Monday, June 25, 2012

To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal, M.D.

To Heaven and Back, Mary C. Neal, M.D.  Colorado Springs: Water Book Press (Random House), 2012.  paperback, 222 pps., inc. bio.

Mary C. Neal, M.D. grew up as a nominal Christian.  She found her way to Jesus and received water baptism by immersion at a friend's church.  She went to a university (and appears to blame lack of encouragement toward spiritual things by universities in general for the falling away from Christ that she says is characteristic of university students everywhere).  Mary C. Neal met and married her husband, moved around a bit; and then they had four children.  She drowned during a kayaking accident in rural Chile but lived.

Dr. Neal survived the accident and with some difficulty was transported back to Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where she still lives and practices as an orthopedic surgeon today).  She felt that God did not want her to ask for a medi-vac to get back to the States.  She recovered from her accident.  She denies a brain injury.  [She was fortunate there.  Brain damage is not an easy thing to live with].

As her friends were administering C.P.R. after pulling her out of the kayak, Dr. Neal claimed to have had a near death experience (NDE) complete with Jesus and the angels [or "spirit beings" as she alternately referred to them] in attendance.  Her youngest son died.  His death catapulted her into a delayed writing of To Heaven and Back about her NDE.

Dr. Neal's book stood out because she admitted to believing that "...very young children clearly remember where they came from and are still quite connected to God's world...they easily recall the images, knowledge and the love of the world they inhabited before their birth...children may still be able to see angels..." (pp. 147-148).  She also believes that a friend of her youngest son Willie died instead of Willie just before his eighteenth birthday.  [Then Willie did die a year or so later].  I have not found these particular beliefs to exist in the devout born-again Christians that I have known.  These beliefs are to me reminiscent of some of the stuff that I've heard New Agers espouse: that kids remember a time before they are born when they are "chosen" by their earthly parents.  The assertion that young Willie's friend came to her in a dream and claimed to have "traded places with Willie" before Dr. Neal knew of said friend's death remind me of folks who claim that during an accident, instead of dieing and alien "walked in" and it is now that alien who is inhabiting the body of the accident victim.  So although the accident victim died, the body is still operational due to this walk-in phenomena.  This sort of thing makes my head spin.

Dr. Neal also holds the common belief that "everything happens for a reason" and it is all part of her God's plan, that there are no "true" coincidences.  Romans 8:28 is often quoted to justify this sort of thinking.  Actually, the English translations that I remember read "all things work together for the good."  [Not having any knowledge of the original manuscripts, I cannot vouchsafe for the accuracy of the translations].  In other words, this verse is not a dictum that everything done in this world by the Pauline God or by the Pauline God's permission is automatically "good."  Even The Preacher admits to coincidences in Ecclesiastes 9:11.  For what is "time and chance" but the definition of coincidence?  Again, this sort of thinking about there not being any "true" coincidences hearkens back to conversations with some White Lighters I have known.  I do admit that although I see this "everything happens for a coincidences" thing as being diametrically opposed to biblical teaching, there are slews of people and churches everywhere who disagree with me.  Most peeps used to think that the sun revolved around the earth too.  But I digress.

What was most troublesome to me as an aware non-theist was Dr. Mary Neal's claim that a certain Father Ubald, a Tutsi priest whose family was killed in his church in 1994 when the Hutu parish members hacked up a whole bunch of Tutsis (pp. 193-194) had visited her when she was back in Jackson Hole recuperating from her kayak accident.  I was immediately suspicious because I had read Richard Grant's excellent travelogue about the same area of Rwanda.  A small amount of internet-only research yielded up a Father Hubert "Ubald" Rugirangoga of Rwanda who is responsible at least in part for a "Hutus and Tutsis must forgive each other" movement that has sprung up there (and that Richard Grant had also noted).

There are now claims of documented healings from physical conditions and diseases on Father Ubald's website --  -- but I could not locate any of the documentation itself.  I remember  the downfall of Bob Harrington-- New Orleans "chaplain of Bourbon Street" who fled his second floor apartment in January 1978 [I was physically there in New Orleans shortly after he evasion or something I was told] and the documented fakery of Benny Hinn.  Also, I had an aunt who was expecting a miracle today courtesy of mansion- dwelling Morris Cerullo.  She did all the correct stuff medically speaking.  But the M.S. killed her, as expected. for those who wish to learn more about the man and his money a.k.a. money that his television audience donated to his ministry.  Considering the critical thinking sites that I hang out at like even the practicing Christian can understand my hesitancy to ascribe supernatural etiology to both natural and non-existent events.

sapphoq reviews says: To Heaven and Back is a book of questionable merit which leaves out any possibility of non-Christians having an NDE--  [N.B.  I am a non-Christian who has had an NDE]-- and rational explanations of NDEs such as neurons firing.  Not recommended, not even to Christians.


James Verner said...

You started out talking about Dr. Mary's beliefs which you appeared not to accept since they are different from the views of other Christians. Surely, that does not invalidate her NDE experience. If so, how? Second, while still showing your atheistic non-acceptance of Mary's experience, you had to throw in "dirty wash" from Benny Hinn and others. What on earth do they have to do with whether Mary truly met Jesus during her experience? Why not stick with who Mary is, and decide on her NDE plus the fact of her being a no-nonsense professional who does not need the money (!), and work from there! James

sapphoq said...

I stand by my book review. I don't know who Dr. Mary is. I only know what I have read about her in her book. A book review certainly is limited that way but is not a useless endeavor.

re: the dirty laundry-- Christian churches [as well as other religious sects] need to take some responsibility for their "bad actors," imo. I referenced a few of the "bad actors" of my remembrance in noting that Dr. Mary had met with Father Ubald who had made claims regarding supernatural healings on his website.

There are scientific explanations for NDEs. Here are a few urls:

NDEs are not limited to those who are close to death. They can be triggered by fear, as mine was.
There is increasing evidence that they are biological in origin and related specifically to brain functioning.

Dr. Mary's specific beliefs appear to be closer to those espoused by New Age adherents rather than to those espoused by more traditional Christians.

With respect,