Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guest Review: Heaven

Summary: A groundbreaking and accessible history of heaven—from the earliest biblical conceptions of the afterlife to the theologians who frame our understandings to the convictions and perceptions of everyday people

Drawing on history and popular culture, biblical research and everyday beliefs, Heaven offers a new understanding of one of the most cherished—and shared—ideals of spiritual life. Lisa Miller raises debates and discussions not just about our visions of the afterlife, but about how our beliefs have influenced the societies we have built and the lifestyles to which we have subscribed, exploring the roots of our beliefs in heaven and how these have evolved throughout the ages to offer comfort and hope.

She also reveals how the notion of heaven has been used for manipulation—to promulgate goodness and evil—as inspiration for selfless behavior, and as justification for mass murder.

As Miller demonstrates in this absorbing and enlightening book, the desire for a celestial afterlife is universal—shared by the faithful around the world and across religions. It is as old as the Bible itself. While there are many notions of what exactly heaven is and how we get there, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree that heaven is God's home. From the Revelation to the Left Behind series, Augustine to Osama bin Laden, Muslims in the West Bank to American Mormons baptizing their dead, Heaven is a penetrating look at one of our most cherished religious ideals. -- Harper

When I first read about HEAVEN: OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE AFTERLIFE by Lisa Miller, I just knew I wanted to read this book. I think an entire book that looks at the concept of an afterlife sounds fascinating. But since I have a pretty big need-to-read stack right now, I handed it off to my dad, Booking Pap Pap. He quickly read HEAVEN and here are his thoughts:

In HEAVEN: OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE AFTERLIFE, author Lisa Miller takes the reader on an interesting trip through the history of people’s beliefs and concepts of heaven. Lisa Miller is the religion editor for Newsweek magazine.

The author bases her book on research as well as interviews with a wide range of individuals including Christians, Jews, Muslims, religious scholars, devout believers, non-believers, near death experience survivors, and even a modern day singer and a Swedenborgian, a small religious sect based on the teachings of eighteenth century Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg.

Miller bases most of the early history of heaven on the monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Miller claims that the original Jewish concept of heaven was as a home for God. The Jewish people were content in being buried with the bones of their families and did not consider a life after death. It was only after the Jewish people were dispersed during the period of Greek dominance and could not get home to be buried that heaven began to be viewed as a place to be joined again with your family.

Miller traces the concept of heaven through the Catholic Church’s pay for indulgences to attain heaven to the Protestant Reformation concept that heaven was only for those who lived an austere and disciplined life. HEAVEN also describes the unique visions of heaven held by the Muslims and Mormons. The organized religions often used heaven to intimidate and control their believers. Promises of heaven as a reward for joining the Crusades and the promises of heaven by today’s Islamic terrorist to those who commit atrocities are two examples.

The author points out that heaven is difficult to envision and one’s concept is based on what he or she believes about God. She draws no definitive conclusions about heaven other than there are many ideas as to what heaven is. Questions like is it physical or spiritual? what does heaven look like? where is it? how do we get there? does it even exist? are left to each individual to decide. The author herself has a strong skepticism about the existence of heaven and enhances the book by interjecting her own feelings and thoughts throughout.

HEAVEN is a well written, easy to read assortment of observations about heaven. Miller does a good job of contrasting general concepts of heaven with the viewpoints of scholars and religious leaders. Heaven would be an interesting book for religious study groups or for anyone who has their own curiosity about heaven.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy of this book and thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review.


Becky said...

This sounds really fascinating. Your review is well done and gives me a good view of the book. Thanks!

Amy said...

This book sounds really intriguing. Definitely going on the wishlist, and how great that you Pop did a review! I need to try to get my Dad on that :)

bermudaonion said...

Reading Booking PapPap's review makes me wonder just what all the religious books say about heaven. Very thought provoking review.

Beth F said...

This really does sound like a good discussion book for the right type of book club. Of course, no knows -- yet -- who is right, if anyone is.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Julie, thanks for the well thought out review. This on is on my shelves waiting to be read, but I have not felt the urge yet :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds analogous to the coffee table book angels, which was about telling you all about history and popular culture, but not about drawing any conclusions. Sounds good!!!