Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dante Anyone?

Newsweek’s October 15th cover story states, “Heaven is Real.” The article proving this to be so is by Dr. Eben Alexander who shares with us his near-death experience via an excerpt from his new book, Proof of Heaven. I’m sure there must be a hidden (or not so hidden) message in the fact that last week’s cover screamed, “Muslim Rage.” After all the rage of the few Muslims who are raging is certainly linked to the reality of Heaven as are the actions of those who seem to enrage said Muslims every few weeks or so.

Lest you think I am about to savage Dr. Alexander’s NDE (near death experience) let me state from the outset that I’m not. I believe that NDEs are real, and I have held this belief since studying the phenomenon in the early 1980s. What I am skeptical about is whether or not NDEs prove anything. After all they are NEAR death experiences, and may not tell us anything about post death experiences at all.

But, what I want to talk about here is the kind of Heaven Dr. Alexander encountered. Unlike the four-year-old boy who also went to Heaven via an NDE, and who saw Jesus sitting right next to God (Heaven is for Real), Dr. Alexander’s Heaven seems to be Jesus–free.

Dr. Alexander rode into Heaven on the back of a butterfly and accompanied by a beautiful young woman. Makes sense: Dr. Alexander was going through a profound transformation, and what could be more symbolic of such a process than a butterfly. And the woman who accompanied him is his equivalent of Dante’s female companion in Heaven, Beatrice, or my own experience of the Divine Feminine called Chochma, Sophia, or Wisdom. What shocked me was the message this Woman imparted: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.”

Heaven’s message is unconditional love, fearlessness, and absence of sin. This is not the mainstream Christian message coming from most of my local pastors. Yes, they say, God loves you; in fact he loves you enough to have his only son crucified on your behalf, but his love is contingent on you accepting his son as your Lord and Savior. There is nothing unconditional about love, regardless of what Dr. Alexander’s Lady Friend says.

As for fear, there is no religion without fear. If we weren’t taught to fear God’s wrath we would spend much time placating him with psalms, confessions, and supplications. And as far as not being able to do wrong, if it were true that we can’t sin, then Jesus died in vain.

So what is the Heaven Dr. Alexander saw? It is the Heaven of the new age, the Heaven of the Nones who cannot imagine a Heaven bounded by theology, the Heaven of post-Christian America where the average person, regardless of faith or the lack thereof, can get into Heaven on the back of a butterfly in the company of a beautiful woman. Of course eternity in any Heaven seems inexorably dull to me (eternity itself spells boredom), I was pleased to read of Dr. Alexander’s experience and hope his book get a wide read as it may be an antidote to the restricted Heavens of so many others. What I really hope for is a book about a person NDE in Hell. Dante anyone?


joanne said...

I do recall reading an account at some point of a NDE experience of "hell", which evidently converted an atheist into a believer.

I too don't doubt the experiences of the NDE. I too don't see how they prove existence of heaven or hell. There is the experience. And afterward there is interpretation of the experience. The interpretation will depend on the person doing the interpreting,. Has a Hindu child ever reported a Jesus sighting after a near death experience?

Though she never called it a near death experience, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's vivid description of her experience during a stroke ranks highly for me both for her exqusite detail and her extensive knowledge of brain anatomy and physiology.

Tricia Datené said...

Unconditional love is the message that I have taken from my Christian faith. Although I must admit, I am an unorthodox Christian.

My Grandmother was resuscitated from a NDE and told me that she was not afraid of dying because her mother had come to greet her. I like to think that is the kind of thing that will happen to me when I die.

Not all Christians are fundamentalists. There are some of us who actually use our "noggins".

Erick Reynolds said...

As you allude to, an NDE would be most interesting if the experience was completely incongruous with the cultural expectations ingrained in our subconscious hopes, wishes, and fears. The few NDEs I have heard of seem to reveal a brief connection of the conscious mind with the subconscious mind (a.k.a. a dream).
I have had some crazy other world dreams, but there is always a thread of connection to a past experience or some seemly unimportant observation or some deep seeded anxiety. It is fun to imagine that dreams are really a moment when we mentally step into another existence or alternate universe (like the movie: projecting mentally into an Avatar).

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

It is a point well made that Christian love is conditional upon the acceptance of Jesus Christ. And historically those who have not accepted Jesus Christ have not infrequently met with the antithesis of love. Christians it seems to mecan learn much from Buddhism. The Bodhisattva in Buddhism is so filled with infinite compassion and mercy that he delays his entry into Nirvana until ALL sentient beings--even animals-- are also enlightened. Putting this in a Christian context consider that one dies and arises to the gates of heaven. He refuses to enter on the grounds that so many in the world continue to suffer. Now this would indeed give G-D food for thought.

Mordechai Ben Nathan

Fraser said...

I think one of the problems lies in thinking the Jesus narrative that says "He died for our sins and that the only way we can stay good with God is to 'accept' him and be saved" is the only strain of Christianity out there. There is also from earliest times the wisdom Jesus, the sophialogical strain. This says Jesus was a master of the transformation of consciousness. Water into wine. Once one starts to read scripture with this set of glasses on the whole picture is different. It starts to look more like one has to let go of the small self and sink into big mind which is compassion. The cross then is really "if you want spiritual transformation here is how it works".