Do near death experiences (NDES) threaten church membership?

There are lots of reasons why church participation is down. However, one reason comes from an apparently anti-intuitive situation.

It seems that research has shown that about 44% of individuals who have gone through a near death experience (where they see a metaphysical light and “deceased” relatives in another realm) stopped going to Sunday church.

These unexpected findings are going to be discussed tonight (August 8th) on Coast-to-Coast AM with radio host Ian Punnett.

I suspect that what people find in the other world doesn’t square with what they are being taught in most churches!

I have not personally had a near death experience but I think I have come in contact with something even more mind-blowing—the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose own experience with the afterlife lasted three decades! Swedenborg therefore offers a library’s worth of material and details not covered by those who have seen similar things for much shorter durations.

In spite of my 36-year study of Swedenborg’s findings and familiarity with the non-material phenomena of the spiritual world, I too, choose not to attend weekly church services. Since Swedenborg claimed that true worship involves unselfish love and service to others he described a New Kind of Religion that does not demand our Sunday participation. He doesn’t rule it out either—it simply depends on the inner sincerity of our purpose and our inner proclivity.

Rather than have my butt go numb sitting in a hard wooden pew, I write spiritual books and blogs. Rather than put some money in a collection basket I try to find ways to make God’s reality more relevant to the post-modern world—like unifying science and theology. Rather than passively listening to a preacher preach, I prefer to study the Lord God’s teachings with greater personal commitment and intensity. And rather than believe that I have somehow pleased the Lord and earned extra brownie points for attending church worship, I take nothing for granted and, keep up my vigilance to find and root out negative aspects of my personality that get more subtle, the deeper I dare to go.

I will attend church services a few times a year (and even volunteer to write and deliver the sermon) to see old friends and celebrate certain events but my religiousness and spirituality is not tied to my attendance. Nor do I judge others who do find the church community important to their lives. My spiritual focus lies beyond the brick & mortar walls of a church building.

So then, kind readers, where have I gone wrong?

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About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at http://www.staircasepress.com
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6 Responses to Do near death experiences (NDES) threaten church membership?

  1. Thank you always for your wonderful insights – and i m mostly with you on my defiance of church. and that is coming from a minister. but as a counter even to myself, i think we are changed by the search and the experience, and engagement with the Word, other peoples stories, and being present to them also as much as they are a listening presence to us. I think one of the most loving things we can do is “show up.” Just be being our not-so-special self, other people end up being inspired and more hopeful. Perspectives change. And yes, i wholeheartedly agree that the whole of life is the greater sanctuary and worship space. And the mundane things i do on a daily basis, within this soft-temple-of-the-body “church” is the most shape-shifting, world-changing, critical activity i can engage in. Also, i feel it’s good to engage in the larger collective, together be of service to others and to have community/ someone to answer to, in order to get outside the scribblings of my brain, be it with community, or the minister, etc. I want to point out also that being married is a “a church” to keep one in check and growing. It offers a condition of “answerability” and “community” and “showing up.” Despite the challenges of marriage, when the couple is evenly yoked, it is a luxury, and the challenges involved, its architecture- the divine alchemical design of this lively church is salvation of sorts. And having said that, when the challenges come, i’m not sure what some couples would do when they get into trouble if they didn’t have a place to go (like church) to encourage and offer very specifically applied spiritual truths/ tools toward becoming consistently better, more charitable people- to one another, to their children, to others. I do think this is achieved most efficiently when worship is supported in-between with in-depth intentional diligent study and application. Intention. what a person brings to it is what will got out of it. In church, and in a small group study, I become a captive audience for the presence of the Lord. And I will say that worship in church and the music is the one place I regularly experience deep and profound humility. Humility is the key.

  2. Sue says:

    Me thinks thou doth protest too much, GodGuy. You don’t need to justify not going to weekly services. It’s just not your thing. Fine. Mr. Swedenborg didn’t go either. But it’s not passive for everyone there. And it’s not a way to get brownie points from God for everyone there.

    You are by nature more of a minister than a congregant. Doesn’t your butt get numb while you blog? Mine does. So you really could probably sit on a wooden bench for an hour without much problem. You’d just rather write the sermon than listen to it. So, you haven’t gone wrong.

    Are you sure 44% of people who had near death experience STOPPED going to Sunday services? That doesn’t sound logical. Maybe that stat is true because many of them already didn’t attend. So, it should probably say “don’t go” rather than “stopped going”.

    I like the new pictures you use on your blog. This one is a famous artwork maybe? I’ve seen it before somewhere – it’s both spiritual and creepy. It’s a perfect illustration for your topic. The artist even uses a pair of humans experiencing it, which seems very Swedenborgian.

  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear Sue,

    I was careful not to imply that church service has no benefit to people. The issue is that the church experience does not really get at the issue of one’s personal spiritual growth. Someone who has had a real taste of the process of regeneration knows that “irritating” influences are far more valuable than hugs and pats on the back. Yes, God loves us, but that is the merely the price of entry. After that primary acknowledgment, we must move on to the real work of transforming ourselves. We are on this earth to challenge our individual selfhood. Going into a church community with smiling faces tends to put my guard down and believe things about myself that are completely false.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

    My office chair is quite comfy!

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Carla,

    Thanks for contributing! Again, I do not simply snub my nose at the church experience. It is very helpful to some people. However, if I had relied only on the wisdom of a church minister every Sunday I would not have dug deeper into Swedenborg’s science and theology. I wanted “extra!”

    Fellowship has many levels. Some worshippers volunteer to bring the potato salad. Some show their wallet pictures of their grandchildren. I share my knowledge by writing spiritual books and blogs. Therefore, I am sharing my treasure (if you could call it that) with others in a way that I could not do simply by singing from the church hymnal!

    Another issue. Why is the New Church spawning new denominations? I suspect it comes from a “gut feeling” that more potent and creative expression of Swedenborg’s ideas needs to be found – especially to attract more members. I personally can more easily accomplish such innovation as an outsider. Inside the church, I am nothing more than a troublemaker.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  5. Dear Ed,
    I agree with Sue.
    Personally, I hope the offshoots spawn, exponentially and fractally, until the cows come home. :) Then it will be perfectly obvious that organizations are mere containers, that each individual is truly a “church” unto themselves, and that the “new church” is really a new humanity which includes everyone, and the whole of creation, the cosmos, and heaven too.
    I tend to be grateful to each of the organizations which make Swedenborg’s writings the foundation of all that they do – whether they organize as a 125 year old historic church in San Diego, a Hall in Kenya, a publishing house, an online community, writers and bloggers, a clinic or an orphanage in Mexico, or as one or two on farm in Illinois.
    P.S. one of the numbers in the writings states that the new church (“with the few”) on the planet wont grow (“be with the many”) until enough who have made the new teachings of their life, and have then passed into the spiritual world… interesting implications there.

  6. thegodguy says:

    Dear Carla,

    The purpose of this blog is to challenge the status quo and stretch people’s neurons. I fully accept the way the cookie crumbles. However, I won’t give anyone’s neurons a break!

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

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