Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Little Boy Who Didn't Go to Heaven

I don't read contemporary books about people who claim to have gone to heaven and come back, not generally.  It's a popular genre, one filled with angels and deceased relatives and tunnels of light, and I understand the desire it fills.  There are little boys, back from heaven.  There are earnest doctors, recounting their mystic experiences.  They meet Jesus, and angels, and your grandmother Tzeitel.  These books sell very well.

Very, very well.

I don't read them.  I just prefer not to know, because I don't think we know what that will be like, not in the depth of it.  Even if we've dipped into that chasm, that vastness, I don't think we can know.  So we have this first fleeting glimpse of eternity, as our selves filter it through the lens of the tiny flicker of life we've lived.  So what? What does that mean, in terms of what is to come?  Very little.

This last week, there was a well-publicized recanting, as a young boy who'd claimed to have that experience stepped away from what he'd originally claimed.  He and his father survived a car crash, and had written a bestselling book together, entitled "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven."  It was the story of his experiences on the other side, and honestly, I haven't read it.  This last week, the young man, who in a bit of Matrix-laziness was named "Malarkey," recanted his story in a formal statement conveyed by his mother.  

On the one hand, it's easy to shake your head upon hearing that.  It's a crass cashing in, just another person with some wildly marketable story that they pitch to a publisher, who sees the dollar signs.  "Every time a cash register rings, an angel gets his wings," or so it goes in AmeriChrist, Inc.  I'm as cynical as the next guy about such things.  More so, frankly.  Given that this was a kid, it made me sad.

But then I went past the headline, and read the statement.  The tone and language of the recanting struck me, and struck me hard.  It was not just, "I didn't have that experience, and I'm so sorry for misleading all of you."  That is all that was needed.  This was different.  It was cast in the language of a very particular way of looking at the world, not so much a recanting as an ideological challenge.  Read it for yourself:
Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. 
I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible. 
It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.
It sounded strange in my ear.  If this is a public apology for deceit, it's...odd.  It is the kind of apology that says, "I lied, sure.  But you were wrong for having believed me."  It is written in the in-house language of Christian fundamentalism, and takes the peculiar tack of casting an untruth not in the bright light of whether it happened or not, but through the definition of "truth" that rises from that theological construct.

"When I made those claims, I had not read the Bible."  Why is that relevant to whether a person had an experience or not?   If I say, "I met Bilbo Baggins on the street yesterday, and we shared a pipe full of Longbottom Leaf," that claim is not false because it does not appear in The Hobbit.  It is false because it did not happen, and I am making it up.

If you lie about something, the biblical apology would be, "I bore false witness."  Plus a promise to not do it again, and an "I'm sorry."  Just that.  This is not a biblical apology.  It's a fundamentalist one.  It blames the publishers for taking him at his word, the very same publishers who immediately withdrew the book when he recanted.

His mother, herself a biblical literalist, fought the book from day one.  The idea that her son could have had that experience in any form was anathema to her beliefs.  Her son's recanting is in words and terms that are part of the litany of her tradition.  She...now separated from her husband...is the primary caregiver for her son, a desperately difficult and challenging task for any mother.  I read through her blog, through her deeply human struggles to raise her boy mingled with the kinds of stark, comfortingly binary ideological affirmations you get on fundamentalist blogs.  It was heart-wrenching.

The whole thing just feels so...sad.  And certainly, certainly, a reminder of how far we are from Heaven.