I first saw the Todd Burpo book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back on display several months ago at my favorite rink-a-dink bookstore. I thought the manager was just promoting some dumb little book he liked, so I picked it up, looked at the goofy kid on the cover, read the description on the back, snorted, and put it away.
If the book had just been what I initially thought it was -- some cutesy religious family story that no one was reading -- I would have left it alone. It wasn't written for me. I could (contrary to popular wisdom) tell everything I needed to know about it from the book cover and other trappings. Nearly every blurb is from some pastor or friend. The picture of the little boy who made the "trip to Heaven and back" is of a little buzz-cutted four-year-old, one whom you can easily imagine growing up to be a preacher who bases his ministry on this one event, an event he'd eventually have to be reminded about, since it all happened before he could retain much of his memory. (Mentally replace his sweater vest with a preacher suit and stick a Bible in his hand.) The abstract on the back of the book gives you all the relevant "evidence" that they're basing this trip to Heaven on, and it concludes with the sentence "Heaven Is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child." Yeah, no it won't.
Within days of my seeing the book for the first time, I started seeing it everywhere. As it turns out, it had shot up to the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list pretty quickly after its publication, and it's still there at number one as I write this. So apparently people are reading this thing, and apparently it's a big deal. There's even a children's version of the book now.
I usually enjoy attacking stupid things that gain popularity and make tons of money, but I still felt a reluctance to attack this book. For one, it would mean I would have to read it. But even after I overcame that hurdle, there remained a reluctance to attack. It felt like attacking innocence itself. Then I realized that this was the problem: the innocence of a four-year-old boy had trickled up, not only to his father and family, but also to these hundreds of thousands of readers who were buying -- and "buying" -- this silly little book. (I borrowed my copy from the library, just so you know.) Innocence is charming in a child, but ignorance in an adult is less so, and widespread ignorance is intolerable. Besides, anyone publishing is opening themselves to argument, so -- finally -- I felt justified in doing my small part: throwing my tiny pebble at this Goliath of a book.