Everyone believes in a heaven. The next time you are standing in line at a store, take a moment to look at the covers of the magazines on the rack. Each cover presents a picture of some sort of heavenly...
Posted by Mark Driscoll, on March 30, 2010 12:11 PM
For me, perhaps the most profound beauty of Heaven is its plurality and diversity of people. Heaven is dar al-salaam, the ultimate safe haven. It's a place for all those who have done good deeds - men and women, adults and children, Muslims and non-Muslims, peoples of all nationalities and cultures - to enjoy together and in harmony.
I believe what I believe about heaven not only because of what I've read in the Old and New Testaments, but because I have met the one man who has been there and back -- my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ.
For atheists it is the very transience of life that helps to give it its meaning: for it prompts us to live it to the full, to try to make the most of each day, each hour, and to savor every experience along the way.
It did not take a Karl Marx to see that dreams of the afterlife could be an "opiate of the people," an enslaver instead of an inspirer of work and, if need be, of revolution. Just as often hope of heaven, however, has challenged people to endure prisons and death camps or take risks which benefited others.
I personally think it best not to try to imagine what we call 'heaven', because it can only be some kind of projection or wish-fulfillment. We can become so fixated on 'getting into heaven' that all our good deeds become purely selfish - as irreligious as paying into a retirement annuity for a comfortable life in the hereafter. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of ego - not fantasies about its eternal survival in optimum conditions.
Posted by Karen Armstrong, on March 23, 2010 9:39 AM
Heaven seems far too generous a reward for a few years of belief and being a good person. Even more so, Hell seems a disproportionate punishment for even a lifetime of barbarism. And yet the Qur'an is quite adamant about the truth of Heaven and Hell.
Posted by Pamela K. Taylor, on March 23, 2010 7:16 AM
Peace, and the wisdom that makes for peace, is the presence of God in this world. The Epistle of James describes this very practically and concretely. Peace is the wisdom that comes from heaven. "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:17-18)
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on March 22, 2010 6:45 PM
One of the delicious things about heaven (at least as viewed from this side of death) is the questions it prompts. To say you hope for heaven is all well and good, but who is this "you"? Is it embodied? If so, does it age? If not, how old will we look?
Posted by Stephen Prothero, on March 22, 2010 4:45 PM
Heaven is God in us, God over us and around us. God in us brings peace "in spite of," hope in spite of horribly hard times. God in us is heaven, giving us the peace that passes understanding. Heaven is the gift of God's presence in us.
Posted by Susan K. Smith, on March 22, 2010 4:10 PM
Among many Jews, it's popular to say that Judaism doesn't believe in heaven or hell. For better or worse, Jewish literature is actually filled with images, reflections and meditations on heaven and hell. But it is true that far more Jewish ink has been spilled on how to create heaven on earth than how to find it in the next life.
Posted by Brad Hirschfield, on March 22, 2010 9:51 AM
For me, "heaven" is a state of being rather than a place, and I am informed not only by Quaker writings on the matter, but by others, as well. It was a Medieval Catholic saint who once said, "All the way to heaven is heaven, for Christ said 'I am the Way'."
Now I think of heaven as a place that's all around us, that might even include my kitchen, where a slight tear in the fabric of the universe--in the vein of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials--might allow me to step through and find that my mother and grandmother await there, standing in almost the very same spot on my wooden floor.
Posted by Donna Freitas, on March 21, 2010 11:15 AM
We would not have imagined this world, after all, before we entered it. Who would have guessed mountains and eyes and tuna fish and tables and fossils and crock-pots and libraries and clouds? Heaven is, quite literally, unimaginable.
As a child, asking heaven and hell questions probably contributed to my journey that led to atheism. I used to wonder whether I could be happy in heaven knowing that some of my friends would be suffering in hell. I also wondered if I would have free will in heaven, as I assumed I had on Earth. If so, could I sin in heaven and be sent to hell?
Posted by Herb Silverman, on March 20, 2010 1:32 PM
What we really mean when we ask if there is life after death is this: is there personal consciousness after death. Will I know that I am me, and will others be able to distinguish me when my mortal journey has ended? With confidence and relief, I acknowledge that I don't know and that it does not concern me.
Posted by Jack Moline, on March 19, 2010 5:29 PM
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TinMan2: Heaven is always about who we are when we have no needs. As cultures we may express that with different colors, dances, songs and rituals, ...
Sajanas: When my grandfather died, one of my very young cousins was comforted by an only slightly older one telling her that my grandfather was happy...