Gospel to the Materialists
Eben Alexander, Proof of heaven. A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife, London, Piatkus, 2012, 978-0-7499-5879-4 (originally Simon & Schuster, 2912).
I had once heard that a Harvard scientist had experienced a near-death experience (NDE) which had caused him to reject his previously-held materialist world-view; in July 2019, I came across this book in a second-hand sale, and my guess is that this is the experience I had heard about (though Alexander is a physician whose work has mainly been in southern parts of the United States, from which he comes).
There is much in Alexander’s story that almost defies one not to see the miraculous at work. He was, as he realises, and tells us, the one person – because of his deep knowledge of the workings of the human brain, and extensive clinical experience of treating its malfunctionings – who could interpret his experience, examine it, and know where it was not the result of physical damage caused by sickness, or treatments. Also, there is the way in which his (unique) experience of disease (its source and nature remaining a mystery, despite debunked theories), and its equally-sudden departure and his restoration to full normality. Before, he had been sceptical when patients had referred to NDEs, and inexplicable experiences of a seemingly-non-materialist nature; afterwards, he read many accounts of NDEs, observing a similar thread running through them – and similarities with his own.
Near the beginning of the book, Alexander tells us that he was, prior to the experience, a churchgoer of the Christmas-and-Easter variety, but not (it seems to the reader) a person with any commitment to a Christian/theist world-view. After, his church membership became more serious. At times, however, this appears not to be a specifically-Christian account of the afterlife, nor does it lead the author (it seems) in the direction of specifically-Christian commitment: Jesus is only mentioned once, when Alexander reports on someone else’s interpretation of his own NDE (along with the accounts of others). At least, here, in this book, there is no specifically-Christian content, for this book is “aimed”, so it would seem, at materialists, or those with a “scientific materialist” world-view and the materialist assumption, such as he himself essentially possessed before his NDE, people, or world-views, that he knew, and still comes across in his work and elsewhere; that the book achieved the status (as the blurb tells us) of becoming a “New York Times bestseller” hints that its audience was not to be the US Christian book-market. Of course, this is not a criticism; they is very much need for such books, aimed in this direction. “Proof”, of course, must remain a whimsical claim as long as (and so it will always be) those emotionally committed to materialism continue to avoid evidence, and reason; would such people ever read this book?
The person who had/experienced the NDE, which Alexander reports, met Jesus; Alexander did not. He explains, near the beginning of the book, that people from the southern states attach a lot of importance to family, and family relationships, and Alexander’s discovery – in middle-life – of his original birth family (he was adopted) seems to have been some kind of catalyst for his experience, or at least the only possible one reported. At the end of the book – there is no way of reviewing it without the imminent “plot spoiler” – we learn that the almost-angelic, Beatrice-like, female figure who has been guiding him into, and within, the afterlife is to be identified with a long-dead natural sibling whom he has never met in life; not Jesus, then, but a relative. That our destiny is not (as Christians might believe) to be one-ness with Christ, and a divine vision, but (at least initially) meetings with departed family members, may be a source of disappointment; but the fact of departed forebears in some way attending a person’s death (and initial afterlife?) is a feature that is very well attested, and spoken of with approval by such as very-committed Christian Billy Graham. My only slight unease came, however, when he refers to the possibility of somehow repeating/recreating his experiences in ordinary life, and that by means of meditation, etc. Christians, at least, know that it is not for them to try to acquire, or even desire, otherworldly beatific experiences in this life. However, Proof of Heaven may be a gospel to materialists, but, in my view, it surely has much for us Christians as well.
God, Gays and the Church. Human Sexuality and Experience in ChristianThinking
Lisa Nolland, Chris Sugden and Sarah Finch, eds., God, Gays and the Church. Human Sexuality and Experience in ChristianThinking, London, The Latimer Trust, 2008. 978-0-946307-93-7
The following is a review added to the Amazon.com site in early April 2010, largely in response to a review already present there. This version has been slightly expanded.
This book was produced in response to debates in the Church of England’s General Synod, on 28 February 2007, which it reports on. It is relevant, though, to any examination of the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity, and other sexual issues.
It looks at the whole relationship of the Anglican leadership to the powerful gay lobby, and presents several very sobering accounts of the experiences of gay people, men and women, who have sought to exit homosexual lifestyles (e.g. the account of Dr Ronald G. Lee (p. 59), which deserves to be read at least twice).
Central to the Synod debates, it shows, was an obvious and unsubtle work of engineering, by the leadership, which made sure that the orthodox viewpoint (and the experiences of post-gays, as mentioned above) were marginalised and largely silenced.
Also – and this is very important, and rarely realised – it showed the thoroughly this-worldly (i.e. secular) values by which the debates – of a Christian Church! – were carefully framed by the revisionists (p. 21-2), and the (related) way in which a person’s “experience” (i.e. nature) is, in this view, to be considered sovereign – in defiance of the whole of Christian tradition, belief, thought, and theology.
Also, the book sought to differentiate between the (much-vaunted) “committed, faithful, loving, and stable” relationships and actual sexual exclusivity (p. 11). Contributions by Lisa Nolland (one of the editors) shows how the business of marriage-like relationships between two men (or two women) are just the start, as the ménages of polyamorists, zoos, and consenting paedophiles, are well on the horizon.
The orthodox Christian answer to the incursions of the gay lobby above all (it seems to me) makes the crucial distinction between so-called “liberalism” and authentic freeing (again, see Lee, and several others (pp. 25-59)); it exposes the total falsity of what has been called “the three myths about homosexuality” (it is inherent, it is not changeable, and its is “natural” (physiologically safe)).
Above all, the Christian faith offers real freedom – which is not to be found in the gay lifestyle or from the gay lobby – or by pandering to physical appetites or this-worldly desires. We have moved on since 2007. The time of hysterical name-calling (“Homophobe!”) is over. Now it is the time real facts, objective evidence, truth – and real liberation. The only people who could be offended by this book (as one of the Amazon reviewers was) are those determined that the prisoner’s chains may never be broken, that the doors of their jails remain ever shut.