Thursday, April 21, 2011

Heaven Is for Suckers

I can't think of a better example of the infantilization of theological thought than the current bestseller Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo. (Note: Burpo's coauthor, Lynn Vincent, ghostwrote Sarah Palin's recent Going Rogue, making this her second bestseller in a row.)

The unfortunately named Burpo is a small-town Nebraska pastor whose four-year-old son Colton, after being clinically "dead" for three minutes following an undiagnosed ruptured appendix, claimed to have visited Heaven -- and met not only his long-dead great-grandfather and miscarried sister but Jesus Himself.

Burpo's contention is that Colton can be taken at his word because he's never been prompted in any way. But let's be real: the boy's father is a pastor. And he's attended Sunday school, where he very likely was implanted with the traditional imagery of floating white clouds and Jesus on a throne, stigmata wounds and all. Plus any child in any household absorbs all sorts of information without anyone intending it, including tidbits of family lore and recent sorrows like the loss of a baby sibling.

Burpo's most frequently applied argument for the authenticity of Colton's claims is that the child reported seeing his earthbound father during the period that he was "dead." But it's not like he spotted his dad buying a lottery ticket at the 7/11 or having sex in a Chevy Impala with one of his parishoners. He reported that during the three minutes when he could not be revived, he saw Burpo praying. What else would he have been doing -- or would claim to have been doing?

It's been said that the popularly accepted perception of Heaven as a place of pillowy clouds accessed through a golden gate, populated by angels in white smocks and shining halos, originated with just one Negro Spiritual film from the 1920s, then cascaded through the public consciousness in the century since. So it doesn't surprise me that little Colton Burpo(!) saw that same juvenile version of it while in a physical state where many people have claimed to experience out-of-body sensations. That said, it also doesn't surprise me that Heaven Is for Real placed number one on the New York Times Bestseller List -- it's exactly what most people expect and are willing to hear, and better still, the message seems untainted by adult intervention because it, supposedly, comes from the mouth of a child. It's just depressing that we as a people don't demand more of our exploration of our existence, and that human thought hasn't kept pace with our physical evolution as a species. 


  1. When you die you are gonna regret not believing in the man that was crucified just to save you of your sins, so you just wait and see.

  2. To believe is to have FAITH. Faith in things we can not see and do not believe in any other place than our hearts. for me, it is humblesome to know that God is showing people His home(and ours too at some appointed time) to help those go from not believing to BELIEVING. I believe in God, the Father and all things that come from Him!