One of the major problems with the heaven-and-back literature, at least for those looking to it for inspiration and hope, is that none of the people who have been there agree about what it’s like. These authors aren’t publicly disputing each other’s testimonials – which is too bad, because that would make for great daytime talk show fodder – but if you read more than one of the books, the discrepancies are hard to miss. Of course if heaven is as vast and magical as it would have to be to entertain an ever-growing immortal population, you can’t expect every post-life travelogue to look identical. But when these reports contradict each other in fundamental ways, it raises obvious questions about their veracity. For those who want to believe that any of these authors went to heaven, you pretty much have to read only one of the books and swear by that one, or be highly skilled at ignoring inconsistencies.Among the things people disagree about is whether there are gates and what they look like, whether you can see the face of God or Jesus, whether human souls in heaven have wings, whether people in heaven eat, and whether you learn all you need to know about God telepathically or have to go to class. (One of these authors maintains that Jesus assigns homework.)
I am more interested in the things that most of the authors agreed on. For example, they all agreed that heaven is very bright, the colors supernaturally vibrant. (Although one says there is no orange in heaven.) The Christians all think that only believers get to heaven, with the rest heading for hell -- or, for Catholics, hell or purgatory. All agree that the main activity in heaven is worshipping God. And yet they all seem to think that souls retain much of their personality in after death, which makes me wonder how they think anyone will survive constant church services for eternity.
I read these accounts and it seems very clear to me that we are witnessing a hallucinatory state induced by near death experience -- bright lights, bright colors, human forms made of light, a sensation of floating, a feeling of well-being - dressed up in what people have been told about the afterlife or hope to be true. They are glimpses, but into our minds, not some other world. And yet I know many people will see them very differently.