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Eben Alexander’s book “Proof of Heaven” is a fascinating exploration of his own near death experience (NDE), which occurred during a bout of bacterial meningitis that nearly killed him, putting him in a coma for a week. As a neuroscientist, he brings his scientific understanding to bear on the experience.
The briefest synopsis of the book:
- Alexander experienced a spiritual realm and the presence of a divine Creator
- He was guided by a spirit who he later came to believe was his dead sister whom he had never met
- After a miraculous full recovery, he first recorded his own experiences
- He went on to research the NDE phenomenon and spirituality in general
I’ll paraphrase a few passages that I find particularly profound. This first one is Dr. Alexander’s picture of the typical scientist’s world view:
Science seems to be providing a steady onslaught of evidence that pushes our significance in the universe ever closer to zero. Belief would be nice, but science is not concerned with what would be nice. It’s only cares about what is.
Next, the answer to the problem of evil, as revealed to him by the Creator during his NDE:
Evil is necessary because without it, free will is impossible, and without free will, there can be no growth, … no chance for us to become what God longs for us to be. As horrible and all powerful as evil sometimes seems to be in our world, love is overwhelmingly dominant, and will ultimately be triumphant.
His revealed cosmology mirrors the teaching of St. Paul:
Love is the basis of everything. Not some abstract, hard to fathom kind of love, but the day to day kind that we all know — the kind of love we feel when we look at our spouse and children, or even our pets. In its purest, most powerful form, love is not jealous or selfish, but unconditional. This is the reality of reality, the incomprehensibly glorious truth of truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or ever will. No remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by one who does not know this and embody it in all of their actions.
Dr. Alexander square his experience with “material reality” as follows:
We can only see what our brain’s filter allows through. The brain — in particular its logical, linguistic, left side, which generates our sense of rationality and the feeling of being a sharply defined ego or self — is a barrier to our higher knowledge and experience. We are now facing a crucial time in our existence. We need to recover more of the larger truth here on earth.
He has this to say about the close minded:
Science doesn’t contradict spiritual truth, but far too many people believe it does, because certain members of the scientific community, who are pledged to the materialistic worldview, insist again and again that science and spirituality cannot coexist. They are mistaken.
The following quote makes sense of Jesus’s first commandment, to love God:
The false suspicion that we can somehow be separated from God is the root of every form of anxiety in the universe. The cure for them is the knowledge that nothing can tear us from God, ever.
On the origin of consciousness:
The brain doesn’t produce consciousness. It is, instead, a kind of reducing valve or filter, shifting the larger, nonphysical consciousness that we possess in the spiritual realm down to work in a more limited capacity for the duration of our mortal lives. Making the right decisions through free will in the face of evil and injustice would mean far less if we remembered the full beauty and brilliance of what awaits us.
His statement about the nature of evil sounds suspiciously like that made by some sects of gnosticism:
Small particles of evil were scattered throughout the universe, bu the sum total of that evil is as a grain of sand on a vast beach of goodness, abundance, hope, and the unconditional love in which the universe is literally awash. The very fabric of the spiritual realm is love and acceptance, and anything that does not have these qualities appears immediately and obviously out of place there.