There’s been such a mix of responses to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, and now a couple of people have asked me whether I think he had a hellish NDE.
First, belief in “God-as-karma,” otherwise known as “People get what they deserve,” points to our looking for a sense of justice. Where does it come from? It seems to be part of the intrinsic human makeup, at least after a rudimentary developmental level. In individual terms, developmental psychology indicates that somewhere between the ages of 3 and 8, kids just naturally develop a sense of fairness, whether in cookie distribution, levels of discipline, or a myriad of other situations. In species developmental terms, the first known, written legal code (Hammurabi, c. 1750 BCE), defined an elemental sense of justice almost 4,000 years ago. It shows up in the Torah (Ten Commandments and assorted elements of law in Deuteronomy and Leviticus), and in worldwide oral traditions.
In fact, the instinct for justice is universal, even across some species. Interestingly enough, I read a review recently of the book Wild Justice, a study showing that mammals have a moral sense. One study has shown that laboratory animals also react negatively to unfairness in the distribution of rewards. So, a sense of justice clearly seems to be part of our wiring and no doubt serves a vital role in the survival of relationships in social groups. On the larger scale, then, in order to maintain civilization, we need there to be fairness, justice. People should get what they have coming, good or bad.
But does wanting the world to be just make it so? No. What works well in building social relationships breaks down in the reality of circumstances in the physical world. Here, Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama are torn apart, babies and all. Some people spend decades imprisoned for acts they did not commit. Innocent people suffer anguish at the whim of Osama Bin Laden, who winds up in a million-dollar villa. Considering everything he’s done to other people, shouldn’t we want him to suffer, even to suffer forever?
It seems to me helpful to hear what so many people who have had an affirmative near-death experience say about judgment. What they report defies easy description. Tens of thousands of accounts have been reported in the past three decades, many of them including portrayal of a life-review, a nearly instantaneous run-through and evaluation of everything they had done in their life that had hurt or benefitted other living beings. The key is that in the life review they not only witnessed their actions but experienced their effects. In short, the pain and joy a person had given over the years was the cumulative pain and joy experienced in the review—what goes around, comes around. God-as-karma? And if the experience of review/judgment can be that powerful for ordinary people, what would it be for a Bin Laden? Think of all that pain, that grief and torment! Yeah, he gets hell.
Although the experiencers report how vividly they felt the pain they had inflicted, and their regret for it, rarely do they explain it as punishment; rather, it was more a balancing. The most common response over the years has been a feeling of being overwhelmed by understanding—a life-changing “Oh, now I get it,” “I see how it all works, how I could have done things differently.” Yes, they feel the pain and their own guilt, but it is less significant than the enormity of the revelation of what life could be—could have been—when lived out of compassion and love.
I have never heard one of these life-review accounts described in terms of a place of fearful judgment, nor of a time sequence of punitively imposed eternal suffering (and in a timeless afterlife, what would be “everlasting,” anyway?) What matters is that shattering understanding, far from vengeance, that is typically a stunning experience of comprehension—pain, regret, “getting it,” and an understanding turned on its head.
To my mind, this can certainly be understood as both the wrath and the love of God, as psychologist Richard Beck keeps pointing out in his blog Experimental Theology. To quote his “Wrath of God” post last week, “[T]he accounting books of justice are not ‘balanced’ through a just world, God-as-karma mechanism. Rather, the ‘balancing’ comes through God absorbing the wound of sin, dissipating it in the Divine love… The residual of evil isn’t balanced out via karma and just deserts. Rather, it is soaked up in the love of God.”
Overwhelmingly, the great majority of near-death experiencers have maintained that what they discovered in their NDE was a compassion beyond our understanding and a love that can transform all hatreds. Of course it exceeds our human comprehension, and our egos’ greedy passion for retribution, and our insistence that God share our characteristics; but surely the Mind of God must have room for more than vindictiveness. More and more, it seems to me that we are asked not for vengeance but for transformation.
Maybe Bin Laden had a punitively hellish experience, not the life review described by so many NDErs, though I am unsure what of value that would achieve. But I am left wondering, what could be more terrible than to revisit himself and discover so directly the results of his misunderstanding?
This post brings to mind several random thoughts, a few of which (it could be argued) are an attempt to resolve my own cognitive dissonance. 🙂
1.) Sometime life seems to absolutely scream for Divine Justice. From the Holocaust to Darfur, or 9-11 to the various heinous crimes we see paraded before us on a daily basis in the media, civil justice just doesn’t seem to be adequate. For instance, Ratko Mladic, the architect of the horrifying siege of Srebrenica has recently been arrested and sent to the Netherlands to face trial in The Hague. No amount of justice that the International Court can issue will ever nullify his crimes or the crimes of his subordinates. We can arrest and detain him for life, but full resolution simply isn’t possible here.
2.) Although I am Christian, I cannot buy into the doctrine that folks of the ‘wrong religion’ will spend eternity in some blazing inferno with various accompanying tortures. That’s not only evil, it’s downright pathologically psychotic. I personally believe that that doctrine was borne out of the rage at the unspeakable horrors the early Christians (Jews and Pagans for that matter) experienced in the early days of the Faith, only to be continued throughout the Middle Ages.
3.) I’m intrigued by Howard Storm’s comments about how the Hellish phase of this NDE “lasted for minutes, yet lasted for eternity”. Ineffability in describing the near death experience rears it’s frustrating head again.
4.) I personally like Matthew 7:1-2 ” “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (NIV) Obviously, we cannot go through life without civil and criminal laws, penalties and judgements, and we couldn’t even function in life without passing personal judgements on other people and situations. But I believe that it is essential to look inward at my own history, and current motives when doing so.
I was not a direct victim of 9-11, so I won’t even pretend to speak for their loved one’s hearts. That’s an individual, personal process. My hands are full enough using care in judgement when dealing with my own relationships and issues.
5.) Almost all of the Near Death Experiencers that rate high on the Greyson NDE scale report a “point of no return”. Whether it take the form of a river, a wall, a person or force, we really don’t have a clue about what lies beyond that point. Although I place a lot of value in spontaneous After Death Communication, I’m not big on reports by mediums. We’ll find out when we get there. The best thing I can do now is to try to practice the act of (as opposed to simply the feeling of) Love and forgiveness wherever I can in my everyday life. I’ve found that this makes life is so much easier to understand.
Just my thoughts and opinion(s)…
Nan Bush says
Agree–in doing a chapter on the history of hell for the book, I came to the same conclusion. None of the enduring religious traditions began with a punitive hell; those traditions developed over time and intensified during periods of increased violence and oppression. Torment folks long enough, hard enough, and it’s no surprise that they develop a real taste for vengeance.
Sonja Dalglish says
This is interesting. I have known several people who have described this very experience. I, too, have wondered if that experience would be ‘hell’ for those people whose lives have been death and destruction, such as Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler. And, knowing how long time stretches out when I am in pain or very sick, I wonder if it would feel like an eternity as a person felt the fear and agony of death and then the pain of loss of the loved ones. I have also wondered if this was where the thoughts of purgatory come from, from people who have lived through such experiences and return to life.
One man to whom this happened told me, “Now, I know you are thinking of all those people whose feelings you may have hurt through the years, but there are also all those people whom you have made feel good, by your words or even your smile.” He said that the good far outweighed the bad. And, for him and most people, it must. But, for those few who are evil and have plotted the destruction of others, it must be a very different experience.
Also, with these experiences in mind, I have prayed for those who have hurt me, intentionally or otherwise, that they be spared the pain of this experience. I would like for them to feel the love of God. I do not like the idea of my pain hurting another person. I think I can do this because on a grand scale, my pains have been small. The blessings have been great.
And, in response to the first comment, I agree that we long for divine judgement. Perfect justice is not available in this life, but we need to continue to work for it. Good comments. Thank you.
Thank you for your words, Nancy. I hope this helps some people in their struggles to live with the pain of loss.
This is fascinating. I’m starting to wonder if our sense of justice is part of our ‘fallen’/broken nature rather than some calling it divine. I wonder how different our sense of justice would be if we grew up and lived in a safe, secure, loved environment all the time. None of us do, of course, and that’s when we start comparing ourselves to others.
Just today, by the way, someone directed me to this rant from Bill Maher on Christians’ response to the death of OBL (contains strong language): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk127GGtHqc&
http://growandbegrown.blogspot.com (thanks for the link!)
Omigosh, fascinating indeed! Will have to think more about this and get back to you. Mmmm.
As for the Bill Maher, he does have a way of getting right to the point, doesn’t he? Thanks for that one.
More to come.
Dave Woods says
Through out history there have been many other Osamas who were even more brutal, and killed even more people for what ever demented selfish judgmental reasons. The United States in order to serve its own purposes has supported dictators who oppressed and murdered their own people and others to retain power, because they’d play ball with us. This is one reason why we’re not well liked in the world.
I personally perfer to take an overview of this process. Let’s face it, if God. The Creator, or what ever else you want to call he, she, or it, wanted to, an asteroid could be sent in to snuff out all life on the planet. What if, all of this, such as it is, is part of this over all life school we’re evolving in.
Therefor, why not take it that this is an intended process that we, and all other living things are subjected to. If this truly is the case, stop judging this process that forges on ahead whether we like it, agree with it, or not. Instead, accept it as it is, study it, and learn from it. This means dump all the religious dogma that we’ve been hampered with, albeit that some truth is contained within. However, real truth cannot be fully convayed by mere words, it’s something you feel, and enables you to act accordingly.
The real truth we seek is found through sensing the creative force within us (God), and from that perspective, experiencing this process (school) that we’re all involved in. We know now, that our spirit survives the physical death of the body, to return again in order to learn more if necessary.
I take this perspective through true life Experience. I’ve had people I loved totally, shot down, and brutally murdered in the street.
I have never had an NDE, but know a number of people who have. A friend who ultimately died from muscular dystrophy had 2 NDEs. During both she became aware of 2 things:
1- Being there is like awakening from a dream and you realize that being “there” you are truly awake
2- Hell exists in your consciousness and is not a place -she had the opportunity to experience that place in her mind during her NDE and was shown how to escape by thinking loving thoughts about those she resented
For whatever reason, the Holocaust survivors that were my family members
never had a desire to see their perpetrators punished and frequently said that they had to live with themselves and felt that was punishment enough.
Even though I was very happy to learn that Bin Laden was no longer living, I felt conflicted that he had been murdered.
A few years ago a friend of mine was murdered and for the first 24 hours I imagined about killing the murderer myself. Then I realized that killing for revenge made me the same as him and I was grateful for that insight.
I do not believe in divine retribution but do think that at some stage of our existence we are judge and jury for ourselves-Deb
Robert Mays says
You said here “I have never heard one of these life-review accounts described in terms of a place of fearful judgment, nor of a time sequence of punitively imposed eternal suffering (and in a timeless afterlife, what would be “everlasting,” anyway?)”
I agreed with you until I saw recently the following Jewish distressing NDE from 2005 that certainly has the elements of negative judgment in a sort of heavenly “trial” from beginning to nearly the end of the NDE. It includes a life review after which he accepted his “sentence”. But he then questions whether he created all of the legions of negative Avenging Angels; didn’t he have any redeeming good deeds to balance them? He then has a more positive part but concludes that even the Light judges man. There is a long pleading for him even after the judgment had been passed, and he finally is allowed to go back to earthly life. He didn’t want to return because he was afraid of sinning again. He promised to repent on his return but when he recovered, he did not repent and change is ways initially — he didn’t know how to repent — not until he had several health incidents.
Very moving, fascinating NDE. It probably scores very high on the Greyson scale.
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz7BRCUaJRY&feature=related
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLAOw3JkJcA&feature=related
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca1HKxyrPQc&feature=related
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldLFP3mtbXU&feature=related
(This version of the video was clearly put up by a Christian person or group since it ends with a text of a Christian prayer of repentance — a major theme of this NDE).
That entire section of YouTube is like opening one of the early Egyptian tomb finds. Many thanks for that. All this material deepens and enriches what we can say about these NDEs, though at the same time showing how little we can say about them authoritatively as yet. More and more, though, they convince me that we have to take a stand for the genuineness and importance of experiential reality–which these so profoundly are–alongside any kind of reality that can be assessed by scientific veridicality. It’s going to be a long haul!
I’m all in favor of Osama Bin Laden being forgiven for his sins; whether that is after an extreme ‘punishment’ or not, I am %100 in favor of it. There have been times in recent years that I’ve gone so far as to praised God for “the opportunity to meet my beloved brother Adolf! Thank God. Thank you God!”. I’ve just been so excited at God’s mercy.
But I’ve been challenged with a different question just within the last week. Do we hope that they ar forgiven, so that we are almost certainly assured the same forgiveness? And if so, is that wrong, or is it ok? But then I think that surely God desires forgiveness in the same way we do.
Nan Bush says
It seems to me that hoping for our own forgiveness is a worthwhile hope–and if we hope it for ourselves, then why would we not hope it for others, even if they have done terrible things? I’m quite willing to let God figure out the punishment part (that’s way beyond my pay grade!); but it does seem that not hoping for, say bin Laden’s sake, would make me vindictive or filled with a rage that would itself be sinful. In other words, I don’t see what could be wrong about hoping for our own forgiveness, no matter what goes along with that.