These days, books about heaven are very popular.
Write one about how you died for a few minutes and experienced a momentary jolt of nirvana beyond anything you ever imagined and publishers will line up outside your door ready to print it. They know the book-buying public is eager to get a glimpse through that scary curtain called death…so long as what’s on the other side meets with their preconceptions.
Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times. In a column titled “Hell’s grip on religious imagination weakens,” he wrote, Even in our supposedly disenchanted age, large majorities of Americans believe in God and heaven, miracles and prayer. But belief in hell lags well behind, and the fear of damnation seems to have evaporated.
He says near-death stories are quick to sell. “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” tells of a child’s return from paradise. However, “you’ll search in vain for ‘The Investment Banker Who Came Back From Hell.”
Douthat blames this disenchantment, this unbelief, regarding hell on “growing pluralism,” among other things. Meaning what?
Meaning that people of all religion live on our block, go to our schools, shop in our stores, and are no longer abstractions to us. So, when we consider the question whether those-who-do-not-believe-in-Jesus go to hell, we are asking about some very real people we know personally and not the impersonal heathen of some dark continent.
Can we talk about hell for a moment? I’m convinced there needs to be one.
You may recall when a Navy SWAT team dropped in to Islamabad, Pakistan, to take out Osama bin Laden. They shot this terrorist twice, then gave him a prompt at-sea burial to prevent his body from becoming a relic of worship or martyrdom to the Islamic world.
Americans were quick to react, almost all enthusiastically endorsing his dispatching. Religious leaders chimed in. Hardly a Facebooker resisted the temptation to say something about bin Laden’s execution. I said a couple of things about it myself.