The Washington Post’s Scott Russell Sanders on “Heaven”

On April 11th, 2010, Scott Russell Sanders reviewed “Heaven” in The Washington Post:

“Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there.” So runs the refrain of an African American spiritual, one source that Lisa Miller happens not to cite in her thorough survey of notions about the afterlife. The material she does reference covers a wide range, from ancient Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures through medieval and modern theology to recent novels, films and songs. Readers may finish this intriguing volume no more certain as to who will or won’t get into heaven, or whether there’s a heaven to get into, but they will be convinced that for the past 2,000 years or so, just about everybody has been talking or writing about it.

Miller’s bibliography totals some 500 items, but she wears her learning lightly. As religion editor of Newsweek, she knows how to translate theological ideas into plain language. She is as lucid in deciphering the arguments of Thomas Aquinas or Martin Luther as in interpreting a lyric from the Talking Heads or testimony from survivors of near-death experiences or data from opinion polls. Through interviews, she brings in the voices of rabbis and priests, ministers and imams, as well as ordinary believers of many faiths, including a Mormon genealogist, an Islamic legal scholar and a Trappist monk. She introduces us to Pentecostalists who speak in tongues, an astrophysicist who imagines heaven as an alternative universe, a daughter of Billy Graham who believes the world will end any day now, pet owners who look forward to cuddling their lost dogs or cats in the hereafter, and a spiritual medium who earns his living by communing with the dead.