Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lisa Miller/HEAVEN

Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife

A religion editor for Newsweek explores the idea of heaven, including its religious history and treatment from pop culture. Lisa Miller includes interviews with people from several different faiths and outlines common beliefs about what heaven is like, who gets there and how. She even makes reference to cultural figures as varied as Dante and Homer Simpson. Miller is herself something of a wishful skeptic, unorthodox in approach to both religion and the afterlife and writes in a way that allows readers from all different religious (or non-religious) backgrounds to enjoy her book.

I couldn't stop reading this book--I even took it with me to a coffee shop with the hope that I could get a few pages in before my friend met up with me. Its draw is in its journalistic approach--it presents heaven in an objective way, making use of quite a lot of interviews. I loved learning about the approaches of different religions to this subject, and was most fascinated with Miller's delve into the historical start of the idea of heaven. I did feel that some of her finer theological points were presented in a biased way (for example, she talks as if Christ's resurrection were merely a story started by his followers), but the general descriptions of religion were very interesting.

If you're curious about exploring your own notions of heaven, which may have been influenced by anything from Plato, to Dante, to The Simpsons according to Miller, grab this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher but was not obligated to write a favorable review. These opinions are my own.


Claire Dawn said...

Sounds interesting. Thanks!

Jane Steen said...

Lisa, you've put another book on my way-too-long list. Thanks for the review!

Jenny said...

I've read about this book in a few different places now, and it sounds really intriguing! I keep thinking it must have been a lot of fun to research, which I'm pretty sure makes me a dork. :P

Froog said...

Your example of "bias" seems off the mark, Cheryl. The only objective truth known about the resurrection is that it is a story spread by Jesus' followers. To present it as such, as a story, is not in itself biased; to comment on the likely truth or falsity of the story would be - although a certain amount of bias on such issues is inevitable, and allowable, I would say.

If you're presenting a multi-religion survey of the concept of heaven (especially if from the perspective of a non-religious person), then you have to resist any bias towards accepting or affirming the beliefs of any one religion. Avoiding a 'Christian' viewpoint here is not necessarily anti-Christian or anti-religious, just an objective approach to the subject.

Cheryl said...

Froog, I understand that journalists must present religion as factually as possible. But Miller stated that Jesus' followers rolled away the rock that blocked the entrance to his tomb, found Jesus' body gone, and then spread a story that he had risen from the dead. The only basis for such an account is speculation (and unlikely speculation at that--there certainly would have been some sort of guard at the tomb of such a controversial person, so how would Jesus' followers have rolled away the stone without detection?).

I would have been more comfortable if Miller had simply said that after Jesus' followers found his tomb empty, they claimed he had risen from the dead. No need to suggest the story was made up, or add details from speculation.