124. Near Death Experience Science in Bereavement Rescue

Father Rod Walton author of, Bereavement Rescue with Near Death Experience, discusses the evidence for and uses of NDE science.

bereavement-bookJoin Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview discussing the use of near death experience science in dealing with the loss of a loved one. During the interview Father Rod Walton explains why science is important to his work, “I think people really want evidence. Most people, once you give them evidence, it changes them. I often use Ken Ring’s book, Mindsight, about people who have been born blind.  They don’t even see in there dreams… they only can smell, taste and touch… but when these people have a near death experience they do see for the first time.  When the bereaved realize that this doesn’t add up, it affects them. It makes them willing to listen. They’re getting hope based on facts rather than just perhaps and ifs and pie in the sky.”

Father Walton also discusses the Christian churches unwillingness to accept this new science, “Many Christian communities have great tunnel vision. They’re only looking in a straight line. They don’t look left; they don’t look right. I don’t think they’re searching. I don’t think they’re seeking. I think they’re just following tradition and dogma.”

Father Rod Walton’s Bereavement Rescue

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Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris.

This show, Skeptiko, has always been about following the data. That’s kind of been our tagline. Just follow the data and you’ll find your way through these controversial, unsettling, breakthroughs in science and you’ll come to a new understanding about who you really are. That’s the theme of this show, if you will.

But today’s interview with Rod Walton got me thinking about what it really means to follow the data. In particular, the data behind near-death experience science, a topic we’ve covered a lot on this show. As you know, we’ve spoken with some of the world’s leading researchers and we’ve spoken with some of the leading critics, as well.

I guess when I follow that data, at the end of the day I don’t see how a reasonable person can look at that body of data and just say, “Gee, it’s all delusion. It’s all fraud. It’s all misreporting.” I mean, blind people seeing, patients reporting with crystal clear consciousness what happened to them while they were clinically dead and doctors and nurses confirming that. There are hundreds and hundreds of cases like that, and I think if you take the position that “Hey, that isn’t really happening,” or it’s somehow fraud or delusion, well then you’re not even following the data and the rest of this probably won’t mean much to you.

What’s interesting to me is what if you do follow the data to that point? What if you’ve read some of the research? Read some of the books, the accounts, and you’ve gotten to the point where you say, “Wow, you know it sure does seem like there’s something there. There is something to this near-death experience. It is happening. It is medically unexplainable. It does seem to suggest that consciousness survives death.”

What about then? Are you following the data? Or does following the data in this case, in the case of talking about consciousness surviving death, you not really dying when you think you die, does that kind of data and following of that kind of data require something more?

Well, it did and it does for today’s guest, Father Rod Walton. As you’ll hear in this interview, Rod was familiar with the near-death experience research, but it wasn’t until he hit a bump in the road in his life-in this case, the loss of a loved one, and experienced deep, profound bereavement-that he used the knowledge, the data, to dig himself out of that hole and then to go on and try to help others follow in the same course of recovery that he did.

It’s a fascinating story and Rod’s a really interesting guy. So stay with me for Rod Walton, author of Bereavement Rescue with Near-Death Experience.

We’re joined today by Father Rod Walton, a Old Catholic priest who runs the Bereavement Rescue Center in the UK and is the author of Bereavement Rescue with Near-Death Experience. Rod, thank you for joining me today on Skeptiko.

Father Walton: It’s a pleasure, thank you so much.

Alex Tsakiris: Now, Rod, I first came across your work when you posted a message on the Skeptiko website in response to an interview we had with Dr. Michael Marsh.

Father Walton: That’s correct.

Alex Tsakiris: He’s a physician and theologian from Oxford who’s very skeptical of the near-death experience and you offered quite a different perspective from the work you’ve done in bereavement rescue. Tell us a little bit about that.

Father Walton: Bereavement Rescue has been going there approximately five years. It started with me losing my mother. I was devastated. But I’d been studying near-death experiences for 30 years. I realized immediately the pain was diminishing. I actually had hope, based on evidence not just pie in the sky, and I thought, ‘I can’t believe it. The pain was getting less and less and the hope was getting more and more.’

I went to get my hair cut and I met a barber and now we’ve become very good friends. He’d just lost his father. He invited me out for a meal and pumped me for about two hours. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, “You’ve answered all my questions.” And the same response-he started to heal. That was the beginning of Bereavement Rescue.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s awesome. So tell us a little bit about your book and what you go into in the book and how that has grown from your work in Bereavement Rescue.

Father Walton: The book is written by myself and Dr. Caroline Wilkins who is a physicist. The book basically starts with square one, telling you all the problems you’re going to have when you actually go into bereavement. So immediately as you read it you’re thinking, ‘Yes, I can respond to that.’ You don’t want to eat; you don’t want to go out; you don’t want to get up in the morning, etc. Then we build up on what to do, very simple, practical stuff like how to get the funeral, how to go about paperwork, etc.

Then we get into the real nitty-gritty of near-death experiences. We give the statistics. Right now I think between 2% to 20% of cardiac arrest patients survive; 10% to 20% report near-death experiences. We use them like evidence in a court.

All these people are witnesses. It’s exactly the same because you have to witness the murder, which means as far as I can see–and I spent 25 years as a policeman before becoming a priest–evidence is important. These people are witnesses and they’re all telling 99% the same story. That’s got to be taken seriously.

Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s interesting and that’s really the point that I wanted to drill into here. That’s that the interface between science and a scientific approach that is evidence and theology and belief and spirituality. In your post one of the things you said is, “Jesus said the truth will set us free.” That’s something we all have heard. Then you go on and say, “We must keep searching for the truth. There’s nothing to fear from the truth. This near-death experience science is a great opportunity. The Church must embrace what NDE’s are teaching us.”

Now of course, I could not agree more and that’s part of the reason I was so motivated to talk with you. At the same time, Father Walton, I think we have to acknowledge that seeing NDE science in the way that you do and which is the only way I think you can really see it, really requires a radical reimagining of Christian doctrine. At least the Christian doctrine that most of us are familiar with.

How do we get there? How do you bridge that gap? I’m sure you encounter many Christians who have as many reservations as probably secular Atheistic-minded people who encounter this radical spiritual “I am going to go and experience God and go to Heaven” and all the rest of that.

Father Walton: In fact, I would say to be quite honest, there are more Christians and the skeptics are easier than the Christians. [Laughs] I mean, you can’t read the Bible without seeing the near-death-I mean, like Jesus said, I don’t want to quote the Bible but, “A new commandment I give to you to love one another as I have loved you.” Then he goes on to say, “I tell you love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. ” It’s love, love, love.

Again, when he said, “When I was hungry you fed me; when I thirst you gave me drink,” and it goes on and on. And they couldn’t understand. He says, “I say to you as much as you have done this to one of these you have done it to me.” It shows the interconnectedness of us all, which again, the near-death experience seems to be all over.

Alex Tsakiris: Again, totally agree. I don’t have any problem with that. But let’s go back to the point that you made about how Christians often have a harder time dealing with the full implications of near-death experience than Atheists who’ve already rejected the hard, fast, fundamentalist dogma and have freed themselves from that and can then reimagine what you’re saying in a different way. But how do we get over that stumbling block?

I think when you say that the Church needs this heavy dose of the truth, I’m there with you. I have to say, just from a personal note, I just started going back to church within the last year and it took me a long time to overcome just the nonsense that I saw there. I live in a very liberal area of the United States, Southern California, a beach community. You can’t get much more liberal than that.

I go to a Presbyterian church which is pretty liberal. I fully expected to see more open-mindedness and I don’t. I see a lot of still very literal interpretation of Christian doctrine and folks who would be, I think, reticent to make the leap that you’ve made. So maybe two questions there.

1) How did you make the leap? Was it just because you experienced this bereavement with your mother? Is that what pushed you over that edge or through that tunnel, if you will? Or were you already there?

2) How do you see your experience relating to the general Christian experience?

Father Walton: Getting back to the first question, I had the knowledge of the near-death experience. I’d been studying it, by the way, from Raymond Moody following all the way up to Peter Fenwick, Bruce Grayson, etc. When my mother died, I had a tremendous experience spiritually. In fact, I became a priest after my mother died. It was the catalyst. And I read the Bible and all of a sudden I looked up and went, “Wow. Everything that near-death people were saying was adding up to the Bible.” Jesus was actually saying-and the more I read the scripture the more I saw this. And I find that many people read scripture and don’t really understand it. Howard Storm said when he went to Bible College after his near-death experience, he was already trained theologically prior to getting to the Bible College.

Alex Tsakiris: How do you think that your experience squares with the Christian community enlarge as you encounter them? Because you encounter them every day.

Father Walton: Yes, yes. I think a lot, not all, a lot of Christian communities have great tunnel vision. They’re looking in a straight line. They don’t look left; they don’t look right. Now Jesus said, “Seek. Search. Knock.” I don’t think they’re searching. I don’t think they’re seeking. I think they’re just following tradition and dogma. I feel that religion and Christianity is entirely different. Religion is often man-made while Christianity is literally the teachings of Jesus. It was called “The Way” initially.

Alex Tsakiris: Yes, yes, I think that’s an interesting point. I hope to get into that in the future. I do have to say, it still presents a lot of problems with folks because if we are going to drill into New Testament writings and really understand what was said and what wasn’t, it still has all sorts of problems to unpack. I think it’s wonderful to hear someone just transcend that and just jump over it, which I think is the only way you can do.

Father Walton: You’ve got to.

Alex Tsakiris: At the same time, I think someone would keep coming back to the science. So whether it’s the science of the Bible or the science of the near-death experience. How do we bridge those two? How do we take the best science from near-death experience and wed it to the science that we can glean from the spiritual experience? And how is that happening in the people that you encounter? Is there a transformation that people go through at the Bereavement Rescue Center?

Father Walton: Yes, I think all people really want, they want evidence. They’re a bit more materialistic nowadays. And so ultimately evidence is a good thing. Most people, once you give them evidence, like I often use Ken Ring’s book, Mindsight, about people who have been born blind, they don’t even dream, they only can smell, taste and touch. When they realize that this doesn’t add up, people assume for the first time when they’re clinically dead, it’s madness.

There’s only one reason they could assume-it’s continuity of life. For hard evidence like that and  so forth, they say, “I’m willing to listen to this.” And the message then comes out. They’re getting hope based on facts rather than just perhaps and ifs and pie in the sky.

Alex Tsakiris: And what about when those same people turn back to the Church then? Are they able to reimagine the Church in a different way? Because I think that’s hard. The Church isn’t totally supportive, are they?” Tell me from your experience. Is the Church supportive of the kind of work that you do and the theology and experience that you’re leading people through?

Father Walton: I would say that some are actually scared. Some are actually hesitant because no, no one likes anything new. But ultimately I personally don’t think it is new. I think we’re retrieving what was lost.

Alex Tsakiris: So that’s not a problem for you personally in terms of…

Father Walton: No. I think it’s an exciting time, actually. I think science is actually dovetailing Christianity and science and religion and science is actually dovetailing together and I think we’ve got to be open-minded and we’ve got to do what Jesus said, “Seek. Knock.” And start embracing it because it’s fantastic.

Alex Tsakiris: I agree. Well, I think it’s wonderful, wonderful work that you’re doing. Tell folks a little bit more about the Bereavement Rescue Center. What kind of folks are coming there? What the experience would typically be like? And other resources that people might have for overcoming what really can be a crippling condition of bereavement.

Father Walton: In the next 12 months we’re going to have a center and begin operating out in the community. People have been coming to us. We’re intending to build a large center. It’s going to be in the middle of the New Forest. We’re going to plan. We’re going to be log cabins intentionally. It’s going to be very holistic and open environment where people can heal.

We’re going to have a center where hospice staff can come, where they can be given lectures and doctors and medical staff can come if they feel like it. If we some really bad cases where some people are obviously suicidal, we’re willing to take them in and keep them there for a week, discuss with them, get people come and speak to them, show them videos, and ultimately bombard them with the evidence for NDEs. This is our aim. So they go out with a new paradigm.

Alex Tsakiris: What about other resources for folks who aren’t there in the UK and might not have access to physically come to your location?

Father Walton: We’ve got the book. We’ve got a website, as you know. And they can always phone us up because what we’re doing now obviously is starting off from a local area. If someone passes away we’re actually offering real, practical help.

We go there. We take them to the hospital to actually collect the deceased, goods and bits and pieces. We’ll go and arrange the funeral for them. Because I know when I first lost somebody, if you’re doing it for the first time, wow. It’s mind-boggling. That time when you can’t put your mind to anything. So we’re embracing the whole of the bereavement problem.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I think it’s just wonderful, wonderful work and I congratulate you on doing it. I applaud your efforts. Thanks for joining us today, Father Walton. Best of luck.

Father Walton: Thank you and God bless you.