How Much Time Do the Living Spend in Heaven? June 9, 2007

How Much Time Do the Living Spend in Heaven?

I know a lot about Heaven.

For example, I know that you meet five people when you get there.

And I know it’s full of Mormons.

But some Christians claim to have experienced it first-hand. And then they write all about it. And sell many, many, many books.

It’s interesting how much time they spend up there, though…


Marietta Davis fell into a “trance” for nine days. As authors Dennis and Nolene Prince (who retell her original story) say:

When she finally regained consciousness she had full control of her faculties and described with almost supernatural perception how angels had conducted her spirit to heaven and hell. She described extraordinary scenes from these places in graphic detail.

Some people manage to learn about Heaven slightly quicker:


The author, Emmanuel Twagirimana, was struck by shrapnel from a bomb, “died,” and came back to life a week later. With a message, of course. There always has to be a message.

Maybe we don’t need all that time to get a good vision of Heaven, though.

Can’t we do this any faster?



Don Piper spent 90 Minutes in Heaven. He got into a bad car accident, “died,” went to Heaven, and then came back and told us all about it. In vivid detail. The 1,000,000 people who bought his book seem to believe him. *sigh*

But, really. An hour and a half? That doesn’t help those of us who like to get things done fast.


Much better.

Lisa Alther’s characters need only five minutes.

But that’s (openly) a work of fiction, so I guess we can’t count that.

Interestingly enough, I’m sure some people (even non-religious ones) would argue seven minutes is all you need to get the full glimpse of Heaven.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if people began telling us about their time in Hell instead…?



Never mind.

[tags]atheist, atheism, Heaven, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom, Mormon, South Park, Christian, Nine Days in Heaven, Marietta Davis, Dennis Prince, Nolene Prince, hell, Seven Days in Heaven, Emmanuel Twagirimana, Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Lisa Alther, Five Minutes in Heaven, 23 Minutes in Hell, Bill Wiese[/tags]

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  • Maria

    This is an interesting point, that leads me to ask: what do you all think of near-death experiences? Are the people losing it? Or is there some scientific explanation for it?

  • Miko

    Or is there some scientific explanation for it?

    There’s some scientific basis for it, although anything to do with the brain is still cloaked in mystery. Specific places in the brain have been identified that deal with awareness of self, light perception, etc., and the general order in which they shut down during death has been identified. Light perception is one of the last to go, possibly explaining seeing a bright light. Self-awareness is one of the first, possibly explaining disorientation with the body or floating outside of it.

    On the other hand, there’s no explanation for other common reported aspects, like people observing the actions of doctors after they are clinically dead, etc. This could be evidence that consciousness survives death, but all cases so far that I’ve seen have been either anecdotal or poorly documented.

  • Red Omen

    Strange things happen to the brain when it is deprived of oxygen. Because it isn’t getting enough sensory information, it gets bored and makes up stuff to fill in the gaps. People who are going blind sometimes have similar experiences, in what is known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome. NDEs are another example of our senses and our brains screwing around with us.

  • I saw the book on Hell in a Wal-Mart last year; I was tempted to buy it just for the humor value. I wonder if that’s the one that portrays Hell as being shaped like a human body — with arms, legs, a trunk, and a head.

  • QrazyQat

    Buffy was apparently in heaven for months; she said it was nice. Of course she was smart enough to say she thought it was heaven but couldn’t be sure. These other folks are dead certain, I’ll bet.

  • Maria, the short answer is no one knows anything about “near death experience” except that some people have reported having them and that some of those people consider the experience they had significant and life changing. Unless there is some reason to believe those people are cheating or harming other people or are mentally ill and a danger to themselves, they should be able to talk about that experience to whoever is willing to listen.

    No one knows what those experiences mean, not even those cognitive scientist-materialists who have an ideological motive to make speculations about them. The frequently cited disqualification made for people who want to believe that these and other experiences are “evidence” of a supernatural is that they “want to believe it”. That materialists want to convince themselves and others that there is nothing to it is no less “wanting to believe” that their speculations about oxygen deficit or even “latent memories of the birth experience” are relevant.

    Peoples’ experiences belong to them, in “near death experience” they are the only ones who can tell you what they experienced. You are free to believe all or some or none of them. That’s what we used to call freedom of belief. Enjoy it while you still can.

  • Miko

    Wait… “Latent memories of the birth experience?” That’s absurd. Do people really suggest that?

  • Miko, Carl Sagan said it and Susan Blackmore commented on his saying it. I didn’t make that up.

  • Red Omen

    Sure, no one knows for certain, but there isn’t any evidence to support the claim that these people have gone to heaven – and it’s far more parsimonious to use a materialistic explanation. That is, of course, assuming you value the principle of parsimony that those horrible materialistic scientists use.

  • James

    Reminds me, I promised a friend I would read the Divine Comedy again, surely Dante is the grandaddy of them all.

  • James, Dante was certainly the best writer.

    red Omen
    , the principle of parsimony, like Occam’s razor wouldn’t be applicable because you need to limit the question being asked in order to know what you need to cut out. There isn’t enough objective data to even define what is being asked about so the Razor isn’t applicable to the questions raised here. Even materialists have to follow the rules of how to use the tools, though most of the people who think that’s what they’re doing know nothing beyond what they’ve read in the pop-lit of materialism. You would think since they are the ones always gassing on about “Occam’s razor” that they’d show at least the minimal knowledge required to sharpen it.

    You do know that there were some mighty impressive thinkers who rejected “Occam’s razor”, don’t you? Kant and Leibnitz were two. I seem to recall Berekley did too but would be going out on a limb on that one.

  • More on “Occam’s razor”.:

    [352] The unfortunate carelessness of Tennemann and Hamilton has engendered a very serious philosophic corruption. For, it has turned a sound rule of Methodology into a Metaphysical dogma. As J.S. Mill pointed out in his Examination of Hamilton (ch. 24, p. 542 in 4th edition): ‘The Law of Parcimony … is a purely logical precept’. It is folly, to complicate research by multiplying the objects of inquiry; but we know too little of the ultimate constitution of the Universe, to assume that it cannot be far more complex than it seems, or than we have any actual reason to suppose. The value of this warning has just now received signal illustration from the very recent discovery of Chemical Isotopes, which has proved (e.g.), that what had previously been simply called ‘lead’ is infinitely complex in its compositions [N7]. This discovery ought to operate as a salutary check upon dogmatism, and the tendency to turn logical rules into ontological principles.

  • Red Omen

    The difference between what the passage you’re quoting is describing and NDEs is that the latter are supposedly supernatural in nature. There is a great divide between discovering a new aspect of our own internally consistent universe (like chemical isotopes) and discovering an entirely new plane of existence.

    And if we can’t use Occam’s Razor unless the question is adequately defined, then perhaps NDE advocates should tighten their definition so we have something to work with. Nonsense is as hard to disprove as it is to prove.

  • Miko

    And if we can’t use Occam’s Razor unless the question is adequately defined, then perhaps NDE advocates should tighten their definition so we have something to work with.

    The problem currently is that neither theory is very good.

    Theory I: The brain works through unknown mechanisms in order to create experiences of a certain type near death.

    Theory II: The mind has a component separate from the brain which interacts with it through unknown mechanisms in order to create experiences of a certain type near death.

    Since we know the brain exists but don’t know that the mind exists as a separate entity, there’s a case to be made that Theory I is slightly more parsimonious than Theory II, but they both have that huge “unknown mechanisms” stumbling block. You can give arguments for your preferred theory, but we’re not really at a point where we can favor one simply because it’s simpler.

    You do know that there were some mighty impressive thinkers who rejected “Occam’s razor”, don’t you? Kant and Leibnitz were two.

    But they were both idiots. 😉 Leibniz thought that the number 1 was God–and not just in a methaphorical sense. He also thought that the Yijing was a lost Christian scripture. And Kant’s unfinished final work has been known to drive anyone who reads it insane.

  • And if we can’t use Occam’s Razor unless the question is adequately defined, then perhaps NDE advocates should tighten their definition so we have something to work with. Nonsense is as hard to disprove as it is to prove.

    You are assuming, to start, that people who are talking about their own experience are “advocates”, that isn’t accurate in all or even, I’d guess, most cases. They are telling what they’ve experienced. They have no obligation to define anything except what they’ve experienced.

    Your position that their experience is “nonsense” is actual advocacy of a position, I’d guess of the typical materialism that is in vogue these days. Someone acting as an outsider commenting on the reports of personal experience does have an obligation to not speculate on things such as the oxygen levels in the brain, brain activity, etc. which, presumably, weren’t tested at the time of the reported experience and so which can’t be known. To come up with a general assertion about the nature of the entire range of reported experiences, assumeing just to begin with that they are all the same kind of event, carries even greater obligations. At least if you are interested in the truth instead of ideology.

    The fashionable assertions of “Occam’s razor” or its related tools in these areas are an attempt to replace these responsibilities with buzz words, that only compounds the nonsense.

    Miko, I think you’d soon miss Kant if his work disappeared and Leibnitz wasn’t exactly an idiot, both were rather eccentric but both were rather greater thinkers than Dennett or Harris.

  • James

    Dante was certainly the best writer.

    I realise this has been done before, but it does make me wonder if athiesm has ever inspired something as sublime as Dante or Milton, or even the KJV bible, anyone want to tell me what I should be reading after Dante?

  • James

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    “Miko, I think you’d soon miss Kant if his work disappeared and Leibnitz wasn’t exactly an idiot, both were rather eccentric but both were rather greater thinkers than Dennett or Harris.”


    You are obviously a man of discernment and fine taste, I dislike the a-historical nature of some of the debate on these sites, Liebnitz and Kant were giants of their age, and it is easy to dismiss them for their religious sympathies in an age when there was no real alternative to religion, in a centuries time Harris, Dawkins et al may also be dismissed as simpletons, but will remain great thinkers of their age. The whole point of science as I understand it is the gradual accretion of knowledge and to dismiss the great minds who framed earlier debates is insulting.

  • Red Omen

    I never said that the “NDE advocates” I referred to were all people who went through these experiences. By NDE advocates, I meant NDE advocates. People who claim that the visions they and others have when they are either clinically dead or dying are definitive proof that there is a heaven (or hell) and that they went there.

    If one cannot provide a coherent, sensible definition for a claim one makes, it is difficult to provide evidence for it. Also, in the act of not making sense, it is nonsense.

    Now that I’ve finished defending my choice of words, I can’t help but notice you seem determined to dismiss all my arguments as being made on the basis of ideology rather than because I believe they are true. (By “true,” I would like to specifically reinforce that the word means factual, and present in the real world.) It strikes me as a bizarre way to approach the matter, and a bit reminiscent of poisoning the well. “Don’t pay any attention to him; he’s a materialist – of course he’ll make arguments defending materialism!” Would it not stand to reason that I would make arguments defending my own viewpoint? Am I being intellectually dishonest by doing so? What other arguments would I make?

    All sciences – including the medical sciences – are inherently materialistic. The scientific method evaluates empirical evidence and determines what is true based on the conclusions it gleans therefrom. Sometimes the conclusions are wrong, but as a whole, science tirelessly moves to correct itself. If you have a vendetta against materialism, you have a vendetta against science. It is more than simply “fashionable;” it is the source of all technological advancements we have made as a species. It is the reason we are able to have this conversation, over a network that could only have been developed with an acute understanding of how to create a worldwide network and computers to access it. We could not have made it if we thought satellites were held in orbit by cherubim, or if gremlins ran inside hamster wheels to power our CPUs.

    So when we conclude – and this next clause is very important – for the time being that NDE-like visions occur when a brain is deprived of oxygen, based on what (admittedly little) we know about the brain and what happens to it when it is, in fact, deprived of oxygen, it is because it is internally consistent with what we know already and that it is more parsimonious than creating a new plane of existence to explain these phenomena. There could be some utterly different explanation for it that makes perfect sense. I can assure you with almost complete conviction that it will not be supernatural. If it is, then it will be unprecedented.

  • I had a friend at a picnic tell me he had gone to hell and come back, his story lasted about 20-25 minutes. He shared visions of a huge lake that was burning. I cannot recall much else.

    Reverend Billy Graham, said, “I believe in Heaven, and I believe in Hell”.

    Charton Heston said in his New Testament video, “It is a matter of faith”.

    A Yale University, England Theologeon Student said in his Final Paper, He had examinded the history of The New Testament, and found that The New Testament wa supported at every place by recorded history”.

    The Bible says it’s words will not return void, they are as powerful as a two edged sword, such as, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending”. Revelation 1:8.

    Be encouraged, in the Bible it says, “….God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentence”. 2 Peter 3:9.

    The Bible talks so much about hell, the unquenchable fire which has smoke that ascends up forever. A place that once you are finally dead and there, it has been designed so that there is a gap and no man will be able to pass out from hell into heaven, it is a permanent resident of eternal torment.

    Also in the Bible, it tells humans over and again, not to fear. I know that humans tend to be fearful. In brief, If you choose to believe that Jesus is the son of God, sent to earth to die for the sins of man and women. If you repent (change your life to try to do your best to keep changing your soul to be like His spirit through your life with Him), just believe that Jesus did come to earth to save, not to condemn, and only believe in Jesus whom God has sent, this is what one must do to gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

    From my personal experience as a Christian of 15-16 years, Jesus is the closest, dearest, warmest companion, ever. I love Jesus and His Father so dearly; even though it is not as much as He loves all of us. He is full of mercy over and over again, even when we can least expect. He is kind, He is emmensly creative, He creates elaborate beautiful environments, He is holy, strong and courageous and no one triumps against Him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, so He enjoys the properity of his servents.

    Also in my experience, when things seem hopeless and we think we cannot face God, I believe this is hell and Satan, because he tries to keep us in darkness and chained and lies that God will not have us, but God said, He will never break a bruised reed; he who is not against us is for us; in no way will He cast out any who come to Him. He Loves Us Greatly!!

  • Travis

    I wonder, has anyone here who is commenting on how ‘made up’ these near-death experiences ever actually been through one themselves?

    If not, how does it seem fair or unbiased to pass judgement on something that hasn’t been experienced?

    I’m not going to look for tips on running from a quadrapelegic man.

  • Mutz

    Here is a point most people are missing…beyond the arguments establishing or negating validity to the claims of those who have had near death experiences or those who have died and come back to life, is the reality that at some point each one of us will die, and whatever our argument was concerning this issue will seem way insignificant compared to what we shall then face as the new reality on the other side of life.
    A crucial question would be, ultimately how would you like to find out whether you were right or wrong? Would it make sense to reject Christ and find out that you were wrong and spend eternity in Hell or accept Him, believe in Him, follow Him, hope in Him and then after closing your eyes in death or when He returns, be glad that you were right? Regardless of what everyone’s opinion is including mine, the reality is we each come to this world alone and alone shall we leave this world. It is a journey that no one can go through for you and a decision that no one else can take for you other than yourself!

  • muriel

    I personally listened to this emmanuel’s account of his death and being raised from the dead over a period of four days of meetings. At the end of it I wondered why the story has been associated with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?
    The entire time of storytelling was all about Manny and he even showed those of us willing to look the shrapnel wounds and where the maggots supposedly ate him.
    The venues he chooses to tell his story in is of course the church where all the gullibles offer him money for the telling. But please don’t confuse his story with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ Who died on the Cross for Manny’s and for my sin and for your sins. Dies so we could go one day to Heaven and be with Him.

    His story recounts how he was given a scroll to eat that tasted like honeycomb and this saintly figure told him that when he would go to the world and tell his story he would never have to use an translator because he would speak each and every language correctly.
    During the four days of his telling he used a translator who, according to the translator, manny used three languages in every sentence and was difficult to understand never mind to translate.

    I think to love these storytellers is compulsory but we don’t have to tolerate them in order to love them.

    Oh Lord help us to know evil from good as Your Word says we will.

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