Religion Dispatches interviews Lisa Miller about her new book, Is There Religion in Heaven?
RD: What inspired you to write Heaven?
Miller: About a year after 9/11, I wrote a Newsweek cover story on heaven. It was triggered by this idea: In a suicide bombing, everyone thinks they’re going to heaven. The bombers are martyrs, according to their beliefs, and are going to straight to heaven to receive the rewards promised there. The victims are martyrs, according to their beliefs, and are also going straight to heaven. So: which is it? Is everyone going to heaven? Is there a different heaven for terrorists and for the people killed by terrorists? This led to a very basic exploration of ideas of heaven: Heaven as a real place, heaven as an idea of something beautiful and perfect but unattainable, heaven as a location somewhere, heaven as a process, heaven as a galvanizing or corrupting influence or an incentive for good (what the Bible calls “righteous”) behavior.
As I dug deeper, I began to see that people have been asking the same questions about heaven since they started to talk about it. While they’re unanswerable, they’re also worth asking.
For the book she asked: What does heaven look like? What happens to our bodies? Who’s up there and what do we do?
80% of those in the US believe in heaven but are unclear on what they believe. What do you believe?