This is the second part of a two-part series.  The first part can be found here.

In Part 1, I gave a brief overview of near-death experiences (NDEs) and some arguments for why they might be the real deal, and I also gave some good reasons to be skeptical.  I tacked back and forth like a good sailor would, but now I’m turning the bow into the wind.  Any time the average person is presented with something of a spiritual nature for which he isn’t acclimated (ie., outside his own tradition), the tendency is to just shrug his shoulders and go on his merry way.  But in Mormon tradition, we’re taught to evaluate spiritual things by their fruits, right?  Well, when it comes to NDEs, I’d argue that there’s some pretty compelling fruit.  In fact, I’d put them right up there next to your average conversion story.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Long (author of Evidence of the Afterlife), a majority of people experiencing NDEs (NDEers) claim positive life-changing aftereffects, including much less anxiety about death, a greater appreciation of life, a generally more optimistic outlook, and deeper, more meaningful spirituality.  NDEers claim a greater sense of empathy and prioritize relationships more, even ending relationships they realized were unhealthy.  They are much more likely to believe in God, but they’re also less sectarian, some no longer attending church/temple/mosque because they don’t feel what’s being taught makes sense in the light of what they personally experienced.  Many NDEers reported making significant life changes, including changing careers into fields serving others, like nursing, teaching, social work, and life coaching.  Those whose NDEs came about from a suicide attempt rarely try suicide again.

Some NDEers claim an element of the supernatural even followed them back.  Some of them healed and revived in a miraculous, medically inexplicable fashion.  Some of them returned with spiritual/psychic gifts, such as extraordinary empathy — sometimes they could just tell what another person was feeling.  Some felt they’d brought back knowledge from a pre-mortal existence.  Others claimed they’d have premonitions (knowing when someone was sick or in danger) or even foresee events (eg., one claims to have predicted the Boston Marathon bombing to a sibling). A few even claimed some limited telepathy and telekinesis. [1]

Interestingly, Dr. Long noted that NDEs are often very hard for people to process, and that on average it takes about 7 years [2] for them to come to terms with it.  A lot of them don’t share their story right away, and when they do, they get a lot of negative feedback. Some have even had pastors tell them their experiences were of the devil.  Because it’s such an intense and intensely personal experience, most NDEers choose to only share their stories with a select group, rather than risk being thought crazy.  Dr. Long noted that those who did receive early negative feedback reported fewer long-term benefits than those who received more positive feedback. [3]

As I’ve read dozens of NDE accounts, I can see people struggling to understand and communicate what they experienced.  Dr. Eben Alexander (Proof of Heaven), in trying to describe this difficulty, says to imagine that you’re a chimpanzee.  chimps-1273602_640You’re living your chimpanzee life, when all of the sudden, you somehow become a person for a day.  You get introduced to calculus, geography, music theory, computers, cell phones, and all these wonderful and miraculous things, and then just as suddenly, you’re a chimp again, left to make sense of everything with your chimp brain.  After years of chimp post-processing (most NDEs are reported years after the fact), you’re left trying to explain all these amazing things to all your chimp buddies in chimp language.

None of the more involved (“deeper”) NDE accounts are the same.  Some are just crazy, but still have the traditional elements in them, which makes me wonder if they were experiencing brain malfunction and some real spiritual event simultaneously.  Consequently, when it comes to trying to get spiritual insight from NDEs as a group, it’s impossible not to filter out material that seems incongruous.  I don’t feel bad about doing this — we do the same thing with the Old Testament.  It’s just that everybody does it a little differently based on our own personal biases and preconceived ideas, including me.  So with that disclaimer, here are some overarching themes from the deeper NDEs that I observed:

God is Love — As much as I hate writing that (it seems SO cliche — a statement trying so hard to be profound that it’s meaningless), I read NDEers making that claim over and over again.  Heather said

“The level of love was so incredible, immense and overwhelming. I have never felt that anywhere on earth.”

Lori said

“I saw the brightest light I had ever seen. It was like warm molasses and it filled every single speck of my being. The light was love, pure love. It was so spectacular, that I cry just writing this out. I was wanted. I was loved. I was needed. I felt like a place had been waiting for me, and it would be waiting for me when it really was my time.”

It didn’t seem to matter whether they were interacting with a voice, with the bright light, an ascendant master, Jesus, or some other divine being, they’d all [4] describe an overwhelming love and acceptance.  It seemed they just couldn’t emphasize the point enough.  One even went so far as to say the universe was created from that love and that everything in that higher dimension acted according to that love. [5] They didn’t want to leave that love to return to their bodies.

Lack of Feeling Judged — Life reviews seemed to happen with at least one other being present, and almost without exception, NDEers reported they were remarkably non-judgmental.  For example, in Katherine’s account, she said

“After the life review, I was taken before more beings which seemed to be wiser than the two who brought me to my life review. I communicated with them about my decisions during my life review and areas where I could improve. While it was a collaborative process, I had deep respect and reverence for these beings. I felt that they loved me completely and without any judgment. In psychology there’s a term to describe this called ‘unconditional positive regard.’ I felt completely sure that they had this feeling for me. This surety felt like a warm glow of light around me.”

Even among those who committed some pretty wicked and selfish acts during their lives, they didn’t feel judged [6] [7], they just saw where they’d gone wrong and what they needed to change. [8]

Family — So, so many accounts included appearances by deceased family.  There’s a strong sense that family is connected well into the afterlife, as NDEers would report seeing deceased family they were close to as well as some they may never have met.  One woman said she was led through her experience by a girl she’d aborted in pregnancy.  For Dr. Eben Alexander, after his initial elation over his experience ebbed and he was once again immersed in the drab and frustrating cares of normal life, this was the thing that really cemented his experience.  He had been adopted and by the time he’d reconnected with his biological family, one of his biological sisters had died before he got a chance to meet her.  But when he saw a picture of her, he recognized her as the “girl on the butterfly wing” who had guided him through the planes of existence toward God.

Connectedness — I’m not sure what term to use here, but many deep NDEers described being able to see how everything and everyone was connected, that nothing was truly separate.  Some of them described a collective consciousness with God, and some that the collective consciousness was God, and some that they were part of God.  Some described God as creating the perfect order that everything was a part of.  However described, the overall impression was that they were part of a whole, while at the same time remaining distinctly themselves.  It gave them a sense of belonging and of abundance and of well-being.  It makes our our earthly experience seem so dark and lonely by comparison.

So what Mormon doctrines have I found supported by NDE accounts? [9]

  1. Loving God who knows us personally
  2. Existence of our “spiritual selves”, or the soul
  3. Premortal existence
  4. Purpose of life is growth, and we chose to come
  5. Free will
  6. Family relationships continue after death
  7. Fallen world (outside this existence, there’s much less evil)
  8. Time — it doesn’t exist in death as we know it in life (all things before God’s eyes continually)
  9. Mission on earth / work for us to do

So what Mormon beliefs do we have that NDE accounts don’t support, or what beliefs have NDEers come back with that don’t align with Mormon beliefs?

  1. The emphasis on physicality — not one account I read mentioned God having physical form.  Nor is there much indication of spirits regarding their lack of bodies as a disadvantage [10]
  2. Reincarnation — many NDEers believe that we return again and again to earth life as part of progression, and this seems particularly true of those who evangelize their experiences
  3. Absolute lack of judgment on God’s part
  4. No evidence of need for ordinances or authority — family connections appear strong in NDEs independent of temple ordinances, and NDEer’s don’t come back looking to get baptized

The LDS doctrine of the Spirit World isn’t well fleshed out, so it’s hard to say whether it’s supported or contradicted, especially since the descriptions of NDEs are so different.  Also, the Mormon idea that spirit bodies look like physical bodies holds in some NDEs and is contradicted in others.  The doctrine for which support is most remarkably ambiguous is with respect to Jesus Christ — some accounts hold Him central, and others make Him seem irrelevant or even have some other central supernal entity.

It’s helpful to remember that NDE accounts often include descriptions of a barrier keeping them from moving on and seeing more, or of having knowledge that they wouldn’t be able to return with, so it’s not like they’re conclusive or comprehensive.  And, we have to remember these descriptions are as being from one chimp to another.  I suspect it’s like the proverbial blind men describing different parts of the elephant.

Personally, I love some of the messages NDEer’s have brought back with them.  My soul longs for God, and my inner skeptic is held at bay by the feelings of hope and anticipation that came from reading through all these accounts.  Perhaps there’s a single statement that resonated with me the most.  It’s from Dr. Eben Alexander, it was almost parenthetical, and it struck me as profound:

“Physical life is characterized by defensiveness;  spiritual life is just the opposite”

If you think about physical organisms struggling to survive, or teenagers’ social angst, or professionals trying to advance, this statement about mortal life being characterized by defensiveness is just so true.  But when I think about the way I feel when I have the Spirit of God about me, it truly is just the opposite:  I’m open, I’m humble, I’m utterly secure, and I love.

Overall, I’d say that while there’s a lot reported in near death experiences that leaves me scratching my head, the lasting impression I have is one of great optimism.  I’m convinced there’s just so much more out there, and so much to look forward to.  I’ll close with Heather V.‘s summary of what she learned from her experience:

 “Our jobs on earth are to find out how to break through all these illusory walls everywhere that we erect to hide who we are. We need to really love each other and love ourselves. I felt as though there was a sense of humor too. It was like a deep appreciation for our lives and even for our failures. We are suppose to learn from our failures and not beat ourself up over them. We find a way to forgive and love ourselves because in reality, in the real place of creation, there is only Love. It seemed the message was that if we couldn’t find a path to love, then we are destroying something very very precious.“

So, what do you think?





[1]  I had links to NDERF website accounts so you could read some specific examples of these claims, but I appear to have deleted them somehow.

[2]  I really don’t know how he arrived at this number or what exactly he means by it.  Maybe he  means it takes an average of about 7 years before they’re willing to openly talk about it.

[3]  Brings to mind our Mormon culture of keeping sacred experiences to ourselves rather than “casting [our] pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend [us]”  (Matthew 7:6)

[4]  Not all — I’m being hyperbolic

[5]  Interestingly, Dr. Eben Alexander said something similar but used the word “Consciousness”. “Ahm” (he felt “God” was too limiting a term) was Consciousness.  Everything was created from and as part of that Consciousness.  But Dr. Alexander also emphasized the tremendous love he felt emanating from Ahm.

[6]  During one woman’s life review (one of my deleted links), she said she felt “physical heat” when she saw her adultery, her lying, and especially her abortion, but she said she never felt judged or condemned by the being conducting the life review.  She just knew she needed to change.

[7]  On the other hand, some NDEers claimed to have seen and even experienced hell, and others have stated that the amount of good and bad they’d done in their lives was weighed, but these seem much less common.

[8]  Incidentally, a few said that when they were reviewing their life’s choices, they weren’t reviewing their own feelings so much as the feelings of others whom they were affecting.

[9]  Based on my parsing, since you can find an NDE account to contradict any position you want to take (kind of like with Brigham Young quotes!)

[10]  Some accounts included stories of lost spirits wandering on earth or those seeking pleasures/addictions from life, eg., George R. Ritchie’s account in Return from Tomorrow.