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Death, Demons and a Second Chance
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Howard Storm
My Descent into Death:  A Second Chance at Life (NY:  Doubleday, 2005.  148p.)

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This is another account of a near-death experience.  This writer details an encounter with demonic spirits who try to capture his spirit, but he is saved from them by memories of his previous faith background and prayer insights.  Jesus comes in response to his cry in this state of death-life, and he has seemingly long sessions of question and answer with angels, as well as time with Jesus, to learn truths about life and death and the universe.

The bulk of the book expresses what he asked and the answers he received.  He gradually makes his way back to life in his body, and the experience changes his perspective and his whole way of life.

Reasonable
This book does not propose a lot of wild conclusions like some ethereal books.  For instance, I have read books by psychologists who have interviewed Essenes through the bodies of the people who now live modern lives but were supposedly once actually Essenes.  They treat these conversations under hypnosis as sources of actual historical eye-witnesses.  They report what they have "learned" and seem to consider these hypnotic "revelations" as actual facts of history.  This is a bit much to take seriously.

But Storm for the most part simply confirms the standard popular religious concepts of modern westerners.  It seems to me that this in itself is somewhat suspicious.  You would think if he actually had access to the fount of true knowledge he could clear up some of our cultural stereotypes running commonly through the modern popular evangelical culture.  Instead he simply confirms the long-standing and unreflective ideas, whether they have been critically compared to the Bible or not.  Fine, but he writes as though his experience was in line with biblical writings.  This is unfortunately a too-common weakness of much popular so-called Christian writing.

Problem for Evangelicals
Evangelicals will likely be troubled by the implication of his story that you can get a second chance after death.  Assuming this was an actual death experience, but he got a second chance to come back, this holds out hope for a chance to make a choice after death, which is virtually universally denied by Protestants, at least at the level of popular theology.

He is not clear on the status of his faith at an earlier stage in his life.  It sounds like he had been exposed but never personally believed.  In general Protestants believe this means he will be lost forever.  Storm's experience, however, indicates he got another chance to believe.

Not only that, but he got sent back as a messenger.  Interesting, since Jesus indicates this would not be done for the people of his time.  But maybe heaven is operating by new rules these days.

Common Popular Beliefs
Storm's account shares the common trait of this genre of writing that the experience reflects common popular concepts, not any particular biblical focus.  His memory of the "conversations" with the demons and then with Jesus himself sound like a religious horror novel, and a hero deliverer, not like a real discussion with Jesus or encounter with the spirit world.

I don't doubt that he reports accurately what he experienced, or at least the way he remembers what he experienced.  But what is the basis of his conclusion that this was a literal, objective experience, rather than an unusually vivid dream?  On what grounds should we think that this experience tells us something objective about the external physical universe?  Or for that matter, the external metaphysical universe, if you want to get technical?

The Amazing Mind
We know the mind is capable of enormous and amazing feats, and we know that imagination has no bounds.  I assume this is a part of the wonderful capacity for creation that humans have in being created in the image of the Creator God.

What objective basis can we have for Storm's experience or anyone else's, that can tell us objectively that this is not the imagination and chemical generation of thoughts and images, like any other dream?  Why should we assume a mental experience about the afterlife provides any more objective information about reality than any other dream or imagination?

Culturally Appropriate
By comparison, we can note that there are thousands of near-death experiences in various cultures.  Isn't it interesting that in every case I've heard about, the person's perception and experience is always in the terms of what that person (or that person's dominant culture) already believed?

Christians see Jesus, or an angel or some model of heaven recognizable from popular Christian traditions.  More secular (or New Age) westerners see a great light and ancestors calling or guiding them to the Light.  Buddhists see things related to their popular Buddhist concepts.  Muslims see the oases of Paradise, or the angel Gabriel or similar conceptions from the Quran or popular Islam.

Do you see a pattern here?  (I won't try to document each of these types of examples of after-death experiences, since that is not the purpose of this review-essay.  I'd suggest googling terms that might turn up the many available studies or reports on such phenomena.)

Responsible Return
It is great that his life was turned around.  I rejoice with him for that.  He has responded responsibly to the challenge and insights of this life-changing experience.  This often happens to people with various metaphysical (or "spiritual") perspectives, but that is because it was a wakeup call about their own mortality and the reality of death.  It is wonderful that such an experience turns someone's life around.  It is a cause for celebration anytime a life is saved from destruction.

I have no basis to doubt Storm had a real grace experience with the Lord, and that he is now faithfully living out the implications.  It is amazing that he had a divine second chance to live.  Whatever the objective metaphysical reality of the substance of this experience, it is a reason to celebrate that Storm's life was saved.  In the immediate sense and the sense of the value and purpose of his life.

He is using his experience to save or enrich the lives of others.  I am glad that he is able to offer his testimony as a point of choice for others who need a new direction and purpose in their life.  It is truly wonderful that other lives are being changed and saved because of his experience.

Pious and Happy
His account of his experience sounds very pious and apocalyptic, but it leaves one with serious questions.  I get the feeling that Storm has not thought about his experience enough to realize there are serious problems philosophically, theologically and psychologically.

The book will appeal to those who enjoy the titillation of an experience with the spirit-world without having to actually die.  Isn't this much of the appeal of ghost stories and horror thrillers?  Storm's story reads like a horror story with a truly happy ending.

See my related reviews on near-death experiences:
[review] Near-Death Confirms Life Beliefs?
[review] Out-of-Body Travel

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[Review] Demonic Metaphysics
[txt] God, Heaven and Human Knowledge
[Review] More Speculation about Angels
[TXT] Principalities and Powers:  Notes On Demonic Hierarchies

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OBJ

First reading notes written 13 October 2007
Finalized and posted on Thoughts and Resources 23 October 2007
Rewritten 17 November 2008

Copyright 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email: orville@jenkins.nu
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