On May 5th, 2010, Lisa discussed her new book with ReadTheSpirit.com. Here’s a brief excerpt of the interview:
What can possibly be new about Heaven? After all, we’re talking about the universal hope of an afterlife. Among the hot nuggets identified by the Washington Post in recommending Lisa Miller’s new book is this news: Growing numbers of Americans appear to be looking toward Heaven as a real-life destination these days. Why? Well, we asked Lisa about this finding.
This book is a terrific discussion-starter for small groups—and it is unusual among new books on religion because of its religious diversity. That’s because Lisa Miller is Newsweek’s religion editor and approaches this subject as a journalist wanting to hear from many different points of view. Everyone has something to say about heaven, no matter what your personal approach to faith.
DAVID: You present some fascinating data showing that we’ve moved from roughly 7 in 10 Americans believing in heaven in the 1990s—to 8 in 10 who believe, now, a decade later. Your book explores this huge fascination in about 300 pages, but can you explain briefly why you think our belief is growing right now?
LISA: In 1997, Time magazine did a story and found that 72 percent of people believed in heaven. I think that period in the 1990s was the height of our arrogance and material prosperity as a nation. When things are good on earth—and I mean really good—I think the need for heaven wanes. And when things get hard again, the need for heaven becomes much more acute. I think 9/11 is a border we’ve crossed. It is a border in my own psyche and I think that’s true for a lot of people. Things started getting really hard after 9/11 and the threat of terrorism now feels constant. You add that to the crash of the economy, unemployment, people losing their homes, then add in the wars abroad that seem unresolvable, conflicts in the Middle East that seem more and more volatile, then think about the aging of our population—all of these things combine to make us think we’re not on the upward part of the curve anymore. Heaven is an important idea when people are feeling under threat or in need of consolation and hope.