Impressions from reading Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife.
(Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012)
The back cover of the book gives a very short descriptive summary of this book:
While his body lay in coma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered and angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself.
That description immediately made me recall Dante Alighiery's rise into the very Presence under the guidance of his beloved and angelic Beatrice. I read the one, so I ought to read the other. Plus, I promised.
So here were my impressions. Since I expect that interested persons will read the book, I will not give much context for these impressions by quoting a lot from the book.
In his travel into dimensions that Alexander heretofore never knew existed he is met by a companion. He describes her on page 40 in very alluring yet nonsexual terms, she is a source of love and intelligence:
We flew in lazy looped formations past blossoming flowers and buds on trees that opened as we flew near.” This, of course, very much reminded me of the myth of Francis and Clare of Assisi who, when they realized they must follow separate paths, set roses abloom around them as they parted, as if their pent up love was released into nature around them.
She looked at me with a look that, if you saw it for a few moments, would make your whole life up to that point worth living,”. . . .
A marvelous way to describe the effect of being in a state of pure love!
This love emanating entity was, to me, reminiscent of the beautiful female Zoroastrian figure guiding the souls of good men across the Chinvat bridge into paradise:
The Zoroastrian scripture Vendidad fargard 19 describes this woman as:
30. 'Then comes the beautiful, well-shapen, strong and well-formed maid, with the dogs at her sides, one who can distinguish, who has many children, happy, and of high understanding. 'She makes the soul of the righteous one go up above the Hara-berezaiti; above the Chinwad bridge she places it in the presence of the heavenly gods themselves.
But getting back to Alexander, his angelic guide gave him a three part message wordlessly (page 41), and Alexander was so impressed with this message that he repeats it several times in the book. It was a simple message, in a complex sort of way:
“’You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.’”
“’You have nothing to fear.’”
“’There is nothing you can do wrong.’”
On page 71 he boils these three thoughts down to one thought: “You are loved” and then down to just one word: “Love.”
Alexander on page 47 uses a number of interesting ways to describe his feelings moving through this place as he came very near the Creator, God, “Om” as he calls that force he experienced. He tells of feeling like a child in the womb, with the nourishing placenta floating close by:
…the placenta, which nourishes it and mediates its relationship to the everywhere present yet at the same time invisible mother. In this case, the ‘mother’ was God, the Creator, the Source who is responsible for making the universe and all in it. This Being was so close that there seemed to be no distance at all between God and myself. Yet at the same time, I could sense the infinite vastness of the Creator, could see how completely minuscule I was by comparison.
Alexander goes on to explain that he calls this force “Om” and says it is an “omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God, but any descriptive words fall short.”
He likens his lovely and loving companion to the placenta in a womb, interpreting to him without words the nature of this awesome 'being' through and by which they were traveling.
Later as he is interpreting his experience he cites words from a poet, Henry Vaughan, a seventeenth century Christian, who wrote (page 48):
“There is, some say, in God a deep but dazzling darkness . . . .”
He seizes on this vision to describe his own:
That was it, exactly: an inky darkness that was full to brimming with light.
So Alexander experienced what I have cited others describing this same impression as a "dark night of the soul” experience, a darkness through which they pass into the brilliance that is God or at least the nearness of God, according to their accounts.
Several times in the book he enters modern physics into his explanations of what he sensed and experienced. From his experience he received new insights into physics' current mysteries, dark matter and dark energy. Although I found his intertwining of physics concepts and cosmology/spirituality intriguing, I will not spend time on this topic in this review. I have my limits, and so do you. Read the book if this topic excites you, you will be well rewarded.
His description of his ineffable learning experiences on his page 49 is also worth reading, and he admits that “It will take me the rest of my life, and then some, to unpack what I learned up there.” He has great difficulty translating what he learned without words into words, but claims, surprisingly, that this inability to describe does not diminish his internal knowing:
. . .I still possess all of it, much more clearly than I possess the information that I gained over all my years in school.
I have to process it through my limited physical body and brain. But it’s there. I feel it, laid into my very being.
He may well feel that it is all there, in my opinion, but the fact is --in my opinion-- that he is not capable of reaching all of it himself either. The problem is not that explaining to others is so difficult, explaining it to oneself is just as difficult since it also requires using language, language is how we think and how we inform our conscious faculties.
Anything rising from the subconscious into the conscious by way of symbols is the same way: we capture it in consciousness with words, and thereby curtail and interpret it using concepts we already know and believe. In other words we interpret new insights into our existing framework of beliefs and expectations and experience, even if we are not always consciously aware of having such beliefs.
Hence the observation I have often made that spiritual experiences tend to confirm existing beliefs, not upset them. Existing beliefs, even those loosely held, and expectations we may not consciously be aware of, are interpretive tools we cannot help but use when material filters from the subconscious into consciousness: words is how we think.
I have already alluded to Alexander’s focus on love on his page 71. He rightly waxes eloquent on this topic on that page:
Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything. Not some
abstract, hard-to-fathom kind of love but the day-to-day kind of love that
everyone knows—the kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and our
children, or even our animals. In its purest and most powerful form this love
is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional.
This is the reality of realities, the incomprehensibly glorious truth of truths
that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or that ever will
exist, and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be
achieved by anyone who does not know it, and embody it in all of their
I had to focus on this for a few moments until I absorbed it and checked it against my own beliefs. Fits perfectly. I especially liked how he hinted that this love is a continuum starting with our daily experience and extending into the Cosmic Creative Force usually called God. On page 73 he reiterates:
. . . the unconditional love and acceptance that I experienced on my journey is the single most important discovery I have ever made, or will ever make, . . . .
This was the highlight of the book for me, the description of the creative force, at all levels of our experience and beyond, as love. That is right down the alley of my own spiritual insights.
Should we just stop here at the peak? What about the rest of the book?
On page 146 he has an interpretive statement that I cannot relate to at present:
—to know that deep and comforting truth: that our spiritual eternal self is more real than anything we perceive in this physical realm, and has a divine connection to the infinite love of the Creator.
Why did this give me pause? Because I liked the wonderment expressed in a previous statement of this nature, and thought that here he was reinterpreting his experience to fit his life experience. That previous statement was on his page 95 and repeats several observations also made previously:
But our limited earthly consciousness is far from simply normal, and I was getting my first illustration of this as I traveled ever deeper, to the very heart of the Core. I still remembered nothing of my earthly past, and yet I was not the less for this. Even though I had forgotten my life down here, I had remembered who I really and truly was out there. I was a citizen of a universe staggering in its vastness and complexity, and ruled entirely by love.
I recall such a brief, self engulfing experience in my own spiritual development, hence my liking this version, and disliking the version I cited from his page 146 that coats this ineffable force called love with rather Christian descriptive terms.
On page 96 he claims that loved ones whom we might have forgotten are watching over us, which I find unsubstantiated in his experience-narrative unless you buy his late realization that a long dead sister, that he -until recently- never knew he had, was his spirit guide! Sorry, but that stretches my already expanded credulity beyond its breaking point.
Why do I not believe in the coincidences he cites as being very convincing to himself? Because to make this leap into faith requires his reinterpreting what before was rather amorphous symbolism into rather concrete realities related to this life. It is a stretch.
The book has a lot of surprising and discouraging, to me, allusions to the importance of relationships based on shared DNA or 'blood' versus relationships like marriage and adoption. The entity that introduces him to God, like Dante's Beatrice, is his long lost physical sister whom he never knew. As he re-enters this world he recognizes members of his biological family but not his adoptive family or his wife. In my humble opinion, as a father to adopted children, this reflects a cultural fetish with 'blood' relationships, not a fact reflected in the creative love-fabric of the universe.
However, I like what he concludes from his overall otherworldly experience on page 96 except for his obvious and in my opinion unwarranted personification of the Creator, as if this creative force is a person:
None of us are ever unloved. Each and every one of us is deeply known and cared for by a Creator who cherishes us beyond any ability we have to comprehend.
If by this he means that if we feel for it we can find and appreciate our inner connection to the Love that creates all, then sign me up. But I am chagrined that he invokes the word personal when describing God. He adds it in as if obligated to do so to communicate with the culture that is his audience. It seems unsupported by his experience and out of place, to me.
Where he does this even more explicitly, hence even more irritatingly to me, is on his page 86 where he corrects those who believe God is not personal, like me:
—Om is “human” as well—even more human than you and I are. Om understands and sympathizes with our human situation more profoundly and personally than we can even imagine because Om knows what we have forgotten, and understands the terrible burden it is to live with amnesia of the Divine for even a moment.
Alexander makes these statements after having declared a very Mormon understanding of the purpose of life (nothing wrong with the Mormon understanding, just surprising to find it laid out so precisely here on his page 84):
. . . free will comes at the cost of a loss or falling-away from this love and acceptance. We are free: but we are free beings hemmed all around by an environment conspiring to make us feel that we are not free. Free will is of central importance for our function in the earthly realm: a function that, we will all one day discover, serves the much higher role of allowing our ascendance in the timeless alternate dimensions. Our life down here may seem insignificant, for it is minute in relation to the other lives and other worlds that also crowd the invisible and visible universes. But it is also hugely important, for our role here is to grow toward the Divine, and that growth is closely watched by the beings in the worlds above—the souls and lucent orbs (those beings I saw originally far above me in the Gateway, and which I believe are the origin of our culture’s concept of angels).
Do I agree with this interpretation of reality? No. I believe this language reflects prior feelings and notions in Alexander, words, pulled over his real symbolic-ineffable- learning experience to translate it into concepts culturally familiar to us whether we are active believers or not.
But on his page 85 I fully agree with Alexander when he says we need to reacquaint ourselves with our true spiritual nature, but I would remove the mention of gradations of heavenly beings (also quite Mormon, but also generically Christian):
. . .we should do everything in our power to get in touch with this miraculous aspect of ourselves—to cultivate it and bring it to light. This is the being living within us right now and that is, in fact, the being that God truly intends us to be.
How do we get closer to this spiritual self? By manifesting love and compassion. Why? . . . they make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.
Amen, brother Alexander!
I read Alexander’s Chapter 33 slowly and carefully and liked his insights into the nature of consciousness, describing it as a great mystery that he hints may have something to do with the unexplained vast majority of the mass that makes up our ‘known’ universe.
Although I liked what he had to say, he does not solve this mystery. Just describes it in the context of other mysteries of the world we experience. At the end of the chapter Alexander does make some conclusionary statements based on his experience, but translated, right in the middle of two phrases that are powerful and connected spiritual insights. He separates those related insights by adding in superfluous words that, I believe, represent an unnecessarily attempt to tie these profound insights into his cultural context -the context of most of his expected audience- Christianity (page 161):
Communicating with God is the most extraordinary experience imaginable, yet at the same time it’s the most natural of all, because God is present within us at all times. Omniscient, omnipotent, personal—and loving us without conditions. We are connected as One through our divine link with God.
I have said similar things myself, based on my own experience, but not with the “omniscient, omnipotent, personal descriptors. They just don’t seem to fit my concept of reality.
But there being differences is good, I do not discount his experience. I just question the after-the-fact re-interpretations that seem designed to link to and validate current cultural and Christian concepts.
My final observation here is a personal one. I have a divided mind and have written about it ridiculous length, finally deciding to simply live with an intuitive side that agrees with many of Alexander’s observations, and with a logical side that says ‘no way.’
I was pleased to see that Alexander admits this experience challenged his logical side, and forced it to capitulate to his intuitive side. Logical and intuitive are my own words. Alexander says something I feel is identical in meaning, but describes a conflict between his scientific and spiritual worldviews (page 164):
In essence, a part of me still doubted the authenticity of my astonishingly deep-coma experience, and thus of the true existence of that entire realm. To that part of me, it continued to ‘not make sense’ from a scientific standpoint. And that small but insistent voice of doubt began to threaten the whole new worldview I was slowly building.
So what caused the scales to tilt in the direction of his intuitive side? Read Chapter 35, which is about the long lost sister I already alluded to. The coincidences he saw in this later experience caused him to integrate the two warring sides inside him (page 169):
For an instant, the worlds met. My world here on earth, where I was a doctor and a father and a husband. And that world out there—a world so vast that as you journeyed in it you could lose your very sense of your earthly self and becomes a pure part of the cosmos, the God-soaked and love-filled darkness.
He says more, and I found it all interesting, but I will stop here and congratulate him on integrating what I have not been able to integrate.
But don’t get me wrong, I can live a life of love and compassion with a divided mind about the spiritual realities that may surround us and that we are part of. Love and compassion are real and belong in both realms. In that observation I am sure Alexander and I agree.
END OF MY OWN REVIEW
BEGINNING OF MY -REVIEW OF A REVIEW- OF ALEXANDER'S BOOK BY A CHRISTIAN THEOLOGIAN
I found this review on the Internet (click to go there and read it for yourself).
The review was posted by Greg Boyd who describes himself as a Christian theologian.
He starts his review by telling about the person who asked him to read it. I could tell a similar story: My brother, just before he died, begged me to read this book. He thought it would convince me of the reality of an afterlife.
But let me skip down to the review by Boyd where he raised both my interest and my critical hackles:
To begin, I was happy to find that Alexander experienced a God who is unfathomably beautiful and deeply personal while also being infinitely beyond anything we can imagine, conceive or articulate. In other words, Alexander experienced a God whose infinite transcendence doesn’t make him less personal than we are: it makes him infinitely more personal. Since I assess everything pertaining to theology through the lens of Jesus Christ, and since this description of God is consistent with the God revealed in Christ, I accept this aspect of Alexander’s experience as valid.
Closely related to this, Alexander experienced a God whose perfect love defined and united all things but who wasn’t simply identical to all things. So too, while he felt perfectly united with God, Alexander knew he “could not become entirely one with the creative, originative drive of all that is,” otherwise his own individuality would be abolished. Curiously, Alexander identifies the God he experienced as “OM,” though he seems to be unaware that this “name” is associated with a Hindu concept of pantheism. Yet, his experience of God while in a coma was not pantheistic. He rather learned that there would always be a certain sort of “duality” in “heaven,” though in “heaven” this duality would no longer be an obstacle to loving unity. It seems to me that this loving unity-in-diversity beautifully captures the sort of thing we’re led to believe is true of heaven in Scripture.
This supports my point that in describing his experience 'raw,' Alexander pretty much failed to mention any of these Christian-isms, but added them in when giving a later interpretative meaning to his experience. There is little that is loving and accepting -without condition- in Christianity's deity, for just one example.
There were a number of other aspects of Alexander’s experience while in a coma that I would deem accurate as well. For example, I was delighted with Alexander’s beautiful description of the angelic beings he encountered in his travels to the other world. Nothing about his encounters with these strangely beautiful beings was inconsistent with what I’ve learned about angels in Scripture. I was happy as well to find that Alexander, who was not a deeply spiritual man prior to his NDE experience, discovered in his travels that prayer plays an important role by influencing what goes on in heaven and on earth.
I found Alexander's interpretation of the entities he senses (he did not see them with eyes or hear them with ears, this was NOT a physical experience as he makes very clear several times) as being reminiscent of the angelic beings of Christianity to be unconvincing. In Christianity they are personal messengers, more often then not bringers of warnings and of punitive destruction. Only when they announce Christ's coming are they the nice entities assumed by Boyd. Guardian angels mediating God's love to humans? Give me a break, little scriptural support, but a favorite in Christian fiction giving comfort lacking in the actual Christian message.
Did Alexander convince me of the efficacy of prayer? He hinted strongly at it, and equally strongly at the efficacy of a psychic reaching out to him to help him. Boyd did not mention that last item. Does prayer work? No more in Christianity than in any other religion from what I have been able to gain from conversations with members of other world faiths.
I was particular excited to find Alexander’s experience of what he believed was the after-life confirmed that free will is essential for our capacity to love and to be morally responsible. So too, Alexander’s otherworldly experience taught him that all that is wrong with the world is ultimately due to the misuse of free will, not God. Having said that, there are two lines in this book that make it sound like evil is a necessary feature of any world that contains free will. But given that Alexander is not a theologian, these lines may reflect his imprecise way of making a theological point.
This broke me into a grin. "Given Alexander is not a theologian" is hilarious to me since what Alexander says is EXACTLY the theological position of Mormonism! Evil is a necessity to allow choice in the Mormon scheme of reality, just as Alexander says. The Christian way of taking all blame away from God is just that, making excuses for a reality that reflects poorly on an omnipotent God who theoretically COULD intervene when evil goes 'over the top' as it has several times and places over recent historical times, but 'he' chooses not to do anything. I agree with Boyd that all evil in the world is due to humans' actions. But this still means they are allowed to do so, unimpeded by the omniscient and omnipotent personal God that loves us all deeply and individually. That is total bullshit.
The only other thing I’d add in terms of a positive assessment of Alexander’s experience of what he called “heaven” is that the unfathomable beauty of this realm that he strains language to point us toward is generally consistent with the beautiful vision we’re given in Scripture. It’s a realm in which the love of God permeates and unifies all things and thus a realm in which we experience a profound connection of love with everyone and everything we encounter. As I said above, it’s a realm in which everything will be perfectly united in God’s love without losing their individual distinctness. It’s a realm in which we are no longer self-centered and estranged from one another or from other things, which is why it’s a realm in which we no longer have to rely on words to communicate. Without endorsing the particular details of his lucid recounting of his experience, the heart of his magnificent vision of a realm defined by love is one with the heart of the vision given us in Scripture.
This is 'happy theology!' Read the last New Testament book of Revelations if you want the other side of the coin, all those people whom God loves so deeply and individually separated from 'him' forever, and left to suffer their living days here, and then forever!? The inspiration for Dante's Inferno! Oh yes, all who believe correctly will enjoy this wonderful eternal state. Good thing that, like Alexander, they will lose their remembrance of Earth, since most of their loved ones will be elsewhere suffering punishments for eternity. Christianity is full of absurdities that Alexander managed to stay away from pretty much.
BOYD NEXT WRITES ABOUT FIVE ASPECTS OF ALEXANDER'S VISION THAT ARE NOT IN HARMONY WITH BOYD'S UNDERSTANDING OF CHRISTIANITY
BOYD'S FIRST OBJECTION:
First, Alexander never encountered Jesus in his otherworldly travels. After Alexander came out of his coma, he tells us that he was reminded of his intimate communion with God while in a coma as he took communion in church and thought of Jesus’ sacrifice. But so far as we’re told, Jesus wasn’t part of the experience itself.
Now, given that we possess no reliable information about what happens to people immediately after death, the absence of Jesus in Alexander’s experience doesn’t necessarily invalidate it. For all we know, for example, it may be that Jesus was present in his experience but not in a way that Alexander was ready to recognize. Or it may be that God allows a person’s initial experience of the after-life to be conditioned by their own beliefs and expectations – a point that may explain why many (but not all) who have near death experiences discover a realm that more or less conforms to what they already believed. In any case, the absence of Jesus in Alexander’s experience is worth noting.
I love the fact that Boyd admits what studies have shown about many near-death- experiences: what people see reflects their expectations, hence their beliefs. Alexander was a non-practicing Christian. He had a mediatrix take him to the loving Core of the universe. A mediatrix, not Christ, the assigned mediator in his faith. I liked that. All he experienced was symbolic, no words, no labels. It is only as he described the ineffable in words later that he categorizes them into known symbols from the religious points of view he is aware of, from his culture and his occasional experience of religion. In my own fleeting encounter with a tunnel and a light, as a Mormon Christian at that time I interpreted the light as the nearness of Christ. As a non-believer, now, I do not discount my experience, just my earlier interpretation of it: seeing this light as Christ's nearness reflected my belief and expectation at that time.
BOYD'S SECOND OBJECTION:
Second, whatever else we might say about Alexander’s experience, from a biblical perspective, it was most certainly not an experience of “heaven.” Scripture consistently depicts our final state – “heaven” – as being an embodied state, and our dwelling place as earth. The hope of heaven that we’re given in Scripture is not that our souls survive the death of our bodies. It’s that our bodies will be resurrected at the end of the age. After this resurrection, we are told, we will reign with Christ on “a new heaven and a new earth.” (An excellent book on this topic, by the way, is N.T. Wrights, Surprised by Hope.)
Now, this also doesn’t necessarily invalidate Alexander’s experience, for while the hope of the New Testament is always focused on the resurrection, most scholars agree there are a few passages that suggest we continue to survive in a conscious, disembodied state between our death and the resurrection (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil 1:21-23). There is also an increasing amount of empirical evidence from NDE’s that some people remain conscious in a disembodied state after death (e.g. J. Long, P. Perry, Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences). In this light, it may simply be the case that Alexander mistakenly identified this intermediate state as “heaven.” If so, it would entail that as magnificent as Alexander’s experience was, it was actually just a prelude to the real heaven. When God’s kingdom is come in fullness, it will outshine even the glorious reality of what Alexander experienced!
I love Boyd's commentary. In essence what I read is that OK, what Alexander experienced (even entering into the very Presence!) is not Christian Heaven, he simply did not go far enough to get there yet! He only experienced an intermediate state! So experiencing the very Presence occurred in some suburb of heaven? Yeah right.
In my opinion the superlative heaven described by Boyd as taking place here on a new Earth is rather materialistic as described in sprinklings of scriptural hints. But we are off on one of my own tangents and need to stay with Boyd and Alexander. I liked Alexander's experience, I do not like Christian ideas of heaven, and especially not of hell. Alexander saw no hell, said love was doled out to all persons unconditionally. Cool.
BOYD'S THIRD OBJECTION:
Third – and this is, I believe, the most serious objection to Alexander’s account — there were three statements that Alexander was given in his after-life experience that he feels he is supposed to now proclaim to the world: “You are loved and cherished;” “You have nothing to fear;” and “There is nothing you can do wrong.” For obvious reasons, the third one concerns me. Indeed, it strikes me as utterly absurd. I have trouble believing that Alexander believes that if someone raped his child, for example, it wouldn’t be “wrong.” But though I’ve tried to think of ways to interpret this statement such that it wouldn’t imply this, I have so far failed. If a divine agent gave this teaching to Alexander with the meaning that there is no such thing as evil and sin, then I have no choice but to conclude that this agent was demonic.
And there you have it! Unconditional love on the part of God has limits! Dude, your loving angelic mediatrix was an agent of the Devil!!!
Absurd reaction. God ought to take some responsibility for the evil around us since he is omnipotent and omniscient, knows it is there and can do something about, but chooses not to. So, take some ownership, Creator, and pardon your imperfect creations for getting messed up in their head and heart by circumstances You allowed to exist.
I like unconditional love. I need it. I feel it. It is real.
BOYD'S FOURTH OBJECTION:
Fourth, toward the end Alexander tries to integrate his experience of the after-life into a theory of consciousness as well as into current scientific discoveries, especially from quantum physics. This was a very interesting part of the book, and I personally agree with most of it. For example, I concur with Alexander in thinking that consciousness not only exists apart from matter, but that it is a more fundamental reality than matter. And I affirm his view that quantum physics demonstrates that everything is “entangled” with everything else. In fact, this is not so much a matter of Alexander’s opinion as it is a scientific fact. While current science doesn’t collapse everything into everything else, it does undeniably suggest that the line between me and you and everything else is not absolute. There is a very real sense in which everything is part of one united whole.
At the same time, Alexander pushes this truth in a direction that is, for lack of a better word, “New Age-ish.” For example, he speaks of the universe as if it was as eternal as God, if not an eternal aspect of God (156). So too, he sometimes talks in ways that sound like our “true self” is an aspect of God (though I want to be gracious in acknowledging that Alexander, who has no training in theology, may just be speaking in a indecorous manner). And Alexander crosses a line that most Christians will feel uncomfortable with when he seems to give a whole scale endorsement to parapsychology, including things like psychokinesis, clairvoyance, telepathy and precognition. I am not among those who completely dismiss these phenomena or who think they’re necessarily demonic. But I do believe one has to exercise great caution surrounding phenomenon like this.
Nothing intrinsically evil in New Age thinking or psychic phenomena, I agree with Boyd on this one. I don't know what exercising great caution means in this context, but presume it means one needs to remain vigilant against unorthodox ideas. Whose orthodoxy ought to be defended?
BOYD'S FINAL OBJECTION:
Finally, while Alexander emphasizes free will, as I said above, he also at times falls into what I have elsewhere called “blueprint” ways of thinking (see my God at War). For example, he several times says that he believes his coma happened “for a reason,” which was to make him living “proof” that heaven is real, to help people see that they are unconditionally loved, they have nothing to fear and (gulp) they can do nothing wrong. Several other times he talks in ways that suggest that nothing happens by accident and that there is a “reason” – presumably, a divine reason, behind everything.
Anyone who knows my work will not be surprised to hear me state that I vehemently oppose this line of thought on both biblical and philosophical grounds. Among other things, it implies that everything is unfolding according to God’s plan, which in turn implies that God is ultimately behind every tragedy that takes place, whether good or evil. This, in fact, would make sense of Alexander’s misbelief that we “can do nothing wrong,” for if all we do conforms to God’s plan, and if God is perfectly good, then everything we do must ultimately be good! I, for one, would not want to say that the Holocaust or any other demonic event in history was in any sense “good.”
Boyd is taking Alexander's words too literally. Alexander himself states several times these were symbolically conveyed notions, the words are his reinterpretation, and if he had to boil it down to one word it is 'love.' Alexander's experience was to see inside the machinery that expands the universe and the life in it, and it is best described as love.
That love grinds up species and people in a very impersonal way to make room for improved and more conscious species over time. Evolution is majestic yet totally cruel.
The realities of evil in history, even now, suggest this is a world devoid of active intervention by any loving God. However, true spiritual experience, as recounted by Alexander, suggests an overriding life-enhancing force in the universe that, when sensed, feels like an immersion in pure, ecstatic, non-judgmental love. I like that, personally.
Theology wants to bring fear back into this sublime picture. Theology is irrelevant to spiritually experienced reality. In my opinion.
BOYD'S CONCLUSIONS (PART ONE):
So what do I make of Alexander’s experience? Was it a bona fide experience of the after life? To be honest, I don’t know. If it was, I have to conclude that Alexander simply got some parts of it wrong. All of our encounters with God are mediated by our fallible minds, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Alexander’s was partly mistaken.
Conversely, though Alexander adamantly denies this possibility, Alexander’s travels into what he thought was the after life might have merely been a mental phenomenon. While the absence of any activity in the neo-cortex region of his brain rules out his experience being a dream or hallucination, it doesn’t conclusively rule out a thing known as the “reboot phenomenon” (Alexander discusses this on 142-43). That is, as Alexander was regaining his consciousness, his mind might have created this experience as a way of imposing an intelligible narrative on otherwise disjointed memories and sensations. Many specialists in the field of dreams contend that this is how dreams are constructed. And while the dream may feel like it took place over a long period of time, it actually was pieced together in a matter of seconds as a person was waking up. Alexander’s refutation of this possibility relies heavily on how real and lucid and detailed his experience was, but that is too subjective to be considered a strong refutation.
These are fair observations, I have no problems with the stated bases for his skepticims.
BOYD'S CONCLUSIONS (FINAL PART):
Whatever we make of this or any other NDE, the hope of all followers of Jesus doesn’t concern what happens immediately after death. It rather concerns what will happen at the end of the age, when our bodies will be raised, when all that is inconsistent with the loving character of God will be burned away, and when we and the entire cosmos will finally be what God has always intended: mirrors of his perfect, unending, triune love. And the basis of that hope is not someone’s account of what happened when they went into a coma or died. The basis for that hope is the resurrection of Jesus.
Finally Boyd refers to the "burning away" of all that is offensive to the nature of this omnipotent all loving personal God, so as to create a perfect society as God had meant it to be in the first place. The Holocaust which Boyd rightly called a pure evil, and all other instances of "ethnic cleansing," pale in comparison with the cruelty described in Revelation as God's planned cleansing of the Earth's inhabitants who are judged evil (evil being largely a failure to believe properly in a world where faiths compete and fight for allegiance as allowed by this all loving God!). The cruelty and absurdity of this world-view are self-evident. Alexander's vision solves no problems of good or evil, but is much more comforting.
Alexander's teaching that the giving of love, freely, and exercising compassion, freely, is the key to personal growth and world happiness is very OK in my book of life and reality. I fear no judgmental personal God, especially not one as ethically and morally compromised as the one reflected in the accounts in the Old and New Testaments considered scripture by Christianity. But that is a whole other story.
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