One of the key qualities of NDE that subjects have of the spiritual realm (heaven) is that most are creating scenes and images from their human belief system. This is illustrated by many of the accounts by Christians highlighted in an New York Book Review of many NDE and related books by the reviewer, Robert Gottlieb. The article, titled “To Heaven and Back” is a non-subscription article that can be found [here].
Gottlieb lists 17 books in his review that includes the following:
- Some of the basic research books: Raymond Moody’s Life after Life and Jeffery Long’s Evidence of Heaven
- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying and On Life After Death
- Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflection
- Some of Plato’s writings that seem to be describing an NDE
- A best selling popular book on a young boy’s experience: Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent’s Heaven is for Real
- Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife
- Three books on experiences of/or with animals in the afterlife.
Gottlieb starts out with book #5, the experience of Colton, the young boy, in his out-of-body experience (OBE) in the hospital. It then goes on to his experience in the spiritual realm (what he calls heaven). There Colton discovers that he has another sister–one that died during the pregnancy. To give you some of the experience and how it was shaped by his Christian beliefs, I provide the following quote: “‘God adopted her [his still-born sister].’ . . . Before returning to earth, Colton also witnessed the battle of Armageddon and saw Jesus victorious and Satan defeated and thrown into hell.” Gottlieb highlights the commercialization of Colton’s accounts by all involved, but still acknowledges, “Despite all the commercialization, I believe that they [the parents] believe; that little Colton said things he thought to be true and that were shaped into this artful narrative by an astute collaborator
Gottlieb next goes back to the beginning of NDE as a new type of phenomenon that was brought to the public’s attention by Moody’s first book, Life after Life, He correctly credits Moody with validating the NDE phenomenon. He also sees Kübler-Ross role in bringing insights to the dying process as preparing the way for Moody’s work. He then uses Long’s book to present a list of the different experiences that can occur in NDEs. He ends this part with highlights from the NDE of General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, when he was a young man. In his NDE, Booth met Jesus, and was told, in essence, to return and “do my work.”
At this point, Gottlieb briefly mentions that there are historical account in the literature by Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, Blake, Swedenborg, and Dostoevsky that could be alluding to an OBE or NDE. Jung’s account of an NDE-like experience occurred when he was 68 (his book is listed above).
Next, Gottlieb takes on Eben Alexander’s story in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. He briefly summarizes Alexander highlights, and then proceeds to “takes on” Alexander in the sense of pointing out Alexander’s human flaws and questionable descriptions in his account–especially, his veracity about the medical facts of his coma.
At this point I found him getting bogged down in the petty human qualities of many of the popular NDE books and their stories. Here is a quote from him: “Sadly, the avalanche of books on the subject includes many that, to my personal knowledge, have been fabricated by unscrupulous self-promoters cynically seeking notoriety or financial gain rather than true advancement in knowledge.”
In the end, Gottlieb tries to bring it all together–the profound, the absurd, what he sees as the commercial exploitation–but he has not done the research work to provide the full prospective, especially the serious investigative research and synthesis that has been done. I wish he had talked to Dr. Grayson, one of the founders of IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies), or another of the serious NDE researchers.