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 NYT - My Son Went to Heaven and All I Got was a No. 1 Best Seller

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PostSubject: NYT - My Son Went to Heaven and All I Got was a No. 1 Best Seller   Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:06 am

April 27, 2012 - NYT Sunday Magazine
My Son Went to Heaven, and All I Got Was a No. 1 Best Seller

At 3 years 10 months, Colton Burpo was a sunny child, a preacher’s son certain of his faith and his eternal fate. Then his appendix burst, and as doctors failed to figure out what was wrong with him, he lay in a hospital bed until his father, Todd, saw “the shadow of death” cross his face. “I recognized it instantly,” Todd, a pastor, recalls. With Colton’s face “covered in death,” Todd and his wife, Sonja, took the boy to another hospital, where he was wheeled into surgery. “He’s not in good shape,” the surgeon said. As Colton screamed for his father, Todd fled, locked himself in a room and railed at God.

Less than two hours later, Colton was awake, still shouting for his father. “Daddy, you know I almost died,” he said. But only over the months following his recovery did his parents hear his whole story: that while in surgery, he went to heaven and met Jesus, who assigned him homework; he also encountered angels, a rainbow-hued horse, John the Baptist, God the father, the Holy Spirit, a sister his mother miscarried (unknown to Colton) before he was born and his great-grandfather, Pop, as a young man. Everyone in heaven had wings; Colton’s were smaller than most. He learned that the righteous, including his father, would fight in a coming last battle.

Many people, even religious people, would have dismissed this story as the medication-induced hallucinations of a severely ill toddler. The Burpos made it into a book.

“Heaven Is for Real” was published in late 2010, became a word-of-mouth best seller and has spent 59 (nonconsecutive) weeks as the No. 1 nonfiction paperback on The New York Times’s best-seller list. Recently the publisher, Thomas Nelson, spun off a children’s picture book, now also a best seller, with illustrations verified by Colton. And sometime in 2014, courtesy of DeVon Franklin, vice president of production at Columbia Pictures, who considers his faith “a professional asset,” a movie version should be released in theaters.

Colton, now 12, is an ardent spokesman for the story and its franchise, which he has promoted in a slick trailer and on various talk shows with his parents, including “Today” and “Fox and Friends.” But it was Todd who wrote the book (with Lynn Vincent, Sarah Palin’s ghostwriter). And it is a not-quite-4-year-old’s story they’re all selling.

In the end, Colton said, Jesus returned him to earth as a concession to Todd’s supplications. “We knew he wasn’t making it up,” Todd writes, because “he was able to tell us what we were doing in another part of the hospital. . . . Not even Sonja had seen me in that little room, having my meltdown with God.”

Colton’s awareness of his parents’ whereabouts is just one of many details that authenticate his story, according to Todd. Had Colton not gone to heaven, how would he have been able to recognize a photo of Pop, at 29, that he’d never seen? How would he know that angels had halos and that Jesus wore purple and had “markers,” which turned out to be marks, on his hands and feet? Why would Colton weep so copiously to a baby sitter about the sister he missed if he had not known this miscarried child intimately in some other world?

The visions children have in near-death situations often have a great deal to do with what they already believe. Culture to culture, these experiences involve bright light, celestial figures and a sense of watching your own body from above and sometimes all three. According to Kevin Nelson, a neuroscientist and the author of “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain,” adults often have a sense of looking back over a life; young children, lacking that perspective, tend to report “castles and rainbows, often populated with pets, wizards, guardian angels, and like adults, they see relatives and religious figures, too.” It’s hard to convey to anyone who grew up without the idea of God just how fully the language, stories and “logic” of the Bible can dominate a young mind, even — perhaps especially — the mind of a toddler.

To some degree, I speak from experience. When I was not quite 4 — about the same age as Colton Burpo — my own newly born-again parents sat me down to impart the good news about Jesus, the son of God, who was born in a manger surrounded by sheep and donkeys and ended up being nailed to a cross on a hill and dying there. On the third day, he rose from the grave (you could tell it was he from the nail holes), and he did all of this to pay for my sins. If I accepted him into my heart, I would be rewarded with everlasting life in heaven. Otherwise, I would burn eternally with the Devil in hell. So we needed, urgently, to pray.

“Right now?” I said, or something like that. I remember not feeling 100 percent ready to ask this undead man, with his holey extremities, to dwell inside me.

“Well, yes,” I recall my mother saying. “Unless you’d like to spend eternity in the lake of fire, crying out for a drink of water.”

My father laid his hand on my shoulder. “We don’t want that, do we?”

“Daddy and I would hear you from our mansion up in heaven,” my mother said. “But we wouldn’t be able to help.”

So I repeated after them, inviting Jesus into my bosom. And then, for years afterward, I lay awake half the night, fearful of my own heartbeat, worried about what the savior might be doing in there. I was filled with doubt, which was a sin, and anxious enough about eternal [banned term] to endlessly beg the Lord’s forgiveness for doubting. Unlike the kids I met at church, I obsessed over the fiery pits of hell, not the pearly gates of heaven.

Todd Burpo, by his own description, is “not a holy-rolling, fire-and-brimstone guy by any stretch but not a soft-spoken minister in vestments, performing liturgical readings, either; I’m a storyteller.” Throughout the book, he maintains this everybody’s-welcome-in-my-big-tent, I’m-as-bowled-over-by-this-tale-as-you-are tone. Beneath the regular-guy varnish, though, lie some troubling evangelical tropes and veiled judgment.

Remembering the way he watched his church “gather around us in the eye of the storm,” he wonders about nonbelievers. “In times of crisis, where does their support come from?” After the operation, as the family faced down $23,000 in medical bills, Colton, “hands on hips,” emerged as the voice of wisdom: “ ‘Dad, Jesus used Dr. O’Holleran to help fix me. You need to pay him.’ ”

“Even weirder,” Todd says, “was what happened next”: their extended and spiritual family came through, almost to the penny, with the money to cover the bills. The implicit message is: Never mind health-insurance reform and other things of this world; just give all your cares to Jesus! Not long after his celestial journey, Colton interrupted one of Todd’s funeral services, pointing at the coffin, nearly shouting: “Did that man have Jesus?! . . . He had to! He had to! . . . He can’t get into heaven if he didn’t have Jesus in his heart!” The success of “Heaven Is for Real” has as much to do with the undercurrent of blame in these asides as it does with the feel-good, I-met-Jesus story. In the Middle Ages, Christians’ near-death narratives explicitly involved harsh judgment and infernal torment. All of that awaits the ungodly in Colton’s “nonfiction” story too. You just don’t notice it at first, what with Jesus, his rainbow steed and the seraphim.

If my parents had maintained a unified catechism, I might have wound up more like Colton. But my mother started speaking in tongues and casting out demons and then founded her own church, and my father, a more mainline evangelical, eventually divorced her, denouncing her as a fanatic. This schism began to underscore for me the arbitrariness of religious conviction, but even so, I loved my mother with a ferocious intensity and wanted her to be right. I wanted to see what she saw. She was visited by angels. Why wasn’t I? Because I doubted, she said. Because I failed to “walk by faith and not by sight.”

Uncertainty about connections between the brain and the spirit world stretches back millenniums, perhaps to the beginning of human evolution, but almost certainly to prehistoric societies, which used a primitive kind of surgery to open the skull. Contemporary neurologists have sophisticated ways to explain away the uncanny. Kevin Nelson, who’s far more sympathetic than most to religious experience, posits that the “light that beckons toward eternity” results from a defect in the switch regulating consciousness, which is “more apt to get stuck between the REM state and waking” in people who’ve had near-death experiences.

These explanations, however respectful, won’t persuade a believer that her visions are imaginary, just as “Heaven Is for Real” will never convert an atheist. Whichever side of this divide you sit on, you’re unlikely to seek rapprochement with the other. In our à la carte media world, most of us seek only to reinforce what we already think, and it’s zealots who drive the discourse. Pat Robertson depicts natural disasters as God’s punishment for homosexuality; Richard Dawkins seems almost reasonable by comparison, arguing that religion begets persecution, that teaching children to believe in God is abuse and that science is the only principled way to order existence. Yet as Marilynne Robinson has observed, Hitler embarked upon the Holocaust in the name of science; the fact that eugenics was bad science doesn’t negate that fact. No matter how much we learn, the vision science offers — of ourselves and of the universe — will always be incomplete and consequently imperfect. Stories of gods, angels and rainbow horses will persist in the gaps.

As for me, in matters of the soul, I’m a devout agnostic. What astounds me, what has always astounded me, is not that so many people are so certain of their beliefs but that they excoriate people who don’t share them. As a child, I repented for my doubt. Now I embrace it. Religious dogma is not verifiable; science is fallible. Uncertainty is the only belief system I feel sure of.

Reading about Colton’s meeting with Jesus, I kept thinking of my grandmother. At her funeral, my stepfather, a onetime preacher, related a dream she told him six or eight months before. Though a lifelong atheist, she dreamed she died and went to heaven. She was shown to a mansion with ornate and gilded doors. Beyond them, she knew without looking, lay more rooms than she could count. This would be her eternal resting place.

“Were you excited?” he asked her. (Maybe this was it — maybe she would finally accept Jesus as her personal savior and lord!) “Wasn’t it great to see your reward?”

“Hell, no,” Granny said. “Who’s going to dust those [banned term] doors?”

No sooner had these words left my stepdad’s mouth and a laugh started to rise under the funeral tent than a strong wind came and blew the flowers off the coffin. The wreath slammed to the ground. And then it started to rain.

Shopping Cart: What to Read on Your Way to Heaven

A selection of books included in Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list for “Heaven Is for Real.”

“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Kevin Malarkey and Alex Malarkey (2010)

“90 Minutes In Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life,” by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey (2004)

“Flight to Heaven: A Pilot’s True Story,” by Capt. Dale Black with Ken Gire (2010)

“23 Minutes in Hell: One Man’s Story About What He Saw, Heard and Felt in That Place of Torment,” by Bill Wiese (2006)

“The Five People You Meet In Heaven,” by Mitch Albom (2003)

“Through My Eyes: A Quarterback’s Journey,” by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (2011)

“Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (2011)

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James (2012)

Last edited by Jcbaran on Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:46 am; edited 1 time in total
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Join date : 2010-11-18

PostSubject: Re: NYT - My Son Went to Heaven and All I Got was a No. 1 Best Seller   Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:27 am

As for me, in matters of the soul, I’m a devout agnostic. What astounds
me, what has always astounded me, is not that so many people are so
certain of their beliefs but that they excoriate people who don’t share
them. As a child, I repented for my doubt. Now I embrace it. Religious
dogma is not verifiable; science is fallible. Uncertainty is the only
belief system I feel sure of.

"Only don't know".
We begin expecting to get an answer from somewhere. Outside, inside anywhere will do as long as we get to know what's right. Over and over saying 'is this right?'. What do we expect to receive, who knows something that we don't know?

Some book tells of the 'zen master' saying just eyes dead like ash. Somehow finding a way to consume desiring and reduce to ash - then we taste whatever breakfast we have. Ah, good coffee.
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Posts : 1617
Join date : 2010-11-13
Age : 67
Location : New York, NY

PostSubject: Re: NYT - My Son Went to Heaven and All I Got was a No. 1 Best Seller   Mon May 28, 2012 7:31 pm

following on with "Only don't know" -- click on the link below to watch the embedded video of this talk by Dr. Daniel Kahneman. He is the author THINKING, FAST AND SLOW. The talk is all about what we know, what is faith, belief, questioning, the definition of knowledge. the psychology of knowing


May 25, 2012 - DotEarth Blog - from the NYT
Daniel Kahneman on the Trap of ‘Thinking That We Know’

The National Academy of Sciences did a great service to science early this week by holding a conference on “The Science of Science Communication.” A centerpiece of the two-day meeting was a lecture titled “Thinking That We Know,” delivered by Daniel Kahneman, the extraordinary behavioral scientist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics despite never having taken an economics class.

The talk is extraordinary for the clarity (and humor) with which he repeatedly illustrates the powerful ways in which the mind filters and shapes what we call information. He discusses how this relates to the challenge of communicating science in a way that might stick.

Please carve out the time to watch his slide-free, but image-rich, talk. It’s a shorthand route to some of the insights described in Kahneman’s remarkable book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (I’m a third of the way through).

Here’s the video of the talk (which is “below the fold” because it’s set up to play automatically):

As I noted via Twitter during the meeting, this talk and many other engaging presentations at the event illustrate the importance of adding a fresh facet to the popular notion that today’s citizens, and particularly students, would do well to improve their capacity for critical thinking:

“Critical thinking has to include assessing one’s own thinking.”

There’s more on the meeting at the Age of Engagement blog of Matthew Nisbet of American University, one of the presenters. And review Twitter traffic using the #Sackler tag set up for the conference.
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