Friday, March 25, 2011

Looking for heaven on Earth

And there it is again this week, at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, Heaven Is For Real, "a father recounts his 3-year-old son's encounter with Jesus and the angels during an emergency appendectomy." Yep, the boy visited heaven, saw angels with wings, God on his big throne, and departed Grandpa with a halo. And came back with a message: The end is near. And only Christians go to heaven.

The father, by the way, is an evangelical Christian pastor.

A similar book in 12th place (paperback): 90 Minutes in Heaven, "a minister on the otherworldly experience he had after an accident."

And I notice on Amazon's site another book that's doing extremely well, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, by Kevin Malarkey, an evangelical Christian therapist.

One would not wish the trauma of a near-death experience on anyone, especially a child, and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of these authors. But it's hard not to be cynical, or at least discouraged, by the critical acumen of American readers.

Of course, I should talk. The stuff I believed as a child! Why have I ended up such a skeptic?

Because of my science education, which provided two crucial blessings: 1) a respect for empirical evidence; and 2) an appreciation for the intrinsic wonder of the natural world.

Come to think of it, there are things I believe now that are far more "unbelievable" than angels with wings and God on his big throne. And far more wonderful. The unceasing dance of the DNA, for example, in every one of the trillions of cells of my body.