What is your vision of heaven, presuming, of course, that you have one? Harps and angels, great swaths of light, one’s ancestors waiting in a reception line? There are plenty of notions from which to cobble together an image. How did the practice of ancestor worship, and its suppression lead to notions of heaven? How did notions from diverse religions regarding life after death influence each other? Where does the expression 7th heaven come from? How do scientific understandings of the universe affect religious views about heaven?
There is a wealth of extremely fascinating material in this look at how the notion of heaven came to be and how it has changed over the course of human history. Our contemporary parallel-universe notion is a far cry from early visions. Heaven was once thought of as the residence of the gods. Think Mount Olympus. “But the idea of heaven as we understand it—a place in the sky where the righteous go after death to live forever with God—that is a concept born to the Jews sometime during the second century before Christ…the connection between “righteous” behavior, as the Bible puts it, and resurrection and eternal life was entirely new and almost entirely Jewish.” [p28:]
Miller talks with a range of people with varying perspectives on heaven, some scholarly, some artistic, some personal. Don Piper had a near-death, or maybe post-death experience and wrote a book titled 90 Minutes in Heaven. Glenn Klausner claims to speak with those on “the other side.”
Heaven is a rich subject in literature and art, Dante, Revelations, the Koran, Gilgamesh, New Yorker cartoons. Albert Brooks talks with Miller about his film about the afterlife, Defending Your Life. She looks at the influence of artistic interpretations as both source and effect of popular notions of heaven. Dante and the Bible, in particular.
I quite enjoyed reading this book. There is great pleasure to be had in gaining new insights to the world, whether that world is this one or the next, and Miller offers it up in great dollops.
I had the pleasure of attending a book reading by the author in April 2010. Sitting in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble, waiting for the author to arrive, one could not help but note the presence of a pixie-ish young lady by the name of Josephine, maybe 6, 7 or 8 years old. She was beaming as she bounced up and down the aisles informing anyone whose eye she could catch that her mommy was the author. We are quite used to excessive numbers of parents, both of the helicopter and ground-based varieties, who regard their miniature walking DNA extracts as creatures deserving special (and often undeserved) admiration. How refreshing it was to see the reverse in action, but merited this time. Heavenly indeed.