The Near-Death Experience—Proof of Immortality?
“The soul of man is immortal and imperishable.”—Plato, Greek philosopher, c. 428-348 B.C.E.
“Such harmony is in immortal souls.”—William Shakespeare, English playwright, 1564-1616.
“The soul is indestructible . . . its activity will continue through eternity.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet and dramatist, 1749-1832.
“Our personality . . . survives in the next life.”—Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1847-1931.
FOR thousands of years man has believed that he has inborn immortality. The ancient Egyptian rulers filled their tombs with the comforts and luxuries of life so that the body would be well served in its reunion with the ka, or soul.
Thus man has tried to convince himself that the certainty of death is annulled by the survival of an immortal soul or spirit. Others, like the English poet Keats, want to believe but doubt. As Keats wrote: “I long to believe in immortality . . . I wish to believe in immortality.” What do you believe about man’s supposed immortality?
In Keats’ words we perhaps have a simple clue to the conclusions that are being drawn by some doctors and psychiatrists, as well as people who have undergone an NDE (near-death experience). For example, in tests carried out by physician and professor of medicine Dr. Michael Sabom on those who had an NDE, “a definite decrease in the fear of death and a definite increase in the belief in an afterlife were reported by the vast majority of persons with an NDE.”—Italics ours.
To what conclusion did psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross arrive after checking out over a thousand cases of NDE? In her book On Children and Death she stated: “And so it is with death . . . the end before another beginning. Death is the great transition.” She adds: “With further research and further publications, more and more people will know rather than believe that our physical body is truly only the cocoon, the outer shell of the human being. Our inner, true self, the ‘butterfly,’ is immortal and indestructible and is freed at the moment we call death.”
Dr. Kenneth Ring, professor of psychology and author of Life at Death, draws the following conclusion: “I do believe . . . that we continue to have a conscious existence after our physical death.” Then he adds: “My own understanding of these near-death experiences leads me to regard them as ‘teachings.’ They are, it seems to me, by their nature, revelatory experiences. . . . In this respect, [near-death] experiences are akin to mystical or religious experiences [Italics ours.]. . . . From this point of view, the voices we have heard in this book [Life at Death] are those of prophets preaching a religion of universal brotherhood.”
A Contrasting Viewpoint
But what do other investigators say? How do they explain these near-death and out-of-body experiences? Psychologist Ronald Siegel sees them in a different light. “These experiences are common to a wide variety of arousal in the human brain, including LSD, sensory deprivation and extreme stress. The stress is producing the projection of the images into the brain. They are the same for most people because our brains are all wired similarly to store information, and these experiences are basically electrical read-outs of this wiring.”
Dr. Richard Blacher of Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, wrote: “I suggest that people who undergo these ‘death experiences’ are suffering from a hypoxic [oxygen deficiency] state, during which they try to deal psychologically with the anxieties provoked by the medical procedures and talk. . . . We are dealing here with the fantasy of death, not with death itself. This fantasy [within the patient’s psyche, or mind] is most appealing, since it solves several human concerns at one time. . . . The physician must be especially wary of accepting religious belief as scientific data.”
Siegel indicates another interesting point about the “visions” of the nearly dead: “As in hallucinations, the visions of the afterlife are suspiciously like this world, according to the accounts provided by dying patients themselves.” For example, a 63-year-old man who had spent much of his life in Texas related his “vision” as follows: “I was suspended over a fence. . . . On one side of the fence it was extremely scraggly territory, mesquite brush . . . On the other side of the fence was the most beautiful pasture scene I guess I have ever seen . . . [It was] a three- or four-strand barbed-wire fence.” Did this patient actually see barbed wire in “heaven” or in the realm beyond death? It is obvious that these images were based on his life in Texas and recalled from his own brain data bank—unless we are being asked to believe that there is barbed wire “on the other side”!
In fact, so many NDEs are closely related to the patients’ experiences and background in life that it is unreasonable to believe that they are having a glimpse of a realm beyond death. For example, do those NDE patients who see a “being of light” see the same person regardless of whether they are Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim? In his book Life After Life, Dr. Raymond Moody explains: “The identification of the being varies from individual to individual and seems to be largely a function of the religious background, training, or beliefs of the person involved. Thus, most of those who are Christians . . . identify the light as Christ . . . A Jewish man and woman identified the light as an ‘angel.’”
At a strictly scientific level, Dr. Ring admits: “I remind my audiences that what I have studied are near-death experiences, not after-death experiences. . . . There is obviously no guarantee either that these experiences will continue to unfold in a way consistent with their beginnings or indeed that they will continue at all. That, I believe, is the correct scientific position to take on the significance of these experiences.”
Common Sense and the Bible
As for death, psychologist Siegel gives his opinion: “Death, in terms of its physical sequels, is no mystery. After death the body disintegrates and is reabsorbed into the inanimate component of the environment. The dead human loses both his life and his consciousness. . . . The most logical guess is that consciousness shares the same fate as that of the corpse. Surprisingly, this commonsense view is not the prevalent one, and the majority of mankind . . . continue to exert their basic motivation to stay alive and formulate a myriad of beliefs concerning man’s survival after death.”
About 3,000 years ago the same “commonsense view” was given by a king who wrote: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun. All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [mankind’s common grave], the place to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.
Certainly the Bible leaves no room for considering near-death experiences as a prelude to life after death. King Solomon’s description of death and its effects has no hints of an immortal soul surviving into some other form of conscious existence. The dead “are conscious of nothing at all.”
Of course, those who practice spiritism and communication with the “dead” are only too pleased to have the apparent support of hundreds of near-death experiences. Psychologist Siegel quotes one lecturer on the paranormal, or supernatural, as saying that “if we are to examine the evidence for an afterlife honestly and dispassionately we must free ourselves from the tyranny of common sense.” (Psychology Today, January 1981) Interestingly, this same lecturer “argues that ghosts and apparitions are indeed hallucinations, but they are projected telepathically from the minds of dead people to those of the living!” That certainly does not agree with Solomon’s conclusion that the dead are dead and know nothing.
Near-Death Experiences—How Explained?
How, then, can all the near-death and out-of-body experiences be explained? Basically, there are at least two possibilities—one is that presented by some psychologists to the effect that the still-active brain of the near-dead person recalls and forms images under the stresses of the near-death experience. These are then interpreted by some patients and investigators to be glimpses of life after death. In fact, as we have seen from the Bible, such cannot be the case, for man does not have an immortal soul, and there is no such thing as life after death as perceived in these cases.
But there is a second possibility to be taken into account that may explain some of these experiences. It is a factor that most investigators will not admit. For example, Dr. Moody explained in his book Life After Life that “rarely, someone . . . has proposed demonic explanations of near-death experiences, suggesting that the experiences were doubtless directed by inimical forces.” However, he rejects the idea since he feels that instead of the patients’ feeling more godly after the experience, “Satan would presumably tell his servants to follow a course of hate and destruction.” He adds, “He certainly has failed miserably—as far as I can tell—to make persuasive emissaries for his program!”
In this respect Dr. Moody makes a grave mistake in two ways. First, Satan would not necessarily promulgate hate and destruction through these experiences. Why not? Because the Bible states: “Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15) If he can perpetuate the basic lie that he has always maintained—“You positively will not die”—he can do it through the apparently most innocent and enlightening means.—Genesis 3:4, 5.
Second, he has not failed miserably to make persuasive emissaries for his program of lies about the immortal soul! To the contrary, he now has doctors, psychologists and scientists fully supporting the lie that he has promulgated through priests and philosophers down through the ages! How appropriate is Paul’s summation of the situation when he wrote: “If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through”!—2 Corinthians 4:3, 4.
Nevertheless, as we have seen, some psychologists believe that man has a conscious existence after death. This personal interpretation of the meaning of near-death experiences obliges us to raise the following pertinent questions on behalf of those who believe the Bible: Is there any Biblical basis at all for saying that man has an immortal soul that abandons the body like a butterfly out of a cocoon? What about those texts in the Bible that use the words “soul” and “immortality”?
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Dr. Kübler-Ross: “Our physical body is truly only the cocoon . . . Our inner, true self . . . is immortal”
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Dr. Blacher: “We are dealing here with the fantasy of death, not with death itself”
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Plato’s philosophy contaminated the teachings of many religions
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English poet Keats ‘wanted to believe in immortality’