NEWS: A Brief History of Heaven

A recent article by Johann Hari for Slade, looks at the evolution of understanding and thinking about heaven. Despite what may appear to be an increasing onslaught of secularism within Britain, Hari points out that this is not reflected in the United States of America. Instead, he states that:‘ 81 percent [of Americans] say they believe in heaven—an increase of 10 percent since a decade ago.’

What is perhaps more surprising is that 71 per cent believe heaven is an ‘actual place’: a paradise open to both humans and animals, and it is here that Hari identifies the greatest change in belief.  He suggests that in the past various religious groups have viewed heaven in a diverse range of ways. For instance: African Americans viewed heaven as a place where they would be free from slavery, a very different idea to that shared by modern day ‘Islamist suicide-bombers’. Hari suggests that the reason that ‘[h]eaven is constantly shifting shape [is] because it is a history of subconscious human longings’, although he also recognises that the concept itself has been used as an authoritarian control mechanism.

Despite the interest in the concept of heaven, Hari concludes with the suggestion that rather than looking toward a glorious afterlife, we should perhaps spend a little more time focusing on the life we have.

Rupture and Fusion in the Approach to Myth: Situating Myth Analysis Between Philosophy, Poetics and Long-Range Historical Reconstruction
By Wim van Binsbergen
(Vol. 4, March 2009)
Religion Compass

Myth, Theory and Area Studies
By Daniela Merolla and Mineke Schipper
(Vol. 4, January 2009)
Religion Compass

Heaven and hell
By Jonathon L Kvanvig
From A Companion to Philosophy of Religion

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