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?