New Christian Children’s Book Takes Them on a Tour of Heaven

Lying about Heaven is bad.

Lying to children about Heaven is worse.

But why let a little thing like ethics stop you from making money off of fiction masquerading as truth? That’s what Anthony DeStefano is doing with his new book A Travel Guide to Heaven for Kids:

According to the book’s description:

This long-awaited children’s edition will quickly become a favorite for the reader and the child alike. Imagine the comfort and peace children will experience when they hear about this incredible place God has prepared for them.

Of course, he’s making everything up. Not just the story in the background, but also his idea of what the afterlife is like. It’s no better than Colton Burpo‘s vision or Eben Alexander‘s — it’s all a comforting lie. It’s the Christian equivalent of what John Edward and Sylvia Browne do when they “cross over” and communicate with the dead. They’re conning you by feeding you what you want to hear, and making a ton of money off of it in the process. (DeStefano is coming off a six-figure advance on a previous two-book deal.)

It really makes no sense how some say you can’t be good without God, when this is the sort of thing “good” Christians do with their influence.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Miss_Beara

    A suitcase with angel wings.

    A suitcase with angel wings.

    I don’t even…

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      There’s actually a very strong seagull inside it. I’m guessing he navigates by GPS and… has an oxygen tank? And a deformed bill, and… well fuck, fine. It’s a suitcase with angel wings. Happy now? You just ruined Christmas.

    • Tom

      Yeah, that was my first thought too. It just raises so many questions. Especially if it’s real leather.

    • Michael W Busch

      Better to have one with lots of little feet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rincewind#The_Luggage

      • Tom

        Kind sir, please take an internet.

      • ShoeUnited

        The problem with having luggage with little feet is that it would have gotten to heaven by busting through the side of it leaving a gaping hole both in the wall and in the jesus throne while on its way through.

        • RowanVT

          I do believe that is a feature, not a bug.

      • 3lemenope

        Ah, sapient pearwood.

    • Kodie

      You can’t take it with you unless you have a suitcase with wings.

    • Cake

      Because in Heaven you get to take your stuff with you. or something.

    • Len

      Kind of reminded me of the cover of one of the early Harry Potter books (the children’s edition).

    • allein

      The original book has a winged suitcase on the cover, too. I wonder if it’s explained in there…

      http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/travel-guide-to-heaven-anthony-destefano/1100291596?ean=9780385509893

    • Sweetredtele

      Right. They should be a pair of shoes with a wings.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    If you can describe Heaven, even a little bit, the concept falls apart. Anything we can think of would become galling after a smidgen of eternity. Worse, it’s pointless whether or not it is imaginable, because it is eternal life, and that doesn’t mean a damn thing without death. At best it is stasis. Mere existence. It was invented for desperate, starving, diseased people whose every moment alive had become torture through the sheer lack of a foreseeable end to privation and pain. It might even have been invented in good faith, so to speak. But it isn’t necessary or even justifiable in a society with developed technology and philosophy. Spreading the Heaven story in a Third-world nation sometimes* brings hope and effort. Spreading it in a First-world nation is actually telling people that they need to be stupider and less ambitious.

    *Sometimes. That’s not an excuse, any more than telling children that they should behave or else monsters under their beds will eat them is excusable because it sometimes results in children behaving.

    • Keyra

      Because life itself is but a prologue and we end up based on our choices

      • Quintin van Zuijlen

        If that’s how you want to live your life, I’m glad you don’t even have a chance to be disappointed.

      • Kodie

        Life is all you get. You have accepted a promise no one can keep, although when you die, you won’t know the difference anyway.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        If you don’t think this is the real deal, Troll, your decision making can’t be trusted by others.

      • ShoeUnited

        Sounds like a waste of time. Before we were born we could have just checked a “Yes Please” on heaven and been done with it. No suffering. No eternal damnation because god is a rules lawyer with a side of sadism.

        Really, seems like he’s doing a whole big trick. Unless. Wait. What if he gave us gifts like reasoning, logic, and science in order to think for ourselves? Adam & Eve did take a bite of the apple to know good from evil. So maybe Earth is god’s test to see which of us will use the gifts he gave? Maybe the whole Christianity thing is a ruse. Like God with Job. It’s a way to see if you’ll blindly follow or if you’ll think rationally and apply science and logic as the gifts every mentally capable person is given. Maybe this whole time, it’s the atheists who get to go to heaven. He does work in mysterious ways, and he does show time and again in the old testament of doing this sort of trickery to test faith and gifts. Why would god suddenly change when Jesus showed up?

        I bet you it’s the religiously inclined going to hell. Heaven’s gonna be roomy.

        • Kodie

          The devil plays tricks. What if Satan is just a real cool guy and we’re being tested on whether or not we’re a gullible dork? I’m not saying I believe in Satan, but every description I hear about how Satan works to lure good Christians from their sacred path, I see “good Christians” weeded out, lured by some other perception of magic. God is “good” just because he’s the boss and we better listen to him or we’ll be sorry. God is an outright thug, and he’s described as a thug, even by people who love him. Actually, I like to think of god as being so desperate for people to like him that he promises a really good party. Two kids at school are having parties on the same night, and one kid says “I hope you can come” and the other kid says “Come or else you’ll have to go to that other party. My party is waaaaaaay better, I swear, you don’t want to be stuck going to that other party. Come to my party, pleeeeeease? Doesn’t anyone like me? Why doesn’t anyone like me?” And then he arbitrarily kills a bunch of people with a tsunami.

      • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

        I would just like to point out the intellectual narcissism of this idea. There is a living, breathing, pulsing universe out there. It’s near-infinite in the amount of things that we could discover, and we as humans can only hope to scratch a few tiny molecules away to examine. I wish I could live until I was 1000-years-old so I could hope to discover just a tiny fraction of it; to watch humanity and its history develop.

        But fuck it, right? Why bother with such trivialities as human existence, the mechanics of the universe, or your relationships with your peers. You’re already demonstrating how little that actually matters to you. What *really* matters is your buddy-cop movie existence with your invisible friend. To describe our universe as a “mere prologue” and relegate it to rump-status in favor of your fantasies is so unbelievably vapid, vain, and vacuous that I almost don’t have to say anything to make my case that religious fanaticism makes people worse for the knowing of it.

  • Bruce Martin

    I hope that DeStefano’s death-cult book doesn’t promote more child suicides. I doubt he gives any reason for his readers not to do so.

    When people ask what harm religion does, it doesn’t get any worse than tricking kids into killing themselves for no reason.

  • SeekerLancer

    So is that kid dead or what? This seems pretty dark.

    • Miss_Beara

      But look how happy he is! That makes it all better.

    • allein

      Apparently not; according to the Publisher’s Weekly review, “A boy named Joey, ‘sad that people and animals had to die,’ is visited by an equally childlike angel, Gabby, who tells him ‘everyone has a guardian angel’ and takes him on a tour of heaven–”

      (As for his mode of transportation, “–on a winged suitcase, a story element left unexplained.” I guess it’s one of those “mysteries” they like to talk about..)

      http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-travel-guide-to-heaven-for-kids-anthony-destefano/1113943632?ean=9780736955096&itm=1&usri=9780736955096

    • allein

      Oh, I wish I’d googled first…I found the trailer..

      “With a gold-lettered visitor’s pass in hand…”

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbmq3IL5E4Q

      • Hat Stealer

        I got about 6 second into the trailer before going “NOPE, nope nope nope no nope nope… not gonna watch that.”

        Gaddammit allein.

        • allein

          Sorry… >.<

      • SeekerLancer

        Alright God, let’s make a deal. Give me a pass to heaven to check it out and I’ll believe too. That or I’ll wonder why I feel so dizzy and I’m holding an empty bottle of cough syrup.

      • Artor

        Whoa! Double rainbow! What does it mean??? And why would you need balloons if everyone can fly? Why does heaven look just like some nice places on Earth? Isn’t it supposed to be a magical place?

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          The double rainbow means it’s especially welcoming to gay people. *Sage nod* That’s what I’m going to pretend it means, anyways.

        • MariaO

          I bit late, but I can’t refrains from pointing out that it seems the laws of physics are different in this heaven. Here in reality the second, upper rainbow has its colours REVERSED compared to the primary one. I guess simple observation of nature is not the author’s strong point…

          • Artor

            Lies, straight from the pit of Hell.

      • KeithCollyer

        would that be like the gold ticket in The Last Action Hero? the one that allows you to go into a totally imaginary world

        • allein

          Maybe it’s a ticket to a tour of a chocolate factory…

      • JohnnieCanuck

        The artist got the rainbow wrong, either that or it’s a depiction of a miracle. The outer one should have the red on its inside, the opposite of the inner one.

        • allein

          Something tells me that’s not the only thing they got wrong here…

      • Rain

        Wow it looks just like “Oz”.

    • Kodie

      He’s a fictional kid.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Old Yeller was fictional too. So were Old Dan and Little Ann.

        *goes to take some Benadryl for the allergies that must be making his eyes water all of a sudden*

        • allein

          I made the mistake of reading the end of Where the Red Fern Grows at school…had to force myself not to cry. Teacher really should have warned us..!

        • Kodie

          I’m a cryer, I cried so hard when Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey’s mom died keeping him warm. Ooh, spoiler!

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          I don’t think I ever read Old Yeller. Where the Red Fern Grows was sad, but … I just don’t cry over books or movies or even opera. I just don’t.

          On the other hand, this had All. The. Feels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvQBUccxBr4 Start it at 1:10 if you want to skip the little intro part.

          EDIT: How do you embed hyperlinks? I’ve seen people doing it, but I can’t find the commands for it.

          • allein

            Wow.
            C.L. is right; it’s really dusty in here…

          • midnight rambler

            Dammit, I guess “nohtml” isn’t recognized by disqus. Take out the spaces after the opening brackets.

            The code is embedded link text.

            Like this.

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              Thank you.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            I don’t think I ever read Old Yeller. Where the Red Fern Grows was sad,
            but … I just don’t cry over books or movies or even opera. I just
            don’t.

            [insert five hundred words of gibberish about how atheists are loveless because I'm Christian and therefore psychic]

          • Kodie
  • Artor

    “And to your left, we have the observation deck, where you can look down and watch your loved ones who didn’t make it up here burn in Hell for eternity…”

    • Willy Occam

      No doubt, that’s the most popular attraction for the evangelicals.

  • corps_suk
  • Keyra

    “fiction”, “it’s all a comforting lie.”, isn’t that the laziest and self-asserted conclusion

    • allein

      Was that a question? I suggest you work on your grammar and punctuation and then get back to us.

    • indorri

      It would be kinder to call it “speculative”, but assuming the intent is to actually present heaven like this being fervently true, “lie” would be the kindest thing you could call it while still being sincere.

    • Kodie

      It’s fiction. It came out of the author’s imagination. He’s never been there, hasn’t died and gone, doesn’t even have a reason to believe it’s there, yet he can talk about and illustrate exactly what it will be like.

      I think it is really weird that you, an adult (?), believe that when you die there is some other world you get to go on eternal vacation, and you’re so sure it is like this story. Don’t get behind the wheel, ok?

    • jferris

      Y’all need to remember the name “Keyra”. It’s idiot for troll. This person (not sure of gender) is baiting you. You would do best to ignore. Pay attention to the regulars. You gain nothing, you convince no one. Remember Mark Twain: Never argue with a stupid person. They lower you to their level and beat you with experience.

    • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

      The word for it I was going to use was a lot stronger.

      Also, I’m amused by a Christian decrying people for drawing “self-asserted conclusions.” So much so I’m afraid I might overdose on irony.

  • Mark

    Christian heaven is boring. One sings a few hymns to a vane god and then eats a big meal. Give me muslim heaven, with booze, hookers and eternal boners!

    • Pedant

      *vain

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Given the subject matter, perhaps “vein” would be the absolute best choice.

        • midnight rambler

          You get to shoot up in Heaven?

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            See: booze, hookers, and eternal boners, above. :P

    • Paul D.

      If you’re referring to the 72 virgins you get, that’s a mistranslation stemming from the archaic Arabic. The Koran actually says you get white grapes. (I’m not joking, look it up.) Grapes were a rare and luxurious treat during the Medieval period, practically to die for.

      • Len

        I think some people are going to be really disappointed.

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding
      • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

        I ain’t dying just to get some mother fkin GRAPES! They gotta come up with a better incentive.

    • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

      I’m reminded of this awesome bit by David Cross:

      http://youtu.be/_ecVERmxa70

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      What about FSM heaven, with strippers and a beer volcano? :P

      • Kodie
      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        How about the Duat? It’s just like real life, only better.

        The only catch is that your heart must not outweigh the Feather of Ma’at. If it does, you will be devoured.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Still a test, though at least it’s a test for “are you a good person” instead of “did you believe hard enough”. I prefer an afterlife where you just … go there. Maybe some penance for wrongs you did, but nothing eternally bad.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            When one is devoured, one ceases to exist, so it’s not, like, punishment the way we’d normally understand it.

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              Well yeah. And that’s what I think happens anyways to everyone, since I don’t think there is an afterlife. I just think if some people get good stuff after they die, everyone should get good stuff after they die :)

    • Glasofruix

      Muslim heaven? Puh-leeeeaaase, Valhalla is way better.

  • Squirrel

    I don’t actually care if children believe in Heaven. They’re not as tough emotionally as adults and the concept that everyone you know will die one day is pretty scary at any age. If it provides some child comfort after losing their best friend or a parent, I really can’t be outraged about that. Childhood is a time for fantasy, a time when you’re protected, and to me Heaven is no worse a lie than the Easter bunny or Santa Claus.

    As long as they grow out of the belief by the time they’re 16…

    However, this book does seem like a cynical ploy to make more money on the part of the author. The cover looks very similar to his first book. I wonder how similar they are inside.

    My favourite version of the afterlife as a kid was from The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lingren. I also liked that part in the Last Battle by CS Lewis, where it’s described as a wonderful story that never ends. I don’t believe in Heaven now, but I don’t think reading books where the afterlife was treated as real did me any harm.

    • RowanVT

      When I was a child, heaven never seemed real for me. It wasn’t something I thought about much. Kids are usually told that Heaven is where good people go, and Hell is where bad people go.

      So I didn’t really think about heaven. But Hell on the other hand… I was perpetually terrified that I would do something wrong and God wouldn’t forgive me and I’d be tortured for eternity.

      I remember, vividly, crying and praying in bed, begging God to forgive me for anything bad I might have done, to please PLEASE not send me to hell.

      I was 5 years old.

    • Kodie

      I was just looking at the cover again and it is weird. As if it wasn’t obvious from the illustration and the subject matter, in multi-color crayon scribble, disclaims, “FOR KIDS”.

      I have always been aware of religion and at least some of what people believed. I was raised without a religion, so it wasn’t indoctrinated in me, but I remember having an epiphany at some time in my late teens or early 20s that people took this seriously. As Christians will often tell us they “also hate religion,” my earlier understanding of religion was as some rituals and something resembling a national identity (like Irish or Japanese). Yeah that is pretty shallow, like the Christians try to oppose our image of them (while maintaining their image of us, I might add) as having shallow ritual and merely wearing a label. No, they have a relationship, a deep and spiritual connection to their deity. It’s not about going through the motions, it’s about feeling it. Oh, I understand that. It’s just that that doesn’t help me. It makes religion even more ridiculous to me. Although I have always (as far back as I remember) identified as an atheist, I think it just became more and more as a reaction to the realization that religion was a lot more than what it looks like from the outside when you’re a kid. It’s a lot weirder that adults defend them and believe them deeply and sincerely, and get personally upset if I don’t think god exists. How dare I say something like that, he’s god! I don’t know, let god stand up for himself? Get far away from me if you’re afraid I’m about to be smote.

      Get really really far away from me and don’t come back.

    • 3lemenope

      My favourite version of the afterlife as a kid was from The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lingren.

      Loved that book. I especially liked the set-up with people talking up the afterlife, and then when they get there it sort of sucks in a totalitarian sort of way. Then when they start talking about the afterafterlife in the exact same terms…

    • Anna

      I’m not sure I agree. I actually think teaching children to believe in an afterlife does more harm than good. It’s natural to want to comfort a distraught child, but lying to them about a mythical afterlife just sets them up for angst and disappointment later on. It’s no wonder so many people refuse to accept the finality of death when the promise of immortality has been held up as a valid option.

      I don’t think not having afterlife beliefs crushes a child, anyway. Children are a lot stronger and smarter than we give them credit for. I grew up atheist, so I never believed in an afterlife. I always imagined heaven as an imaginary place like Rainbow Land or Care-a-Lot. It took me a long time to realize that other people actually thought it was real.

  • anniewhoo

    So I’m assuming the kid on the cover is dead then? Do they go into detail of what he died from? It doesn’t seem like a very comforting book for young readers to me.

    • allein

      No, he just has a visitor’s pass…and a guardian angel who is apparently the same age as him…

      • Kodie

        So if the book is real, we can also get a visitor’s pass and see what heaven is like for ourselves?

        • allein

          I would think so…it would make a good radio show contest prize, don’t you think? Be the 9th caller and get a free pass to heaven!

          • Kodie

            Paradise Raffle.

          • midnight rambler

            Shouldn’t that be the 7th caller? I think if you’re the 9th caller you get sent to Hell.

            • allein

              lol..Good point. I was just going with the station my clock radio is set to in the morning. They’re 95.9 so it’s usually the 9th caller.

            • Len

              Eighth caller.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Do they go into detail of what he died from?

      Forgot to buckle up while being shown Heaven on a flying suitcase, I reckon. That would actually fit God’s style. “Oh, you lack my eternal wisdom and can thus make mistakes about things you don’t understand that I could explain to you with literally no effort? FUCK. YOU.”

      • Kodie

        Probably a motor vehicle accident, malignant neoplasms, or firearms.

  • ~SoACTing

    Sickening…

    ~ SoACTing

  • http://an-expatriate-in-cambridge.blogspot.com The Expatriate

    Does the author actually believe he’s lying, though? If he actually believes this is what Heaven is like, I fail to see the problem.

    • Kodie

      Well, no one who dies will ever know he was wrong about it, so that’s not the problem. Pretending to be an authority which everyone knows you could not possibly be sure about is a big problem. It’s pretty much the whole problem with religion. Religion steers people wrong, it solves real-world problems with ignorance. Nobody knows it’s a lie, they don’t examine what they’ve heard and just keep repeating it as fact. That’s what’s wrong with it.

  • advancedatheist

    Meanwhile, some neuroscientists think we can turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state by pushing hard with brain preservation technologies:

    http://www.brainpreservation.org/

    Michael Shermer, the critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this foundation’s advisers, so he apparently considers the idea scientifically defensible:

    http://www.brainpreservation.org/content/advisors

    Someone needs to write a children’s book explaining this idea as a technological alternative to death, instead of promoting fantasies about heaven.

    • Michael W Busch

      No. No-one has the technology necessary to preserve a human brain in anything like a functional state, and none of the current approaches concerned are anywhere close achieving what would be required. Shermer’s opinions on the matter are not relevant – what matters is the actual techniques.

      I quote from PZ Myers’ discussion of why “brain preservation” should not be considered as a way of avoiding death ( http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/07/14/and-everyone-gets-a-robot-pony/ ) – and PZ knows what he’s talking about on this one:

      I’ve worked with tiny little zebrafish brains, things a few hundred microns long on one axis, and I’ve done lots of EM work on them. You can’t fix them into a state resembling life very accurately: even with chemical perfusion with strong aldehyedes of small tissue specimens that takes hundreds of milliseconds, you get degenerative changes. There’s a technique where you slam the specimen into a block cooled to liquid helium temperatures — even there you get variation in preservation, it still takes 0.1ms to cryofix the tissue, and what they’re interested in preserving is cell states in a single cell layer, not whole multi-layered tissues. With the most elaborate and careful procedures, they report excellent fixation within 5 microns of the surface, and disruption of the tissue by ice crystal formation within 20 microns. So even with the best techniques available now, we could possibly preserve the thinnest, outermost, single cell layer of your brain…but all the fine axons and dendrites that penetrate deeper? Forget those.

      We don’t have a method to lock down the state of a 1.5kg brain. What you’re going to be recording is the dying brain, with cells spewing and collapsing and triggering apoptotic activity everywhere

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Cryogenic research is infinitely more useful than any religious notion, but, yeah, it isn’t going to happen in that way. What really bothers me, though, is not so much the freezing process, but the revival. One of the reasons (one of many reasons) that Star Trek transporters can’t work is that they’re like a snapshot of a person. But a person is not a snapshot. Life doesn’t continue without at least four dimensions, because a person is really made up of, what, trillions of trillions of chemical reactions in progress? Reviving a brain is not going to restore it to its normal function, because all of those reactions and energy transfers have been interrupted. I’m a layman of course, but I would expect huge damage to occur even if you seamlessly and instantly shut down a brain and then instantly thawed it a minute later and resuscitated the person.

        As an analogy, if everybody in California stopped their cars at the same time during rush hour, waited one minute, then restarted them and all went on their way, the total loss of time is going to come out to more than one minute per person, because they lost momentum, and now everyone has to wait for the person ahead of them to regain momentum. And everyone used more gas than they otherwise would, and more accidents would occur than average because everyone had to try to make up the lost time…

    • Michael W Busch

      Someone needs to write a children’s book explaining this idea as a technological alternative to death, instead of promoting fantasies about heaven.

      And if you want to introduce a kid to stories discussing suspended animation, there is already an extensive list of science-fiction stories covering the theme.

  • Matthew Baker

    This book better jive exactly with Heaven is for Real, or I am going to be put right off that one of them might be lying to me.

    • Kodie

      But which one?

  • Sideshow Billybob

    Soon after his release of his previous book, the author realised there was money to be made off of kids. The long-awaited follow-up in DeStephano’s “Fictional Places to Go” series is the upcoming “A Travel Guide to Santa’s Workshop for Kids.”

    • allein

      Just like the Heaven is for Real folks…they have a kids’ version, too. Oddly enough, I read the original book (my mother asked me to pick it up for her but it was going to be a few days until I saw her so I figured what the hell…much eye rolling ensued) but when I tried to read through the kids’ version I couldn’t do it.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    Holy shit!

    Literally.

  • Ex Patriot

    I believe in life before death and try to enjoy as much as possible

  • Roy Gamsgrø

    ” Imagine the comfort and peace children will experience when they hear about this incredible place God has prepared for them.”

    … You’re teaching children to look forward to death‽

  • Y. A. Warren

    The whole heaven and hell thing is used very effectively to keep people from rebelling against their parents and other authority figures. The cruelest part of it is that it also makes suicide and birth control to end the cycle tickets to an eternity of more of the same pain of the worst of their lives.

    Living in harmony in the universe is the only heaven that I believe exists. If more people embraced this, we may stop living as if death is the only good part of life.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X