Why People Believed Boy's 'Visit to Heaven' Story

A boy who wrote a best-selling book about visiting heaven has admitted the story is false. Here's why it was widely believed.

A boy who survived a serious car accident and who later wrote an inspiring, best-selling book about meeting angels and God during his near-death experience has now admitted he made it all up.

There are dozens of people who have claimed to visit heaven (or, less often, hell) during near-death experiences.

The best-selling 2010 book "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" tells the story of one young boy's near-death experience: "In 2004 Kevin Malarkey and his six-year-old son, Alex, suffered a terrible car wreck. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex, and it seemed impossible that he could survive.

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"When Alex awoke from a coma two months later, he had an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious... Of the angels who took him through the gates of Heaven itself."

It was one of two bestselling books about young boys' experiences in heaven that came out that year; the other, Colton Burpo's "Heaven is For Real," was made into a 2014 film.

Colton Burpo's experiences in heaven may or may not be for real, but Alex Malarkey admits that his is not. The website PulpitandPen.org noted that the book's publisher "Lifeway has been selling ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' for many years now. It is part of the trifecta of books on ‘heavenly tourism' that Lifeway has sold and has promoted, along with '90 Minutes in Heaven' and ‘Heaven is for Real.' The co-author of ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' - the boy himself - has written an open letter to Lifeway and admonished them for not holding to the sufficiency of Scripture, and has recanted his tale."

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Malarkey's statement read in part, "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."

Propheting from Heaven Of course the beauty of books about heaven, and there are many of them, some written by people who, like Malarkey, survived accidents and others by claimed psychics such as Sylvia Browne, is that nothing you write can be disproven. If a person claims to have had some personal experience with the unproven and unexplained (whether God or ghosts) we must simply take them at their word absent any compelling corroborating evidence.

Part of the reason that Malarkey's story was so widely believed and accepted among its Christian audience is that it reinforced their existing narratives and beliefs. If he had described heaven as a place that smells like melted cheddar cheese and was populated by winged elephants singing Britney Spears songs, his experiences, however sincerely conveyed, would have been dismissed as drug-induced hallucinations or the product of a fertile imagination.

Though that may or not be any more accurate than stereotyped visions of winged people in robes walking among clouds, by sticking closely to a widely-accepted Christian interpretation of Heaven, God, and demons, Malarkey assured that his story would meet his audience's expectations and be popular.

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Many of these accounts, including Malarkey's, involve near-death experiences (NDEs) following trauma. However scientists have cast doubt on the reality of many NDEs.

A 2001 article published in "Trends in Cognitive Sciences" by neuroscientist Dean Mobbs, of the University of Cambridge's Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, and Caroline Watt, of the University of Edinburgh, found that "contrary to popular belief, research suggests that there is nothing paranormal about these experiences. Instead, near-death experiences are the manifestation of normal brain function gone awry, during a traumatic, and sometimes harmless, event."

Mobbs and Watt noted that many classic NDE symptoms are actually reported by people who were never in danger of dying in the first place.

According to "The Washington Post" the book's publisher, Tyndale House / Lifeway, has announced that it will stop selling the book and issued a statement reading in part, "We are saddened to learn that Alex Malarkey, co-author of ‘The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,' is now saying that he made up the story of dying and going to heaven. Given this information, we are taking the book out of print."

Of course the book has already made millions of dollars for the publisher over the past five years, so removing it from print will not be a financial hardship.

Any advertisements for paranormal or supernatural themed book or films claiming they are "based on a true story" should be taken with a grain of salt. The other books and accounts of meeting God and seeing heaven may be true and accurate, or they may be completely false and fictional.

There is of course no way to know what the truth is. Whatever his reasons for coming forward Alex Malarkey deserves credit for doing so; it would have been very easy to simply remain silent and enjoy the fame and notoriety.

Photo: Alex Malarkey. Credit: YouTube screengrab