A New Perspective on the Afterlife

Afterlife_1380231047624_989From Ambassador Report #44


by Robert L. Jackson*

Every time I read the section on new religious groups in Ambassador Report, I’m surprised at how many new church groups have been formed by former Worldwide Church of God (WCG) ministers and members. What amazes me the most, however, is that these ex-Worldwiders, after being lied to and mentally abused for years by the WCG often opt for another religious group that is little more than a clone of the WCG as far as doctrine is concerned. Having worked with the WCG doctrinal committee and editorial department for years, I learned firsthand that the majority of the WCG’s teachings are based on dubious research, specious reasoning, quoting scripture out of context, and just plain intellectual dishonesty, and over the last 14 years Ambassador Report has printed article after article exposing this. Yet a number of these new groups who have read the AR regularly still continue to cling to WCG teaching uncritically.

I can almost see these people look at me in disbelief, shake their heads, and say: “What do you expect us to do – go back and join a Catholic or Protestant church and adopt their beliefs, beliefs we rejected when we joined the WCG? Or are you suggesting we should explore different belief systems that offer non-Christian explanations about our purpose for being on this planet, how God is judging us, and what awaits us in the afterlife?”

A Unique Alternative

Ten years ago just after my wife miraculously recovered from cancer a close friend of mine gave me two books that gave us a totally different perspective on our purpose for life and what awaits us after this life. Those two books were entitled Life After Life and Reflections on Life After Life (both published by Bantam Books). The author, Dr. Raymond A. Moody Jr., received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia and later returned to school and obtained an M.D.

Since leaving the WCG, I had sought to understand our purpose for existence and what happens when we die. I always felt the answers of many Christian denominations were inadequate. Some churches, for instance, stress that salvation depends on baptism by immersion and receiving the holy spirit. Others offer sprinkling as a form of baptism, infant baptism, or baptism for the dead, all apparently intended to ensure that you get to be in God’s presence in the afterlife.

Dr. Moody’s books offered me a totally new perspective on this subject. What Dr. Moody did was rediscover and document an experience that is widespread in the human condition. He called it the near-death experience (NDE). People who have an NDE appear to be at the brink of death or may even have been pronounced clinically dead from a heart failure, a bad accident, a drowning, etc. In general an NDE consists of a person leaving his or her body in spirit form and traveling through a tunnel or passageway to a world beyond that glows with love and understanding. In this realm the “dead” person meets dead friends and relatives bathed in glorious light and is guided through a life review by a Supreme Being, who sends the new arrival back again to live on earth.

Dr. Moody first heard of the NDE as a philosophy student at the University of Virginia. While working as a philosophy professor and later as a medical student, he began compiling case studies on NDEs. Today Dr. Moody has studied more than a thousand case histories of adults and children who have clinically reached the point of death and survived. He has devoted his entire psychiatric practice to counseling patients who have had NDEs.

But how common are these NDEs? Dr. Moody writes in his latest book The Light Beyond on page 6 that pollster George Gallup found that eight million adults in the U.S. have had some form of an NDE.

What Are Near-Death Experiences Like?

Dr. Moody derived nine descriptive traits that define the near-death experience, but he explains that not all people who undergo an NDE have all nine traits. One of the traits is a sense of being dead. The person may find himself floating above his body watching the physicians trying to revive him or he may pass through a wall into another room and observe what other people are saying. Later when he is revived, he can recount the details of what he saw and heard. A person having an NDE has a real sense of peace and painlessness and finds himself in a spirit body that some describe as a cloud of colors or an energy field.

At some point in the experience a tunnel or portal opens to the person, and the person is propelled through the dark space toward a brilliant light. Some people go up stairways instead of through a tunnel. Once through the tunnel, the person usually meets beings of light glowing with a beautiful luminescence that seems to permeate everything and fill the person with love. Some see beautiful pastoral scenes. One woman told Dr. Moody that she saw a meadow surrounded by plants, each with its own inner light. Occasionally people see cities of light that defy description in their grandeur. People communicate in telepathic ways that result in each person immediately understanding the other.

As the experience progresses, the person is drawn to a Supreme Being of Light who radiates total love and understanding. This Being takes the person on a total life review in which the person sees every action that he has ever done and the effect of that action on all the people in his life. The Being of Light helps him put the events of his life in perspective and points out that the two most important things in life are love and knowledge. Time is greatly compressed, and the experience is so pleasant that many become upset that they must return to their body on earth.

When I first describe an NDE to someone, he usually responds by saying that the NDE must be just a dream. But NDEers claim the experience is much more than a dream in that the experience transforms them. After the event NDEers say they no longer fear death – the obliteration of consciousness or self. One NDEer Dr. Moody spoke with was a fire and brimstone preacher who commonly told his congregation that “if they didn’t believe the Bible in a certain way, they would be condemned to bum eternally.” When the preacher went through his NDE, he said the Being of Light told him not to speak to his congregation like that anymore because it was making the lives of his congregation miserable, but the Being of Light did it in a nondemanding way. When the preacher returned to his pulpit, he offered a message of love, not fear, Dr. Moody recounts.

Upon their return, almost all NDEers say that love is the most important thing in life. Most find it the hallmark of happiness and fulfillment. They return from “death” with a sense that everything in the universe is connected and carry with them a newfound respect for knowledge. They become acutely sensitive to the immediate and long-term consequences of their actions. One sociology major told Dr. Moody:

The most important thing I learned from this experience was that I am responsible for everything I do. Excuses and avoidance were impossible when I was there with him reviewing my life…. I remember one particular incident in this review when, as a child, I yanked my little sister’s Easter basket away from her, because there was a toy in it that I wanted. Yet in the review, I felt her feelings of disappointment and loss and rejection…. But when I was there in that review there was no covering up. I was the very people that I hurt, and I was the very people I helped to feel good…. It is a real challenge, every single day of my life, to know that when I die I am going to have to witness every single action of mine again, only this time actually feeling the effects I’ve had on others. (See pp. 46-47.)

In all my years in the Worldwide Church, I never heard such a clear and beautiful explanation of God’s judgment. The WCG stressed gehenna fire, death, and three resurrections, one of which was to cast the evil people of the world into a lake of fire. While I can’t prove the above passage by the sociology major is true, it does seem to reflect how you would expect an all-loving Supreme Being to treat his children.

NDEers Become More Spiritual, Less Religious

NDEers “tend to abandon religious doctrine purely for the sake of doctrine,” Dr. Moody writes. One former seminary student reflected this attitude when he described his NDE to Dr. Moody:

My doctor told me I “died” during the surgery. But I told him that I came to life. I saw in that vision what a stuck-up ass I was with all that theory, looking down on everyone who wasn’t a member of my denomination or didn’t subscribe to the theological beliefs that I did. A lot of people I know are going to be surprised when they find out that the Lord isn’t interested in theology. He seems to find some of it amusing, as a matter of fact, because he wasn’t interested at all in anything about my denomination. He wanted to know what was in my heart, not my head.

You can guess after reading the above passage that proponents of the near-death experience might receive some opposition to their writings from conservative ministers who tend to very zealously protect their tithe-paying supporters against teachings contrary to their denomination. And sure enough there is opposition from them. Dr. Maurice Rawlings, M.D., writes in his book Beyond Death’s Door (published by Bantam Books) that a person’s initial encounter with the Being of Light could represent “merely a sorting ground. It could also represent a deceivingly pleasant situation to imply security and sanctuary and to prevent a desire or need for changed lives. This could be a satanic deception according to Charles Ryrie, Billy Graham, Stephen Board and other Christian spokesmen who quote II Corinthians 11:14” (p. 70).

And on page 100 of his book, Dr. Rawlings, himself a staunch Christian, explains that many theologians take issue with the concept of universal forgiveness offered by the Being of Light to patients having “good” experiences, whether their lives were good or not or whether they were believers or not. Dr. Rawlings reminds his readers that Satan, seldom appearing in a bad light, is capable of appearing as an angel himself.

While there is no way to prove or disprove the theory that Satan is deceiving those who have an NDE, there is also the unprovable possibility that Satan is using these Christian-professing ministers to deceive people about the Supreme Being’s true personality. Perhaps the Supreme Being is far more merciful and forgiving than these ministers have ever grasped, and perhaps this Being has an agenda for humankind that none of us have truly comprehended. I think you have to judge the NDEs on their own merit. Are people who have had an NDE becoming atheists, or are they more certain than ever that a Supreme Being exits? Are they more despondent after the experience, or do they have a new zest for living? Do they seek to be more loving and kind than ever, or do they dive into materialism?

While Dr. Moody’s three books will help you answer the above questions, you should also read Dr. Kenneth Ring’s much lengther and more scholarly works titled Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience (published by Quill in 1982) and Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience (published by William Morrow & Co. in 1984). Dr. Ring is a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, the only organization devoted to the spread of information about the NDE to professionals and the lay public.

I found rereading my NDE books and writing this short article to be an exhilarating, emotionally moving experience. I hope all AR readers will pick up one of the NDE books I have mentioned. I guarantee you that reading such a book is a joyous and captivating experience – especially reading the dozens of personal accounts from those who cheated death and lived to tell about it. Another nice feature about the NDE concept is that it is not the product of any religious group. Therefore, reading about the NDE will not lead you to some weird cult that wants to clean out your pocketbook. Knowing about the NDE, however, may broaden your outlook on life and give you an inner peace of mind by offering you answers to questions on the afterlife unavailable from most churches.

*The nom de plume of one of AR’s much appreciated longtime friends and advisers.