On January 13, 2015 America's innocence was stolen. Again.
The culprit? Alex Malarkey, who at age six was paralyzed by a car accident and wrote a New York Times bestseller about the experience and now at 16 admits he knowingly, shamelessly bore false witness against his own god:
'Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' actually didn't; books recalled (Washington Post)
'Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' admits book is a lie (Orlando Sentinel)
The headlines say it all: No one could have seen this coming.
In 2010, the aptly-named Malarkey wrote "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" (with the help of his overly-trusting father, whose name the book contract happened to be in.) The book recounts how, during the car wreck that put him in a coma, Alex was tossed from the window but caught, football-like, in midair by an angel and taken to heaven where he met Jesus and Satan.
If only it were as true as it was believable.
"Boy" is 2015's "A Million Little Pieces," only much, much worse. Because this time the "author" is attacking some of our most sacred beliefs as Americans -- for example, that angels exist -- from the comfort and safety of his own wheelchair. And his admission raises more questions than it answers. While "I did not die. I did not go to Heaven." may seem like a simple, straightforward admission which wraps up the whole ordeal, can we really be so foolish as to take Alex at his word anymore? If he lied to his publishers at Tyndale House, his own father and all the rest of us about going to heaven, dare I say it, but is Alex Malarkey even really paralyzed? We may never know the answer to that question.
In the tradition of Woodward and Bernstein, The Washington Post first broke the sordid story of Alex's recantation, but one question remains as it did all those years ago: What did Alex's father Kevin know and when did he know it? If he was aware there were holes in his son's testimony or that the story was misleading, why did he not come forward? Money? Shame? Had Alex threatened him?
And what does it say about modern Christian publishing that they cannot tell a sham like "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" from a solid piece of well-reasoned reporting like Amazon-bestseller "The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus," which, according to its own back cover, examines "credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God" and also is "not fiction."
Choosing to walk the righteous path, some of "Boy's" distributors like Lifeway Christian Resources rightly pulled the books from shelves. They, like the rest of us, would not want anyone filling their head with falsities about so-called "Heavenly tourism." Especially given that Lifeway already sells other perfectly reputable and 100 percent true accounts of going to heaven, including "90 Minutes in Heaven" and "Heaven is for Real," which stand up to the Christian publishing world's rigorous fact-checking as well today as they did the day they were published.
Perhaps we should have realized that a six-year-old who was recovering from a horrible accident and unable to breath on his own and who admits in his recent apology letter that "Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short." could not have written a memoir so quickly after his accident, but hindsight is 20/20. Only a few short weeks ago it would have seemed impossible that such a vividly told account could have been made up. Who else but someone who had actually seen heaven with his own eyes would have been able to describe it so elegantly as "white," "shiny" and "perfect?"
It may seem like this story tears at the fabric of our beliefs, but fear not, fellow Americans. While right now you may be saying to yourself: "Next they'll be telling me that the bible is a collection of parables curated over hundreds of years, and not the literal, unassailable word of God I know it to be," just don't say that to yourself and everything will be fine.