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Finding The Truth in The Light

Posted on 05 March 2012, 15:04

Ever since reading Dr. Raymond Moody’s seminal book on near-death experiences in 1975, I have read at least 50 books dealing with the near-death experience (NDE).  If I were to rank them by what I call the “4 INs” – Interesting, Informative, Intriguing, and Inspirational – I’m reasonably sure that Heaven is for Real, a father’s account of his four-year-old son’s NDE and three-minute trip to heaven, would be at the very bottom of my list.  I struggled to read it and tossed it aside several times before finally finishing it, just to see if the best of it might be in the closing pages.

And yet the book has been atop the New York Times best seller list for 53 weeks (not consecutive) and has reportedly sold more than six million copies.  I don’t get it….I take that back…I do get it.  The book was written by a Christian minister and the boy saw Jesus during his NDE.  Thus, it appeals to the Christians of the world, especially the evangelicals and fundamentalists.  What I don’t get is how all the evangelicals and fundamentalists can be so enamored of this little boy’s NDE and so repulsed by nearly all other NDEs.

Is the NDE real only if the person sees Jesus and the experience is otherwise consistent with scripture?  Or, could it be that that all other NDEs are real but demonic in nature?
Of course, the closed-minded skeptic would say they are all hallucinations of an oxygen-deprived brain.

There would be four or five books in contention for number one on my list, but I doubt that any of them sold even a small fraction of six million copies. One of the contenders for top spot would be The Truth in the Light by Dr. Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick.  This book was first published in 1995 and recently republished by White Crow Books.  It offers dozens of NDE’s as intriguing, if not more so, than the best seller, and some of them involve the experiencer seeing Jesus. 

“Then I was pulled up through the roof and I had this glorious sense of freedom,” the Fenwicks quote one experiencer, who had been blind since she was three months old and had an NDE at age 22 during a three-day coma after being in an auto accident. “I could move wherever I wanted to.  I was above the street, above the hospital, and I was ecstatic about being able to move wherever I wanted to.  Then that ended suddenly.  I was sucked into a tunnel, and heard a sound like monstrous fans.  It was not actually that, but it’s the closest way I can describe it.  It was a beautiful sound.  The tunnel was dark, with regular open spaces in the side, through which I could see other people traveling in other tunnels.  There was one area I passed by where there was a group of drab, dull, unhappy people who were unable to move.  Then I saw the distant light, and heard these hymns.  The light got brighter, and I saw Him.  I saw Christ.  He was incredibly beautiful…There was light in and around his head, and coming out of his head like a star.”

Another NDEr, a Mrs. Holyoake, told of encountering Christ and feeling the warmth of his body. “All of a sudden my eyes were drawn to the corner of the bedroom door,” she related.  “A brilliant light appeared – it was taking over my bedroom and as it did so I floated above my body.  This place was amass with beautiful flowers – the perfumes from them was very strong – and then Jesus came walking up to me with arms outstretched.  He was dressed in a long white robe, his hair to his shoulders, ginger-auburn, and he had a short beard.  The nearer he got to me I could feel the warmth from his body and as his hands almost touched my face he said, ‘Come!’”  However, Mrs. Holyoake struggled to tell Jesus that she couldn’t leave until she kissed her husband and three children goodbye.  “Jesus heard me and understood, he smiled and started to walk backwards, taking his magnificent garden with him and the light.”

According to Dr. Fenwick, a renowned British neuropsychiatrist, about a quarter of the people who reported on their experiences were aware of some spiritual presence. “Although the ‘being of light’ always has spiritual significance, it is only seldom that people describe seeing a particular religious figure such as Christ,” he offers. “Even those people whose Christian faith is strong don’t always see Christ.  Much more often there is a feeling of ‘coming before one’s maker’: the being is felt as ‘God’ in a very broad sense.  Perhaps ‘neutrally spiritual’ is the nearest one can get to the feelings the being evokes.”  He adds that most people, whether Christians or not, have an “identikit” image of Christ, and it is very similar to the one described by Mrs. Holyoake.  “I think we have to make a distinction between the feeling of the presence of Christ in the experience, and the image which the perceiving brain creates to fit it, which is simply drawn from the picture-bank of memory.”

Fenwick also found that accounts of childhood NDEs were much more likely than those of adults “to include descriptions of a very concrete Heaven, peopled by angels, Jesus figures and golden gates.”  He points out that the younger the child, the odder it is that he or she should have any conceptual awareness of death.  “The ability to think in abstract terms (and one’s own death is a fairly abstract concept) does not usually develop until later in childhood,” he continues. “And yet, without the conceptual awareness, why should they have the experience at all – unless it has some sort of independent reality?”

So how are we to interpret all of this?  On the one hand, we become very suspicious – and the pseudoskeptics laugh – at the idea of Jesus or another “being of light” who wears clothes and looks like we think he or she should.  On the other hand, if Jesus appeared looking like Jim Caviezel, one of the movie actors who have portrayed him – short hair, no beard, and wearing modern clothes – we would suspect an impostor and the skeptics would laugh even harder.  If he appeared as a ball of light, we wouldn’t recognize him and the evangelicals, at least, would call it a demonic entity.  The pseudoskeptics would roar with laughter. 

A number of spirit messages have indicated that deceased loved ones appear to us in a way that we will recognize them, not as they have become or are in the spirit world.  A spirit entity who died as a child 20 years earlier might appear to his mother in a near-death experience or upon her arrival in the spirit world as the child she knew, just for recognition purposes. It is a matter of the spirit entity projecting a thought image onto the brain of the human or the newly transitioned spirit person.  It’s all very mind boggling, especially when non-local time is factored into the equation.

Another very intriguing case offered by the Fenwicks involved a woman named Florence Nilsson, who claimed to have had an out-of-body experience just after she was born and was wasn’t breathing.  “I know it may sound absurd that a newborn infant could remember an event when so young,” she testified, “but I know to this day that what I experienced actually did happen to me.”

As long as mainstream science assumes that celestial matters must meet terrestrial standards, the spirit world will never be accepted, and as long as evangelicals interpret the Bible literally the NDE will remain a mystery.  “We set out to test the NDE for ‘reality’ in a scientific way,” Fenwick wraps up the book.  “But I think we have to conclude that we haven’t managed to explain everything.  There are aspects of the experience which simply don’t fit into our scientific paradigm and which seem inconsistent with a physical or even a psychological phenomenon.  There remains the possibility…that the NDE is a mystical experience, and that it originates in a transcendental reality.” 

Michael Tymn’s latest book Transcending the Titanic: Beyond Death’s Door  is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores, along with The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die

Paperback               Kindle


Transcending the Titanic by Michael Tymn

Paperback               Kindle

The Afterlife Revealed - Michael Tymn

The Truth in the Light by Peter Fenwick & Elizabeth Fenwick is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores.



Next blog post: March 12  



I read “Heaven is for Real” and I felt like I was in a boring Sunday school class. It was a struggle for me to finish reading the book. My interest in NDE’s came about after the loss of my 17 year old son in a tragic accident. I have read many NDE books that have been very helpful to me during my grief however this one is not one of them.

Christy, Fri 8 Jun, 06:57


Your perspective, as always, is quite interesting!!!

The question may be, not so much why is “Heaven is for Real” so popular - it is!!!

The question may now be, How can this surprising “popularity” be used to promote the general subject matter of NDEs, life after death, etc., which I think we all, me for sure, want the world to know, think about and discuss ...

Keep up the good work!

RBB     (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))

Richard Brannon, Wed 7 Mar, 21:21

Good post Michael.  I always like it when you get on your soapbox! wink

Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 7 Mar, 01:05

I think people are not afraid to read a story abouta 4 yr old boy’s experience.  It is a “story”  How many people think it is true?  People are terrified of the unknown so if they are reading “real” information from researchers that would be more threatening to them than a “story” about a 4 yr old which, I would assume, is more fantasy to them.  Maybe, just maybe, they will learn a bit from the 4 year old’s story so that they can accumulate some knowledge slowly without being threatened?  Maybe?

Karen Herrick, Tue 6 Mar, 23:58

Thanks for writing this Mike! What really irked me about that kid’s book was that he was on mainstream media constantly, like Good Morning America, Larry King and all the other national shows. And it was only because he had a mainstream, Christian, white-bread experience of Heaven (written and directed by his dad of course.

I’ve been on Good Morning America myself, years ago, for another book I wrote that had nothing to do with spirituality. But when my new book came out (about after-death communication), the producer (who I knew personally) pitched the powers-that-be to have me on the show again, and they wouldn’t touch it. Same thing happened with 20/20 and Larry King (I had personal contacts with those producers as well). They considered it (for months) and then they all passed. But this kid and his Christian vision of heaven gets international media coverage. Go figure.

Terri Daniel, Tue 6 Mar, 21:42

And you’ve really hit the nail on the head (as usual) with your description of the problem of whether spirit beings “should” show up looking like our stereotypical images of themselves. 

I’ve “seen” the very same being looking like a ball of light at one time—multicolored and pulsating!—and like a regular person in ordinary modern clothing at another time.  I suppose neither one expresses the reality very well.

I haven’t seen Jesus very clearly, but he did seem to be wearing a white robe….

Elene, Tue 6 Mar, 12:27

Too bad “Heaven Is For Real” couldn’t have been a higher-quality book.  I didn’t understand why “The DaVinci Codes” sold so big either!  In both cases, I suppose, there was a lot of confirmation of things people enjoy believing and are very invested in believing.

Just by the way: I never connected it before, but the Chopin voice in the Leslie Flint material, in the interview I’ve posted in my own blog, also reported meeting an impressive figure soon after death, someone who seemed to be in a position of power and who was involved with greeting the newly transitioned spirits and explaining what was about to happen to them.  He did not, however, equate this personage with Jesus, and in fact didn’t seem to have any idea at all of the man’s identity. Of course, that was not an NDE, but a “DE.”

Elene, Tue 6 Mar, 12:22

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The Orpheus Motif in North America: The Comanche tradition – To give the reader a general idea of the form taken by the Orpheus tradition in North America, I reproduce the version of the Comanche Indians, here published for the first time. It was communicated to me orally by the late Dr Ralph Linton, who noted it down in the course of his field-studies among the Comanche (1933). Particular interest attaches to the Comanche narrative, for it is the first recorded Orpheus tradition from the more easterly Shoshonean groups. No account is given of it in Wallace and Hoebel’s Comanche monograph, which is otherwise a valuable source for the religion and folklore of this tribe. Read here
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