Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

Preternatural Observations

Posted by Lex Fear on September 1, 2007

A ‘religious’ experience but nonetheless deserves some scientific query.


This atheist’s experience of death/hell is one I have heard before in NDE conversion stories*, similar tales of being alone in the darkness with disembodied voices teasing, angry, snarling and tearing away at flesh. This is observed, not in a laboratory (but neither has a solar flare).


Empirical evidence. do we dismiss it because we haven’t seen it first hand? Is there a predetermined set percentage of the population that should experience this for it to be accepted as a real event? How does a staunch atheist suddenly acquire a meme from nowhere (that unknown to the beholder, others have also picked up)?


*Ian McCormick

Timothy LaFond


7 Responses to “Preternatural Observations”

  1. cecilieaux said

    When I was a confirmation class teacher, I always told my students that there were three bases for faith: reason, witness and personal revelation. Not all of them occur simultaneously nor at all to any one person.

    Few people reason their way to faith, although it is nor unreasonable to believe. The vast majority of believers come to faith through the witness of their mother, their father, some teacher, etc., the word of someone they trust.

    A few people experience the burning bush, the angel who appears to them, the voice of God, etc., the ineffable experiences of which the Bible is replete and that, to my mind, is the basis for even retelling to the point of committing to paper the stories of the Bible.

    The problem with experiences, empirically speaking, is that they are intransmissible and incommunicable. Try as a parent may, there is no way to pass to a son or daughter starting out in life what one has learned through experience. They have to live life themselves.

    This is so much more so in the case of experiences of an ineffable kind. You can tell someone you spoke to an angel, but that won’t yield an experience of an angel in the other person. What is an angel? What does an angel look like? What does meeting an angel feel like? What replicable, measurable, observable evidence can I take to the laboratory of my mind?

    Thus, that a professor saw himself in Hell is not evidence, not empirical. Trusting that the man is not lying, that to his mind, his senses the occurrence happened, one has two choices.

    First, one can elect to see in this confirmation of one’s own faith, if one is a believer, at a minimum concluding that extraordinary things on a par with the stories of the Bible are happening around us, even though one can’t explain them, dissect them, offer them up as proof.

    Second, if one disbelieves, not in the man but in the faith, one can find alternate explanations. We are dealing in archetypes (the original meme). Hell, death, fear of death and all the associations are found throughout human history in Christian and non-Christian contexts. One can interpret the experience biblically or (specific to Western European culture) in a Dantesque way and find oneself rushing to the nearest church. Or one can interpret the experience as a message from the unconscious as to a psychological disorder and hie oneself to a psychiatrist’s couch. Or, still, one can choose to ignore the whole thing as a nightmare, or to attempt to interpret the dream in a self-healing way.

    In short, I have always been reluctant, even when I believed, to draw straight lines between reported “miraculous” experiences and the divine.

  2. Hmm.

    In the case of seeing angels or other mythical beings, I think it is relative to the hearer.

    For example. We know that early travelers and scholars mistook the rhino for a unicorn:

    http://tinyurl.com/3dby7b (only ref I can find right now).

    Does this mean the unicorn didn’t exist? Well yes and no. No it did not exist because it was in fact a rhino (or maybe some extinct related species). Yes it did exist, because they were describing the beast and their name for it was a unicorn.

    Therefore, when someone tells me they have had an NDE where they saw angels or demons, as long as I am certain of their mental state and maturity, I would believe their experience. Others would call it an image projected from the unconscious mind.

    The same goes for consciously seeing something, eg. a UFO or sasquatch.

    With regards to transmitting and communicating the experience of meeting a being, beast or person, how else can this be done but by words? I can no more transmit to you, my experience of meeting the Queen, than I can transmit my experience of meeting a sasquatch.

    With regards to unicorns, UFOs and sasquatches, why don’t these experiences turn people religious if all are alike (ie. the unconscious mind playing tricks)?

    Furthermore, why wouldn’t a staunch atheist interpret the experience as unconsciousness or psychological disorder as you say? These are not religious people’s brains projecting religious experience, they are atheists. Has there ever been a religious person who has had an NDE and come back renouncing their faith? I’d like to know but I doubt it.

    Finally I would contest that these people have, like every human being who has ever lived, had many dreams and even intense nightmares in their lifetime. It’s conceivable that they would be able to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

    People who have had general anesthetic do not report these experiences, yet general anesthetic is actually a temporary way of putting the body to death (or near death), which is why some people actually die under it.

    In fact, like death, all brain activity ceases during general anesthetic, so it’s impossible that someone could be ‘dreaming’ and project this experience.


    The evidence (albeit inconclusive) points to something external, outside of the (for all intensive scientific purposes) dead, unresponsive and inactive brain.

  3. cecilieaux said

    I don’t disbelieve the man, either. I question his interpretation, as well as perhaps your interpretation that experience Y means conclusion X.

    Did he convert or did he simply have a foxhole experience? What worthiness does fear of Hell confer upon a “conversion”? How did he know that the image was “Hell”? Isn’t “Hell” a cultural archetype?

    Which leads me to question your comment about atheist brains. Can there be such a thing as an “atheist brain” or an atheist understanding in societies in which the major cultural legacy is replete with references to and interpretations of the Christian story?

    How does an atheist see himself in hell? He has read Dante’s Inferno or seen paintings of it in a museum or overheard the rants of radio preachers or … the list is endless. No one in the West has never heard of hell, of Christ, of the gospel or of any of the artifacts and ideas of Christianity, at least in some summarized form.

    Tell an atheist to shove off in a bar and he’ll say “like hell!” This is not a conversion moment.

  4. I agree C, but he’s not drawing an X from Y. He’s describing what he experienced, and made a decision based on that experience directly. He experienced ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’, he therefore is choosing to believe in both.

    Others, such as yourself rightly agree he experienced ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’ but believe he didn’t actually experience these things, he experienced something quite different. Therefore you are saying he experienced Y but you conclude this is actually an X.

    I imagine he converted because this was more real than an image, dream, meme or illusion. I think you have to conclude that if what he says isn’t real (which is what you believe, since neither you or I have no way of knowing) then he’s absolutely bonkers. Again, why would someone with all the rational of an atheist, give it up for something that might not be real, that just might be a random neural electrical pulse (from an inactive brain). You have to conclude that what he saw, felt and heard was real (even if staged), or he has lost his sense of reality and can’t tell the difference between what’s real and imaginary.

    My reference to atheists brains was, of course, an oversimplification. However if our brains are so easily tricked on a subconscious level, why aren’t people waking up with visions of Buddha, Pan, football, shopping centres or exotic locations? The proliferation of brands like McDonalds and a sex obsessed culture alone should guarantee that an NDE looks like the set of a porno flick complete with golden arches.

    “Tell an atheist to shove off in a bar and he’ll say “like hell!” This is not a conversion moment.”

    This only reinforces my argument. The West is indeed seeped in Christian symbology, as is the foundations of our laws (do not murder comes from the bible). So why aren’t people having religious dreams every night (not even I have had religious dream before or since becoming a Christian)? Why aren’t they waking up and declaring their belief in the Christian God? Why is it that these experiences only occur when the person is clinically dead?

  5. Cecilieaux said

    I really like the e-mail notification feature. Is this a WordPress thing or can anyone write a script for it?

    Back on topic, you ask:

    “So why aren’t people having religious dreams every night (not even I have had religious dream before or since becoming a Christian)? Why aren’t they waking up and declaring their belief in the Christian God? Why is it that these experiences only occur when the person is clinically dead?”

    Religious dreams — i.e., dreams that involve elements of known or even imaginary religions — are not uncommon. You may have had religious dreams that you didn’t consider such because they didn’t have a church or a cross in them. We don’t have dream newspapers, so we don’t hear about what people dream.

    As to waking up and declaring their belief, I think you’re asking too much. What you believe unconsciously and consciously are worlds apart, as is how you think in those two realms. Biblical characters often referred to dreams: Daniel and Joseph come to mind. Then again, they were in a pre-scientific world that paid attention to intuition a great deal more than ours does.

    There’s a whole essay about the phrase “Christian God,” but I’ll leave that for another day.

    Finally, I’m not convinced that these near-death experiences occur or even that people become near-dead. At best, I’d assert, people reach states in which our crude medical knowledge — that’s how it will be described in 2121 — leads us to pronounce them “clinically dead.” That’s not quite dead as a doornail, for reasons we just don’t understand.

    We don’t know everything.

  6. I don’t disagree with anything in your last comment suffice to say that if biblical characters had more intuition about dreams and visions (ie paying more attention to them) than we do in the post-darwin, enlightenment culture, wouldn’t that make an even stronger case for NDEs?

    After all for an NDE to change a person in OT times would not be such a feat. In fact it was probably common, but for an NDE to change an enlightened person, in our own times- then there must be something about it that is different from common dreams and visions.

    ‘Christian God’… meh, as you say, let’s keep on topic, it saves me from getting RSI if I keep my nouns simple.

  7. I forgot to add, the email notification is WordPress, pretty good isn’t it?

    Not sure if something can be done for blogger, the only thing I’m aware of it the ability to email your own address when someone leaves a comment.

    It’s one of the reasons I moved over to WordPress.

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