even to him because it is hard to hate a retarded person.” (Kevin Williams)

“There is no such thing as sin. There are only mistakes. Everything is a learning experience. We are here to make mistakes in order to learn and grow from them.” (Jayne Smith)

“If you read the Bible with the idea of finding contradictions and problems, you will find them. The Bible contains spiritual truth and it has to be read spiritually in order to understand it. It should be read prayerfully. When read prayerfully, it talks to you and reveals itself to you.” (Howard Storm)

“Religious figures including the founders of world religions, the saints and prophets, exist in various spirit realms. The similarity of one’s life, heart and knowledge to a particular figure determines one’s closeness to these religious figures.” (Nora Spurgin)

“The Being of Light seen in near-death experiences can change into different figures, such as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, mandalas, archetypal images and signs. Our beliefs shape the kind of feedback we get from this Being. If we were a Buddhist or Catholic or Fundamentalist, we would get a feedback loop of our own beliefs.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“In the spirit realms, you are able to go back in time and live in the minds of Jesus and his disciples. You can heard their conversations, experience them eating, passing wine, smells, tastes – as pure consciousness. Any time in history, you can go there.” (Dr. George Rodonaia)

“There is no difference between scrubbing floors and praying, between balancing your checkbook and praising God. It’s all the same energy from the same Source. The only difference is how we choose to manifest that energy at any given moment in time and space.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Outward worship does not accomplish anything, but rather it is the inner elements from which the outward ones come that really count.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

“I saw the Christian heaven. We expect it to be a beautiful place, and you stand in front of the throne, worshipping forever. I tried it. It is boring! This is all we are going to do? It is childlike.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“Life is what you worship as God.” (Edgar Cayce)

“Then I thought about Jesus and he came. There was never any feeling or need to worship him. No awe or fear. Rather, it was a feeling of seeing a beloved elder brother after being apart for so long.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Worship God within others through love and you will be following the commandment of Christ.” (Kevin Williams)

“Hindu near-death experiences often consist of someone reading a person’s record of their life. In some Christian near-death experiences, it is the Book of Life that is read.” (Pasricha and Stevenson)

9. Spiritual concepts of religion

Christianity: The following Bible verses show exactly how love is the greatest, most important, supremely exalted concept in the entire Christian faith and the source of all heavenly worship and object of all adoration. Love is God.

The way to eternal life is simply through the practice of love. (Luke 10:25-28)

“Everyone who loves is born of the Spirit and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

“Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

“Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:19-21)

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (1 John 3:14)

Faith implies the possibility of doubt. Knowledge implies certainty; but love surpasses both of them. (Ephesians 3:19)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

“But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

“If you have the gift of prophecy, can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, have the faith that moves mountains, speak in the tongues of humans and of angels, give all you possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, you gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

“God is love” (1 John 4:8) “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)

“God is love” (1 John 4:8) “Love removes a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

Love is the fulfillment of God’s law. (Romans 13:10)

Love is the commandment of God. (John 15:12)

“God is love.” (1 John 4:8) God holds all things together; therefore, love holds all things together. (Colossians 1:7)

“God is love.” (1 John 4:8) “Love is patient, kind, doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

“God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Buddhism: Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love: this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good … Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth. (Dhammapada 1.5 & 17.3)

Hinduism: A man acts according to the desires to which he clings. After death he goes to the next world bearing in his mind the subtle impressions of his deeds; and, after reaping there the harvest of those deeds, he returns again to this world of action. Thus he who has desire continues subject to rebirth. He who lacks discrimination, whose mind is unsteady and whose heart is impure, never reaches the goal, but is born again and again. But he who has discrimination, whose mind is steady and whose heart is pure, reaches the goal and, having reached it, is born no more. (Upanishads)

Judaism: What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary. (Rabbi Hillel)

Islam: Shall I tell you what acts are better than fasting, charity, and prayers? Making peace between enemies are such acts; For enmity and malice tear up the heavenly rewards by the roots. (Quran)

Sufism: You when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit. (Kahlil Gibran)

Zoroastrianism: One good deed is worth a thousand prayers. (Zoroaster)

Wicca: Bide ye the Wiccan Law ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust. Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An ye harm none, do what ye will. (Wiccan Rede)

Atheism: Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of others. (Ayn Rand)

10. The Bible in light of NDEs

The following are Kevin Williams‘ interpretation of Christian doctrines as they relate to his NDE research:

Jesus: In the Bible, Jesus revealed himself as a Being of Light. And Jesus taught that we too are beings of light. Jesus is the way, an example, a pattern which we can follow to attain at-onement with God as Jesus did.

The Trinity: Jesus referred to the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which suggests that God has a three-dimensional nature. One particular NDE account revealed that humans are made up of a trinity of bodies: physical body, mind (soul) body and spirit body. There are also references in the Bible equating God to life, light and love. Thus, the Bible refers to divinity as the body of Christ, the mind of Christ, and the spirit of Christ. Paul states that “we have the mind of Christ” which shows that we too have God within us.

Humanity: Jesus taught that we are gods which means that God dwells within us all. This agrees with NDE accounts. We were made in the image (a trinity) of God. We are sons and daughters of God just as Jesus is.

The Silver Cord: The Bible mentions a “silver cord” which traditionally is a cord that connects the soul body with the physical body. During an NDE or OBE, this tinsel-like cord can be seen. During an NDE, if this cord is broken then return to the body is impossible.

Heaven and Hell: Traditional Christianity believes in three realms: hell, the world, and heaven. NDE accounts agree with this except that there are many hell realms and many heaven realms – many realms. Heaven and hell are actually spiritual conditions within us. The kingdom of heaven is within us. The Bible and NDEs reveal that communication in the afterlife is by mental telepathy [1] [2].

Evil: The Bible states that evil and sin are like plagues afflicting humanity. NDE accounts reveal that “evil” is really spiritual ignorance and “sin” are mistakes we make out of ignorance. God allows us to be ignorant and make mistakes for the purpose of instruction and spiritual growth.

Salvation: Jesus taught that eternal life is attained through loving others and God unconditionally. Eternal life means no more death. NDE accounts overwhelmingly agree. In fact, many NDE accounts reveal that we are already “saved.” We just have to realize it and make it a reality.

Judgment: The Bible states that God does not judge anyone nor does Jesus judge anyone [1] [2]. The Bible states that the great Judge will set us free [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. God is love; and love keeps no record of wrongs. NDE accounts affirm this to be true also. Both agree that the only judgment that exists is self-judgment and self-condemnation [1]. After death, we judge our entire life – every thought, every word, and every deed.

Damnation: The concept of “eternal damnation” also comes from the symbolism of the parables of Jesus and the Book of Revelation (along with this verse) which were never meant to be interpreted literally as even Jesus taught. Hell is not literal fire [1] [2] [3]. NDE accounts and the Bible affirms that hell is state of purification and reflection – not eternal damnation, although it may seem like an eternity for those who are in that condition. Time only exists in the physical realm. Hell is a temporary state [1].

Resurrection: Traditionally, Christians believe “resurrection” to mean a time when corpses come out of their graves at the Last Judgment when Jesus appears on earth again. But NDE accounts and early Christian history agree that resurrection really means spiritual regeneration and spiritual reincarnation [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. Death is an out-of-body experience to other realms [1] [2]. There is no sleeping in graves. The Bible describes people who returned from the dead. Millions of people are returning from the dead today in NDEs. The Bible and NDEs reveal that we existed before we were even conceived [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. Read about the abundant evidence for reincarnation in the Bible.

The Bible: During one man’s NDE, he was told by Jesus that the Bible is true, but it has to be interpreted spiritually and read prayerfully. Early Christian history shows that there were many writings considered sacred but not included in the Bible. Hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, it was a relatively small group of bishops who determined what would be included in the Bible and what would not.

Prophecy: The Bible predicts a future of major catastrophes both natural and man-made. This agrees with predictions of the future found in NDE accounts.

Prayer: One woman learned during her NDE that prayers of repetition are not even heard by God. And there is no prayer more powerful than a mother’s prayer for her children. Sincere prayers can be seen on the Other Side as beacons of light shining out from the earth. Group prayer appears as a gigantic beam of light. All sincere prayers are answered; but we cannot tell God how to answer them.

Evolution: NDE insights reveal that both evolution and creationism are true. Science strongly suggests that the universe was created through the process of evolution. NDE accounts reveal that evolution is a divine process which all things experience by means of reincarnation (or “resurrection” as it was known in Biblical days).

Abortion: Some people believe life begins at conception and others believe life begins at birth. Some NDE insights suggests that the soul enters the fetus anytime during a particular time frame of the pregnancy. That time frame is roughly between six months after conception and up to an hour after birth. Concerning abortion, some women have had NDEs while having an abortion. None of the accounts that I have read, indicated that God was displeased with what they did. All of them were heavenly experiences with no condemnation. Indeed, NDEs show that abortion is never even an issue with God. In fact, the Bible actually condones abortion.

Homosexuality: The Bible was written during a time when society considered all sinners, homosexuals, adulterers, and prostitutes as outcasts and worthy of death. Women had the same status as cattle, slavery was sanctioned, and so-called sexually immoral people were stoned to death. But Jesus didn’t follow the social norms of those days. He hung out with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and even made some of them apostles. He even told the religious bigots of his time how the prostitutes were entering heaven before they were.

There are only six verses in the Bible that refer to homosexuality and they have been misinterpreted for thousands of years. Historically, people’s misinterpretation of the Bible has left a trail of suffering, bloodshed and death. Over the centuries people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things. The Bible has been misused to (a) kill homosexuals; (b) defend bloody crusades and tragic inquisitions; (c) to support slavery, apartheid and segregation; (d) to persecute Jews and non-Christian people of faith; (e) to support Hitler’s Third Reich and the Holocaust; (f ) to oppose medical science; (g) to condemn inter-racial marriage; (h) to execute women as witches, and to (i ) support the Ku Klux Klan.

The Bible is not a science textbook nor a book about human sexuality although scientific studies prove homosexuality to be a genetic trait. In fact, the Bible describes various sexual practices which were acceptable in those days but are considered immoral today. Here are a few examples:

If a bride is found not to be a virgin, the Bible demands she be executed on the spot by stoning (Deut. 22:13-21).

If a married person is found committing adultery, the Bible demands both adulterers be stoned to death (Deut. 22:22).

Divorce is strictly forbidden by the Bible in both Testaments as is remarriage by divorcees (Mark 10:1-12).

The Bible forbids a married couple from having sex while the wife is menstruating. If they disobey, both man and wife shall be executed (Lev. 18:19).

When a man died childless, his widow is ordered by Biblical law to have sex with each of his brothers in turn until she bears her deceased husband a male heir (Mark 12:18-27).

If a man gets into a fight with another man and his wife intervenes to rescue her husband by grabbing the other man’s genitals, her hand shall be cut off and no pity shall be shown her (Deut. 25:11-12).

The Bible endorsed the practice of one man having many wives.

God ordered the prophet Hosea to “marry a whore.”

Slavery and sex with slaves was Biblically acceptable.

The marrying of 11-year-old girls was Biblically acceptable.

Inter-racial marriage was Biblically unacceptable.

Birth control was Biblically unacceptable.

Seeing your parents naked was definitely not acceptable.

Some people falsely claim the story of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-14) is a story about a city being destroyed by God because it was filled with homosexuals. But Jesus and five Hebrew prophets all describe the sins that led to the destruction of Sodom and not one of them mentions homosexuality.

In Ezekiel 16:48-49, the prophet says, “This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God’s eyes.” Sodom was destroyed because the people there didn’t take God seriously about the poor, the hungry, the homeless or the outcast. It does not condemn homosexuality itself. As for the story of Lot, it was common for thieves, soldiers and bullies to rape their vanquished enemies to assert their victory and to dehumanize and demean them. The act of rape or threatening to rape is about power and revenge, not about homosexuality.

In Leviticus 20:13 you will read these words: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death.” The idea of executing homosexuals is repulsive to spiritual people today. But there is an important truth about God in this verse that has nothing to do with sex. Leviticus is a holiness code written about 3,000 years ago. This code includes prohibitions against round haircuts, tattoos, working on the Sabbath, wearing garments of mixed fabrics, eating pork or shell fish, getting your fortune told, even touching the skin of a pig. These “abominations” are offensive cultural behaviors which people in those days considered tasteless. They were written for the priests of Levi only to set the priests of Israel over and against priests of other cultures.

Jesus taught people to love others unconditionally which includes loving people who were born with a sexual orientation different from ours. This is supported by the gospels, the NDEs of gays and lesbians, and mere logic: God loves homosexuals otherwise he wouldn’t be creating so many of them every day from the beginning.