By now you surely have heard about Colton Burpo (he is a real kid from Nebraska, not a character from an Upton Sinclair novel). When Colton was 3 years old, he allegedly went to the Christian heaven during an appendectomy. Young Colton “miraculously” lived to tell about it, and now at age 11, he and his pastor father have written a book about it.
Heaven is for Real currently occupies the number one slot on the New York Times bestseller list and is Amazon’s number one seller. As of today, 1.5 million copies are in print but with a heavy promotional tour underway, expect that figure to go much higher. The book retails for $16.99.
Covering the story for the New York Times, Julie Bosman interviewed Colton’s father, who attempted to deflect any suspicions that money was the motive: “People say we just did this to make money, and it’s not the truth,” Mr. Burpo said, referring to anonymous online comments about the book. “We were expecting nothing. We were just hoping the publisher would break even.”
Before you begin thinking this was a homespun effort, with Colton patiently telling his dad all about heaven while the pastor faithfully transcribed, think again. The book’s “co-author” is the high-powered Lynn Vincent, author of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. Vincent does not sign on for just any book and does not work for charity. She is a writer of great skill who knows how to push all the right buttons for a Christian audience. This one appears to be a home run.
What are to make of all this? Besides the obvious (American Christians are a credulous lot), we have to wonder about Colton and his father. They seem like good people and I will give them the benefit of the doubt: they probably believe what they are saying. The question then becomes: How can this be? It would be a mistake to underestimate our evolved powers of self-deception, especially when coupled with a brain-mind that naturally generates beliefs in the supernatural and strong cultural support for such beliefs.
We can find some additional clues by watching this astonishing interview:
“Wow!” That is Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford degree holder who is clearly smitten by Colton’s story. Because Colton’s parents are both pastors, we know that in the seven years since his surgery he has been hearing stories about God, Jesus, John the Baptist, and Heaven. Some of these sound a bit familiar.
What is God like? He’s really big and can “fit the entire world in his hands.” I wonder where Colton got this idea? What about Jesus? Despite his non-European heritage, he has “sea blue eyes.” Hopefully, Razib over at Gene Expression will give us a rundown on this remote possibility. What about people? Everyone is “young again” and can fly — wings are apparently given out on arrival. Angel races anyone?
Here is the rub in all this: Why is it that when Hindus have near death experiences (NDE), they meet Krishna or Vishnu in an ornate temple? Why is it that when Buddhists have an NDE, they meet Buddha under a tree? Why is it that when Muslims have an NDE, they meet Mohammad in the garden of virgins? Why is it that when Crow Indians had one, they visited the happy hunting grounds?
There must be different kinds of afterlives and heavens for different kinds of faiths.