The Father of the Near Death Experience
“Would you have a copy of Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody?” I asked the young man at the local bookshop. I was doubtful. More than a decade had passed since it was first published.
“Certainly!” he smiled and pointed to a shelf at the far side of the shop. “You’ll find it in the ‘new age’ section.
Uh oh. The New Age section hardly inspired confidence. It would be somewhere among books about chakra balancing, reincarnation, aura cleansing and channelled messages from Atlanteans!
“Oh, I thought the author was a doctor.” I said dismissively.
“Raymond Moody? He is a doctor. Now. When he wrote Life After Life he was still just a struggling medical student.”
The bookseller was correct. Raymond Moody had, indeed, been a medical student when he wrote his first best-selling book. But he was hardly a struggling one.
He began life as a gifted child, and took his overwhelming thirst for knowledge into adulthood, gaining two doctoral degrees before the age of thirty. His first led to a career as a Professor of Philosophy. He later switched to psychiatry, and on graduation from medical school became a forensic psychiatrist which included dealing with the criminally insane
Eventually, Moody became a prolific author and world-famous lecturer, and came to be affectionately known as ‘The Father of the Near-Death Experience’.
When it came to the existence of an afterlife, Raymond Moody was a skeptic in the truest sense. The word ‘skeptic’ is of Greek origin and means one who suspends judgement while questioning the truth – a far cry from those who label themselves as such today! Moody did not discount the possibility of an afterlife, but he was doubtful.
In 1965, however, his life changed dramatically.
As an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of Virginia, he was intrigued when one of his professors mentioned psychiatrist and colleague, George Ritchie, who had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia during world war 2. The professor related that Ritchie had been declared dead for 9 minutes, and during that time, he had an ‘interesting experience’.
Shortly afterwards, Ritchie addressed a group of students about his experience, and Moody was in the audience. He found the lecture fascinating and had no doubt Ritchie was an honest person who genuinely believed he had visited the ‘other side’. Nonetheless, he felt certain it must have been hallucinatory.
In a lecture he gave 26 years later, Moody confessed:
“I grew up assuming that death was just an elimination of consciousness. I believed that when you died, it was like the lights go out and you go into an impenetrable blackness and it was like turning off your consciousness, which was very threatening to me because I really do enjoy thinking. I’m a thinking and information junkie to a severe degree.”
Four years later, Moody was teaching philosophy at a university in East Carolina when a student approached him and asked if they could discuss life after death in one of his classes.
“Why would you want to talk about that?” he asked, slightly bemused.
The student explained that he had a bad accident a year earlier, and had died. Then he added: “I had an experience that totally changed my life, and I haven’t had anybody to talk about it with.”
Moody listened with growing excitement for over an hour. The student’s experiences were almost identical to those Dr. Ritchie had described. Was it possible both men had truly taken a glimpse of the other side?
In his autobiography (Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife, 2013) he recalled thinking: “What are the chances that Raymond Moody would hear the only two cases that exist in the world?”
On the other hand, he considered, was it possible there were others?
Have you ever experienced a moment when a random thought, a chance meeting, a rash decision or a simple change of mind took your life in an entirely different direction to the one you had planned?
For Raymond Moody, that one thought was his moment.
He let it be known he was open to hearing about other heavenly experiences, doubting there would be any response. Imagine his surprise when around one hundred and fifty people – students, parents of students, teachers and friends of teachers – came forward to tell him their stories, all in strictest confidence. Most admitted they had never told anyone for fear of being considered crazy. The few who had tried to discuss it had quickly clammed up after receiving negative responses.
Moody chose fifty of these people for in-depth interviews, and was amazed to hear more commonalities. Many told him they …
- felt peace and serenity at the point of death
- viewed their bodies from above
- traveled rapidly through a tunnel towards a bright light
- experienced a panoramic life review
- were greeted by deceased loved ones, and
- were told they must return, or chose to return
A meticulous researcher and self-confessed “information junkie”, he began to categorize the various stages of what he termed the “near death experience”, or “nde”. When he considered the implications of the information he had gathered, he knew it was time to put his findings on paper.
Years earlier, my bookseller had dismissed Moody as “just a struggling medical student”, leading me to believe it was a sensationalized book written merely to make a quick buck. The truth was very different.
The first publisher Moody approached demanded it be re-written as fiction to make it more sensational.
“That’s not going to happen!” Moody stated emphatically, and took it to a small publisher. The owner of Mockingbird Press happily accepted it, certain it was going to be a big seller. “I’ll bet it sells as many as ten thousand copies!” he told Moody excitedly.
Moody later wrote in his autobiography ‘Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife‘: “I had stars in my eyes at the thought of ten thousand people reading my book!”
This “innocuous little paperback” hit the bookshelves in late 1975. To everyone’s surprise, the printers could not keep up with the overwhelming demand for copies.
- The Mockingbird Press edition of Life After Life was reprinted four times in six months.
- The Bantam edition followed in 1976 and required no less than thirteen reprints within four months of publication.
- The book was translated into multiple languages.
- It rapidly climbed onto every bestseller list in the world, remaining there for over 3 years.
Since its initial publication, Life After Life has sold in excess of thirteen million copies.
Moody later wrote:
“Why this took place can be answered in one word: vacuum. Up to this point, the subject had been considered one that belonged to the world of religion and therefore it had received little if any examination by medical science.” (Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife)
Moody began this work as a skeptic. In his book’s introduction he wrote: “I am not trying to prove that there is life after death. Nor do I think that a proof of this is presently possible.”
He was still of that opinion 16 years later when, in a 1991 lecture, he added:
“I think the reasons for that are derived just as much from limitations of the scientific method as they do from limitations of these experiences.”
Dr. Moody finished this lecture with the following words:
“Having now interviewed over two thousand five hundred people, personally I am convinced. I have no doubt whatsoever in my heart that these folks do get a glimpse of the beyond.”
“Was it possible there were others?” he had paused to ask himself in 1969.
From that brief moment, his life would be forever changed.
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