Newsweek ‘hits new low' with ‘Heaven is real' cover
Neurosurgeon's account of the after-life he experienced during a coma reads like a stoner's diary, say critics
US MAGAZINE Newsweek has sparked praise and howls of derision in equal measure for its cover story this week, which states: ‘Heaven is real'. The story inside is written by a top neurosurgeon who fell into a coma and says he experienced the after-life. It has prompted one commentator to ask, "Is Newsweek real?"
Dr Eben Alexander is an academic neurosurgeon who taught at Harvard Medical School. Four years ago he caught a rare bacterial meningitis which attacked his brain. He soon sank into a coma, his entire cortex having shut down. This is the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion, which is why it is surprising that during the seven days in which he lay in a coma, his consciousness "journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe... the same one described by countless subjects of near-death experiences and other mystical states".
Dr Alexander's journey must be read in full to be appreciated, but the highlight is possibly this:
"For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman. She was young, and I remember what she looked like in complete detail. She had high cheekbones and deep-blue eyes. Golden brown tresses framed her lovely face.
"When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognised as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us - vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again. It was a river of life and colour, moving through the air."
The woman then spoke – well, she didn't actually use words, says Dr Alexander, she "drove their conceptual essence directly into me". She revealed: "You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever... You have nothing to fear... There is nothing you can do wrong. We will show you many things here. But eventually, you will go back."
Presumably, the woman showed Dr Alexander enough to fill a book, because he is currently publicising one called Proof of Heaven, which lays out his experiences of the after-life.
The blissed-out neurosurgeon says he is used to being mocked by his fellow doctors since returning from heaven, so he won't be overly upset by the reaction to his article in some sections of the media.
Gawker leads the sceptics by suggesting Dr Alexander's journey was more of a ‘trip'. The blog sets a fun quiz in which readers are presented with an excerpt and asked to decide whether it is from Dr Alexander's article or from a website called Erowid.org, where drug-users post their accounts of chemically induced trips. "Alexander's account of his experience is exactly as well-written, exactly as scientific, and exactly as interesting as most of the stories in Erowid's ‘Experience Vault'," says Gawker.
Reuters deputy editor Ryan McCarthy, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to ask: "Is Newsweek Real?" The magazine, which is now part of Tina Brown's Daily Beast website, is facing an existential struggle, with chairman Barry Diller suggesting it could be about to publish online only.
"If Newsweek has had trouble figuring out what it is, it's also had difficulty determining what is," writes McCarthy. He goes on to refer to a series of controversial stories in the magazine recently, including an essay by Niall Ferguson on Barack Obama, which Paul Krugman labelled as "deliberately misleading", an article on the 10 best presidents in history, in which Newsweek printed "an entirely different version of the list than the one historians submitted", and a cover story on Muslim rage, which was mocked by people on Twitter.
Twitter has also been quick to judge the latest Newsweek cover story. One user said the magazine had struck a "NEW LOW pandering to the delusional". Another imagined Tina Brown at the Newsweek editorial meeting: "Point-by-point policy comparison of Obama and Romney or 'Dr Smith Goes To Heaven?' Hmmm..."
Not everyone was sceptical, however. One believer called the story "one of the most thought-provoking articles I have ever read... Beautifully articulated and completely comforting", while another called it an "incredible testimony of truth".