I 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 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.
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.”