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Are Near Death Experiences Fact or Fiction?

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Are Near Death Experiences Fact or Fiction?

What can really be known or proved about NDE's?

By: C.C.

Summary: Catholic Perspective On Near Death Experiences.

Keywords: Near Death Experience | Near Death Experiences | Catholic Perspective on Near Death Experiences | Catholic Perspective on NDEs | NDE | NDE's | NDEs | Nearing Death | Close to Death | Out of Body Experience | Out of Body Experiences | God | Jesus | Blessed Virgin Mary | Heaven | Saints | Heavenly | Salvation | Judgment | Hell | Damnation | Soul | Spirit | Faith | Test of Faith | Miracle | Miracles | Life | Death | Apparent Death | Vital Signs | Raise From the Dead | Discernment of Spirits | Deception | Satan | Demonic | Religious Indifferentism | Red Flags | True or False? | Fact or Fiction?

Have you ever wondered whether "near death experiences" are real or not? Those who claim to have had a "NDE" believe they are real, and they may persuade others as well. But what can we really know or prove about NDE's?

First, I would say that we should not castigate those who claim a NDE for their feelings or experiences. It is possible or even likely that such persons felt or experienced something, perhaps something that affected them very deeply. Some people who claim to experience a NDE can even put forth "proof" of their NDE (e.g. seeing or hearing something they should not have been able to see or hear). I'll return to that issue later. Regardless, NDE claims should NOT be considered indisputable.

As time passes, I've come to have some general reservations about NDE's. For one similar to the irrationality associated with false apparitions many deluded Catholics will cast aside revealed doctrine and have more faith in their (or someone else's) reported experiences than in the official teachings of the Catholic Church. Do you see a problem? Putting some individuals' subjective (and absolutely NOT authoritative!) experiences ABOVE the constant teachings of the Lord's only True Church can never be acceptable. Who will be delighted about this inversion, God or Satan? Of course the answer is Satan. Christ's True Church enjoys infallibility in her constant teachings and she acts under Jesus' authority. Jesus is God and God can never be mistaken. There is no authority on earth higher than the Church on all matters religion. Certainly not someone who claims a NDE, no matter how staunchly they believe in their experience!

And NDE's have the potential to be ever more dangerous because "anyone can have them" and because no prone-to-be-investigated alleged vision of the Lord Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary is necessary. In fact, the NDE claimer will likely be free to spread their commentary "far and wide" sans any evaluation by the Church. NDE claimers may spawn even greater "authority" for their NDE by alleging to have "heard", "seen" or "felt" Jesus, the Blessed Virgin or some Saint, also without any proper Church investigation to back up the assertion. The person reporting a NDE may be utterly sincere in their belief, even if simultaneously just as wrong about the authenticity of their claims. Plus the claimer may be delighted to share their "heavenly" experiences and passionate about doing so, whereas skeptical hearers may be reluctant or unable to offer a critique. So the potential for harm is considerable as little resistance is presented.

And a dilemma presents itself someone cannot prove a NDE is real and someone else likely cannot prove a NDE is false. Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that "few charitable Catholics" want to or feel qualified to criticize someone's heartfelt "heavenly" experiences.

Although it is sincerely difficult for me to relate, I will recall here that I have a dearly beloved relative who had a "near death experience" while in a hospital. This cherished and now deeply missed relative (R.I.P.) recounted a positive "heavenly" encounter decades ago. The experience so moved my relative that they were troubled by being "brought back to life" by medical professionals. I have struggled with my thoughts concerning this event for years. I wholly believe my beloved relative felt or experienced something that was considered "peaceful" or "heavenly." And a "peaceful" sensation might normally be a positive indicator in "discernment of spirits." Yet God sees all things, including subsequent events. In this case, God would see in the future what is literally bringing me to tears as I recall that this same dearly beloved relative a model of charitable giving would ultimately take his own life. As I beg your prayers for my relative's departed soul (please God, let my beloved relative somehow not be responsible for this horrible act, or have been granted a brief moment to profoundly repent before dying!), I will share some of my thoughts about the NDE.

If there was in this case a NDE from God, we know that it would have been given by our Loving Father for my relative's benefit. Maybe a "peaceful, heavenly" NDE would strengthen my beloved relative's faith. But on the other hand, couldn't it have been a deception from the enemy, pushing my relative towards the suicidal act because "peace and light" were waiting instead of fostering "fear of the Lord" which is recommended in Holy Scripture? I remember hearing that the holiest saints "tremble at the thought of their judgment." Given events in the future, wouldn't fear of judgment rather than a "peaceful, heavenly" NDE have ultimately been better for my relative's soul?

Undoubtedly, I think we have to ask the purpose of NDE's. If they are to strengthen faith, why? There are Sacraments and prayer for that. Plus is it genuinely faith when you see something? Doesn't faith actually require that you do NOT see it? How would it be faith if you have seen it? Certainly NDE's would not be given by God merely to satisfy curiosity. Conscientious Catholics can safely rule out such unworthy reasons. Can it be that a soul "nearing death" needs particular direction from heaven? While this theory cannot be immediately ruled out, it clearly would be indefensible when NDE's give no particular direction (such as in the case of my relative) or when the direction given is amiss. What about when the NDE's require "interpretation"? In most cases, wouldn't you agree that God typically gives important spiritual direction to a person through the agency of others, such as relatives or priests? Or maybe through good spiritual reading or an "interior inspiration"? Why would there be a need for God to act in such an extraordinary way as with a NDE? Especially since NDE's might be "feelings based", not verifiable, and since the experiencers are clearly not in a good physical state, being "almost dead"? If course it's possible, but for me it throws up the first red flag.

Some might be surprised that the second red flag, in my opinion, is the "proof" that is sometimes presented in favor of NDE's. To illustrate, I have heard persons reporting NDE's claim to see or hear something they should not have been able to see or hear, like a conversation in another room or an object residing in a light fixture or on top of a roof. Many consider such events to be "irrefutable" proof of NDE's. Undoubtedly, reporting such facts accurately by a formerly "dead" or "almost dead" person who "could not have known" them has a considerable chance at persuasion. But on further reflection, how can this be "irrefutable" proof? We know Satan has great power as the "prince of this world" (John 12:31) and "whispering" these facts into someone's ear is hardly an "extraordinary miracle", but rather a "parlor game." Do the rather "creepy" events (e.g. hearing a conversation occurring in another room, discovering debris in a light or on a rooftop) seem like the kind of "proof" God provides to attest to His work? Compare these trivial NDE "proofs" with Jesus' tremendous miracles in Holy Scripture (e.g. the healings, His power over nature, etc.) and those associated with the Blessed Virgin (e.g. the dancing of the sun at Fatima). Does it really seem likely that Almighty God would attest to a "heavenly" NDE by having the experiencer inexplicably hear a conversation or know where some debris is located? Simple for Satan to do this though. And with what effect!

And I keep coming back to the why. What is the purpose of NDE's? God would not provide NDE's without a reason. They are not needed for salvation. All that is needed for salvation already rests within the Holy Catholic Church. So what is the reason? Doesn't it trouble you that NDE's are potentially harmful? Try arguing actual facts concerning religion with someone who thinks God or Mary told them otherwise in their NDE! Try informing someone who has had a "religiously indifferent" NDE of the Catholic Church's infallible teachings about Baptism and the need to practice the Catholic faith for salvation! Can you now see the great opportunity for danger in NDE's? For those who experience a NDE, who are they going to believe, you or their NDE? Truth or their own "heavenly experience"? No matter how mistaken they are, what is the chance they will be made to accept actual truth (especially hard truths) after experiencing their own personal NDE (especially if it was pleasant or gave them some "secret knowledge")? Furthermore, you might notice that NDE promotion may be propagated by questionable persons or entities, possibly some associated with the demonic underworld. To be clear, I am not saying the persons who report NDE's are questionable or associated with Satan. What I am saying is that some who PROMOTE and PROPAGATE the NDE stories may have such a connection. Verify it for yourself. Or better yet, stay far away from it! What I think is safe to say is that NDE's have NOT traditionally been highly promoted or propagated by the Catholic Church. I will leave stories of saints as possible exceptions, but the content of saints' "NDE" messages are undoubtedly not religiously indifferent or otherwise harmful to faith or morals. Otherwise they would not be saints by propagating such messages!

Even if a NDE today is not propagated by questionable participants (or those seeking attention), I find another red flag with the general premise of NDE's. Are we to believe that God sends people back? "Nope, not the right time for you. Sorry buddy." Like portrayed in movies, do Catholics generally think heaven is run by "a bumbling cast of characters"? Are we to forget the Scripture passage in the New Testament that says "...it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment"? (Hebrews 9:27) According to Scripture the rule is to die and be judged, not be sent back for a second chance! Second chances at life (like Lazarus, raised by Jesus from the dead) are truly "miraculous exceptions" and are NOT what occurs with a "garden variety" NDE. Recall that Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead served to solidify belief in Christ, the master of life and death. It was not done merely so Lazarus could experience some "heavenly message" and then return to earth. This biblical event and today's NDE's are NOT comparable. Mind you there is a world of difference between being "at the brink of death" (today's NDE's experiencers) and "actual death" (Lazarus). Even if someone has no vital signs, they are not necessarily dead. Recall that actual death occurs when the soul leaves the body, which is NOT detectable at all by vital signs and may occur a while after all vital signs have stopped. Someone who has a NDE, no matter how long they had no vital signs was NOT actually dead, even though it may be reported otherwise. There is no test for determining when a soul leaves the body! That is why an "apparently dead" person can still receive Extreme Unction conditionally for a certain amount of time. Actual death death where the soul has left the body cannot be determined with certainty until after a certain point (e.g. a day or more after apparent death). Lazarus actually reached this point being in the tomb for four days, people today who report NDE's have not reached this point.

Yet people may be found today who want to believe in NDE's because they feel it strengthens their faith in the afterlife or makes them "feel closer to God." For those, I would recommend the sacraments (including God Himself in the Holy Eucharist!), prayer and good spiritual reading. Don't have your faith "strengthened" by occurrences which may not be heavenly, and which might even be deceptions of the enemy. Get your faith from God, not NDE's. Do not seek proof, as that is not faith! And baptized Catholics in the state of grace should learn to feel close to the real God in the Holy Eucharist and to the Holy Trinity that resides within their souls (see John 14:23 and 1 Cor. 6:19).

I have no intention whatsoever of putting down persons who claim to have experienced a NDE. But I would remind that NDE's are not necessary for salvation, and I'd further warn that we have an enemy who could use NDE's as the perfect opportunity for his evil plans. Some more warnings may be in order...

1. The stronger and more emphatically something is believed doesn't mean that what is believed is actually true. Someone thinking they see or hear something doesn't actually make it real (if you don't believe me, ask a schizophrenic!).

2. Some elements of a NDE could be natural occurrences when the body & mind are in such a state. I have another relative (not the one referenced above), who reported seeing strange things while he was dying. When the body is very sick, the sufferer may have the potential to see and experience all sorts of things that aren't really there. Also take into account the possible hallucinatory effects of medication.

3. You should rely on the constant teachings of the Church over reported or experienced NDE's. NDE's that are not doctrinally sound should NOT be regarded as heavenly messages. In fact, we must leave open the possibility that doctrinally suspect NDE's might be a test of faith (e.g. do you hold on to what Christ's Church has always taught or do you rather believe what has come into your own, or someone else's, mind?).

4. Persons experiencing a NDE are in an altered & potentially medicated state and probably wouldn't be very good witnesses in court. Why should they be relied upon for accurate information about the NDE considering they admit they were "dead" or "almost dead" at the time of the experience? It is also not possible to go back to the time of the experience, view photographs of what they saw, or ask questions of those involved (e.g. reported heavenly beings). The person reporting the NDE can only offer their testimony, and again, they were "dead" or "almost dead" at the time of the experience so not the most reliable witnesses! And any "special knowledge" they may have gained from the NDE is suspect as possibly coming from Satan. This always remains a possibility, and there is no way to prove otherwise.

5. NDE's might lead to poor life choices ("I don't have to pray for Cousin Martha's soul anymore because I saw she's already in heaven!") or to pride ("I'm special because God or Mary or Saint Soandso talked directly to me!").

6. NDE's might be used by Satan to decrease Catholic's belief in hell and promote religious indifferentism ("I saw Soandso in heaven even though they were a notorious sinner in a false religion!").

7. NDE's must be assessed from the perspective of truth. Truth cannot be cast aside regardless of anyone's feelings.

8. NDE's may not be what they seem to be. Even if an experience is authentic, the origin of the experience or the real meaning of the experience cannot be known with complete certainty.

9. All people, no matter how good or sincere, have the potential to be deceived and deluded, either by Satan or other causes. (Of course, I leave out Jesus and the Blessed Virgin!)

10. Even NDE's that don't affect Church teachings require caution. Let's not forget we have an enemy who plots our ruin! Wouldn't it be bad to treat something even "benign" from Satan as if it came from God? So be on your guard.

When evaluating a NDE, the content cannot be separated from the event. If the message of the NDE warns of hell, I might be more inclined to view it a bit more favorably (meaning I might be more inclined to believe it was a true message), especially if the person was living in sin. However, if the NDE is reported by a good and faithful Catholic living in God's grace, I would be negatively inclined towards the message. Likewise, if such a NDE is reported by a scrupulous person and may lead to a worsening of their condition I would consider it suspect. Similarly with a "peaceful" message that might lead to complacency. If nothing is wrong with the message from a doctrinal standpoint, and it makes the person better live the Church's teachings – especially if it encourages them to make difficult choices to live a more holy life – perhaps it was a gift from God. Here it might help to examine all fruits of the NDE. Even if the NDE itself was not real, God may still have allowed it for the person's good.

In summary, I would say that Catholics should be careful to not get taken in by NDE's and should keep a cautious mindset about them because they might not be what they seem. I suggest a commonsense approach to evaluating NDE's, taking some clues from traditional Church teaching regarding "discernment of spirits." Yet, keep in mind that even a "heavenly and peaceful" NDE may not actually be a communication from God. For those who need a message from Heaven, Christ (God!) has already given it, as has His precursor, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (See Matthew 3:2 and 4:17)

Some questions about NDE's can never be answered while we remain on earth, yet the nature of NDE's definitely present a danger to souls. Perhaps some are a grace from God, or perhaps they may be a deception of the devil. Regardless, don't ever let a NDE shake your solid Catholic faith. Keep in mind that might actually be what NDE's are designed to accomplish. "And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14)

Signature ImageSignature: C.C.


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