The Importance of Death in Modern Society
Death is one of the few universal experiences of human existence.
It is the most predictable event in our lives, one that is to be
expected with absolute certainty. Yet, the nature of death is
immersed in deep mystery. —Stanislav Grof, M.D. and Joan Halifax,
The Human Encounter with Death
Vast numbers of books now exist on dying—books for the terminally
ill and their family and friends, for researchers and death educators,
for psychotherapists and gerontologists, for physicians, nurses and
hospice workers. One would think death were a new topic.
There are also instruction manuals on what to expect and/or what to
do at or after death, such as the Tibetan, Egyptian, American, and
other Books of the Dead. There are even various New Age devices to
help induce "near-death experiences" or "out-of-body experiences" as a
"preparation" for death. And there are self-help manuals on how to
At numerous universities the social sciences (psychology, for
example) frequently incorporate the field of thanatology—the study of
death. Some writers have even divided the subject into two major
branches—"applied" and "theoretical" thanatology.2
Today, a new interest in death has emerged that promises to expand
well into the twenty-first century. Perhaps more than any other
subject, the "near-death experience" (NDE) has helped resurrect this
interest in death. But what is an NDE? It is an alleged experience of
the afterlife that takes place while a person is clinically dead.
It appears that, along with everything else, death has come out of
the closet. In the March 1992 Life magazine it was noted that
"the increasingly open discussion of these [NDE] visions has begun to
change the climate of dying in America."3
The Near-Death Experience: Popularizing an Occultic View of Death
What is a near-death experience?
The typical near-death experience (NDE) has been described by
leading death researcher Dr. Raymond Moody. His several books,
including the eight-million bestseller Life After Life, opened
a new era of "scientific" study of the near-death experience. With the
near-death or clinical death phenomenon some people who are brought
back from "death" have reported being alive the entire time they were
"dead." This phenomenon occurs among people with a wide diversity of
religious belief and no religious belief at all—from atheists to Zen
When co-author John Weldon wrote his first book on the subject in
1976, there was almost no literature available. Today there are scores
of books and research papers. Unfortunately, almost all of them reveal
that the NDE is frequently an occult experience.
The composite or classic NDE5
involves the perception of being "out of the body"—and looking down at
one’s body while resuscitation attempts are being administered. Soon
afterward the person finds he or she is in another location where the
spirit world is encountered. There the person engages in non-verbal or
verbal communication with various spirits, usually of dead friends and
relatives or a "being of light." This entity is often very warm and
loving and involves the "dead" person in an evaluation of his or her
life by showing an instantaneous playback of the major events. At some
point, the person finds himself approaching a barrier or border which
he is not allowed to cross. He is told he must go back to earth, for
his time to die has not yet arrived. However, the participant’s
experience in this other state of existence is frequently so peaceful,
joyful, and loving that he desperately does not want to return.
Nevertheless, he finds himself back in his body anyway. And when he
awakens in this world he finds that he had been pronounced dead, but
was fortunately (?) revived.6
Skeptics and materialists are doubtful about all this and have put
forth a variety of theories that they think explain the phenomenon.
Some of the major explanations are that NDEs are
1. hallucinations induced by pain or medication;
2. leftover memories from the experience of birth;
3. the brain’s reaction to altered levels of carbon dioxide;
4. psychological wish fulfillment (the hope of a heaven);
5. experiences related to Jung’s theory of the collective
unconscious and/or archetypes;
6. experiences induced by drugs—LSD, heroin, marijuana, etc.,
or various anesthetic agents;
7. temporal lobe seizures, and
8. sensory deprivation.
The problem with these theories is that none of them adequately
explain the facts of the NDE. For example, they cannot explain how
people who were brain dead at the time are later able to describe in
vivid detail the attempts of medical personnel to resuscitate them. It
would seem that the most logical explanation is that these people were
somehow outside their bodies actually observing the procedure.
Let us give an example. In one study, 25 medically informed
patients were asked to make educated guesses about what happens when a
doctor attempts to resuscitate a clinically dead patient. Almost all
persons in the control group (23 of 25) made "major mistakes" in
providing descriptions of the resuscitation procedure. On the other
hand, "none of the near-death patients made mistakes in describing
what went on in their own resuscitations."7
Studies like this present evidence that these people were actually
outside their bodies looking down upon their "death" just as they
How frequent are these experiences? What are their implications?
It should be emphasized that not every dying person has an
experience of this type. Most have none at all, and of those who do,
not all are glorious. Although most Americans seem unaware of the
fact, many people—perhaps up to half—report hellish experiences.
Further, Christian and non-Christian NDEs appear to be of a
qualitatively different nature; for instance, the occult elements are
typically lacking in the Christian NDE.8
However, polls indicate that some ten million Americans have had a
near-death experience, and the influence of these experiences upon the
public’s perception of death has been dramatic. The NDE has played a
major role in promoting the view that death may not be so bad after
all. Further, millions of NDEs have helped to under gird an occult
view of death (and even life) as something that is highly positive.
For example, contacting the alleged dead or other spirits is so
frequent in the NDE that the disciplines most likely to benefit from
such episodes are mediumism, channeling and other forms of spiritism.
Thus, if we examine near-death research as a whole, it essentially
confirms the mediumistic view of the afterlife.
In fact, as more scientists have become interested in the NDE, the
possibility has emerged for a "scientific" necromancy to develop under
the guise of death research. Because NDEs often involve contact with
the dead, these experiences can be used to promote a "legitimate
scientific" basis to study mediumism and other forms of spiritism.
After all, some may reason, if dying people experience contact with
the dead, how can scientific objectivity be retained if we refuse to
study living contact with the dead—for example, through mediumism and
other forms of the occult?
Nevertheless, Gallup and other polls consistently reveal that over
70 percent of Americans believe in life after death, and have since
1944 when surveys began: 70 to 80 percent continue to believe in
heaven and 50 to 60 percent in hell.9
But with the occult revival in our culture, necromancy has also
been increasingly accepted. Almost half of a Los Angeles sample (44
percent) "claimed encounters with others known to be dead."10
A nationwide poll conducted in 1986 by sociologist Andrew Greeley of
the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center, based on a
sample of almost 1,500 people, found nearly identical results—42
percent believed they had been in contact with the dead.11
Perhaps this explains why channeling alone is now a $100 million a
One reason these NDEs are so powerful in our culture is that they
seem to deny the biblical teaching of an eternal hell, which many
people fear. Rather, these experiences teach people that they will
live forever in a heavenly environment and that there are no
consequences to death at all. This is what most people want to
Thus, the way the NDE is currently being popularized in American
life the biblical concept of hell could be erased from our culture.
Millions of people who once weren’t so sure are now convinced that
death is a wonderful experience and that there is no hell.13
Even many ministers have been so influenced by the near-death
experience as to reject the biblical view and adopt an occult one. All
of this is a reflection of our cultural swing toward the New Age view
of death, which is fundamentally spiritistic in nature.
Is the NDE a genuine experience with death or merely a mystical
experience with profound consequences?
What many people do not understand is that with an NDE we are not
dealing with true death. And, we are certainly not dealing in the
realm of scientific confirmation of life after death, despite some
proponents’ claims. Rather, we are encountering personal,
mystical/occult experiences that occur in some near-death states. But
these same experiences also occur in many occult religions and
practices and in various altered states of consciousness wholly
unrelated to death per se.
For example, in large measure the NDE is merely one form of the
occult out-of-body experience (OBE). Both have fundamentally the same
impact on the person—removal of the fear of death and dramatic
But both the NDE and OBE have many other similarities including
cross-cultural occurrence, spiritistic contacts, worldview changes and
development of psychic powers.15
One of the leading modern NDE researchers is University of
Connecticut psychologist Dr. Kenneth Ring. In Heading Toward Omega,
he reveals two crucial implications of the NDE: (1) its removal of the
fear of death; and (2) its radical transformation of the living.
For almost everyone Ring and other researchers have encountered,
the NDE has been one of utterly indescribable joy, love, beauty,
peace, and harmony. According to Ring,
The great unanimity of these reports means that there is a
consensus among near-death experiencers concerning what it is like
to die.... The experience of death is exceedingly pleasant. Indeed,
the word "pleasant" is far too mild; the word "ecstatic" would be
chosen by many survivors of this experience. No words are truly
adequate to describe the sense of ultimate perfection that appears
to characterize the entry into death.16
He cites the description given by the famed psychotherapist Carl
Jung who described the feelings he had after his own NDE: "What
happens after death is so unspeakably glorious that our imaginations
and our feelings do not suffice to form even an approximate conception
of it…."17 Thus Ring concludes:
No one who has experienced, even vicariously, what NDErs have can
ever again regard death with anything other than a sense of infinite
gratitude for its existence. This, I submit, is what follows from a
careful perusal of near-death experiences, but what follows from a
study of aftereffects is different—and just as profound. It is
nothing less than a new view of life.18
In essence, the NDE itself is analogous to the planting of a
spiritual "seed" within a person which then appears to grow into its
genetically predetermined tree—replete with fruit. As Ring comments,
"The key to the meaning of NDEs lies in the study of their
This is why, Ring says, almost all early researchers necessarily
missed the true meaning of the NDE—enough time had not elapsed to
examine its real fruit. We agree. By examining the "fruit" of the NDE,
we may ascertain its true meaning. In the next several questions we
will do this.
1 Stanislav Grof and Joan
Halifax, The Human Encounter with Death (New York: Dutton,
1977), p. 1
2 In applied thanatology one
is taught how to die "correctly" according to various Eastern/occult
traditions—typically utilizing the Books of the Dead. These books
are often incorporated with the latest findings in parapsychology
and similar research into the Near-Death Experience (NDE).
The theoretical branch principally involves the study of the
"evidence" for survival after death—which includes not only NDEs,
but mediumism, reincarnation research, out-of-body episodes,
poltergeists and apparition research, and many other occult topics.
3 Verlyn Klinkenborg, "At the
Edge of Eternity," Life magazine (March 1992), p. 66.
4 E.g., Raymond Moody, Life
After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon—Survival of Bodily
Death (Atlanta: Mockingbird, 1976), p. 98.
5 The reader should understand
that approximately 65 percent of those who have been clinically dead
report no experience at all. Further, those who have experienced a
near-death episode report experiences along a continuum [Moody,
Life After Life, p. 24.]. Only infrequent or rare experiences
include the "composite" or "full" NDE containing almost all the
characteristics noted to date in NDEs. The "normal" and most
frequent NDE contains some or many but not all the characteristics
of the "composite" experience. The "deep" NDE is also not a
composite experience. But in its large number of characteristics
and/or its profundity (including the subsequent impact upon the
person), it is distinguished as a more powerful NDE than average and
in some respects is as powerful as the full-blown occult NDE. We
should remember that not every NDE is by definition occult.
Nevertheless, the more pagan a culture becomes, the more it opens
itself to occult forces.
In our opinion, the spiritual background of those having deep
NDEs could prove significant. Examining their family histories to
four generations in terms of psychic/occult involvement—or even a
distinctly anti-Christian orientation—may help reveal the origin of
these experiences. Deeper NDEs are occult experiences, and occult
experiences frequent persons for specific reasons based on specific
spiritual conditions [e.g., Kurt Koch, Christian Counseling and
Occultism (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), pp. 37-192.].
Nevertheless, if even 10 percent of the ten million people
who have had the "average" NDE have had a deep NDE, we are dealing
with over one million persons who have had the fully transformative
NDE experience. Furthermore, as our technology improves and
resuscitation attempts continue, there will be millions more, so
none can deny the importance of this phenomenon. The fact that this
experience itself (unsought and unexpected) may finally produce
occult transformation in the lives of several million persons
is substantiated by the occult revival now coursing through society.
6 Raymond Moody, The Light
Beyond: New Explorations by the Author of Life After Life (New
York: Bantam, 1989), pp. 7-20.
7 Melvin Morse, M. D.,
Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of
Children (New York: Villard Books, 1990), p. 105; cf. Mark
Woodhouse, "Five Arguments Regarding the Objectivity of NDE’s,"
Anabiosis, Vol. 3, No. 1.
8 Based on personal
conversations and the initial research of those studying Christian
NDEs such as Dr. Nina Helene; cf. John Weldon and Zola Levitt, Is
There Life After Death? (Dallas: Zola Levitt Ministries, 1990),
9 "Religion in America: 50
Years: 1935-1985," The Gallup Report, No. 236 (May 1985), p.
53; U.S. News and World Report (March 25, 1991), p. 57.
Although over half believed in hell, only 3 to 4 percent thought
their chances were good of going there.
10 The Gallup Report,
p. 53; see also Death Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, p. 95 and
Psychology Today (January 1981), p. 65.
11 Andrew Greeley, "Mysticism
Goes Mainstream," American Health (January/February 1987),
12 John Ankerberg and John
Weldon, Cult Watch: What You Need to Know About Spiritual
Deception (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991), p. 167.
13 U. S. News and World
Report (March 25, 1991), p. 57.
14 Robert Monroe, Journeys
Out of the Body, passim; the published studies by Dr. Robert
Crookall, e.g., The Study and Practice of Astral Projection
(Secaucus, NJ: The Citadel Press, 1960); Herbert Greenhouse,
The Astral Journey (New York: Avon, 1976).
15 Compare Kenneth Ring’s
Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death
Experience (New York: William Morrow, 1985) and the books of
Robert Monroe, et al., cited above.
16 Ring, Heading, p.
17 Moody, The Light Beyond,
18 Ring, Heading, p.
19 Ibid., p. 27.