From the archives


Talking to heaven? I don't think so!

What a fatal career move! I've been trying to make a living writing for people who are, well, living. The big money is in talking to the dead!

James Van Praagh, the multi-million-dollar medium, has been enjoying the high life atop the New Times best-seller list for weeks. The how-to-book allegedly explains how to communicate with those having no brain waves. (I am referring, of course, to the dead and not to the thousands who have each paid $22 for his book or $250 for a psychic session.)

The author of Talking to Heaven claims he is, and I quote, "a survival evidence medium . . . able to bridge the gap between two planes of existence, that of the living and that of the dead, by providing evidential proof of life after death via detailed messages."

As a person of faith, I believe in life after death. (I sometimes, however, wonder about life after forty.) But, I've got to admit, I don't believe in medium Van Praagh or any of his psychic friends.

For instance, Jean Dixon, who also had a best-selling book, gained fame for predicting the assassination of President Kennedy. Then, again, so did my chronically conservative grandfather who announced, "Somebody's gonna kill that young, liberal whipper-snapper." What doesn't appear on Dixon's resume' is that she also predicted that Richard Nixon would win the 1960 election--not Kennedy--and that the Russians would beat us to the moon.

I did much better than Dixon when I wrote the "Swami Watkins" column which predicted my high school's sports scores. I had a 95% record and accurately predicted that the season's golf tournament would be rained out. My inspiration was not psychic powers but probably a breakfast diet of cold pizza. (Click for my exclusive predictions for the new year.)

Here's medium Van Praagh's secret--be very vague. On "Good Morning America" he amazed a New York writer by telling her that her father wanted to talk about shoes. She immediately burst into tears. "I used to polish my dad's shoes." Now, I'm assuming that virtually everyone in New York wears shoes. The medium only provided a very general category, and the woman filled in the specific details herself. He then followed this lead to provide other "amazing details" such as "he likes shiny shoes."

Van Praagh explains his vagueness by the fact that he doesn't hear voices (that should reassure a court-appointed psychiatrist), but he senses the deceased feelings. "I sense laughter," he told another subject on "The View" talk show. "Yes," she gushed. "My uncle had a wonderful sense of humor." Another safe guess. Everyone, except IRS auditors, has a sense of humor.

And the medium seemed to be as wrong as many times as he was right. He had a message from beyond from a living person on the morning news show. (The ancient Hebrews assured the survival of the fittest prophets by killing those who didn't have perfect prediction records.)

Van Praagh's success is based on our deep desire to know something about life after death. That's perfectly normal and understandable. But, save your twenty bucks. The Gideons will give you a Bible, which provides much more specifics on life after death, absolutely free.

Wait! What's this? Yes, I have a feeling that someone who recently died has a message for you. He's grumbling about taxes. That's right, he never liked paying taxes. And I sense that he wore shoes and had a wonderful sense of humor.

Copyright © 1998 James N. Watkins


It is quite fun to read your perspective on things and absurdity of the things people will buy, write, and/or promote to make a buck. The whole psychic thing and the best-selling Talkig to Heaven would be enough to make me fall off my chair laughing if they were so sad on the other hand. (April 1998).

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