Near Death Experiences

By Peter Roennfeldt



“It's not that I'm afraid to die I just don't want to be there when it happens," observed Woody Allen.


“For although death is a con­stant and shadowy backdrop to our lives, it is something that most of us cannot talk about or accept with any sense of normality or calm rationality.... Death is clearly an integral part of life, yet while we talk about our plans for life, when it comes to death we are strangely silent.'” writes Bruce EIder in his book “And When I Die Will I Be Dead?”


Yet there has been a growing fascination with the mysteries of (NDE) or after-life experiences. Various people claim that they have "returned" from experiences of great trauma or clinical death, giving remarkable stories from the “other side”.


There’s even an International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS).


Lorraine Briggs, the convener of the Victorian chapter of Austral-IANDS, says that during a long and traumatic labour, "I was moving along a tunnel I came out into this place. I carry the vision with me, it is so detailed…A landscape with intense green grass, rolling land­scape. Nothing rocky, sharp or cruel. A gentle serenity.


"I sensed figures on three sides. I had a great sense of being wel­comed by them, that I belonged. I met my father who died 14 years before; we had a long conversa­tion, even though his lips didn't



Researchers Disagree


Researchers of NDEs can't agree on the cause of NDEs. The experi­ences are usually characterised by five or six stages including a sense of peace, the impression of being outside one's body, the sen­sation of floating through a tunnel toward a bright light, an encounter with a "being of light," experienc­ing a world of beauty and, per­haps, meeting loved ones who have already died. Not all near-death experiences are positive. Some report horrific, threatening experiences.


Dr Harvey Irwin of the University of New England (Australia) suggests NDEs are linked to childhood experiences. Dr Susan Blackmore of the West of England University in Bristol con­cedes that the people are explain­ing what they saw, but that these spectacular pictures are produced by lack of oxygen, the effects of extreme stress and the release of endorphins into their bodies. She explains NDEs in bio-chemical and physiological terms.


Dr Peter Fenwick finds these explanations inadequate. As a neuropsychiatrist based at Maudsley Hospital in London, hav­ing received thousands of letters from people who had NDEs, Fenwick writes. The plain fact is that none of us understands these phenomena. As for the soul and life after death, they are still open ques­tions, though I myself suspect that NDEs are part of the same continu­um as mystical experiences."


Moody and Kubler-Ross


Whenever NDEs are discussed, two names are raised: Dr Raymond Moody and Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Moody published his book Life After Life in 1975 after collect­ing, over a period of 10 years, 150 first-hand accounts of NDEs.


Swiss-bom American doctor Kubler-Ross took up a position as assistant professor of psychiatry at Billings Hospital qd the university campus in Chicago in 1966. There, as the result at requests from stu­dents from the Chicago Theolog­ical Seminary, she commenced her weekly "death seminars." Each week she and Canadian clergy­man Reverend Renford Gaines talked with a terminally ill patient while 50 students sat behind a viewing window to listen as they discussed death.


In 1969 Kubler-Boss published her highly recommended classic On Death and Dying. It describes the stages through which termi­nally ill patients will go. Neither in this book, nor in her book Questions and Answers on Death and Dying, does she say anything about NDEs.


Controversy grew around Kubler-Ross's "death seminars," but this was not what led to her leaving the university. Bruce Elder in And When J Die, Will I Be Dead? tells the story:


"As she was walking down a hallway in the University of Chicago one day, she came face-to-face with a Mrs Schwartz. Mrs Schwartz had been the first person to recount a near-death experience to her and had died three months previously . . . (Kubler-Ross) is adamant that she touched Mrs Schwartz, that she walked and talked with Mrs Schwartz and that she even got her to write a note to Renford Gaines."


As a result of this occultish experience, the good work of Kubler-Ross has been discredit­ed—and, in the foreword to Moody's Life After Life, she allies herself with his conclusions.


An NDE Is Not Death


As Bruce Elder notes, "It is important to realise that a near-death experience is not death itself."


Karl Kruszelnicki, the science journalist well known for his work on the ABC's Quantum program, tells of a woman who died at 3.30 am in Sydney's Prince Henry Hospital. Clinical tests concluded that "she was in fact dead." However, when she "woke up" she didn't have any out-of-body experi­ences to report.


Kruszelnicki writes, "And from when she had had her first pass­ing out to when she woke up, she remembered nothing, absolutely nothing."


If NDEs are transitions from this life to another, why don't all who clinically die recount these experi­ences? And why is it that NDEs have been more common in the latter part of the twentieth centu­ry? And why is it that people who are not near death report identical experiences to NDEs?


Characteristics of NDEs


The person in an NDE is in what Moody calls a "spiritual body." He says that although it has form and shape, it is invisible to physical people. It can move through objects, it can even be walked through. It can see and hear—but cannot be seen or heard. & A common feature of reported NDEs is the appearance of a very bright light, described as a being. Also, at some point, other "spiritu­al beings" come to assist the dying person.


The messages, as reported by Moody, need careful examination. These include: death is not the end, but rather a transition into another life; there is no reward/punishment/judgment to face, "but rather cooperative development towards the ultimate end of self-realisation"; and there is no heaven or hell. K Interestingly, what is experi­enced is seen as truth—the test of reality. The experience has signifi­cant impact with the majority of cases making people more reli­gious and compassionate. Yet those who have reported NDEs report a higher divorce rate and incidence of alcoholism.


Religion and Death


Kubler-Ross makes this percep­tive comment in her Questions and Answers on Death and Dying:


"Truly religious people with a deep abiding relationship with God have found it much easier to face death with equanimity. We do not often see them because they aren't troubled, so they don't need our help."


Raymond Moody writes, "In our society the Bible is the most wide­ly read and discussed book deal­ing with matters relating to the nature of the spiritual aspect of man and to life after death."


Then he makes this inaccurate statement, "On the whole, howev­er, the Bible has relatively little to say about the events that transpire upon death, or about the precise nature of the after world."


Moody mentions four Bible statements: Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Acts 26:13-26 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-52—one of which, as Moody admits, has noth­ing to do with death. Not one of these Bible statements relates to NDEs in any sense, and yet Moody is prepared to write: "So again the writing of Swedenbory [a mystic who lived from 1688 to 1772] as before in the Bible, the works of Plato, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, we find striking parallels to the events of contemporary near-death experiences."


It is simply wrong to suggest there is any parallel between what the Bible says about death and Moody’s interpretation of NDEs.


Four biblical statements that relate to death (John 11:1-44; Ecclesiastes 9c5.6; 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18) make it clear that Moody cannot use the Bible to support his theories. In the light of the Bible, it would seem reasonable to understand NDEs as a recoil of early childhood experiences or biochemical and physiological responses to stress.


Also, Fenwick's suggestion that they could be "mystical experi­ences' remind us of the warnings of Jesus Christ and the biblical writers concerning the activities of evil occult powers in the last days of the existence of earth.