X-Message-Number: 19686
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Is belief in heaven socially retrograde?
Date: Sun, 04 Aug 2002 08:03:59 -0700

From the August 12 issue of Newsweek:

       In the  00s, a decade known so far for its calamities, the question 
of what heaven is and who gets to go has taken on new urgency. Suicide 
bombers and terrorists, similar to those who killed seven people at the 
Hebrew University of Jerusalem last week, often invoke heaven before they 
act, and, afterward, the survivors invoke heaven to guide them forward. On 
the West Bank and in the States, visions of heaven separate religious 
fundamentalists from moderates. And for all its use as a political and 
theological lever, heaven is also a matter of the most urgent personal 
importance.  Can I still play with Casey, even though she s in heaven?  
6-year-old Zachary Fikar asked his dad when he was told that his friend 
Cassandra Williamson was abducted from her neighborhood near St. Louis last 
month and killed.
        For believers, heaven can be inspiration, incentive, comfort or 
ballast. It can be metaphoric, or concrete  built to last,  as Billy 
Graham s daughter Anne Graham Lotz puts it in her popular little book 
 Heaven: My Father s House.  According to a NEWSWEEK Poll, 76 percent of 
Americans believe in heaven, and, of those, 71 percent think it s an  actual 
place,  but after that, agreement breaks down. Nineteen percent think heaven 
looks like a garden, 13 percent say it looks like a city and 17 percent 
don t know. In the peaceful, prosperous West, visions of heaven are 
increasingly individualistic; a best-selling new novel,  The Lovely Bones,  
is narrated by a 14-year-old girl who has gone to heaven, and her paradise 
contains puppies, big fields and Victorian cupolas.
         The urge for heaven is universal; we need it the way we need love. 
 It s threatening to one s entire sense of self  to imagine the end of life, 
says Sherwin B. Nuland, author of  How We Die: Reflections on Life s Final 
Chapter.   So essentially we have to convince ourselves that there is an 
afterlife. Even those of us who don t believe in one sneakingly wish there 
was one.  For more than 2,000 years, theologians and children have been 
asking the same, unanswerable questions: Do we keep our bodies in heaven? 
Are we reunited with loved ones? Can we eat, drink, make love? Can you go to 
my heaven? Can I go to yours? How do you get there? And though they answer 
these questions in varying ways, the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims 
share some common ground. Heaven is the home of the one God, who is just and 
merciful, and at the end of life metes out rewards and punishments. Heaven 
is a perfect place, devoid of anger, lust, competition or anything like sin. 
In heaven, you live forever.


Mark resumes: How about directing our efforts now towards conquering aging 
and death so that we continue to have worthwhile, though obviously not 
"perfect" (whatever that means) lives in the HERE and NOW for as long as we 
desire?  I'm especially baffled as to why relatively young Americans in good 
health and with a reasonably comfortable standard of living would want to 
entertain the idea of getting "raptured" into heaven now, as indicated by 
the popularity of the "Left Behind" novels.

This article is also wrong in one respect.  Hindus and Buddhists view 
continuing personal survival in the afterlife a sign of moral failure, not a 
reward for virtue.  If you get reincarnated, you apparently haven't cleared 
away your karmic debts from previous lives.

Mark Plus

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