July 15, 2011

On believing in an afterlife

What Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams when Abigail Adams died.

Monticello, November 13, 1818

The public papers, my dear friend, announce the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

In Controversy over Heaven, Gary Smith looks at the controversy over Seven in Heaven Way, a street in Brooklyn renamed to honor seven firefighters who died trying to rescue victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks which the New York City Atheists Organization are protesting saying it violates the separation of church and state.

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice asserted that “the claim that somehow ‘Seven in Heaven Way’ violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is absurd. Acknowledging religion is not an endorsement of religion, and to suggest that this street name somehow crosses the constitutional line of establishing a religion is nonsense.”


Polls consistently find that high percentages of Americans believe in heaven and expect to spend eternity there. Various polls show that 80-90 percent of Americans believe in heaven. A Gallup Poll reported that 77 percent of Americans rated their chances of getting to heaven as “good” or “excellent.” Several near-death experience accounts of heaven — Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” and “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” — are all best sellers. Given this and the deep impact of 9/11 on Americans, the lively debate over the naming of this street in Brooklyn is not surprising. Belief in heaven has provided millions of Americans with hope as they face earthly struggles and death and has frequently helped inspire them to improve conditions on earth.
Posted by Jill Fallon at July 15, 2011 8:47 AM | Permalink