[Correction]The Boy Who Didn’t Go to Heaven

Five years ago a young boy was in a horrible car accident and, when he came out of a coma, said he had visited heaven. The book about it was a huge bestseller and it was made into a movie last year. Now that boy has come out and said that he made the whole thing up to get attention:

Nearly five years after it hit best-seller lists, a book that purported to be a 6-year-old boy’s story of visiting angels and heaven after being injured in a bad car crash is being pulled from shelves. The young man at the center of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, Alex Malarkey, said this week that the story was all made up.

The book’s publisher, Tyndale House, had promoted it as “a supernatural encounter that will give you new insights on Heaven, angels, and hearing the voice of God.”

But Thursday, Tyndale House confirmed to NPR that it is taking “the book and all ancillary products out of print.”

The decision to pull the book comes after Alex Malarkey wrote an open letter to retailer LifeWay and others who sell Christian books and religious materials. It was published this week on the Pulpit and Pen website.

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Alex wrote. He continued, “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.”

I don’t think he actually wrote that, do you? That’s not how a preteen writes. But he is now recanting it, which isn’t at all surprising. But there are so many of these books out there now — Christians eat that kind of thing up with a spoon — that it won’t make a dent. And that’s not to say that everyone else is making it up. I don’t doubt that some of the people who report such experiences while undergoing medical trauma really do believe that what they recall happening actually did happen, I just think there are better explanations for it and the evidence does not support their claims.

Correction: This revelation is about a different book and different movie than the one I thought. My apologies for the error.

"Since the US mining operations seems to be small potatoes, I'm sure you're right."

Gorka Lies About Clinton and Uranium ..."
"Hey! It's not like the rich can actually earn their money. Where would they be ..."

Orrin Hatch is Terribly Offended

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Al Dente

    His name is actually Alex Malarkey. How appropriate.

  • John Pieret

    I saw somewhere (I, for obvious reasons, was not paying much attention) that his mother was angry that he got little out of the profits of the book and movie. Hell hath no fury …

  • martinc

    John Pieret @ 2:

    his mother was angry that he got little out of the profits of the book and movie

    Perhaps now he should. I mean, before, he was just the subject of the book. But now he has valid claims to being the author of much of the content.

  • raven

    The book sold 8 million copies. Definitely popular.

    His mother, who is now separated or divorced from the father/coauthor has been speaking up. She uses the word scammer occasionally.

    Alex is paralyzed and requires a lot of care. The mother says he hasn’t seen much of the money from that book.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, These verbal jackboots were made for walking

    He’s not a pre-teen. He’s sixteen. Also, I think the movie last year was based on another boy’s tale.

  • caseloweraz

    Apparently (per an Amazon customer) the mother has known Alex made up the story for some time. The customer says she revealed the truth on her blog last April, and quotes her as follows:

    It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned.

  • wreck

    It’s obvious he made it up. He didn’t say anything about the strippers and beer volcanoes in heaven.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

    I assume he’s relying on the original aramaic version? The one where Mary is a “young woman” etc.?

  • parasiteboy

    Ed, you must have been tired or in a hurry when you put this post up, because you get a few key details wrong.

    He was not in a car accident 5 years ago, that’s when the book was written. He did not write it himself, but it was co-authored by his father. From the article you linked to.

    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.

    He is now a teenager as the article and Ibis3@5 point out, though the article that I read yesterday say’s he’s 17 years old now, the car accident happened in 2004 and the book was published in 2010.

  • parasiteboy

    Oops, I was in a hurry @9. Ed was talking about his recent statement nor being written by him, not the book.

  • Michael Heath

    The people in meat-world that promoted this book to me when it was first published and caused so much excitement in the evangelical world are also biblical inerrantists. They had no problems maintaining their belief the Bible is inerrant while simultaneously claiming this kid’s spiel is a true story, in spite of this kid’s claims sometimes supposedly contradicting biblical assertions. Imagine that.

    What I continue to find deeply disturbing is that the believers that were conned by this kid and his dad, and their acceptance this was a scam, will in no way cause sufficient self-reflection on how they need to change how they decide what is true or not true in order to stop always being wrong. These are after all the same people who were conned by Jim Bakker, and are still being conned by David Barton, publishers promoting creationism, Sarah Palin, and Rick Warren.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    also biblical inerrantists

    …. especially regarding the “do not bear false witness” bit?

  • lorn

    Another proof of the existence of God and heaven all shot to hell. Disappointment in the veracity of religious stories, testimonies, and figures has become a regular thing. Someone needs to coin a word for it. People on the outside of religion are, I think, taking note and beginning to reflexively discount such claims. Unfortunately those on the inside, with a few exceptions, seem unable to grasp the lesson.

  • grumpyoldfart

    “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Alex wrote.

    21st century Americans still need advice like this from children!

    When are you clowns going to wake up to yourselves?

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    @Michael Heath

    I’ve mentioned it before, but affinity scams are easier than other types. There’s a lot of trust embedded in “I am a Christian”. The victims turn off what little skepticism they had to start with. When faced with contradicting facts, the victims will just double-down on the rationalizations.

    It can happen with any affinity group. Bernie Madoff was very successful with wealthy Jews. We see it in the scam letters to conservatives that Ed posts far too regularly. Survival supplies anyone?

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    @Ed

    I’m ambiguous about whether he wrote that confession or not. At 16/17 you can get some very mature writing. With two sons having passed through those ages very recently I have been stunned at times by what they can write. Then again, I’ve read some awfully juvenile writing from supposed adults.

  • anubisprime

    The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

    Err!!!..wait…no hold on… errr!!!…oh shit!

  • raven

    People on the outside of religion are, I think, taking note and beginning to reflexively discount such claims.

    Oh gee. You think so?

    I based my entire life strategy around books supposedly written by children who died, went to heaven, and came back.

    Actually, I never believed them for a second and paid almost no attention to them. Seen one xian affinity group scam, seen them all. AFAICT, the whole fundie-ism version is one huge affinity group scam.

    If xians really believed their magic books and self appointed Wizards, they wouldn’t have to buy these immensely popular Heavenly Tourism books and pretend to believe them. They’d buy my upcoming book on Reincarnation instead, “I Was a Teenage Tapeworm”.

    The nice thing about Reincarnation is that you get infinite numbers of shots at the goal. Screw up and get sent back to the invertebrates? No problem. Be a good ant and in a million or so years you’ve worked your way back up to monkey.

  • busterggi

    Sounds like its time for another book.

  • Nemo

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this book was made into a movie, last year or otherwise. Rather, you’re thinking of Heaven is for Real, a completely different but rather similar allegedly true story. That one hasn’t been recanted, yet.

  • brewlord

    I promisee my wife I wouldn’t say “I told you so ” when this story came out, so I’ll say it here instead of to her face.

  • khms

    #8 Marcus Ranum

    The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

    I assume he’s relying on the original aramaic version? The one where Mary is a “young woman” etc.?

    Too bad for your literalists they speak English instead of German.

    The German word for virgin is Jungfrau. Literally young woman.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Too bad for your literalists they speak English instead of German.

    “If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for you.”

    – Ann Richards, Fmr Governor of Texas

  • Michael Heath

    Re my post @ 11:

    I didn’t realize there was two very similar books. I now think the people in meat-world promoting a book to me were pushing Heaven is for Real rather than the subject book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.

  • caseloweraz

    Nemo is correct: The movie was made from Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo (Thomas Nelson, 2010). Two years later came Heaven Changes Everything by Todd & Sonja Burpo (same publisher). Both books and the DVD of the former are listed on Amazon.

  • anubisprime

    There was a American surgeon…ex by now I would presume…that has been doing a tour of the Brit media outlets recently hawking his first book which apparently sold well enough for him to scribe yet another one, he was basically promoting both to a virgin Brit audience.

    His story was very similar, these tales seem much of a muchness… meningitis was diagnosed and life expectancy zero then miracle cure and Heaven was visited…same old same old really…

    Rather suspect the undoubted financial incentives and mindless hero worship by the gullible are heady mixtures that can seem a lot more inviting then a return to ‘normality’

    here

    I get the sense that as a supposed surgeon he is quite familiar with the effects of brain chemistry that goes a tad pear shaped during intense illness and drug reaction…but he has chosen a more prosaic comfort in a generic NDE tale.

    I think that making cash out of his scam kindda gives the game away, as it does with the majority of these clowns, accepting a peculiar hallucination is fine and reporting it is obvious, but when that experience is transformed into a cash cow, that is when scam screams louder then a 747 on full reverse thrust…

    Because if it was really true then the details would be given away free and gratis after all the implication is a god exists and what use is cash then?

    Because no one needs it after all god will take care of them…apparently.

  • Larry

    I don’t know anything about a movie but there was a Southpark episode where Kenny dies (you bastards!), and goes to heaven (the angels call him their Keanu Reeves) to wage war against Satan and his lover, Sadaam Hussein. He fought, and eventually won, the battle with his PSP.

    Certainly, more believable than some 6 year old’s fairy tale.

  • Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy)

    @Marcus Ranum #23

    “If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for you.”

    – Ann Richards, Fmr Governor of Texas

    Please do not libel Ann Richards with such nonsense! She was a liberal and a secularist, if you please.

    You’re probably thinking of Miriam Ferguson, governor of Texas back in the ’20s. Though apparently she didn’t actually say it. Nor did Michele Bachmann, to whom the quote’s also been attributed. It’s an old joke.

  • bfish

    I’ve half a mind to write a book about what I saw in Heaven…. written by Peter Bullshit.

  • http://heb712.blogspot.com heddle

    Marcus Ranum,

    I assume he’s relying on the original aramaic version? The one where Mary is a “young woman” etc.?

    That is not correct. On two levels. If you are going to sneer, best get the facts straight. Or at least close.

  • eric

    Ibis3:

    He’s not a pre-teen. He’s sixteen. Also, I think the movie last year was based on another boy’s tale.

    Yep. Unlike Ed I see no reason to doubt that he wrote it. I also disaree with Ed about this being surprising. I think it takes a lot of cajones for someone in his position to cut off his funding stream when all he has to do to keep raking in the money is to say nothing. People in much more comfortable positions have kept lies going for decades for much less benefit. Like, every politician and televangelist in the world. The cottington fairy girls, and so on. Let’s not be naive here and think that confessing in that situation is what every normal or decent human being would do. They don’t. In that situation, a lot of otherwise “normal” people would double down rather than admit their mistake.

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #30

    The problem is that the same Hebrew/Aramaic word is used elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures to refer to other women would were manifestly not virgins. The argument given by fundamentalist scholars is that there is no word in Hebrew/Aramaic which unambiguously translates as virgin so that one must infer the correct meaning from the context. I have looked at the context, admittedly in English translation (KJV translation), and it does not appear that the context supports the claimed virgin meaning. There is a discussion in one of Richard Dawkins’ books (I believe it’s in The God Delusion), in an appendix, where he discusses this issue.

  • http://heb712.blogspot.com heddle

    Yes, it is a Hebrew word in Isaiah that can be translated as young girl, or as virgin. in other words it is very similar to our ambiguous maiden. Everyone knows this, and it has no importance (as far as I can see) on the debate. Yeah, maybe the Hebrew writer intended it to be young girl and the NT writers, trying to fit ancient Hebrew prophecy, unnecessarily invented a virgin birth. Or maybe the original writer did intend virgin. Of course, some people bring up the “young girl” possibility, which nobody with any brains denies, as if it is a “gotcha” revelation, and as if it is the only possibility. Dumb.

  • Kermit Sansoo

    Heddle, surely you know that many Christian denominations make a big deal out of the “virgin” claim. The Southern Baptists who raised me certainly did. After all, they would reason, how else could you know for sure that he was the Son of God rather than, say, of Joseph?

  • erichoug

    I’m just surprised that people had to be told that he didn’t really go to heaven. It’s like finding out that there are teenagers that have to be told that mom and dad buy all those gifts from Santa Claus.

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #33

    That’s exactly what I said. The meaning is defined via the context and it is my contention that the context does not seem to support the interpretation virgin. By the way, when I was a graduate student, there was a post doc in the department who was a Catholic Priest. I brought up the subject with him as the issue had been raised in a Time Magazine article at the time. He said that he was not a theologian but that it was his information that the topic was a matter of serious discussion amongst Catholic theologians so it would appear that it is not quite the throw away issue that you claim. See also comment 34 by Kermit Sansoo.

  • mistertwo

    Regarding the “virgin” discussion, the prophecy in Isaiah 7 is fulfilled in chapter 8. Isaiah 8:3-4 says “3. So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4. for before the boy knows how to cry out ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

    So Isaiah tells Ahaz that he’ll be able to defeat the combined armies of Asyria and Israel, and that the sign will be that a young woman will conceive. Then Isaiah “approaches” the prophetess and she conceives! So he tells Ahaz what the sign will be, then he makes it happen.

    It was the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint, that translated the original Hebrew term into “virgin.” Doesn’t matter if she was a virgin or not, after Isaiah “approached” her she was a virgin no more!

    And of course the prophecy had nothing to do with a young woman several hundred years later.

  • Dave Maier

    re: virgin:

    I thought the context was

    Angel: You’re going to have a baby.

    Mary: No way, that’s impossible [i.e. for the obvious reason]: I’m a [virgin/young girl].

    Angel: No, really.

    Mary: Holy moly.

    If so, then the word’s ambiguity is not really relevant. She’d hardly think that *simply* being a young girl meant that she wasn’t going to have a baby.

  • colnago80

    Re mistertwo @ #37

    Maybe so but the prophecy which reads: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us is taken from Isaiah 7.14 but is referred to in Matthew 1.23, implying in the Christian scriptures that the birth of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. AFAIK, this is the standard Christian belief.

  • http://heb712.blogspot.com heddle

    colnago80,

    Maybe so but the prophecy which reads: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us is taken from Isaiah 7.14 but is referred to in Matthew 1.23, implying in the Christian scriptures that the birth of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. AFAIK, this is the standard Christian belief.

    It is, as is the idea (among Christian theologians) that many prophecies had a “then and now” dualism. That is, some (not all) were fulfilled in one sense for the Jews as a type that pointed to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ. It is the fact that to Christians it is so “obvious” that Isaiah is prophysizing about Christ (here and esp chapter 53) that these are the verses they will use when proselytizing Jews.

  • mistertwo

    colnago80 @37, yes, but the author of Matthew repurposed the sign. Certainly it has been standard Christian belief since the very beginning. I was a Christian for over 40 years and never read chapter 8!

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #40

    Let’s put it this way, Yeshua ben Yusef, assuming that he existed, which is a dubious proposition, certainly thought that the prophecy in Isaiah referred to him. However, this has nothing to do with the question as to whether the word in Isaiah should be interpreted as virgin. Now number 38 is claiming that there is some context elsewhere which implies that Mary was a virgin, although he doesn’t cite the text in question.

    Just to raise another issue, various branches of Christianity disagree on the relationship between John and the two girls and Yeshua. The Catholic Church believes that they were cousins, the Eastern Orthodox believe that they were children of Yusef by a prior marriage, mainline Protestants believe that they were sired by Yusef and Mary in the usual way that mammals get sired subsequent to the birth of Yusef.

  • http://heb712.blogspot.com heddle

    colnago80 ,

    Not sure what you mean by the “two girls”, but I am guessing you mean Jesus’ siblings including James. Yes, the Catholics, with their dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, take them as cousins. There is some merit in this position, in (as I understand it) the term Jesus would have used in Aramaic could indeed refer to cousin or brother. Many evangelical Protestants are surprised to learn that both Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity, and that Jesus had no true siblings. Personally I can’t think of any disagreement in doctrine that is less important than this one.

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #43

    Technically, according to Eastern Orthodox Christians, Yeshua is not a sibling of John and the two girls which they believe are the product of a prior marriage of Yusef, since, AFAIK, all Christians reject the notion that Yeshua was biologically related to Yusef. According to mainline Protestants, Yeshua is a half sibling of John and the two girls via all of them being children of Mary. I refer to them as the 2 girls because I don’t know how else to refer to them.

    By the way, I agree with you that this entire issue is really of little importance, as you have said earlier on, the necessary condition for being a Christian is belief in a physical Resurrection.

  • colnago80

    Re #42

    The last word should be Yeshua, not Yusef.

  • Ichthyic

    it is not quite the throw away issue that you claim

    how many years has Heddle posted here?

    In all that time, have you REALLY not noticed that he is ONLY capable of speaking from what goes on in his own head, and then assuming the rest of the world is exactly the same?

    he’s been that way as long as I have known him, and that goes back at least 10 years.

    if you plan to respond to anything he says, a safe bet is to start on the assumption that when he speaks in generalities, he really means ONLY HIMSELF.

  • http://heb712.blogspot.com heddle

    Ichthyic ,

    In all that time, have you REALLY not noticed that he is ONLY capable of speaking from what goes on in his own head, and then assuming the rest of the world is exactly the same?

    Fair enough, in the ten years I’ve known you, all you mange to do is repeat this vague claim (which if it ever makes sense, makes no sense on this post- it’s just an assertion with no context) charge people with “projection,” demonstrate that you do not know jack about science, and kiss PZ’s ass.

    You’re a fucking moron.