Recent scientific evidence suggests that what are popularly called “near death experiences” are not anything of the kind, but rather a product of high carbon dioxide levels in the blood.
Personally, I’ve always been sceptical about the religious interpretation of these experiences, for two reasons. One is that my mother had several “near death experiences” as a child – every time she had an anaesthetic at the dentist’s surgery. The other is that people who have these experiences always explain them in terms of their pre-existing beliefs: Protestants for example will say they have met Jesus, while Catholics seem more likely to meet Mary. Presumably this is because the brain tries to “make sense” of what it perceives, and it does so by drawing on its previous “knowledge”. But nobody ever changes their beliefs as a result: atheists remain atheists, even after what would appear to be a pretty close encounter with the Almighty. Which suggests to me that they haven’t actually come anywhere near Him at all.
(this post has also been published on MyT)