Book review: Glimpsing Heaven
by Judy Bachrach
This is the most comforting book about death I’ve ever read. Oddly, it wasn’t written by a Christian. Bachrach remains an atheist. It’s about near-death experiences, but it has nothing to do with belief. Rather, it’s a study of what “death travelers” report as having experienced.
The thing is, we are better able to study these experiences than ever before, because medicine has advanced so rapidly. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a frequent way of reviving the dead, has become commonplace. More and more people are brought back from the dead, their brains stuffed with memories of what they experienced. We now have tens of thousands of reported cases.
Some common claims include a lucidity of experience even among people with brain damage like Alzheimers, a feeling of deep bliss, and feeling of going home. Speechless communication with other beings is often reported. Traditional Christian teachings are usually contradicted; warnings of eternal damnation or promises of a blessed eternity to the faithful hold no water with those who have been there and back, and most return with no fear of death. A very common word on the lips of survivors when recounting what they experienced is “love,” but this experience has no correlation with religious attendance. It just doesn’t much matter what you believe. It happens to Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. It happens whether you believe in an afterlife or not; whether you believe in God or not. Only two of the people Bachrach researched encountered Jesus in the afterlife, and none met up with the devil.
However, some death travelers do still report a deepening of faith. One person recounted that she discovered she was “perfect, endowed with love,” and later realized that so is everyone else. She had never before understood the passage in the Bible about being created in God’s image, and it finally made sense.
The one thing that I found not comforting about Bachrach’s research is how commonly death experiences cause divorce. People who have experienced death often undergo a radical change in priorities. Selfish desires make way for universal concerns–they feel united and at one with rest of the world–and this new focus is hard for spouses to understand.
But are these experiences “real”? We still don’t know, but the experiencers usually insist they are. Bachrach fairly examines the pros and cons and doesn’t pretend to be an expert, but her bias shows. She believes.
National Geographic Society, © 2014, 249 pages