I recently read about another near-death experience in another book that I picked up at my old job and had laying around for years, Betty J. Eadie's Embraced By The Light. She describes Jesus like so:
"I saw that the light immediately around him was golden, as if his whole body had a golden halo around it, and I could see that the golden halo burst out from around him and spread into a brilliant, magnificent whiteness that extended out for some distance. I felt his light blending into mine, literally, and I felt my light being drawn to his. It was as if there were two lamps in a room, both shining, their light merging together. It's hard to tell where one light ends and the other begins; they just become one light. Although his light was much brighter than my own, I was aware that my light, too, illuminated us. And as our lights merged, I felt as if I had stepped into his countenance, and I felt an utter explosion of love.
"It was the most unconditional love I have ever felt, and as I saw his arms open to receive me I went to him and received his complete embrace and said over and over, 'I'm home. I'm home. I'm finally home.' I felt his enormous spirit and knew that I had always been a part of him, that in reality I had never been away from him. And I knew that I was worthy to be with him, to embrace him. I knew that he was aware of all my sins and faults, but that they didn't matter right now. He just wanted to hold me and share his love with me, and I wanted to share mine with him.
"There was no questioning who he was. I knew that he was my Savior, and friend, and God. He was Jesus Christ, who had always loved me, even when I thought he hated me. He was life itself, love itself, and his love gave me a fullness of joy, even to overflowing. I knew that I had known him from the beginning, from long before my earth life, because my spirit remembered him."
Yes, long before her earth life. Although Eadie claims her religious training as Catholic and then Wesleyan Methodist, much of her description of the spirit world matches LDS theology perfectly, to the point that while reading it I experienced cognitive dissonance. LDS theology about the spirit world made a lot of sense to me and was one reason I found it so hard to admit that the LDS Church isn't true. And I knew it still couldn't be true even if this account was accurate. But very little of LDS theology was actually original to Joseph Smith - this has become so obvious that one of the church's leading faithful scholars, Terryl Givens, calls him an "inspired syncretist," which of course would have drawn blank stares if anyone had said it in a Sunday school while I was growing up - so maybe, despite being a charlatan, he'd managed to get a lot of it right. Then I read a mention of "seeking further knowledge" or something like that, and it was the final straw. No freaking way this woman wasn't LDS when she wrote this book. I'd been waiting until I finished the book so I didn't bias myself, but now I had to look her up.
It turns out that, despite never seeing fit to mention it in the book, Eadie was an inactive Latter-day Saint at the time of her near-death experience in 1973, and she became more active afterward. She shared her story for a while and eventually wrote a 16-page synopsis that caught the attention of an LDS editor named Curtis Taylor who thought it would make a good book. He bought the rights and basically ghostwrote the synopsis into the 147-page book that was first published in 1992. So I think that explains a lot. The book was wildly popular but drew some scathing reviews from both evangelicals, who accused her of deceiving Christians with LDS theology without disclosing her LDS background, and other Latter-day Saints who didn't like the book's New Age-y elements (which she doubled down on in the sequel) and accused her of failing to promote the church by not disclosing her LDS background. Apostle Boyd Packer allegedly told a stake priesthood meeting that the book was "bunk." I was born at just the right time to miss all the hype and controversy.
The New Age stuff was weird, but plenty of Latter-day Saints believe it. Lots of LDS women are into "energy healing," probably because it gives them power that's denied them in the all-male LDS priesthood hierarchy. There were only a couple of interesting points where I felt like the book actually contradicted LDS teachings. First, when Eadie dies, she says, "My first impression was that I was free.... My sense of freedom was limitless and it seemed as if I had done this forever." When she returns to her body, she says it "looked cold and heavy and reminded me of an old pair of coveralls that had been dragged through mud and grime. In comparison, I felt like I had just taken a long, soothing shower, and now I had to put that heavy, cold, muddy garment on.... The body's cumbersome weight and coldness were abhorrent. I started jerking around inside it as though many volts of electricity were pulsing through me. I felt the pain and sickness of my body again, and I became inconsolably depressed. After the joy of spiritual freedom, I had become a prisoner to the flesh again." This is the opposite of the LDS teaching that having a body is super awesome and dead people hate being separated from their bodies.
While talking to Jesus, Eadie says, "I wanted to know why there were so many churches in the world. Why didn't God give us only one church, one pure religion? The answer came to me with the purest of understanding. Each of us, I was told, is at a different level of spiritual development and understanding. Each person is therefore prepared for a different level of spiritual knowledge. All religions upon the earth are necessary because there are people who need what they teach. People in one religion may not have a complete understanding of the Lord's gospel and never will have while in that religion. But that religion is used as a stepping stone to further knowledge. Each church fulfills spiritual needs that perhaps others cannot fill. No one church can fulfill everybody's needs at every level. As an individual raises his level of understanding about God and his own eternal progress, he might feel discontented with the teachings of his present church and seek a different philosophy or religion to fill that void. When this occurs he has reached another level of understanding and will long for further truth and knowledge, and for another opportunity to grow. And at every step of the way, these new opportunities to learn will be given."
This is a sentiment I can get behind, especially the part where my discontent with the LDS Church means that I've reached another level of understanding. Just call me Mr. Enlightened. An orthodox Latter-day Saint could almost agree with it, except they would have to be adamant that God did give us only one (true) church, and they would take offense at the (demonstrably true) claim that it can't fulfill everybody's needs at every level. I do disagree with her when she goes on to say, "Having received this knowledge, I knew that we have no right to criticize any church or religion in any way." For all the good that churches or religions do, they also harm a lot of people, and I don't believe they have a right to hide behind tolerance or the sanctity of personal belief to escape being called out on it. On that note, I wish American liberals had the cajones to criticize Islam's misogyny and homophobia like they do Christianity's.
Eadie also seems to contradict herself a little by stressing the importance of agency (one of the LDS red flags) but also claiming that nearly everything that happens in our lives was planned and chosen before we were born. In the past, I've refuted the annoying cliche "Everything happens for a reason" by pointing out how ludicrous it is to imply that God foreordained someone to be a drunk driver. Yet Eadie feels different: "A person may have chosen to die, for example, by stepping into the street and being hit by a drunk driver. This seems terrible to us, but within the pure knowledge of God, his spirit knew that he was actually saving this driver more grief later. The driver may have been drunk again a week later and hit a group of teenagers, maiming them or causing greater pain and misery than was necessary, but he was prevented because he was spending time in jail for hitting the person who had already completed his purpose on earth. In the eternal perspective, unnecessary pain was spared for the young people, and a growing experience may have begun for the driver." Hmm... okay.
Anyway, it's an interesting book and I need to read more about near-death experiences, but I think I've read enough to give up on any hope that they present a consistent and factually accurate description of the afterlife. They have many common elements but they also have many contradictory elements, and people who don't already believe in Jesus don't meet Jesus. So the mystery remains. How disappointing.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.