A best-selling book recounting a four-year-old child's claims to have briefly visited Heaven while under anesthesia for an appendectomy has "On Faith" contributor Susan Jacoby on a tear.
"There really is such a thing as American exceptionalism: we are more gullible than the public in the rest of the developed world," Jacoby groused in a March 30 "The Spirited Atheist" post, part of the "On Faith" website jointly operated by the Washington Post and Newsweek:
Sitting pretty at No.1 on The New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list is a secondhand memoir, Heaven Is For Real , describing a four-year-old boy’s visit--when he nearly died from a burst appendix--to a heaven complete with clouds, winged inhabitants, and a baby sister his parents had lost to a miscarriage. Only in America could a book like this be classified as nonfiction.
Of course, if Heaven exists, then it is possible there are people who have had out-of-body experiences visiting there. Yes, many of these visits to the afterlife are probably imagined or dreamed-up. Ultimately any such account is unverifiable, but that doesn't make make the genre fictional, just religious.
What's more, all kinds of odd books rocket to the top of the best-seller list all the time, so why does Jacoby spill ink grousing about a religious title that is enthralling readers?
Well, it seems Jacoby's real problem isn't with Americans shelling out ten bucks to buy the paperback but with the idea that those Americans represent a sizable number of politically conservative folks (emphasis mine):
What is truly disturbing about this book’s huge commercial success is that it attests to the prevalence of unreason among vast numbers of Americans. (The book is way down in the ranks on Amazon.com in the United Kingdom.) The Americans buying the book are the same people fighting the teaching of evolution in public schools. They are probably the same people who think they can reduce the government deficit without either paying higher taxes or cutting the military budget, Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Concluding her screed, Jacoby slammed religious Americans as hopelessly childish and fanciful:
In this universe of unreason, two plus two can equal anything you want and heaven is not only real but anything you want it to be. At age four, the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is charming. Among American adults, widespread identification with the mind of a preschooler is scary.
As a Christian who believes in Heaven and Hell but is also skeptical of books detailing accounts of visits there, I would welcome "On Faith" finding a Christian scholar who could argue why this fad is unhealthy speculation that detracts from a study of what the Bible teaches on the afterlife. There are plenty of Christian scholars who would have such an interesting take and could write it in a way that doesn't treat readers as morons or needlessly injecting politics into the matter.
Hopefully "On Faith" will seek out such an op-ed.
I have little faith for that, but I believe miracles still happen.