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A Study on The Theory of Sumegi Christian Perspectives of Death

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Although it’s been around since the beginning of human life, the process of dying is still a relatively foreign and unknown process to humanity. There isn’t much that we know about the occurrence except for what we can see and feel for ourselves; i.e., paling skin, decreased body temperature, and breathing irregularities. As for what the dying individual is seeing and feeling, there is no way for any onlooker or medical professional to detect what is happening during that process. However, there is a small percentage of individuals who’ve “died” and were able to have their life restored to them. This is a phenomenon known as a near-death experience, which brings me to the primary focus of my research paper, Near Death Experiences: Religious and Scientific Responses. I will argue that because of near-death experiences, many persons convert to Christianity. I will analyze this using the theory of Sumegi’s Christian perspectives of death, her studies on returning from the dead, and accounts of persons who’ve had near-death experiences. This approach will allow me to conclude that near-death experiences paired will ultimately sway a person’s interpretations and beliefs of religion. Studying near-death experiences from a religious perspective is important because it allows room for results that cannot be explained by science alone.

You may have heard someone jokingly utter the expressions, “Don’t walk towards the light!”, “Don’t follow Grandma into the light!” after you’ve had a minor injury that left you feeling dazed. Or even you have uttered the phrase, “I just saw my entire life flash before my eyes!” after a frightening encounter. These terms are all expressions that are linked to a psychological phenomenon known as a near-death experience (NDE). Scientifically, a near-death experience is defined as “a profound psychological event that may occur to a person close to death or who is not near death but in a situation of physical or emotional crisis.” (Greyson B. 2015, para 1). In a Christian context, an NDE can be defined as an otherworldly encounter in which a dying individual’s soul travels out of the physical realm we live in, and into the divine paradise that is heaven, or the perpetual torment that is hell. For an NDE to occur, a person must be considered clinically dead, i.e., the termination of blood circulation and respiratory system functions, is close to death, or in a state of severe emotional detachment. An NDE does not happen to everyone who is near death. In fact, a poll taken by George Gallup Jr in 1982 reports that 15% of Americans who nearly died reported having an NDE and approximately 774 NDEs are reported per day in the United States (MacIssac, Tara, and George Gallup. 2014). In this statistic, not all who’ve experienced an NDE is religious. While many who’ve experienced it are devoted Christians who’re knowledgeable of God and the Bible, there are also atheists and others who have never attended church, read the Bible or even prayed. Understandably, this leaves scientists baffled at how a person who’d never bothered to learn about these things can quote things from the Bible which they’d seen with their own eyes during their NDE.

When someone experiences an NDE, there are many possibilities why it’s occurring. It may be due to a having a terminal illness, e.g., cancer, going into cardiac arrest, or the adverse effects of severe physical trauma. But the one thing that all NDE cases have in common is that they’re described as an out-of-body experience. The International Association for Near-Death Studies states that there are two types of NDEs that occur, pleasurable and distressing, with each having four distinct phases (IANDS. 2017, para 3). The first phase described in a pleasurable NDE typically involve enhanced bodily senses, e.g., sight, smell, sounds and x-ray vision. The individual would be out of their physical body and can see the world in an enhanced state. This is followed by the supernatural phase where the individual experiences otherworldly phenomena such as seeing the classic “light in the tunnel” or feeling a warm, comforting light enveloping their bodies or even seeing heaven itself! Which of course would lead to the third phase called a life-review where an individual’s life would be evaluated and might sometimes receive an astounding amount of knowledge and insight about their lives or the lives of their loved ones. Finally, the NDE is concluded by the individual’s soul returning to their physical body whether it be by choice, or they were forced too (IANDS. 2017, para 6-8). Similarly, in distressing NDEs, the four types that can occur are powerlessness, nothingness, torment, and worthlessness. These all have the same four phases as found in a pleasurable NDE but with upsetting stages and negative feelings throughout the experience.

Of course, to a scientist, an NDE is merely a hallucination that was made up by the individual due to the delirium they’re experiencing. There is no way to record evidence from someone experiencing an NDE except to take the patient’s word. Dr. Dean Mobbs, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge’s Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Mobbs and Caroline Watt at the University of Edinburgh say that “Many of the phenomena associated with near-death experiences can be biologically explained,” (Choi, Charles Q. 2011). Research shows that the brain releases a stress hormone called noradrenaline during high levels of trauma that can evoke hallucinations. Many NDEs occur during extreme physical trauma cases such as a motor vehicle accident. As well as the famous, “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel” line has an explanation, which is the depletion of blood and oxygen triggered by extreme levels of fear and oxygen loss that cause tunnel vision (Choi, Charles Q. 2011).

Scientific explanations for NDEs are pragmatic and only skim around on the surface of an encounter that occurs in a continuum that we as human beings cannot even begin to wrap our mind around. Accounts taken from those who’ve experienced an NDE have proven that science cannot prove everything there is to know about our physical realm and that researchers are often left baffled by these experiences. In her book, “Understanding Death,” Sumegi talks about Jewish and Christian traditions that both described heaven and hell as places in the afterlife. Similarly, those who’ve experienced an NDE would describe going to either of these places; this is what would make the experience either pleasurable or distressing. It would be expected for an atheist to see hell or a Christian to see heaven, but what about those in between? What about the atheist whose near-death experience was warm and welcoming? What about the Christian who found themselves in the fiery pits of hell and was offered a second chance? This brings me to the topic of the human soul. Your soul is unaltered, pure and shows who you truly are. If you claim to be one thing in your physical body, but it doesn’t match up with what you truly feel in your heart then, of course, there will be some problems. The soul separates itself from the physical body and travels to one of these realms, and the life they’ve lived out on Earth would determine how their NDE would play out.

Sumegi also questions what is the definition of death? What determines that a person is dead with no chances of coming back? A person no longer has a heartbeat? With scientific advancements such as a defibrillator, which can jump-start a person’s heart cancels out that theory so long as the device works. Perhaps the loss of a vital organ? But then again, donors are available, and if you have access to one at the right moment, that problem is also solved. Brain damage? Well, that one’s a bit tricky. Technically you may still be alive via life-support, so you’re not entirely dead. So, what really means death for a human being? Picture this scenario, a young man in a serious car accident that left him clinically dead. Paramedics tried to revive the main but to no avail. His larynx is crushed, vocal cords severed, his nose was torn off, jaw was broken and he suffered a broken neck. After being rushed to the hospital, the man is miraculously revived after sixty-one minutes. Not only are the doctors astonished that he survived, but he also can speak, something that is impossible with severed vocal cords. This scenario is a true story that happened to Dr. Gary Wood who claims that he had an NDE. In his NDE he went to heaven, reunited with his dead loved ones and was invited into the kingdom of God before being sent back to his physical body on Earth. Dr. Woods says that Jesus himself walked into his hospital room, placed his hands on his neck and healed his vocal cords before disappearing. This entire incident left doctor aghast as they could not comprehend how this man’s vocal cords were healed after mere hours, let alone him speaking again. Dr. Woods was already a Christian when his accident happened, but it would not be false to state that his NDE further affirmed his faith in Christianity. This is common in many NDEs; especially when it happens to an atheist.

Ned Dougherty experienced an NDE after a heart attack and describes that the experience, “gave him a conscious awareness of his mission in life which was to embark upon charitable and missionary work.” (Dougherty, Ned. 2001). His NDE was pleasurable, albeit he was an atheist, and it completely changed his life around, and he has now devoted his life to Christ. Similarly, Professor Howard Stern was an avowed atheist and even took offense to religion being brought up before him. He too has an NDE, but unlike Dougherty, Stern’s was distressing. He describes seeing and being in the horrors of hell before being rescued by Jesus Christ and after being shown a review of his life was offered a second chance. After his NDE, he became a Christian and dropped his title as a professor to become a pastor instead at the Covington United Church of Christ (Storm, Howard. 2005). There are hundreds of other cases like these which help prove my argument that having an NDE will ultimately sway a person’s beliefs about religion.

Studying NDEs from a religious perspective rather than from a scientific one is so important because it allows room for possibilities that one might’ve never even thought of or that cannot be explained by science alone. Yes, there are many scientific refutes for NDES, but what about the miraculous cases that cannot be explained? Sumegi briefly touched on this topic by trying to find the definition of death in her book. But I believe that death is something that only the dying individual can truly know. In many NDE cases, it appeared that the body had completely shut down but the person miraculously “came back to life,” or maybe they just weren’t dead in the first place. In my opinion, death is when your soul has completely left your body with zero chances of it ever returning, and who besides you would know that? Not to say that all bodies should be left for days to see if the person would be revived (if someone was decapitated, I think that the Lord has truly called them home for good). But sometimes there are things we, as human begins, cannot even begin to fathom because it is not considered “natural” in our physical realm, hence why the word “miracles’ exist. Researching near-death experiences has allowed me to conclude that both scientific research and religious beliefs influence how a person handles their NDE. However, the individual is more likely to believe what they interpreted to be a higher power rather than a scientific study from humanity.

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A Study on the Theory of Sumegi Christian Perspectives of Death. (2019, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from
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