As much as I love books, I never fail to find that there are usually some absolutely ridiculous titles topping the bestseller charts. One of these atrocities that I've recently become aware of is Heaven is for Real, which is currently at #5 on Amazon. The subtitle is A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, and you can guess what the book is about based on that. An 11-year old boy comes out of surgery talking about his near-death experience that supposedly transported him to heaven. The synopsis boasts of mysterious knowledge the boy was 'never told,' such as the fact of him having a miscarried sister, or the details of his grandfather who died before his birth. It always amazes me how people will bite that line of garbage hook, line, and sinker. Of course, Heaven is for Real is written by the boy's father - who also happens to be a pastor - so it can hardly be called an eyewitness testimony (as if an 11-year old's testimony of Santa's workshop would be credible) or an unbiased account.
However, something else strikes me about these sorts of stories too: they're pure sugar-coated fluff. They're an inspirational serving of gullibility for people who are already believing and looking to feed their appetite. By no means are these even meant to be serious proposals for the existence of a supernatural realm. How can I be so sure? Because the premise betrays it.
Imagine if a book were published under the title, Hell is for Real: A Little Boy's Terrifying Story of His Trip to Hell and Back. In this story, we read about an 11-year old's encounter with demons who torture his heathen relatives in unspeakable ways. You can be sure that such a book would not sell, but would widely be denounced as extreme and horrendous. More importantly, though, I don't think that Hell is for Real could even exist in the first place, because all Christian parents seem to reinforce the belief that children go to heaven, and believers in general like to affirm the certainty of their destination in god's kingdom. No one who believes in heaven seems to think they could end up in hell. Hell is for 'them,' not us.
Although it once held powerful sway, Dante's vision of hell is no longer considered authentic by most Christians. Yet when an 11-year old boy says he went to heaven, it's taken seriously enough to create a bestselling book. I don't like to seem jaded, but I can sooner believe that the reason is to cash-in on a heart warming story than to report what these dolts actually think is a real vision of the afterlife. Anyone who claims that god saves little children should read 2 Kings 2:23-24, wherein 42 kids are torn to bits by two bears for mocking one of god's precious prophets. Is it really that unthinkable that an 11-year old could end up in hell instead of heaven? To these people, it is, because they want sugar-coated fluff that reassures them, not what might scare the living daylights out of them.
Perhaps this is why Christians apparently never consider their own alternatives when they jump to pose Pascal's Wager. Faith blinds their minds to the possibility of being wrong. Hell is useful as a conversion tool these days, but afterward it is often dismissed. The era of fire and brimstone preaching is over, replaced now by the feel-good, warm fuzzy nonsense of Joel Osteen and company. This is how a book like Heaven is for Real betrays its own worthlessness. That the active imagination of an 11-year old boy, which has more than likely been cued by his Christian parents, can be treated with the respect and attention that this book has received is a sad statement about the lack of critical thinking and skepticism in our world. As some have said before, many of us appear to just believe in belief, and when we set our own terms like that, we obviously prefer to belief what makes us most comfortable.