Eben Alexander. Proof of Heaven. New York: Simon, 2012. Print.
Proof of Heaven is subtitled A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. It was recommended to me by two different people whose opinions and experiences I respect. One is a missionary whom I have known for many years. The other is a counselor of the Salvation Army whom I have known even longer. They have different reasons for appreciating this book. As an English teacher and, therefore, a de facto literary critic, I have my own reasons for enjoying this book. If nothing else, it made me think. My goal with this review is to share some of those thoughts.
There are any number of life after death books out there. Over the years I have read a few. One I read back in the seventies—a long enough time that I cannot remember either the title or author. Two recent books besides Proof of Heaven that sold many copies were Ninety Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real.
All three books do a lot to establish the credibility of the person with the heavenly experience—what Alexander in Proof of Heaven calls an NDE, a near death experience. In Ninety Minutes the author is a Baptist pastor who was driving a car that collided with a tractor-trailer. He was clinically dead for ninety minutes. Most Christians (at least those who do not consider the author’s brand of Baptists to be heretics) accepted his story because of who he was and what he went through physically.
If anything, Heaven is for Real bore witness to more people because the testimony belonged to a three year old boy. True, his father was a minister, but the things the boy shared could not be attributed to his imagination. These are things that a boy his age would have little knowledge of and surely would be unable to lie about. And even the strictest religionist (“us four and no more”) would hesitate to say that God would send a three year old kid to hell…
Proof of Heaven is reminiscent of both of those other books because it spends more time describing the author’s illness and recovery than his actual experience in heaven. Proof of Heaven differs in one significant way, however. Dr. Alexander was fifty-four years old and not especially religious. He admits that he attended church on Christmas and Easter and occasionally in between. He describes a setback in his life nine years earlier that embittered him, and after that he decided that God either did not exist or did not care much about Eben Alexander.
In the tradition of physicians going back at least to Chaucer, Dr. Alexander tended to see everything in material terms. Because he was a neurosurgeon and often worked with people who were dying or whose brains ceased to function for periods of time, he was not unfamiliar with the concept of the NDE. However, he could always explain them “scientifically” because he believed that consciousness was completely and only a physical function of the brain.
Dr. Alexander confesses that “over the years my scientific worldview gently but steadily undermined my ability to believe in something larger.” (35) This is very similar to the way Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the apostate physician Roger Chillingworth in chapter nine of The Scarlet Letter: “[I]t may be that the higher and more subtile faculties of such men were materialized, and that they lost the spiritual view of existence.”
Again Dr. Alexander says: “I knew full well what the brain really is: a machine that produces the phenomenon of consciousness. Sure, scientists hadn’t discovered exactly how the neurons of the brain managed to do this, but it was only a matter of time before they would be.” (36)
This statement is typical of many who claim to look at things scientifically. Any student of logic, though, recognizes this as the fallacy known as argumentum ad futuram—the appeal to the future. “We really have not proven this yet, but we will.” If you think about that, such an argument really claims to be prophetic if not supernatural. This is the irony of many supposed scientific beliefs. As Hawthorne noted above, these are not so much scientific as materialistic.
To sum up Alexander’s testimony, he said, in effect, I really did not believe in the supernatural or life apart from the visible physical reality. Being a brain surgeon, I am smart, and I know how the brain works. Yet, I was completely brain dead for a week, but I never lost consciousness that whole time. I was introduced to a realm that was so remarkable that I hardly know how to express it in words. To me, this is proof of heaven.
This is just the beginning of the review. The blogger had a lot more to say. To read the rest of his comments go to http://www.englishplus.com/docs/Proof_of_Heaven_Review.pdf.