I stumbled upon another skeptical take on Dr. Eben Alexander's book on "heaven," and I wondered, yet again, what the deal is about this book. Heaven knows (no pun) that there are plenty of bogus life-after-death accounts to pick on... plenty of hucksters, more than a handful of New Agers cruising the Ramtha circuit. Why pick on this book? The response from critics (I won't call them skeptics) strikes me as irrationally vitriolic. Dr. Alexander's book has apparently triggered something, and I'm trying to figure out what it is.
Type in "life after death" at Amazon.com or any other book etailer, and you'll come up with hundreds of texts, most of them saying essentially the same thing. Some of the books are credible and well-researched, while many of them are awful. You will either believe them, or you won't. Generally, the majority of the reviews are 4 and 5-star ratings from the true believers, but even the skeptics have solid, well-reasoned objections to the accounts. I tend to listen to the skeptics, because, when all is said and done, I tend to be a skeptic myself.
Dr. Alexander's critics, on the other hand, seem to be arguing from a knee-jerk emotional part of their frontal cortex. Argument One: "Dr. Alexander is trying to make a lot of money by duping the gullible with fantastical stories that he hallucinated." Assuming for a moment that this characterization is correct (not sure if the critics have checked lately, but there's not a lot of money to be made nowadays in book publishing), I doubt that he is making any more than he did as a brain surgeon. Critics, are you nuts? Do you have any idea how much money a good brain surgeon can make? In any case, if some guy writes a book and makes money, is he necessarily evil? Argument Two: " The 'editors at Simon & Schuster' think that Dr. Alexander, with his 'fancy degrees, his bow tie and the numerals after his name' is inherently more credible than 'those Bible Belt Christians who’ve told this story before.'" Short rebuttal: Um, yes. I'm with Simon & Schuster on this. Dr. Alexander, with his fancy degrees, is more credible than the Bible Belters who say the same thing. I live on the buckle of the Bible Belt--so I know. Bible Belters have zero credibility in my worldview. Presently, the yahoos around me are trying to secede from the Union, legislate creationism, ban birth control, and carry guns into restaurants--all because Jesus told them to. Smart call, Mr. Simon & Schuster. Argument Three: "Alexander's story is no different from historical accounts of near-death experiences; so, they're all either wrong, or are lying, or just copying each other." If this is true, then essentially our entire body of Western historical literature is also "wrong," because historians engage in the same practice.
Again, I argue that Dr. Alexander is being attacked because he is a privileged member of the mainstream who chose to step outside the mainstream and promote an alternative viewpoint. Were someone like Whitley Strieber to write such a book, I doubt that it would even be noticed--much less attacked on the storied pages of the "Washington Post."
I did find something interesting in the above-cited critique; the author made reference to something called “The Vision of Tundale," which she describes as a medieval account by a "man who claimed to have had a stroke and then, unconscious, to have been taken on a tour of heaven and hell." It didn't take long for me to locate this account here, and it looks interesting. I didn't know this account existed. I plan to read it and hope to gain some insight into the near-death experience from it--assuming, of course, that Tundale wasn't lying and just hoping to make a quick buck off of those gullible medieval Catholics.