Saturday, October 11, 2014

A skeptical NDE-scene article that actually isn't half-bad

I was surprised the other day by an article that popped up on Digg linking "To Heaven And Back!" from the estimable New York Review Of Books (of all places).  Robert Gottlieb tackles the subject of NDE books, and the cottage industry that has sprung up therefrom. I've scanned the article several times, and unfortunately, I can't find anything that I seriously disagree with.

First reviewed was "Heaven Is for Real" by Todd Burpo, which I haven't read--for lots of reasons, but particularly because I think it's exploitative and veers uncomfortably too close to religious stereotypical dogma. (See the negative review of the book by L. D. Richardson for a good summary of problems with the story.)  Gootlieb spends way too much time fretting over whether this story is real or fabricated. I think that Colin Burpo had an NDE, but the book that resulted--it was most likely torn, whole cloth, from his father's religious dogma.  (Note: I said "religious," not "Christian."). That's just my gut reaction.

Gottlieb then segues into a not-bad summation of the touchstones of the NDE experience, referencing Raymond Moody and Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross.

Next up, the much-maligned Dr. Eben Alexander, whose story is probably true (in my opinion) but who is singled out probably for his over-the-top descriptions of "Heaven" (and, if truth be told, could have dodged most of the flak if he had simply called it "the astral plane").  Gottlieb wastes a lot of time attacking Dr. Alexander, when, if he had spent more studying the rest of NDE literature, he would have been underwhelmed by the account.

Gottlieb reviews several more cogent NDE accounts and ultimately concludes that there is a "there" there, but what it is, is of course, unknown.

If all we had to go on were NDE accounts written by bad doctors and three-year-olds, it would be easy to pretend to believe that it's all nothing more than New Age fluff.  But there's much more--extensive and detailed accounts by experiencers who are not parlaying any five-minute fame into Oprah guest spots or healing cruises to Greece, thank you.  If *one* person can provide a verifiable and credible account of an NDE that suggests that the experience is "real," that would be significant.  How, then, should we confront the NDE accounts of many thousands?

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