Boy, talk about a tough room. Snake oil salesman. Grifter. Con man.
For once, y’all weren’t talking about me. Thank you. Many of you were talking about Dr. Eben Alexander III, the former neurosurgeon who said he died for seven days and went to heaven.
His afterlife account understandably elicited skepticism, but it also put millions into his checking account. Some readers wondered why nothing was mentioned in my column on Dr. Alexander about his legal and ethical troubles before his “vacation” in heaven.
Alexander’s troubles are legitimate fodder for questioning, as were the facts that he had been sued for malpractice several times and hadn’t practiced surgery for years prior to his coma. Those facts are well known and easily accessible to anyone who wants to find out about them. We have written about them in the past, as we should have.
To puncture someone’s reputation or beliefs wasn’t the purpose of last week’s column, though. Its purpose was to let people know that a popular author was going to be in town. That was noteworthy, especially to the scores who showed up to buy his new book and listen to stories about his celestial travels.
Not questioning faith
Besides, unlike the people about whom Frank Sinatra sang in “That’s Life,” I don’t get my kicks “stomping on a dream.” It would be the height of presumptuousness to question someone else’s faith or interpretation of what they’ve been through, whether heaven or hell.
During the course of a 25-minute presentation before attentive listeners and book-buyers at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on Thursday, Alexander mentioned four times – FOUR – that he’d taught at Harvard for 15 years. Was heralding his indisputably impressive academic bona fides supposed to make his account of his trip to heaven more believable, less impeachable?
Perhaps, but to some – or just to me – it was redolent of Al Bundy boasting, “You know, I once scored four touchdowns in a high school game.”
It impressed others, though, including the Rev. Orlando Dowdy of Holland Chapel AME Zion Church in Apex.
“I like the fact that his background, coming from the science field, lends some credibility,” the Rev. Dowdy said as he waited to join the line to get his book signed by Alexander. “I’ve often heard people in the science and medical fields talk about the brain and near-death experiences and how they’re hallucinating, but the way he lays it out – there’s no way that’s even possible. It was amazing. The imagery is just phenomenal.”
Jukebox in hell
Speaking of cynics, one reader of last week’s column asked a legitimate question: “Have you ever heard of one, just one, person who’s returned from hell? Just sayin’.”
Now that you mention it, Jet magazine interviewed just such a dude. Thelonious Agamemnon Quandravious Jackson IV sold – I mean told – his story to the magazine in 1977. It was the copy with Sister Sledge on the cover and featured a story titled “O.J.: Does he have political ambitions after football?”
Jet: What was hell like?
Jet: Other than the heat, what was the worst thing about it?
Agamemnon: None of the jukeboxes had Al Green.
Jet: Hell has jukeboxes?
Agamemnon: Sure. But no black music. I mashed B-4, right? “Stairway to Heaven” by the Ojays? But it wasn’t. It was the one by Led Zeppelin. And I couldn’t even get my nickel back.
Me: It only cost a nickel to play a song in hell?
Him: Yeah, but did you hear what I said: LED ZEPPELIN!
Me: Okay, hell has no Al Green. What else was it missing?
Him: Afro Sheen.