My Son Went to Heaven, and All I Got Was a No. 1 Best Seller

“Heaven Is for Real” is a toddler’s account of dying (almost) and meeting Jesus (and a rainbow-colored horse). It’s also a runaway hit. Believe it or not.

Comments: 34

  1. It's unfortunate that the NYTimes Book Review lends credence to the Burpo book by including it in it's NonFiction listings.

  2. I bought and read that entire book, though now I wonder why. I suppose I hoped that it would give me some grand new insight into the world beyond life. Of course, it didn't.

    Mostly, I was struck with the exploitation of this child's experience by his family. It was nonsense, and it wasn't even entertaining nonsense. Certainly, it's wonderful that he survived. I do question how he'll feel about all this when he grows up.

  3. Sounds like his family is set up for life and he will be, too. That'll be more than the rest of us got.

  4. So lemme get this straight. We are attending to the phenomenon of this book, which is about the wonderful, other, non-materialistic world of Jesus, because it's a best-seller and has made its author millions of dollars. I know, I know, it's not (ever) the money, it's the point that so many Americans crave simple-minded stories about Jesus. Why am I still not impressed?

  5. It shouldn't matter either way. We all still have to live here, now. It's more important how we treat ourselves and each other in this life, and stop worrying so much about the next. One way or another it'll work itself out. If you're a good person and there's a heaven, congrats! If you're a good person and there's no heaven, at least you had a happy and fulfilling life.

    If we spend all of our time torturing each other over this nonsense nobody's going to heaven anyway.

  6. Wait, the last book on that "Customers who bought this item also bought..." list was: Fifty Shades of Grey?!

  7. It's very interesting that one of the recommended books to read on your way to heaven, "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" was written by two people named Malarkey. A perfect segue into "what a load of malarkey!" The Irish got it right!

  8. I am an evangelical believer. No, I don't hate anyone or excoriate my atheist or Hindu or New Age friends (and I do have such friends) for their doubt or differing beliefs. I think this was a very good article because my faith cannot rest on someone else's experiences, which are clouded by their own cultural bias, imagination, projection, profit motive, religious motive, or whatever. I find evidence for design in nature (you may not, that is OK), and I find the New Testament scriptural account about Jesus believable, whether by eyewitnesses (the apostles Matthew, John and Peter) or by secondhand reporters who interviewed eyewitnesses (Mark, Luke).

    Yet I do not find someone's near death experiences reliable, whether firsthand or secondhand, as here.

    Also, I am sad the author was pressured into believing out of fear or that his mother went way out there, leading to a family breakup. Thanks for a great and balanced article.

  9. Ah, all this brings backs fond memories of my fundamentalist parents. My father often discussed murdering me before I could commit a terrible sin that would prevent us from spending eternity together in heaven as a family. Needless to say, this thoughtful sentiment did little to encourage my love of religion or family. The writer Reynolds Price said that the two most destructive forces on earth were religion and families and I tend to agree. Anyway, if you want to analyze Christians as a group, go visit a prison - everyone there has found God.

  10. Murdering you? Sounds like a form of honor killing.

  11. I miss Christopher Hitchens.
    He would put these people and their delusions and irrationality in their proper place.

    PS - Congrats on scooping the National Enquirer and TMZ on hot story!

    PPS - The Peabody Awards called; they want their statues back.

  12. “To terrify children with the image of hell—is that good for the world?” ~ Christopher Hitchens


  13. I would like to read a book by Maijd Newton. He writes well and from the heart.

  14. A poor, brainwashed child surrounded by intellectually poor, brainwashed (or self-brainwashed) adults. All the money in the world cannot water their intelletual and emotional desert. What a sad story.

  15. Three words - Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Look it up,

  16. Sounds like a hilarious book. No wonder it's a best seller!

  17. Thank you for putting into better words than I could how I reacted after I read this book. I have been an ordained clergy for 40 years. This book did nothing to enhance my faith life; in fact, I felt (and feel) bothered that so many people seem to promote such a simplistic, even superficial account of Christian living. There are so many other more worthwhile and engaging examples of gospel living; I'd even prefer Christopher Hitchens.

  18. Have Mercy. It took me 12 years to undo the fear from the fire and brimstone hellish story told to my daughter by a teacher in a vanilla Lutheran preschool. Traumatizing a child into heaven is a sin unto death.

  19. "the vision science offers — of ourselves and of the universe — will always be incomplete and consequently imperfect."

    Yeah, but it couldn't possibly have happened the way it's described in the Bible or the Koran or Ovid's Metamorphoses or any other ancient text, could it? As explanations, those things have been comprehensively ruled out.

    To understand the universe, we need to study the universe, not some collection of Bronze Age folk stories.

  20. This book is in the non-fiction section?

  21. Another "riff" about an outlier event, meant to extol the virtues of agnosticism.

    I love the all the references to child abuse and ignorance when the religious are invoked. Almost sounds like a page out of the "state control owner's manual". Don't look toward the Muslim world...they are actually training kids to commit suicide for their beliefs.

    I am yawning right now.

  22. Newton's childhood anxieties about going to Hell remind me of my childhood fears of atomic bombs. During the early days of the Cold War era television, even kids' shows, were replete with public service announcements on what to do in case of a nuclear attack. The implication of all of these was that it was up to each of us to save ourselves by hiding under our desks, if we were at school, or jumping off our bikes and pulling our jackets over our heads, or other equally effective ways to survive an atom bomb. Too bad the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't aware of these simple life-saving techniques!

  23. Selling the franchise it what it's all about. No different from wasting air time/paper space on brainless football players.

  24. Most people like Mr Burpo's mother who have "visions and speak in tongues" are mentally ill and he's lucky to have escaped his childhood unscathed.
    That book is a crock and like most of it's genre a money making scheme by evangelist hucksters to get to suck money out of desperate people.

  25. As a young person, I dated my conversion from the night I couldn't get to sleep because I was afraid that if I died, I would go to hell. I was standing at the top of the stairs calling down to my mother. She came to the stair well door and asked what was the matter. I told her that I was afraid to die because I would go to hell. She told me that if I accepted Jesus, I would be okay and to go to bed.

    I prayed and then went to bed. I was six. For all of the claims of rationality made by Christians, it all comes down to fear. When I became an adult, I decided not to live in fear anymore.

  26. I believe in dogs and that there is no god. If I write a book about my Schnauzer’s near-death experience of meeting Anubis in the Hall of Judgment,Rainbow Bridge and being deluged with bones, as he barked it to me, could it be published as nonfiction?

    This article should have been the Times’ review of this contrived fiction instead of shamelessly allowing it to sit unchallenged on the “nonfiction” best seller list for months on end, still listed #1 as a paperback “nonfiction.” It would seem to me the ethical, journalistic and critical obligation to debunk claims of authenticity of “medication-induced hallucinations of a severely ill toddler” or worse, indoctrination-induced fantasies, rather than endorsing the father’s contrivances and manipulations.

    Hitler may have “embarked upon the Holocaust in the name of science” but also in the name of Christianity: "I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Almighty Creator.  By fighting the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work."

    That Science IS fallible and has the intrinsic ability to mend itself is why it’s credible. That’s why it’s Science and not Dogma!

    With my loss of god went the fear of death, indispensable to all religious belief. What I found instead was peace of mind, freedom to doubt and inquire, self-determination, self-reliance, self-respect, accountability and responsibility for my decisions and deeds, good or bad. My Epiphany! My Rapture! My Bliss! No “lake of fire.”

    Free from religion, good without gods.

  27. I heartily recommend that, after reading "Heaven is for Real," we all read "The Last Testament: A Memoir" by God (with David Javerbaum).

  28. So glad to hear this fairytale was "authenticated" by it's own storyline: didn't we dispense with circular reasoning some time ago?

  29. I took a serious (curious) look at your suggested reading list, and had to laugh out loud when i saw the one book I had indeed read on the list. HILARIOUS. Wonder why you included it? Your great sense of humour, I guess?

  30. I read the book a few months back for my book club. WHat was so astounding to me was how conveniently the story of his son's having been saved fit into the Dad's very real need for tons o' cash to get out of debt. I was disappointed that many of the opening chapters dealt not with the poor toddler's plight but how painful the Dad's medical problems were before the boy had his medical issue. Very self-serving and highly profitable.

    Maybe it's an allegory for Modern Times in our Evangelical, neo-Conservative Capitalistic society!

    The best part was when the kid finally let everyone know that the REAL JESUS looks like a bearded rock star from the 1990. That was helpful.

  31. When I was very young in the late 1950s I had nightmares about troops of Nazis coming to get me while I lying on a wood floor under a bed. My mother actually thought it meant I was a child murdered by Nazis in a previous life. Even then I thought this was a ridiculous idea. These nightmares were a product of adult conversations I overheard, newsreels on TV, and my imagination. Todd Burpo has suceeded in not only brainwashing his son, but pressured his son into continuing the illusion becuase it certainly is a moneymaker for the family. It reminds me of Marjoe Gortner's story.

  32. I got this book from the library, as I love a good back from the dead story as much as the next guy. Couldn’t finish it. If this had been the ramblings of a sick child raised without religion it might have been slightly more interesting. But coming from the son of a preacher man, I thought this story had to meet a much greater burden of proof to be credible, and it didn’t do it for me. Embraced by the Light was presented better—here’s what happened to me, take it or leave it, I don’t care either way. But thanks for including the “Readers who bought this story also bought Fifty Shades of Grey.” That is one of the funniest things I’ve read all day.

  33. Nothing new to see here. I think I'll re-read "Elmer Gantry."

  34. And the mighty point of this piece is what exactly? That gal who tried to live/survive exclusively on sunlight is more your speed. Why does it bother you what people believe? Some people believe advertising and run out and buy or lease BMW's thinking it makes them cool! Worry about the people who voted for Obama and thought heaven would come to them!