Why Do People Love Books About Heaven?

This is a guest post by Kari Hummel. Kari is a student at Shorter University, a Baptist college in Rome, Georgia, working toward a degree in Communication with a concentration in Journalism.

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Simply mentioning near-death experiences now have publishers salivating at the mouth like Pavlov’s dog. A USA Today piece by Craig Wilson begs the question: Are publishers now in Seventh Heaven with these near-death memoirs?

These hot new memoirs, such as Heaven is for Real (a young boy’s journey to heaven and back), Proof of Heaven (A Harvard neurosurgeon’s encounter with an “angelic being”) and To Heaven and Back (a doctor’s kayak accident-turned-celestial journey), have opened new doors for those banking on religion.

As you may have guessed, Christians are gobbling these books up.

Heaven is for Real has remained on USA Today‘s best seller list 111 weeks in a row, reaching #1 on eight separate occasions in 2011. (It is now No. 94).

This book did not sell nearly as well as the one it parodies.

Proof of Heaven peaked at #4 in December (likely with a boost from Newsweek). To Heaven and Back has been in the top 150 for 33 weeks, reaching as high as #14 in July.

So, in a changing world that appears to be shedding its religion, why are these books increasingly popular? Perhaps in poor economic times, people need hope for something better. Carol Fitzgerald, President of the online Book Report Network, agrees:

“In uncertain times, which is what we’re experiencing now, people look for comfort,” Fitzgerald says. “The concept that people have seen ‘what’s next’ and shared what it’s like gives hope and a feeling that life on earth is part of a journey with a greater reward.”

Unfortunately, these near-death memoirs create a false sense of comfort and give others the illusion that all they must do is “wait it out” until they reach paradise and all will be better. Rational, skeptical organizations need to reach out to these people before the churches do.

This would be a great opportunity for the Humanist movement to show others that they don’t need to cling to religion in times of hardship. People can gain hope by improving the world we live in here and now. Instead of relying on the supernatural to fix all of our problems, we should take the initiative. With a little work, we can create a better society for our children, and our children’s children, devoid of the imaginary.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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