Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The opposite shore

A month or two ago I took note here of the number of books on the bestseller list purporting to give accounts of visits to heaven.

Heaven Is For Real, "a father's account of his 3-year-old son's encounter with Jesus and the angels during an emergency appendectomy" is still number one. The father, by the way, is an evangelical pastor.

90 Minutes in Heaven, "a minister's otherworldly experience after an accident," is still near the top.

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
, by an evangelical Christian therapist, is going strong.

Apparently, many of us want to live forever and we'll take any evidence we can get that the great by-and-by is not just a figment of our imagination. Never mind that these books offer accounts of heaven that are just what you'd expect if imagination were all one had to work with. I'd be more impressed if someone came back from heaven with a report I couldn't have imagined.

Many of my colleagues here at the college profess belief in an afterlife, but they are hard pressed to say what heaven or hell might be like. Does heavenly Jesus have a horse, as the 3-year-old boy observed? "Don't be silly." Are there angels with wings? "Oh, come on, give me some credit." What then? "Uh, well, uh…"

I know I'm sounding like a snarky smarty-pants, but the choice seems to be either Jesus with a horse or "uh", depending on whether you are a 3-year-old boy or an academic theologian.

And now all the buzz is about another book by an evangelical pastor, Rob Bell's
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived
. Bell upends evangelical doctrine by suggesting that one does not have to be a born-again Christian to get to heaven, and that hell might be superfluous. God gets what he wants and he wants us all on his porch. Gandhi. Socrates. Even a snarky smarty-pants like me!

But will I get past the security screeners with my Ockham's razor?

(Daughter Mo is on our island with a friend. Check out the action here.)