Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Imagining Heaven

“Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would get
in.” Mark Twain

Does heaven exist; if it does, what’s it like, how do you get there? What is more thought  provoking, curious and confusing than the subject of heaven? Many faith communities have a teaching on this subject. It is known variously by names such as: paradise, enlightenment, majesty, nirvana. With names such as these no wonder it inspires.

“Americans have described heaven’s wonders as luscious, stunning, spellbinding, exhilarating, captivating,” writes author Gary Scott Smith in his new book, Heaven in the American Imagination. While most often depicted as a wonderful and desirable place, most Americans find the notion attractive but at the same time are in no hurry to visit the place. And while due to the limits on size of his book, Smith gives little attention to eastern spirituality, he does acknowledge that there seems to be an almost universal affinity to the idea of this kind of place.

Many, if not most, of us have at least a passing interest in what happens after death. We are curious about a life after death. In the everyday, temporal place it is a sad testament that the world is littered with graveyards of one type or another. This life as we know it is not survivable beyond a given time span. For most Americans that time inches to upwards of 78 years or so about now. So regardless of how well we live our lives, what food we eat or what illnesses do or do not befall us, life is limited. From the First Great Awakening of the 1730s, to the Civil War era to present day, especially during turbulent times Americans speculate upon the life in heaven. From pop music to popular literature, to religious sermonizing, and “end-times” prophesy, as many as 90 per cent of modern Americans believe in the place.

While Karl Marx may have derided heaven as some place for those poor souls longing for comfort in an imaginary place, which in his view, gives the oppressed false hope that their travails will be rewarded and justice finally meted out; heaven, he thought, only prevents them from working for remedies and justice here on earth. Others disagree, remarking that the imagination of heaven gives rise to a view of hope for a better place, a better world and the courage to move forth to that world. They may better cope with sorrow,
disappointment and loss of loved ones. And while some argue that heaven is here on earth, others advocate for access by faith and deed; still others by faith and good works alone. The debate rages on.

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