What the NDE may have to offer us
(It all about perspective and yes faith as well)
My faith will dictate to me my perspective towards the world, its meaning and my place in it. As a Catholic that perspective will hone it down to a finer point. Then I am a monk, so that will further narrow down how I interrupt the world. I do believe that is true for all of us, even if what we actually believe is not thought through in a systematic way. Yet how we live will tell us what we really believe…well from my perspective. What is truly in the heart will eventually come out. So for a time we may be able to fool ourselves and others, but the fruit of our lives will manifest sooner or later.
I have found that my worldview can’t be proven to anyone; in fact not sure any worldview can be in the end. One thing about our ideas about reality, we believe that we more or less have it, and those who disagree have less. I do that. Even those who are extremely tolerant of all beliefs, well, they think they have it down better than those they are tolerant of…who are less tolerant. Cherry-picking is so much a part of how we take in information that is not noticed by most.
I remember I saw a debate on YouTube about the existence of God. It took place in an Evangelical church, a Mega-Church from the size of the auditorium. It was open to the public, but I am sure that the majority were convinced Christians, with perhaps a sizeable number who were convinced atheists, and of course a few self-proclaimed agnostics. The debate did not go well for the atheist. Since he was like many atheists, so black and white in his views and his often, again from my perspective, childish understanding of what Christians actually believe; he sounded foolish.
To be fair, we Christians can be just as bad; not only on what we think about atheists but how we judge each other as well. Of course, he was in enemy territory. Like Christian debaters, atheists who partake of this sport, some are much better than others. In the end, there was a vote on who won. Won what I am not actually sure of. Yes, the majority (the Christians) voted against the atheist making the most valid points, and the Christian of course won…..being in a Christian church and all. Of course, nothing was accomplished. For, in the end, we believe first, either in God or not, and then we cherry pick our way to explaining our different ideas about the world. Some go to the extreme of believing that all who disagree with them are mentally ill!
In this world filled with people ‘who know’ in a universe of actually ‘not knowing’, I believe there is an experience that may in the end, clear some of this up. I would say that would be those who have Near-Death-Experiences (NDEs). The vast majority who have them, come away from the experience changed and their perspectives, or worldviews, more often than not turned upside down. It could be said that when St. Paul was speaking about the man who went up the “Third Heaven” was actually him. He was stoned and left for dead, so why not? It is interesting that he did not share all that he experienced. Unlike his experience with the Risen Christ; this was an occurrence to lead him into deeper faith in the reality of the Risen Lord and to then share it with others…well from my perspective of course.
NDEs pretty much make most of our assumptions, which are often lived out on an unconscious level, proven false about what this life is about. Just like Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount. Those who have NDEs often come back and live what Jesus taught, and that is that the greatest gift, the most profound spiritual gift, is love. In factt many people can’t stand a loved one when they come back so changed. They may think like this: “What happened to my husband, wife, friend, my brother or sister?” For many, it is like having a loved one who died and was replaced by someone else, who actually ‘knows’ and lives out what this truth calls us all to.
How do you put up with someone who has actually experienced what we say we believe but have not experienced? It can be harder than it seems. I have met near-death experiencers who are so sane that I really don’t get them at all. What I struggle with seems to be part of the fabric of their bodies, minds, and spirits. Where I have doubt and seek to deepen my understanding, many seem to ‘know’ and live it. I am not saying they are not still human and fail and doubt themselves from time to time, yet they seem to come from a different place than I do. I have faith, deep faith, I seek to incarnate that in my own life……but when someone has actually been there, well, do they even need faith at all or do they just know.
Now I know that many fight the NDE experience and try to find a scientific reason to not believe in them. Which is a good thing, since it brings these experiences under scrutiny, which must be done and I am this will continue into the far future. However, so far, all of the theories seem to fall short in explaining them away. Those who study them often, in the end, believe that they are ‘real’ in the sense that they point to a greater reality, a reality that shows that we are often wrong in our assumptions about life, God, and what we are here for. What they bring back with them does resonate with most who read what they have to say…..even if they are not convinced of another reality other than this one. For, in the end, to say they are real, or to say they are not, is based on each one's faith about the nature of reality.
One day there may be an answer to the NDE enigma that will show them to be something real, but just a brain event. If that happens it still says nothing about God, faith, Jesus or if there is any God at all. Some questions can only be answered by the human heart. Sort of like believing that trust, love, and justice are possible. There are some who believe that our very consciousness is an illusion and write books to prove it! So it goes. For me, I will serve the Lord and continue to seek to deepen my faith, trust, love, and understanding and continue to study and learn from the NDE literature as well.