Over at The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan reprints a dreadful, dreadful piece written for Newsweek by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander: “Proof of heaven: a doctor’s experience with the afterlife.”
Alexander got meningitis and was in a coma for seven days in a Lynchburg, Virginia, hospital.
Here’s what he experienced:
It took me months to come to terms with what happened to me. Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma, but—more importantly—the things that happened during that time. Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky. . .
Higher than the clouds—immeasurably higher—flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamerlike lines behind them.
Birds? Angels? These words registered later, when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms.
A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. Again, thinking about it later, it occurred to me that the joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise—that if the joy didn’t come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it. The sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn’t get you wet. . .
It gets stranger still. For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman. She was young, and I remember what she looked like in complete detail. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face. When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us—vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again.
And there were the usual comforting messages, identical to those that used to be imparted by mediums at seances:
Without using any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. I knew so in the same way that I knew that the world around us was real—was not some fantasy, passing and insubstantial.
The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I’d say they ran something like this:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”
And of course Alexander concludes:
What happened to me demands explanation.
The explanation: there is more to the universe than science and materialism:
Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself.
But I now understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.
Give that man a Templeton Prize! My explanation: Alexander had a long dream, one conditioned by his religious upbringing (he describes himself “as a faithful Christian”). Isn’t that more parsimonious?
Note that the title of the piece is “Proof of heaven.” Proof! And from a single long dream.
It’s bad enough that a man of science (if doctors deserve that monicker) buys the whole hog of religion from such an experience, but it’s worse that this is foisted on Americans in a best-selling magazine as “proof of heaven.” That’s how hungry we are for assurance that our death will not be the end.
And it embarrasses me, especially before my foreign colleagues.