The August 12, 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine was entitled:  “Visions of Heaven:  How Views of Paradise Inspired – and Inflamed –  Christians, Muslims and Jews” by Lisa Miller.  

The article itself was headlined:  “Why We Need Heaven” – In troubled times, the afterlife beckons with visions of dark-eyed virgins, gardens and palaces, the bliss of God’s eternal presence and the joy of uniting with loved ones.  How can thepromise of paradise inspire so many to goodness, and a few to murder?”

Subtitles read:

“When theMessiah comes at the end of time, Jews believe paradise will exist on Earth and souls will be reunited with thei bodies.”  …

“Palestinian youth believe that f killed fighting for Islam, they will go to heaven and delight in the company of beautiful virgins.”  …

“Christian visions of heaven changed as society evolved.  Some saw it as a glorious city, others as a place of knowledge an ligt.  These days, heaven is whatever you dream it is.”

The beginning paragraph of thearticle stated:  “Hagar Zar is sure her husband, Gilad, is in heaven.  Perhaps that’s why she looks so serene and clear-eyed when she talks about the gruesome way he died—gunned down by Palestinians early one morning while he was at work.  In her little house in the Jewish settlement of Itamar, wth the Biblical landscape stretching all around her, Zar says she doesn’t know exactly what the next world looks like, but she knows that it’s good, and that her husband has a special place there, “at the feet of the throne of the Almighty” because he died for God.”

There is nothing at all unusual about Hagar Zar’s religious beliefs, except for the theological puzzle they present:  can her enemy be in heaven, too?  Just months before Gilad Zar was killed, Akram Nabiti blew himself up near a bus stop in a toney residential Jerusalem neighborhood, injuring at least 20 people.  And though his grieving Muslim father, Ishaq, says he would have locked up his son in a cage had he known about Akram’s plans, “I have no doubt whatsoever that he is in paradise.”

Lisa Miller’s closing paragraphs stated:

“What kind of paradise was Mohamad Atta imagining when he anointed himself with cologne the night before he boarded the bomb that was American Airlines Flight 11?  He believed himself to be a martyr, and according to the letter the FBI found in his luggage, he was certain of his life in the hereafter.  “It will be the day, God willing, you spend with the women of paradise,” he wrote.  But the appeals to heaven as the planes struck the towers their faith, believers saw must sound to God like some kind of Babel.  The hijackers thought they were destined for heaven, and who knows how many of their victims prayed for salvation in the moments before death?

As many of the victims’ families lean on the promise of heaven to help them through the rest of their lives, political and terrorists leaders continue to use visions of heaven to justify their opposing views.  But as innumerable and compelling as they are, visions of heaven are just that:  visions.

Good, compassionate behavior is not a matter of historical necessity, political perspective or cultural bias.  If one can make the mental leap to imagine God in heaven , meting out judgment at the final hour, it’s not so much more of a stretch to believe that, in his or her wisdom, God must be able to sort out the bad guys from the good, and twisted, rationalizations from what is true.”



About Harold L Carter

Bachelor of Science, Columbia University Masters degree, Ohio State University Undergraduate National Officer, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Eastern Asst Vice President, when a student at Columbia University Profile Photograph: Mom & Me, when I was a graduate student
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