By Danny Tyree
The cover story in the April 16 Time magazine (“Rethinking Heaven”) reveals that the 85 percent of Americans who believe in an afterlife are not one monolithic entity. And their differing perspectives affect their lifestyles.
Some take a “traditional” view and see this ol’ sinful world as something to tolerate, pending the reward of a far-away ethereal eternity. Their focus is on the future. The extreme members of this group can be identified by clauses in their funeral instructions such as “How about we clear-cut a new route to the cemetery?”, “Can I ride in something from the Monster Truck & Hearse Show?” and “Aren’t those fabulous caskets with baby seal skin lining just to DIE FOR?”
Others take a more retro first-century approach and work towards an interwoven “new heaven and a new earth.” Their emphasis is on showing good stewardship of the planet while they’re still breathing. Young people especially are volunteering to make the existing world a better place. They are eager to get involved in environmentalism, helping the homeless, social justice — and more. (Admittedly, the “more” generally involves faithfully heeding the commandment “Thou shalt not abstain from asking that cute redhead in the first pew what her Cause Of The Week is.”)
Of course those are just the two biggest camps in the picturing of heaven. Lots of subcategories have sprung up over the ages, going all the way back to the cavemen. (“Ugh! Me just want to avoid place with fire. Whatever fire IS.”)
As bureaucracy and regulations grew, OSHA inspectors came to view heaven as a regulator’s paradise. (“Walking on cirrocumulus clouds? I don’t think so. And that doesn’t look like a certified SAFETY halo to ME, buddy.”)
Hymns such as “Farther Along” tell us that heaven is the place where all our questions will be answered. That resonates well with the waterboarding era interrogators. (“Ha ha! Speaking of Near Death Experiences…Harps? Nope — bagpipes. And unending celebrity renditions of the National Anthem.”)
Divisive political pundits salivate over the possibilities for stirring up trouble in the afterlife, assuming they’ll BE in heaven, of course. (“Let me get this straight: the Commander In Chief allowed the Serpent into the Garden, then sent His only begotten Son to die for us? Flip flopper! Flip flopper!”)
The traditional blue-sky version of heaven can be a foreboding place for the young. (Think a zillion generations of great aunts waiting to pinch your cheeks.) Watching angels play video games such as Meditating Birds and World of Prince of Peacecraft does not go over well with that generation. Savvy soul savers will put the best spin on the situation by emphasizing the “unlimited minutes” and opportunities such as “Ask the prophet Daniel about the texting on the wall.”
It’s good that things such as the Time article and the Colton Burpo account Heaven Is For Real prod us not to take our hereafter images for granted. Whether you’re agnostic, atheist, Christian or something else, it’s good to reassess your convictions.
But if you choose to follow the “seamless segue from the current age to the new age” vision of heaven, be prepared for a constant barrage of “Are we there yet?” questions from your kids and grandkids.
Then again, it’s good preparation. It will SEEM like an eternity.