Friday, January 16, 2015

Boy Admits He Made Up Heavenly Visit

Apparently books detailing near-death experiences are more popular than I previously thought, at least among Christians. That probably explains why Eben Alexander's book was titled Proof of Heaven and marketed accordingly, even though his story doesn't line up with anything explicitly Christian and has more in common with New Age accounts of the afterlife that were popular in the 1970's.

Now a boy who claimed to have "visited Heaven" while in a coma, much like what happened to Alexander, has come forward and admitted that he wanted attention and made the whole thing up. He was six years old at the time and is now a teenager. Oh, and his last name is Malarkey. You can't make this stuff up, folks!

Here are a few key background details of the story: Alex Malarkey was paralyzed at the age of 6 when he was in a car wreck. He then spent two months in a coma. He's now a teenager. The book lists him as a co-author along with his father, Kevin Malarkey.

Calling the book a "spiritual memoir," The Washington Post notes that it "became part of a popular genre of 'heavenly tourism,' which has been controversial among orthodox Christians."

Alex's parents are now divorced; he and his siblings live with his mother, Beth Malarkey, who has previously spoken out against the book (and last year, a movie) featuring her son. She has also said that profits from the book haven't been going to Alex.

Last spring, Beth Malarkey wrote a blog post stating, "Alex's name and identity are being used against his wishes (I have spoken before and posted about it that Alex has tried to publicly speak out against the book), on something that he is opposed to and knows to be in error according to the Bible."

The publisher has announced that it will be pulling the book in light of this new revelation. When I was younger I spent a lot of time studying near-death experiences, and one of the things I took away from it is that the closer the experience is to any one religion's dogma, the more likely it is that it's fabricated.

There are a lot of common features - moving down a tunnel towards some sort of light, the presence of deceased loved ones, and the sense of being in the presence of some sort of ultimate divine source. But there's a considerable debate going on between neuroscientists who think those features are caused by the brain being deprived of oxygen and and spiritual people who impart to them a greater significance.

Until we have a viable model of consciousness that debate is going to be hard to settle. It seems to me that both a physical and a spiritual process could be going on at the same time, as the body and mind influence each other to varying degrees, but without empirical data it's hard to be sure.

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