Near Death Experience: A Damaging Lie?
When young schoolboy Alex Malarkey was involved in a severe car accident, he spent months in a coma as a result. Thankfully he survived. However, upon his return, he recounted an experience that was to amaze his family and friends: he claimed that he had been taken to heaven, where he had met Jesus Christ. Malarkey’s out-of-body experience led him to co-author a book with his father, entitled The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.
The book was quickly snapped up by a popular Christian publisher, where it quickly ranked high sales and raised high hopes to the readers that accepted the account. However, on January 13th 2015, Malarkey penned an open letter to the publishers, confessing that his account of the after-life was a deception, and that, “I never went to heaven, I did not die. When I made the claims I did, I thought it would get me attention.”
As a result, the book was pulled off the shelves. Disappointed readers of Christian faith expressed their dismay at learning the truth. Sceptics of the near-death-experience openly criticised not only the book, but the many people who had eagerly subscribed to the supernatural account.
Does this disappointing admission from Alex Malarkey damage the reputation of a field of study that is seriously examined by neurologists and biologists the world over? To see how easy it is to lie, enhance or replicate experience?
Hopes of an after-life have saturated humanity from the beginning. Whether it was the Egyptians, who buried their dead with tools to help them cross over to the other side, or Christians, who trust in the gospel proclamation of eternal life, there has always been an element of hope that there may be more to life than the physical ‘here and now’.
Are near-death-experiences a modern day clue to what may – or may not – lay beyond the moment of death? That there have been many, many documented cases of people who were clinically dead, ‘returning’ with fascinating tales, is but one aspect of the NDE experience. Altogether more compelling – in my opinion – are the cases in which revived individuals are able to recount events they witnessed whilst clinically dead. Events that are often corroborated by medical professionals. For example, an individual, whilst brain dead, witnessing conversations and actions between nurses and doctors during attempts at resuscitation. Those descriptions, often described in some detail, often match exactly what was going on in the room – at a time when the patient should have been aware of nothing.
Argument and debate continues, as do serious medical studies. Sceptics argue that the classic NDE experience is nothing more than “fireworks” from a dying brain. Lack of oxygen can cause hallucination, it has been said. Believers conclude that any experience independent of the physical body, whilst clinically dead, lends credence to the concept of life-after-death. The possibility that consciousness exists separately from the mind is being explored seriously, with some very impressive case studies bringing more to the table of debate.
Raymond Moody, a psychologist and proponent of the validity of NDE, studied thousands of cases before his own death, and personally concluded that life existed beyond physical death. Scientists at the university of Southampton studied NDE in October 2014, and concluded that the mind “may continue to exist after the brain has ceased to function,” as a result of research on the experiences of those who suffered cardiac arrest.
It is a fascinating and mysterious field of study, sure to ignite hope in the faithful, and to give substance to those who believe there is life after death. Does the fictitious account of Alex Malarkey cause damage to the reputation of NDE studies and its subscribers? It is unlikely, although it is certainly not good news that experiences of this nature can be exaggerated or fabricated to such great effect – and with such mass acceptance.
Whilst the answers evade us, sceptics can remain unmoved by what has, so far, been offered as proof of eternal life. However, I do not think that the disappointing fictions of a school boy – admittedly seeking attention – can deter those who are still examining the NDE with full fervor and with a clear scientific approach.
I would love to know your thoughts on NDE, and on your ideas regarding survival of consciousness. Is it all a misunderstanding, which can be understood once science has caught up? Or are we really on our way to uncovering the truth behind a mystery that has haunted human beings from the very beginning?