The heavenly tourism scam


I had heard of Colton Burpo, a young boy who claimed that he had gone to heaven and returned, and whose book Heaven Is For Real (written with his father) became a best-seller and also a film. In it, he describes meeting his grandfather and the other usual stuff people believe about heaven. His co-author father happens to be an evangelical pastor and the fact that the heaven described coincides with his beliefs did not seem to strike people as suspicious. The other co-author was Sarah Palin’s co-author, which didn’t help much.

It turns out that there was another best-selling book by another child who said he also went to heaven and returned, showing that there is an almost insatiable appetite for people who want to be reassured that heaven actually exists. This book was called The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and was by the unfortunately named Alex Malarkey and his father Kevin and was published in 2010.

But now Alex admits he made the whole thing up just to get attention, although he remains religious. (See his letter of apology and more here.)

This boy’s story is quite sad, actually. He was in a car accident that put him for a while in a coma and later left him paralyzed. The book purported to describe his trip to heaven while in the coma but now he says “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven… I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.” The book’s religious publisher is withdrawing all copies.

What is interesting is that it is not just us heathen who think these books are nonsense. Even other evangelicals say that these books should not be believed because the descriptions of heaven that were provided by Burpo and Malarkey are contradictory to Biblical teaching. Apparently the Bible is very clear that going to heaven is a strictly one-way trip and you never come back. Phil Johnson is angry about the way that believers are being misled by the claims of these books.

No true evangelical ought to be tempted to give such tales any credence whatsoever, no matter how popular they become. One major, obvious problem is that these books don’t even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.

But the larger issue is one no authentic believer should miss: the whole premise behind every one of these books is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about heaven. [Emphases in original-MS]

I do not expect this revelation that the book is all made up to dampen in the least people’s appetite for such nonsense, even if the Burpo family also admits to making it all up. People are so frightened of dying that they will grasp at any story that suggests that they will live forever in some form.

Comments

  1. DsylexicHippo says

    “Apparently the Bible is very clear that going to heaven is a strictly one-way trip and you never come back.” – How convenient.

  2. Numenaster says

    Indeed, it is. But it only took 3 comments on the original post for someone to identify a loophole that allows the eager to continue to believe. It’s “God COULD have given people visions during an NDE and then brought them back to life so neener neener” if you’re curious.

  3. dean says

    There is a lot of sad in this whole story: it is sad to think of how many people believe this crap enough to buy the book when the topic is as foolish as claiming one traveled to neverland and back.
    The more that comes out the more it seems that the father knew it was bunkum and simply used his son’s story as a money making scheme.
    The mother claims that the publishing company executives knew longer ago than they claim that the boy had taken his story back but did not do anything until the recantation became more public.

    A part of me wonders how much support this boy was receiving from his family during his early recovery, since he says the reason he told the story was to get attention.

  4. machintelligence says

    Apparently the Bible is very clear that going to heaven is a strictly one-way trip and you never come back.

    Of course this must be so. We can’t have conflicting reports circulating around. I am reminded of the story of a fellow who did the whole Lazarus thing, brain dead for hours, made a recovery on the embalmer’s table and everything. He claimed to have been to heaven but had promised not to reveal anything about it as a condition for being returned to life (there had been some kind of paperwork mistake.) After being hounded unmercifully by the press, he agreed to answer just one question for the reporters. They put their heads together and eventually came up with their question: “What is God like?” He responded “Well first, She’s black… “

  5. John Morales says

    Biblically, Jesus supposedly went to Heaven after the crucifiction and then came back.

    (Very briefly, though)

  6. moarscienceplz says

    One major, obvious problem is that these books don’t even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.

    Oh! So contradictory descriptions are an indication the whole thing shouldn’t be believed?

    From Skeptics’ Guide to the Bible:

    Does God want some to go to hell?

    No. God wants everyone to go to heaven:
    1 Timothy 2:3-4
    God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved.
    2 Peter 3:9
    The Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

    Yes. God wants some to go to hell:
    Proverbs 16:4
    The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
    John 12:40
    He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
    Romans 9:18
    Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
    2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
    God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned.

  7. Ed says

    They can always say that the differences in afterlife imagery in the various accounts are a result of finite human minds trying to.remember and describe the infinite in earthly terms. Biblical descriptions of the afterlife are few and short, anyway.

    Also, NDE books aren’t exclusively a fundamentalist or otherwise conservative phenomena. Sometimes the stories I’ve heard about (I’ve never actually read them, but the culture is saturated with the discussions) have a more moderate to liberal Christian or New Age premise. Fundies don’t own the basic idea of heaven.

    I was at sushi bar/cafe having a quick bite and caught the story on the TV they had there. The noise level made the details a little hard to catch. I really felt bad for the kid who suffered such a terrible injury and was encouraged to lie by adults.

    But, guilty as it makes me feel, I couldn’t help getting a kick out of the fact that his name is Malarkey (a name that for reasons unknown to me is used as a synonym for “bullshit”). Another funny thing was some “expert” saying that he’d always thought the story was made up unlike all the “real” heaven stories out there.

    I also felt sorry for writers of NDE books who have actually had the visionary experiences they described while suffering extreme trauma (for completely natural reasons, of course) who will now be under suspicion or even confused with Malarkey himself.

  8. A Masked Avenger says

    I haven’t bothered to dig, but it looks to me as if the kid never got the money, and the parents had a messy divorce. I.e., the recantation came from a kid who felt cheated, to the detriment of the father after an ugly split.

    Call me cynical, but if the kid were getting his royalties, I suspect he would not have recanted.

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