Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Marian apparitions and heaven tourism

There's a striking parallel between Fatima, Lourdes, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, and The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story

I've detailed my views on heaven-and-back stories about children before, so I won't repeat myself in this post:

What all these accounts share in common is stories about children (e.g. Todd Burpo, Alex Malarkey, Bernadette Soubirous, Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto) who claim to have numinous encounters. The Catholic and Protestant accounts are strikingly similar in that regard. I'd add that a common theme in the case of the Catholic stories is the Immaculate Conception. 

Let's sketch a skeptical explanation. Although children are quite capable of lying, it's not always that simple. Children indulge in innocent make-believe. 

Suppose they initially spin a tall tale which they don't expect anyone to believe. And much of the time, adults discount stories like this. 

But sometimes, for whatever reason, they are taken seriously. The stories take on a life of their own as adults report what the children said. 

That puts a child in a situation he didn't anticipate, and which he lacks the maturity to handle. Suddenly he (or she) is the center of attention. That makes it psychologically much more difficult for the child to voluntarily retract the story if it was a lark. Adults have now put the child in a position where he (or she) is under pressure to live up to their expectations. It's exhilarating to have all that favorable attention showered on them. At that point the kids don't wish to let anyone down. Eventually, Alex Malarkey screwed up the courage to recant his sensational claims. But it's really hard to back down at that point. 

I'd add that this can dramatically advance their social standing. For instance, Lucia dos Santos was venerated as the mouthpiece of Mary. She had the ear of popes. Indeed, she had leverage over popes. That's heady for someone who started out as nobody.  

This is not to deny that some kids may have heavenly NDEs, see angelic or dominical apparitions, &c. But unless there's corroborative evidence, outside observers can't differentiate fantasy from reality in the regard. 

I'd also add that this goes to the distinction between public  and private revelation. Absent corroborative evidence, there's no obligation for a second party to credit the purported experience of the alleged witness. It's generally prudent to withhold judgment, unless you personally know the witness and can vouch for their bona fides.  


  1. I have read that book, and I don't really think that Colton spun this all by himself. Also, his parents do seem pretty honest, although I don't know them. If it is a hoax, though, I just pray that Colton comes clean someday like Alex did.

    Have you seen this, though? Apparently, a guy named Barry is attacking this blog:

    Turch is Rong: Triablogue

    1. Thanks for the tip. Looks like Barry has anger-management issues.

    2. Barry Jones is just his alias (among many others). His real name is Christian Behrend Doscher. He's a militant atheist.

    3. I think that is the guy that tried to sue J.P. Holding.