I am interested in peoples’ stories. I can trace my interest in personal stories to my own experience of becoming a Christian and my own spiritual journey. I have found much common ground with other people who have had similar experiences. The story of spiritual journey (a “testimony”) is part of the fabric of the evangelical Christian tradition. The testimony is a test of sorts of the authenticity of the journey, of a real encounter with God that we call being “born again”.
A testimony is the most personal evidence for the existence of God for the person who claims to be a Christian, but it isn’t evidence in a scientific sense. It’s evidence that is easily discounted by the naturalist who relies only on science and empirical, measurable and falsifiable evidence.
It can also be problematic for the Christian community. There is a certain social, group pressure – unintended, or not – for every Christian to have “a testimony”. The more dramatic the better. The person who was “always a Christian” may feel a tinge of self doubt. The person whose story does not line up with more “typical” testimonies may feel out of step.
Personal stories are subjective, and the subjective nature of them engenders some natural and warranted skepticism.
Don’t get me wrong. The intimate and private nature of a personal experience with God is exactly the most compelling thing about it. Like the woman at the well who told everyone of her encounter with Jesus – “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” (John 4:4-30) – the intimate and highly personal nature of the experience is what makes it so meaningful and convincing.
But personal encounter, ultimately, is meaningful and convincing mainly to the one who experiences it. It can’t be empirically verified, and it doesn’t carry the same weight with other people who don’t have the same intimate connection to the personal details.
Personal experiences are not bound by logical, rational or empirical factors. If we rely on personal experiences, especially to the exclusion of more “scientific” analyses, the highly subjective and personal nature of personal experiences can led a person down some questionable rabbit holes. We probably all know people who have been so influenced by their own personal experiences which, unchecked by some objective analysis, have led them onto some strange and questionable paths.
For the Christian, that objective analysis is Scripture, doctrine and tradition. For each religion, that objective analysis is some combination of that religion’s scripture, doctrinal corpus and tradition, and for the naturalist, that objective analysis is empirical evidence, proven theory and scientific analysis.
This is where NDEs get interesting. Continue reading “What Near Death Experiences Prove, and What They Do Not Prove”