- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (March 23, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060554754
- ISBN-13: 978-0060554750
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,517,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Heaven. The word evokes all kinds of images and feelings in the hearts of people virtually everywhere. In some corners, heaven is seen as a vague sense of euphoria, a state of everlasting bliss. In other corners, heaven is a busy place, where eternal progression is the challenge of eternity. In this fine work, Miller, religion editor for Newsweek, surveys this fascinating subject from the earliest days of Judaism to contemporary expressions of faith. Beneath her pleasing prose and often amusing observations about the afterlife, there is a longing, a desire to be part of what heaven really is. And it is this sense of personal yearning that informs her delightful and insightful study. Heaven is hope, a constant hope for unimaginable perfection even as we fail to achieve it. This marvelous work is a readable and wonderfully realized study of this constant hope that we share. And whether we align with Augustine or with the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, whether we're informed by scripture or by popular culture, Heaven will delight and edify readers at every level. (Mar. 23)
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According to various polls, most Americans believe in heaven even, as Miller points out, when they don’t know what heaven means. Miller, Newsweek’s religion editor, addresses what and where heaven is and why the concept endures. Having covered many aspects of religion and interviewed people of many different faiths, she offers portraits of famous and ordinary people as well as experts in religious studies to educe how their views do or, more commonly, do not reflect the “official teaching, whatever that is.” The crux of the book focuses on believers, not beliefs, “for how people imagine heaven changes with who they are and how they live.” Miller discusses the heavenly city, afterlife in the Hebrew Bible, resurrection, and salvation, includes a chapter on visionaries, and comments extensively on how heaven is portrayed in pop culture ranging from the Talking Heads’ song “Heaven” to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002). Miller’s whirlwind tour of heaven is an entertaining primer on a most complex subject. --June Sawyers
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I felt as if I were receiving a wonderful review of all the comparative religion courses I have ever had while at college. The only difference was that she was thoroughly engaging and utilized testimony from individuals who believed ardently in their views of afterlife rather than mere theorists. She made me want to take the topic seriously and to explore how whatever the other side contains it has an importance to my here and now life.
Lisa Miller has definitely done a vast amount or research and recommends some of the best popular and academic treatments of her subject. I was delighted to see that she even spoke to and read N.T. Wright one of my favourite Christian theologians who stresses the importance of Resurrection rather than immortality in a bodiless other world. Like the author herself, Wright does all in his power to intricately connect the Heaven to Earth in a profoundly hopeful manner.
While tabulating the views of Heaven in the history of religions and current traditions, she doesn't neglect to submit Heaven to the gaze of empirical science by discussing the various research on NDE (Near Death Experience) and physic phenomena. The age old dilemma of Mind/Brian connection is ever in the background. However, even when discussing the first hand accounts of dying and returning Lisa Miller emphasizes the need to apply a ethical litmus test as to whether the experience enhanced the character of the person having had it. From her examples it appears that the NDE experience regularly retrieves individuals from death to their normal consciousness with more love, generosity and confidence. Such transformation can not be easily dismissed.
Lisa Miller rarely takes sides in the debates on heaven, except in the case of exploiting the grieving through seances or by making the entry to Heaven a sectarian or ethnic privilege. She maintains an open mind throughout her book and ultimately displays a gracious attitude toward different points of view. There is very little reductionism here nor is there any deriding of the beliefs of others. Love is Heaven's watchword; Dante is its prime poet. Miller doesn't evade the fact that heaven, when overly literalized and humanized, is jest-worthy as her comments on Albert Brooks' 1991 film Defend Your Life reveal. In-between reincarnating Hassid Jews, Paradise pursuing Muslims and a host of others, the true North of Miller's discussion is an affirmation of life. She exalts the importance of Heaven for the expectant living in her last paragraph,
I do not cling to heaven as a radical concept, a place that embodies the best of everything - but beyond the best. A belief in heaven focuses our minds on the radical nature of what's beautiful, most loving, most just, and most true. At the beginning of this book, I said, I believed that heaven was hope. I would now amend that to say, "Radical hope - a constant hope for unimaginable perfection even as we fail to achieve it. As Emily Dickinson said, heaven is what we cannot reach. But it is worth a human life to try.