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.”

20 thoughts on “Failing to Find God Within Christians Look Without

    • I don’t remember that. But Futurama had lots of stuff about robot hell. It seemed a lot like a modern factory line. Sounds about right.

        • Wow, that was great! I’ve got to see the rest of it.

          I’m surprised that’s online. Fox is really tight with allowing things on YouTube. I managed to get a bit of Arrested Development approved by them. But that seems rare.

          I love this one: Sideshow Bob Campaign Ad

          • I think Hulu has most of the Simpsons’ episodes. I cannot remember though.

            I always was puzzled by that ad-the mayor has no power to pardon. Then I got active politically and realised that it was unimportant that it was a lie, it was important that the general idea was whatever they are claiming.

              • Not completely but some of it yes. I think it is life experience itself helps me appreciate that show more as I get old.

                It has been a fact of my life since I was 10 so my missing some aspects of it was inevitable as some of it would simply fly over a ten year old’s head.

                • The great thing about The Simpsons is how dense it is. My favorite bit was from back in 1992 or so. At a baseball game, there was a sign, “Springfield Saving and Loan: 1903-1991, 1992-” Brilliant.

                    • It’s amazing how go it still is. Not as fresh as as Bob’s Burgers. And somewhat tainted by the success of Family Guy. But amazing after all these years.

                    • Depends on which episode at this point. Some are still so on target it hurts and others are “wow, why is this still on after 26 years?”

                    • I started watching it again about a year ago (that’s how long it took me to figure out Hulu). It’s at its worst when it gets scattered. But when it manages a whole story, it is good. I quite liked, “The Man Who Came to Be Dinner” — which I wrote about, Is Homer Simpson Bi-Curious?

                      I do blame Family Guy for showing everyone that form and structure (And good taste!) don’t matter. And I say that as someone who likes much of Family Guy. But some parts of it are just unacceptable. Most notably, the treatment of Meg really isn’t funny. It is just misogynistic and it just appeals to misogynists. However, when Meg is allowed a small amount of dignity (as when she had an affair with Mayor Adam West), it’s quite compelling.

                    • Family Guy is…well I like some of the episodes but it has lost a lot of the charm from the first three seasons. And yes, I hate how they treat Meg. I was a teenage girl who was as much as an outcast as she was so it makes me feel more for her character then any other even if she can be annoying at times. That relationship with Mayor West was simply lovely for the two of them and I am glad there are hints they at least sometimes come back together.

                      Homer has explored his gay side before in “Three Gays of the Condo.”

                    • I will have to check that out. I had no idea.

                      Family Guy has this problem where it is intended to be either taken ironically or not. That’s a problem for me; it’s bad enough when it is intended to be taken ironically and isn’t. My favorites are the “road picture” ones. I also liked the one where Stewie brought all the Star Trek cast together and became thoroughly annoyed with them. I remember a good joke about a Shamrock Shake. But the problem with Family Guy is the problem with a lot of modern comedy: I really like half of it and I hate the other half.

  1. It’s not just the afterlife testimonials the reactionary christians are fond of. It’s part of the constellation of apologists, creation science and intelligent design promoters who seem to want to write proofs for the faith that are treated seriously. I’m not really sure why the think the need to do this. It must be connected to their broader aims of imposing their dogma on society. You don’t, after all, see Methodists and Episcopalians trafficking in this stuff. I took several philosophy courses in college (suck it Rubio). Because they interested me, but also because they fit in a compact three day schedule that let me hold down a job. And I’ve read greater minds that William Lane Craig try and fail to write an acceptable proof for the existence of god. Craig, and those like him, place themselves in the position of Pharaoh’s magicians who can’t do a better snake trick than Moses. You have pointed out that atheists and humanists rely on faith, and I must honestly concede this. I’ve never directly observed electrons flowing between points of unequal potential. This may one day seem as silly as the thermodynamics of phlogiston. Until then I’ll go on believing it because I trust the source of that information. Scientists, despite the climate change denialist community’s warnings, have no motive to lie to me. Priests have everything to gain and all to lose from the collective acceptance or rejection of their ideas.

    • I agree with you completely. My point is that faith (or trust) is necessary. We can’t know everything. Even the greatest physicists in the world only completely grasp the state of the art in one area. Faith is an important aspect of humanism. I don’t go in for the kind of religious faith that is: believe against all evidence. A classic one is the Omphalos hypothesis that God created the universe all at once, but with the markings to make it look like it is much older. Sure, that might be true. But there are two things. First, Occam’s Razor seems like a much better thing to have faith in. Second, the God hypothesis doesn’t really answer any questions and doesn’t raise any new questions.

    • 1: “Suck it Rubio” made me LOL.

      2: “You don’t see Methodists or Episcopalians trafficking in this stuff.” No, we don’t. Yet the born-again types (and some self-righteous atheists) insist we scream bloody murder about Islam. If we don’t hate Muslims with the appropriate ferocity, we must be on the side of terrorists. Never mind that the vast majority of Muslims are as harmless as Methodists/Episcopalians. The loonies demand that we hate them with pure righteous rage. And there are way more loony American Christians than loony Muslims trying to escape loony fundamentalist countries/war zones.

      Are the millions of refugees risking everything to bring their families to Europe jihadist extremists? The opposite, I’d guess. What a fucked-up, horrible situation they’re in. It almost makes me want to pray for them. I won’t go that far.

      3: “I’m not really sure why they think they need to do this.” You and me both. As mentioned in the original post, it’s quite likely these people don’t have a lot of faith/spirituality. They want to believe in God because it will help them socially, so bogus testimonies of afterlife hijinks confirm their opinion the same way Hollywood award shows confirm popular TV shows. It’s a sham version of religion.

      Thanks for the excellent post!

  2. More ramblings on this today as I was driving through rural country (God’s America, y’know!)

    I recall as a kid going to church and having the priest give sermons on how Bible readings had messages for us to consider. Be nice, don’t be egotistical, etc. I visited a mosque a few years back and the sermon was much the same; the Koran says don’t be usurious, so find ways to run your business without robbing people. Simple stuff, and on questionable authority, but it had to do with using theology to raise actual debate points about how we should act. Clearly while everyone accepted the texts as Holy Writ, interpretation was a matter of opinion. The sermon-giver had some authority as someone who’d spent time studying the texts and pondering the issues, yet one heard grumbling in the lobby afterwards, not everyone agreed.

    To what degree do fundamentalist Christian preachers challenge their audiences to ethically examine their dealings with others? Little or none, in my experience. If there’s any challenge at all, it’s to be louder and prouder about screaming your belief in every apostate’s ear or hating the sodomites/sons of Ham bringing us all to wreck and ruin.

    Basically, every sermon says “we are right!” And right not for any serious kinds of principles, merely for believing some convoluted and ever-fluid series of causal events that A) led us to this precipice of total destruction and B) can lead us out. (The more rigid kinds of atheists are no slouches on this, as you’ve observed. Not killing off religion has led us to catastrophe and killing religion will save us all.)

    To some degree I suspect fundamentalists of every faith are incredibly self-doubting. And I admire self-doubt. It’s quite strange when you combine self-doubt with a need, not only to know others think you aren’t 100% off-base, but a need to believe others confirm you’re 100% right. (And maybe that the ones confirming your 100% righteousness are themselves, maybe, only 95% right.)

    • The big problem that we have is seen in your description of the fundamentalist (hateful) Christian preachers. We know them; we see them! But to most Americans, this is the only kind of Muslim religious leader we think of. And the real problem, domestically anyway, is that those fundamentalist Christians represent about half the country. That is something we ought to be really worried about. But instead, we ignore it — because it is just too familiar, and therefore not scary. But it scares me.

    • Matt Taibbi once described the fundy Christians as people who constantly test their faith out of fear it will suddenly disappear.

      I don’t know why they think it would-it is not something that you just lose like a cell phone.

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