Apr 6, 2017
In 1975, Raymond Moody published the bestseller Life After Life. In it, he coined the term "near-death experience" to label what some individuals said had happened to them after they were clinically dead. Moody's pioneer work sparked a great interest in the reality of these experiences. Thus, in 1981, the International Association for Near-Death Studies was established. This international organization encourages scientific research on the physical, psychological, and religious nature of these reported experiences.
In the period from 1975 to 2005, thousands of Americans reported that that they had near death experiences. The overwhelming majority of these experiences were positive. The individuals said that, even after clinical death, they were aware of what was happening to them on earth as they were passing from this life to the next. They were able to describe in detail the people and actions taking place around them on earth, even though they were "dead." They spoke of a life review and of encountering relatives who had died, all the while being surrounded by unconditional love. Their descriptions of what they saw and sensed seem to have placed them at the very entrance of heaven. But, then, they returned to life in this world.
However, some near death experiences seem to have been a foretaste of what Christians would traditionally describe as hell. No light. Only darkness. Discord and emptiness. An abyss of sinister figures prowling about. The descriptions have varied, but with one factor remaining constant. The experience was terrifying. The number of these reported out of the body journeys to hell is much less than that of those to heaven. As few as 8 percent of near death experiences are of this type. Some speculate that there may be more, but individuals suppress these negative events or are embarrassed to tell others. Hopefully, the number is simply small!
Whatever the scientific explanations or even theological explanations of these out of the body experiences are, the very report of them and the countless books detailing them bring us face to face with the question about our own belief in the afterlife. According to the Pew Research Center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study, roughly 72 percent of Americans believe in heaven and fifty-five percent also believe in hell. As Catholics, each time we profess the Apostles' Creed and say "I believe in life everlasting," we acknowledge our own belief in life after death.