Now, I thought I'd give this topic a bit of room as I think it has a lot to offer to this discussion. I previously stated that the conclusions that would be drawn from excepting NDE's as a genuine phenomena would mostly support a New Age paradigm. For those of you unfamiliar with NDE accounts I suggest you read a few to start off. If you click on the following link, look under notable NDE's http://near-death.com/ As a resuslt, there is skepticism from two main groups, Atheists and Christians. I will now briefly present arguments that attempt to deal with the areas of dispute.
Firstly, I will deal with some of the objections of Atheists. Now Atheists propose natural, biological explanations for the phenomena of NDE's in line with the theory that consciousness in created by the electro-chemical nature of the brain, therefore ruling out possibility that consciousness can exist outside of the functioning of a suitably developed physical form or that consciousness can directly cause any direct effect on "external" reality, except through the vehicle of a physical form. So the major argument of skeptics is that NDE's are hallucinations of a dying brain, they propose that after the brain stops functioning there is 30 seconds odd of Consciousness left, categorized by the massive release of endorphins producing a state of bliss and the sensations of bright lights.
However, in response to this, one of the most common features of NDE's is that they occur while EEG machines are flat-lined, meaning that there is absolutely no electrical activity at all in the brain, accompanied frequently by the cessation of heart and lung functioning. NDE reports are consistent in that the experiencer comments that their perception was actually clearer then normal, in direct contrast to a dream or hallucination. NDE reports are often quite long, generally beginning with leaving the body, travelling to another dimension and then travelling back into the body in sync with their resuscitation. If the dying brain theory was correct, you would expect resuscitated patients to report a brief period of intense bliss fading into unconsciousness. This clearly is not the case.
Also, there are many doctors and nurses that have witnessed and reported that the resuscitated patients were able to clearly and accurately describe the medical procedures that occured whilst they were flatlined. Also, these patients have frequently described conversations and events that occured in different rooms or different places during this time, providing strong evidence for OBE's. There are also other elements of NDE's which lend strong support to them being a real phenomena, such as: Blind people see during NDE's (I believe people who are blind do not see in dreams, if I'm wrong please, point me out), there have been cases where people have brought back important information from the NDE, I think I remember reading about a scientist who got the breakthrough for a particullarly important invention from his NDE experience.
Now, the other main points often used by skeptics is to point out that experiences similar to NDE's can be produced within the laboratory by either the administration of certain drugs, electromagnetic stimulation to the brain, or the circumstances of tremendous stress on the body as when potential astronauts are subject to extreme G-forces in training. These arguments however seem to assume that understanding the biological functioning of the brain during altered states of consciousness somehow diminishes the spiritual aspect of them.
The thing is that New Age does not deny the obvious fact that the biological functioning of the brain is connected to the states of consciousness. This however, does not necessarily imply that the electro-chemical activity is the creator of these states of consciousness. The New Age view is that the brain is a vehicle for consciousness whilst in the physical form and that causality goes both ways, from the body to the mind, and from the mind to the body. There are of course numerous examples of this being the case. Therefore, the examples where altered states of consciousness bearing resemblence to NDE accounts are produced by physical conditions does not therefore have any implication to the cause of NDE's, as previously stated NDE's occur whilst there is no brain activity. In my opinion it is only due to the misunderstanding of the New Age theory of Consciousness and causality that this is raised in opposition.
The New Age view of the body is as the lowest level of an interconnected system of bodies of various density: Soul (Absolute existence, no form), Causal Body (Mental, still formless), Astral Bodies (Amorphous forms of colour, sound & energy) and finally The Physical Body (Being the most relative level of existence). Administration of hallucigenic drugs therefore has a causal effect on the Subtle Bodies producing a shift in the state of Consciousness. Alternatively, Placebo Effects tricks the mind to believe that it is being administered a real medicince, thus having a causal effect downwards through the subtle bodies into the physical body. From this perspective, when the physical body ceases it's vital functions, the higher bodies literally leave it behind and continue to exist in a different way, most often moving upwards into the Astral Planes, but occasionally also remaining temporarily present on the earth. For a more detailed overview of evidence supporting NDE's check out http://near-death.com/evidence.html .
On the other side of the coin we have conservative Christians that believe NDE accounts to be somehow demonic illusions. I think Kevin Williams the author of http://www.near-death.com/ presents a very good argument against this. In using Christianity's very own teachings against this conclusion we present Matthew Chapter 12, V25 “Every kingdom divided against itself is bought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:....You shall know the roots of a tree by its fruit”. In the context of the verse Jesus is accused of performing miracles by the power of demons. He responds by asking how could Satan drive out Satan by Satan? NDE's accounts present positive Spiritual teachings which show that there are consequences to all of our actions, thoughts and words. These teachings encourage people to show love, compassion, forgiveness, patience & tolerance to others, and to pursue the higher goals in life (creative expresions, pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, appreciation of loving relationships, philanthropic and charitable pursuits & ultimately, spiritual realisation). There are odd cases here and there where people have had trouble grounding themselves back into everyday living after an NDE, however, the majority of people who have had NDE's come back changed for the better (the perfect example is Dannion Brinkley, author of Saved By The Light). To believe that NDE's were somehow evil, is to therefore ascribe the positive teachings in them to also be evil.
If Christians maintain that since the only way to salvation is through Jesus then all satan has to do is to keep people away from Christ, then this creates a massive hole in their doctrines. Firstly, if the above were the case, then life on earth would be meaningless except for serving as a test for where we would spend eternity (I'll also raise this point later when talking about reincarnation), as the New Age paradigm specifically teaches principles which lead to both personal happiness, and overall community wellbeing (contrary to what some people contend, more on this later). If you read through the gospels taking particular note of the red-letter parts, then you will find a significant proportion of it refers to practical teachings on morality, ethics, ie it is not focused entirely on the concept of Salvation. Also, Christians today are very much into self-help, a signifanct percentage of sermons in modern churches are on self-help issues. Christians also maintain that this life does have meaning, and the little things are important.
Secondly, if God is the source of all good, and according to Christians, Satan is the source of all evil, then how could Satan preach love, compassion, forgiveness, self-lessness etc etc ? (this argument applies not just to NDE teachings, but to New Age in general and any non-Christian system of spirituality, psychology, ethics, morality and philosophy, with the exception of Satanism, the modern religion of ego-worship, hate, lust, anger and ultimate selfishness. I will use this argument repetitavely through the course of this blog, & hopefully refine it in the process.) The verse in Matthew has Jesus asking the same question. I am aware that other parts of the Bible say that Satan can perform miracles and healings. Isn't this a case of the Bible being consistently inconsistent?
(Insert: This is an add on to the post. I have received a number of comments regarding the above section so I thought I'd paste in a further explanation on the above points:
The purpose of Religion should not be solely concerned with our destiny after death (although this is important), it should lead to a truly fullfilling and happy life whilst here on earth, both for individuals and society at large. It is clear that following New Age and Eastern Mysticism has lead to many people finding true happiness, and also (depending on your understanding / interpretation of them) following their precepts should lead to one becoming self-less so as to serve others (the greater community), and serve God at all times. As both New Age and Christianity encourage morality, ethics, psychological development and humanitarianism (to different degrees depending on the denomination/sect/ or teachers that you follow), it should be clear that both these belief systems can lead towards a fullfilling indivual and cultural life. For some Christians therefore to denounce New Age as being demonic, is therefore to say that the sole significant aspect of Religion is belief in Jesus for the purpose of Salvation after death and true happiness.
Therefore, I conclude that 1) These Christians therefore do not believe that anyone can be trully happy without Jesus and 2) These Christians think it is not so much important how much much one live by the principles put forth in the Gospels as being the words of Jesus, as much as the following of orthodox christian doctrines and practices and having the outward label of a Christian.
For example, Mahatma Mohandas Ghandi was a Hindu, who lived by the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita, following the words of Krishna. Ghandi did however see the moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual teachings in the Gita as being generally in line with the "red-letter" teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and he believed in the importance of inter-faith harmony, basic New Age premises. Following conservative, orthodox christian teachings, Ghandi would be seen as a follower of "Pagan" religion, therefore not "saved", and would thus be denied "salvation" and Heaven. This would therefore take away the significance of his life that he led, self-lessly serving the greater community in the best way that he could. Ghandi is but one example of non-Christians who have devoted their entire lives to serving God to the best of his ability.
My experience has been that Christianity has way to many philosophical problems for me, and I never found fullfillment in it. I have however found the answers I wanted through Yoga, Vedanta and Spiritualism in particular, along with phenomenal inner bliss. Now, I understand that this isn't the case for everyone, I have heard many cases to the contrary. There are many people who have converted from New Age to Christianity, and vice versa, this in itself does not prove anything. The question then is, how to explain the various experiences that people have had with New Age and Christianity, and the philosophical and theological problems that different people feel can be solved by the various Religions.
Generally christianity proposes that the existence of evil is due to original sin (adam and eve's disobedience towards God in the Garden of Even), however this assumes the existence of the serpent in the Garden as the source of Eve's temptation. As this serpent is generally represented as Satan, this would conclude that the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven happened before the first sin of mankind. Now, whilst Evangelical Christians (and other conservative Protestant demoninations ) do not have a monopoly on Christian Orthodoxy, they are very vocal in their opinions. One popular belief amongst evangelicals is that every single "sin" has a related demon, and that therefore every temptation is a spiritual battle. Satan is portrayed as being consumed by hate and pervesion, seeking to eternally distance mankind from God. And God is portrayed as all-loving, wishing for mankind to return to Him, therefore Satan and his fallen angels/demons are seen as the source of anything which leads people from God (ie Sin).
There is a verse that say's that Satan does disguise himself as good, as "an angel of light" (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15)." However, this proposes that he can therefore pretend to be good, for the ultimate evil purpose of leading mankind into Sin. It doesn't suggest that Satan is in fact loving, compassionate or anything of the such. The overall point of the post was this: NDE's give people hope and faith in the goodness of God, in his Divine Justice, Mercy and Grace, the continuation of life after death, and the importance of everything we say, do and think. They teach positive moral, ethical, psycho-spiritual teachings, the main reason why some Christians denounce them is that they generally support New Age doctrines, rather than literal, Biblical doctrines. Surely the true advesaries in this world are hate, anger, greed, lust, perversion, selfishness etc etc. End of Insert)
So, I'm still just getting started, and thus am still being quite general. But all this begs the question, OK, so what is the overall significance of this? If NDE's are taken seriously, what does it mean? It means quite frankly that the value systems of our entire society could change, for the better. If Science were to lend support to a Spiritual Paradigm, then we would have a new foundation for ethics and morality to to take their place as primary in the consciousness of mankind. Where as previously some Church's used fear and coercion to inflict puritanical notions of sin, guilt and punishment on mankind, and recent secular notions have tended to reject morality and ethics in general and embraced selfish materialistic consumerism in escaping from the inbalance of the past into a new imbalance, the new Paradigm promotes personal responsibility for our actions thoughts and words, whilst freeing us from guilt and fear. Justice & Mercy in balance. It also threatens the exclusivity of many traditional religious systems (not just Christianity, although it may seem like I think that way if you haven't read my earlier posts) who use the threat of Hell to scare their congregation into line.
Ok, I know I'm starting to stir the pot a bit now, so if you have an opinion on this, please share it with me. Post a comment and/or send me an email.
Bye for now.