Saturday, August 20, 2011

Snake Oil in Heaven

Barnes & Noble--You gotta love a bookstore that encourages you to read their magazines and books in a comfortable atmosphere with no pressure to purchase them. They’ll even sell you food and drink to enjoy while you’re reading. Free wifi, and if you have a Nook, you can read anything in the store on it for free as well. I don’t know about their other stores, but the one here in Fairbanks has an open fireplace in which the fire burns all year, even in August (when our nighttime temps are already dipping into the 40s). I sure hope this company survives the Great Recession because I would miss it if it closed.

Anyway, when I visit the store, I sometimes pull two or three bestsellers off the rack, find a comfy armchair in front of the fire, and read the first chapters. I do this to keep up with what’s selling and to try to soak up whatever quality it is that makes a book a bestseller. If I read enough bestselling first chapters--or so goes my thinking--maybe I too can write a bestseller.

Last week I picked up a worthy exemplar of the genre, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. There are over 4 million copies in print, Sony is developing the movie, and the book is being translated into 30 languages. So this is no slouch of a bestseller. In the corner of the cover is a cute little boy in a funky yellow sweater vest smiling at the viewer. As well he should--he’s one little boy who’ll be able to go to any Bible college he chooses.

The book is by a Protestant pastor in Nebraska who’s son suffered acute appendicitis shortly before his fourth birthday and underwent emergency surgery. During the next few years, the boy described to his father a heavenly journey he made while under anesthesia, strictly uncoached, of course. He described Jesus, the saints and angels, dead relatives (including a miscarried elder sister no one had ever told him about and a great grandfather who died 30 years before the boy was born). I found all of this so convincing, so utterly believable, that I have dropped my long-held atheism in favor of Christianity. Yes, I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior at Barnes & Noble. How could I not? Only truth can come from the mouth of a babe (and his totally genuine garage-door selling, pastor father), right?

Things I have always wondered about are now clear. For instance, everyone in Heaven (excepting Jesus and God) has wings! (Because obviously, divine beings need wings to stay afloat up there.) And they all wear white robes just like they did in the olden days, even Jesus, with colored sashes. Jesus is the only one with a purple sash, and Jesus has a beard, just like he does in the pictures. Plus he’s white and has blue eyes! I am so glad that the Bible storybooks have gotten this stuff right. Plus God is really big and sits on a throne. As I said, utterly convincing.

As you may be able to tell, I read more than just the first chapter of this book, but how can you blame me? What price salvation? And here’s the most astounding information in this whole astounding story--unbaptised, unsaved babies do go to heaven. As you may know, we Christians have debated this issue for centuries. Since the Bible clearly states that only the saved go to heaven, and to be saved one needs to confess one’s sins and accept Jesus as one’s Savior, pre-verbal babies are pretty much screwed, not to mention unborn fetuses. (If you don’t believe me on this point, ask your pastor.)

Where do all these dead, unsaved souls go? We’re not sure, especially since the Catholics (who are kinda like Christians) refudiated the teaching of Limbo last year. But real Christians know, and it takes a lot of pastoral sand to say it out loud, that babies, including the 40 million aborted ones, spend eternity in Hell! Kinda harsh, I agree, but our God is a just God.

Now, thanks to this book, we can be assured that unsaved babies do go to heaven after all. This kid met his miscarried sister in heaven. So that clinches it. Case closed.

I should have stopped reading right there and left the store floating on angel wings like four million other lucky readers. But no, I had to turn to the back to read about the author’s ghostwriter (or “collaborator” as they’re called now). Her name is Lynn Vincent, and it turns out that she was Sarah Palin’s ghostwriter for Going Rouge: An American Life. Now, I’ve read that book, also childlike in its innocence, also a multi-million-copy bestseller, but patently fiction. It makes me wonder, could this book be fiction too? Oh, damn, when everything was becoming so clear.


Hunter said...

That post made my night.

UK said...

The first book I received was titled "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo. Needless to say, as a pastor I was skeptical! I thought, Oh no, not another I've been to heaven book! Beginning with 90 minutes in Heaven, the market has been flooded by books of peoples accounts of their journey to Heaven, Hell, and the Laundromat! I assumed this book would be little different and I thought I'd wind up relegating this book to the "not worth my time" pile. I was wrong.