Dispatches From Paradise

Rhys Southan surveys the growing genre of memoirs written by people who claim, through near-death experiences, to have glimpsed heaven and returned to tell the tale.  Southan notices that “[o]ne of the major problems with the heaven-and-back literature, at least for those looking to it for inspiration and hope, is that none of the people who have been there agree about what it’s like”:

One possible conclusion is that none of these people actually went to heaven. Call this the Hitchens/Harris/Challies view. It certainly has an intuitive appeal. For one thing, if they’re all sure they went to heaven, and they know that for instance you can or cannot see God’s face, why aren’t they criticizing the obvious frauds who either couldn’t or could? That they don’t all ferociously debate each other implies insecurities about their own visions.

Another possibility is that only one of them went to heaven, but then who to believe?

My money would be on either [Proof of Heaven author] Eben Alexander or [Waking Up in Heaven author] Crystal McVea. Both of them were skeptics before going to heaven, which makes them somehow more credible than a professional reverend like Oden Hetrick or the pastor’s son Colton Burpo who recounts his trip to heaven with the cold affectless demeanor of a psychopath. … Or it may be that there is no one definitive heaven because heaven is what each of us wants it to be. …

But there is another possible explanation for these inconsistencies that would answer the skeptical Christian’s concern that these books undercut the primacy of faith. Maybe God shows every visitor different heavens and tells them to write about these conflicting characters, activities, and landscapes because he’s up to his old mysteriousness business. Does God want to hint to us that heaven is really real, while teasing our craving for evidence by sending us garbled, contradictory messages about what’s actually there – forcing us to rely on faith again after all? Oh God, you sneaky devil you.