By Sidney Reilly
Sorry, that was blunt. But I won’t insult you by lying to you.
The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven has recanted his amazing and prima facie absurd tale of dying, going to heaven, and then returning to live out his mortal days in paralysis. His name, in the only bit of this story that sort of makes me believe in God, is Alex Malarkey. And Alex Malarkey is one hell of a brave kid.
At the age of six, after two months in a coma resulting from a terrible car accident, he made a pretty unremarkable mistake and told a preposterous tale of going to heaven and coming back. The story exploded, and a relatively common situation of a little kid trying to get some attention spun out of control and became a media frenzy. His father turned it into a book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven (not a high premium on clever titles with this bunch), which turned into a sensation, and Alex became one of the most famous faces on the circuit of what has become known as “heavenly tourism.”
But at some point he clearly knew it was out of control. Alex has spent the last few years dancing around the truth: that he made the whole thing up, with some outbursts on Facebook, and his mother’s appearance on a radio show hinting at impropriety. Last week he came clean in full, and sent an open letter recanting the whole thing, without qualification.
I can’t even imagine how a six-year-old kid’s mistake is owned up to by a 15-year-old who still has to live with the paralysis caused by the accident. And the most inspiring part is that he owned up to it because he really believes in God and knows that any lies he told, even in God’s service, would be a sin.
While I don’t share in malarkey beliefs, I do admire Alex for having the guts to come clean about this. The industry of profiteers who make a living spinning preposterous tales like The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven will obviously chug on, unfazed by this incident. But you have to imagine Colton Burpo, whose story Heaven Is for Real is equally absurd and who in recent days doubled down on it, insisting it was true, is sweating. He shouldn’t be. It’s not the kids who make up these tales who should be worried, it’s the cynical hucksters who exploit them.
The sad part for true believers is the double whamminess of it all; bad enough the story shouldn’t be true, but even worse that it’s being peddled to them by people they trust who don’t even believe it themselves. Now email evidence has allegedly come to light which shows the company publishing the book, Lifeway, was made aware months ago of, at the very least, the strong possibility that the whole thing was a sham being perpetrated by Alex’s father, Kevin Malarkey, but chose to ignore it and keep selling the book. After Alex’s confession last week, Lifeway has finally agreed to stop selling the book, though they still sell Kevin Malarkey’s other book, quite ironically titled A Beautiful Defeat.
From Alex’s open letter: “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.”
One way to read that, which is the spirit in which he clearly meant it, is that if you believe in God, you don’t need any crazy stories to prove it, so don’t go looking for them. When I read that I thought of the Woody Allen one-liner, “Not only is there no God, but try finding a plumber on a Sunday.”