Failing to Find God Within Christians Look Without

The Boy Who Came Back from HeavenI never much pay attention to things like 90 Minutes in Heaven. Much more recently, there was Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander. These kinds of books are so common that they constitute a genre. It’s called “heaven tourism.” And really, that is what Dante’s Divine Comedy was — or at least the third part of it, the Paradiso. Like most people, I prefer the Inferno. (But in fairness, some serious intellectuals I know claim that Paradiso has the greatest literary merit.) The only thing that has change since then and now is that people claim they really did go to heaven.

You have to wonder why there aren’t books by people like me who are very clearly going to hell. I did once die for a minute or two. In fact, I told a friend of mine that it wasn’t like people say with a light pulling me forward. She, knowing me rather too well, said, “That’s because you were facing the other direction.” That’s as good an explanation as any. But you would think that if there were a God of the Abrahamic type, I would be given a little introduction to hell — shown around. I could then write my book and that would probably be much more helpful in getting people to board the Jesus train.

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to Heaven because I thought it would get me attention.” —Alex Malarkey

I think the reason that we don’t see these books is that modern Christianity has lost any sense of creativity about hell. Dante was incredibly clever in the kinds of eternal punishments that he meted out. They are appropriate. But modern Christians think only of fire — which Dante reserves for sins of violence. But today, this is what you get for mass torture-murder as well as just doubting the existing of the Holy Ghost. Because ultimately, God thinks we should all be tortured for eternity in a river of boiling blood. It’s only if we accept his special deal of believing in something there is no proof for that we are saved.

Thus we come to the most notorious of the “heaven tourism” books, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. In it, we learn of the near-death experience of Alex Malarkey, who was in a terrible car accident that left him a quadriplegic. That is sad. But the reaction was pathetic. So God takes the boy up to heaven for a look around, but then left him disabled. I can’t say I’m surprised. This is the kind of nonsense that modern Christians — especially here in the States — believe. God never has to do anything; we are all just supposed to believe in him even as he does everything to make us think he doesn’t exist.

The family said that they were shocked when Alex woke up and started telling them all these stories of visiting heaven. But how surprising is that? His kid’s father, Kevin Malarkey, wrote the book — with Alex as the second author. You know, “As told to.” But he is a “Christian therapist.” So clearly, all these stories were swirling around the family. And the kid told his family what he thought they wanted to hear. That isn’t just me saying it. Last January, Alex Malarkey released a statement, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to Heaven because I thought it would get me attention.” He seems to have released the statement because he’s become a more serious Christian and doesn’t want to lie anymore.

This did cause a number of Christian bookstores to take the book — and often many other “heaven tourism” books, as well — off their shelves. But it doesn’t matter. I believe that most Christians are highly skeptical of their beliefs. And so they are constantly looking for anything that will make them feel better about it. And this is fascinating because this stuff — spiritualism, mysticism, religion, whatever you want to call it — is a deeply personal thing. And these people are not finding God within themselves. So they are looking around in the material world. Whatever it is they are looking for will not be found there.

Afterword

I also find it hilarious that the family’s name is “Malarkey,” because as Joe Biden will tell you, “Malarkey means meaningless talk or nonsense.”

The Greatest Danger of Donald Trump

Donald TrumpI probably haven’t mentioned it, but I exchanged a number of email messages with David Cay Johnston. He was critical of something that I had written, but generally seemed to have a positive attitude toward me. He called me a “polymath” — which is just about the highest complement you can give me. I bring it up primarily to brag, because I love his work. One of the great things about having this blog is that actual smart people take me half seriously. But in addition to Johnston being brilliant, he is also playful. And that’s got to be why he went to the trouble to write a book review, Trump’s Sloppy, Illogical Crippled America Is a Jumble of Contradictions.

“Given how often Donald Trump reminds us of his incredible accomplishments as a businessman, you might reasonably expect that his new book on ‘how to make America great again’ would include a business plan.” —David Cay Johnston

Before I get to it, I want to highlight the subtitle of the book, “How to Make America Great Again.” That reminds me so much of Stephen Colbert’s book, America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t. Is this really what passes for serious political debate in the United States? Something that Colbert satirized three years ago? Yet that does seem what the Republican base wants — and has wanted for a long time. It isn’t about policy or even ideology. It is about who is “strong” and will make America “great” — things that aren’t concrete — that are just gut-level feelings about some fantasy of what America is. As Colbert put it: the greatness we never weren’t.

What I was most struck with in Johnston’s review was where he starts, “Given how often Donald Trump reminds us of his incredible accomplishments as a businessman, you might reasonably expect that his new book on ‘how to make America great again’ would include a business plan.” But of course it wouldn’t. I noticed at the start of Tuesday’s Republican debate that FNC referred to Trump as a “builder.” He’s not a builder. He’s not even a businessman. He’s a guy with a lot of money who hired other builders and businessmen. As I’ve written about before, he hasn’t made any more money than if he had just put his inheritance in an indexed fund. So of course he has no business plan, because planning isn’t what he does. He’s just a privileged rich kid whose braggadocio conservatives mistake for genius.

David Cay JohnstonAs usual with Johnston, he really knows things on the granular level. So he rightly applauds Trump for calling for greater infrastructure spending. But then Trump goes on to call for getting rid of the Rural Utilities Service program — an infrastructure financing program. What’s more, Trump claims it will save us almost $10 billion, but it actually only costs the federal government $400 million. But I suspect Trump would just say that cutting that $400 million would create a 25× multiplier effect. Of course, the more fundamental issue is that this is what Republicans are always for: let’s build infrastructure and make America strong — but let’s not pay for it!

Johnston goes on quite a bit about Trump’s ideas for tax “reform” and just how illogical it is. You should read the whole article. But the main thing is that Trump is like most people in business: he knows what he knows. There is no reason to think that he would understand macroeconomics better than anyone else. The problem with Trump and the thousands of other rich people that the media run to for their thoughts, is that they live in a reality in which they think being rich makes them smart and knowledgeable. Thus, they don’t worry about learning economics. Their hubris makes them especially dangerous, and that’s the most important point about Donald Trump.

Morning Music: Zombie Love

Jesse FergusonThe last song on Jesse Ferguson’s 2013 album, Shift, is “Zombie Love.” It’s kind of serious at the same time that it is totally silly. I mean, it’s a straight love song. But it is told from the perspective of a zombie. And it includes this wonderful refrain:

I may be dead
But my life began
The day that I bit you.

The video itself shows a playful side of Ferguson that we don’t usually see because the focus is on his gorgeous music. I really wish that I had known about this song for Halloween. I’ll have to remember next year to do a week of Halloween songs — and definitely include this one. Give it a listen. It’s really wonderful.

Anniversary Post: Fantasia

FantasiaOn this day in 1940 — 75 years ago — the Disney classic Fantasia was released. I’m not that fond of it. It’s good film, but not something that I seek out like I do The Grapes of Wrath and His Girl Friday (Internet Archive), which were released the same year. But the reason that I bring it up is because it isn’t in the public domain. After 75 years, Disney still must be paid for every frame. And remember that copyright length has just gotten longer and longer due primarily to Disney.

I know a lot of people think it is strange that an author such as myself would be against our copyright laws. But they don’t protect writers and artists. They protect corporations. The truth is that we should be able to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Fantasia by watching it. All of us — for free. I should be able to embed a high definition version of it right here. But instead, there are just small clips of it. It might as well be Despicable Me.

But the truth is that I’ve always preferred Allegro Non Troppo. It is not so sugary sweet. And it has a great sense of humor. Of course, it is also deep. So screw Disney and Fantasia. Here is Sibelius’ Valse Triste from Allegro Non Troppo. It still gives me chills.