I already posted a link to this article, but I'd like comment on Douthat's statement:
But the implausibility of hard materialism doesn’t mean the cosmos obviously confirms a Judeo-Christian paradigm. And the supernatural experiences of the irreligious — cosmic beatitude, ghostly enigmas, unclassifiable encounters and straight-up demons — don’t point toward any single theology or world-picture.
I can make the Friedkin and Verhoeven experiences fit with Christian doctrine; Ehrenreich’s aren’t perhaps as distant as she imagines. But Ayer’s weird red light and the ghost of Peter Kaplan? If I were coming to these kind of stories with no preconceptions, I might reach for polytheism or pantheism to explain the variety and diversity of what reaches through the veil.
1. Although necromancy is a forbidden activity, the possibility of contacting the dead is consistent with the Christian worldview. The soul survives death. Contacting the dead is dangerous, and therefore forbidden, but that doesn't make it impossible. Indeed, the possibility is what makes it dangerous.
2. As for Ayer's NDE, the pluralism of some NDEs is a familiar issue. There are different ways we might interpret that phenomenon:
i) If there was no evidence for veridical NDEs, we could explain the pluralism by saying NDEs are imaginary. But given credible cases of veridical NDEs, that's not a good explanation.
ii) A pluralist might say this is evidence for universalism or religious pluralism. But there are problems with that explanation:
a) Religious pluralism is incoherent. All these contradictory positions can't be true. Hence, that can't be the ultimate explanation.
b) A pluralist might counter by saying the Divine wears many masks. But even if we grant, for argument's sake, that all roads leads to the same destination, isn't postmortem experience where we encounter the face behind the mask? If that's just another disguise, then there is no destination. Many roads continuing into the afterlife, with no convergence in sight. In that event, why think there is a face behind the mask?
iii) By way of orthodox interpretations, perhaps some NDEs are like allegorical dreams. A symbolic analogy of the afterlife.
iv) Or perhaps some NDEs are analogous to a psychedelic experience. Someone who's high may hallucinate, yet his perception of reality isn't merely a figment of his imagination. His sense organs are still receiving input from the outside world. An objective, external stimulus forms the basis of his perception. But his perception of reality is distorted because his brain misinterprets the sense data.
It may be that some NDEs are disorienting in that respect. It represents an unsettled state, where the soul has one foot in this life and one foot in the afterlife. Perception of reality is clouded by that transitional condition. It hasn't had time to make the adjustment.
And, of course, NDEs are, by definition, temporary. At best, the afford a glimpse of the afterlife. But is that a representative sample?