Take a second look at the scatter chart in post #3 in this series. Notice how many red dots (studies with distressing near-death experiences) there are. Only three years after Moody and two years before Ken Ring’s Life at Death hit the bookstores, Maurice Rawlings had a book out about hellish NDEs. How can it be that for over two decades almost everyone has said that only 1% of NDEs are “negative”?
In 1982, pollster George Gallup, Jr. and his co-investigator William Proctor reported, “[O]ur major national poll of those who had a close brush with death showed that only one percent said that they ‘had a sense of hell or torment.’” That same paragraph continued, “But … the picture is more complex than that …[I]t does seem clear that many of these people…were reluctant to interpret their experience in positive terms.” (p. 76)
In fact, as Gallup and Proctor make clear, the figure of those reluctant to call their NDE positive may have been as high as 28%. But the figure that stuck in the minds of those who reported on it was the more agreeable 1%.
Why? I’ve done that myself, knowing that I didn’t believe the figure but not wanting to turn an audience away with nothing but their fears. Having nothing more authoritative to say, I would use the 1%, thinking, “One of these days we’ll know more.” That being the case, I think the primary reason for the sliding around was that saying 1% was more comfortable; it was less disturbing to hearers. Another, in my view, is that although speculation ran freely, no one knew quite what to say other than that the distressing events weren’t “real near-death experiences.”
In fact, we do know a bit more nowadays. According to a careful review of the book and journal literature from 1975-2005—the one that produced these nifty tables—in a total of 20 studies large and small, with a total of 1,910 NDEs of which 332 were distressing, the average percentage was something over the midpoint of Gallup’s 1%-28%: 17% distressing.
You will not be surprised that I keep thinking of those 332 people out there all on their own for all those years. I hope they’re online.
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