Reviewed Books & Films

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's Your View of Heaven?

APA

Heaven Is for Real is a film based on the true story of a 4-year-old boy who reported he visited heaven while under anesthesia during a life-threatening operation. The film has garnered a significant amount of media attention and popular interest. In his review, Edward Cumella reports that the film offers minimal insight into the phenomenon of near death experiences (NDEs) and misses opportunities to discuss scientific information and explore complex questions relating to NDEs. In addition, he reports that the film reinforces stereotypes of psychologists and of scientists.

What is your view about NDEs? Are they a connection with “something greater” (e.g., a heaven), are they merely an artifact of our brain processing material, or are they something else?

Is it possible for movies or books to convince consumers one way or another on the existence of an afterlife? Or, are they simply mechanisms that individuals ultimately use to support their existing bias?

Do movies that perpetrate misconceptions about scientists and psychologists do more harm than good for the field of psychology?

Read the Review
ReviewIs Heaven Real? Heaven Knows!
By Edward J. Cumella
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Comments

Edward Cumella

I thought perhaps I should comment on the 3 questions, as the author of the review.

1) What is your view about NDEs? Are they a connection with “something greater” (e.g., a heaven), are they merely an artifact of our brain processing material, or are they something else?

I personally believe they are too complex and often contain too much information about other people that could not be learned from any other source to be mere artifacts or epiphenomena of the brain undergoing oxygen deprivation. What they are, if not artifacts, is quite an intriguing question. On the face of it, they appear to be some form of contact with a spiritual or alternate dimensional reality. I've read a lot about them, and the data have caused me to rethink the existence of a spiritual realm and to open to this as a distinct possibility. As such, I was personally disappointed in this movie--it missed so many opportunities to inform the public about fascinating, well documented and repeated phenomena. I so much wanted to write a more positive review of the movie, but could not do so as an objective observer (at least one who was trying to be objective, something which I admit can be difficult to accomplish).

2) Is it possible for movies or books to convince consumers one way or another on the existence of an afterlife? Or, are they simply mechanisms that individuals ultimately use to support their existing bias?

I doubt that many people change their minds by watching a movie, or if they do, it probably does not last, at least for most. Although I would think that for a small % of people a film of this kind might nudge them to return to church or spiritual pursuits, which, if continued, could bloom into an active spiritual life. But the film would likely be just one of many factors influencing them in this direction or sustaining their awakening spirituality.

3) Do movies that perpetrate misconceptions about scientists and psychologists do more harm than good for the field of psychology?

I am unsure. Stereotypes probably get reinforced for those who already hold them, so I don't think this is necessarily harming science any further. But it's not helping either. Others--what do you think? What am I missing here?

Edward Cumella

Jessica Yi

I have seen some movies like Heaven is for Real about the supernatural issues of heaven, soul, and ghost. In my practical experiences in psychotherapy, sometimes I use imago dialogue technique to communicate with my clients under hypnosis. I find out in every one’s inner heart, some ghosts or fairies live. So long as the person enters into hypnotized status, an experienced hypnotist can induce those ghosts dwelling in their minds. Therefore, I believe ghosts exist, because they lively live in our mind (or heart), although they do not have observable forms. Similarly, I personally believe that heaven exists, at least in our mind—our spiritual world. People hope they can live forever, live without pain, and live peacefully. Like almost all mythology over the world is about projection of people’s unconsciousness, including collective unconsciousness, heaven is also a kind of projection of our collective unconsciousness. Of course, we could not look to an ordinary film for entertainment to logically and scientifically demonstrate abstract unconsciousness on the professional level.

Michele A. Bland

As spiritual beings, it is not surprising that 9 million people have seen the film Heaven is for Real and 8 million have read the New York Time’s best seller. The afterlife is an intriguing topic, and it has captured the interest of Hollywood. With commercial and artistic influences to balance, ones expectations of theological and scientific integrity should be managed. This is a Hollywood film.

There is great mystery surrounding the topic of near death experiences (NDE). In a separate book, Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who has taught at Harvard Medical School and other universities, acknowledges the tension of science and the topic of afterlife as he reports on his Near Death Experience. Eben stated that he had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys but after seven days in a coma, due to rare bacterial meningitis, which was eating his brain, his world-view shifted. He wrote, “I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.” He described experiencing a larger dimension of the universe: “a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.”

Books and movies are powerful influencers, but are they able to bring convincing arguments to everyone? For some, as was the case for Dr Alexander, it would appear that ‘seeing is believing.’

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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