Are these things real?

There is a wonderful quote from Joseph Campbell to the effect that some things, because they are invisible, can be known only to the mind. Any personal experience is that kind of real thing—being in love, wanting breakfast, being angry enough to start a war. If electronic sensors were attached, they could read a difference, and if you were being chased by a bear, other people could watch it happen, but only the person who is having the experience can actually feel it, think it, hear it, smell the bear. Everyone else must wait to be told about it, at which point it becomes a story.

What kind of lives did these people live?

This is often a polite way of asking about the people who report a really difficult NDE, “Are they criminals? Dreadful sinners? Perverts? What did they do that was so bad?”

The answer is that they are pretty much ordinary people, neither worse nor much different than anyone else. They include saints, children, devout Christians and Jews (my data comes almost exclusively from the United States), some agnostics and atheists. The only NDE I have ever heard reported by a known criminal was a glorious experience that turned the man’s life around. I have no data about whether a larger sample of felons would be likely to report more distressing experiences.

Do these things prove that hell is real?

Yes and no. Certainly the experience of hell is real as a feeling. There is no proof in a scientific sense of a place we call hell, nor of what might go on there, to whom, or for how long, and religious beliefs about it have changed over time. The discussion takes more space than there is here. You’ll have to read the book when it’s published. If you have questions or fears about hell, I recommend it. If you are convinced that hell means eternal torment, and you think that’s the way things should be, and you are satisfied with that answer, you won’t like the book. Unless, deep down, you’re ready to start wondering.