Tyndale House Publishing recently told National Public Radio they intend to pull a book out of print by a teenager named Alex Malarkey. Apparently, in his book (co-authored by his dad), The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was all a production of his imagination. In other words, the publisher behind the officious rapture-promoting "Left Behind" series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim Layahe is going to pull it. There must not be a heaven after all.
Writers of creative nonfiction have in the last few years been guilty of similar crimes, though usually they tell tales a bit more sordid than getting in a car wreck, meeting God and having a dialogue with the devil.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, for instance, talks about the author's purported journey through hell on earth as a drug addict. Much of it is outright false or exaggerated. It sparked all kinds of controversy in the literary world about ethics and the limitations of creative nonfiction, and rightly so.
Malarkey wrote a book that (admittedly I have not read) which purports to tell of his trip to heaven, where he meets God, sees a hole in outward heaven that apparently leads to hell, and even has a little talk with the devil, who blames him for an accident that was clearly not his fault. (Sounds like the devil to me.)
Now he says he made it all up, and Tyndale House Publishing is surprised? Really?
So we are supposed to believe that the publishers and editors at Tyndale House believed every word in this tantalizing fantasy? They fully believed he met the devil who has bad teeth with mold growing on them and really bony limbs? They believed the heavenly music that permeated heaven after angels brought the boy through the gates really got on his nerves because he was, after all, only six, and what six-year-olds like harps?
The sick hypocrisy of this story is not that Malarkey made it up, but that they are now going to throw him under the bus.
It was obviously not a true story. Come on! Anyone who believed it, anyone who claimed to be a Christian and bought it wholesale or allowed it to inform their beliefs, are very sad individuals. If you need this kind of sensational imagery to inform your understanding of God, Christian faith, belief system, or whatever, you are just sad. Pathetic, really.
Moreover, just because it is fiction doesn't mean it isn't real. In fact, who knows, it may have even been therapeutic, somewhat like C.G. Jung's Red Book, which he claimed was real, even though he shrinks down God in it and carries Him around on his shoulders. That doesn't mean it is literally true.
Tyndale House Publishing does not save face by taking this book out of print. Look, these are the same guys who publish the wildly popular and quasi-heretical Left Behind series of books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, which they publish as fiction, but which they also claim to be real. If Tyndale House can claim the rapture is real as purported in this series (which they do), then why not make a similar claim in regard to Malarkey's book?
Okay, the kid didn't literally go to heaven. If you didn't already know that, I feel sorry for you. And his concept of heaven and hell, God and the devil, may be whack. I'm not here to judge that.
But worse than a six-year-old making the stuff up is Tyndale House self-righteously taking the book off the market because it isn't literally true, as if that should be a big surprise! It's not real? No kidding. Keep selling the book. People enjoy it. They are entertained by it. It may even rattle the imagination. or pay the kid's medical bills. Who knows?
It worked for Frey, whose A Million Little Pieces is still in print as a fictionalized account, even if Oprah is no longer hocking it. It should work for Malarkey too. Just make sure he gets the profits.