Paradise Mislaid by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Topics: Religion, Christianity, God Pages: 6 (1942 words) Published: April 9, 2013
The title of the book is an illusion to John Milton's Paradise Lost, and provides us a history not only of heaven but also of the endless rewriting of its description. Russell gives us a lot to work with in historical facts, word definitions, and who influenced whom in religion, the church, and philosophies of the day. Well versed in religious and historical information pertaining to Christian belief this book based upon heaven and its religious, philosophical and scientific variations.

He shows us how heaven is where God is, love is, and subsists and not just exists; heaven can only related to in metaphor; and heaven/Christianity has been written and rewritten to better align with current beliefs. Russell also shows us how words, both past and present ineffectively describe heaven; we have removed ourselves from God – God did not leave; science/natural philosophy rely on real world proof; and no matter how close we get to one another, there will still be skeptics and disbelievers in heaven.

Heaven has been part of human history long before Jesus Christ appeared and metaphors have only been the only effective and powerful way to describe it. Brilliant as the sun, Light from all the stars, surround all life, in the joys of God could be one way to describe heaven. Is it the same as the person sitting next to me? Despite the fact that it seems bright in my heaven, another individual may describe as such: Full of love, God is Life, Musical notes abound, and nature is green. © 2009

Metaphors bring understanding to some people, to give it relevance and a focal point, and since heaven is a fantastic concept, each person’s heaven will be different. Neither true or false in its meaning, it connects us to our belief, our understanding, and our goal of an afterlife. It also opens our mind up to explore instead of similes where they point only to one comparison such as: Heaven is like a brilliant star. We only have one visual point, narrowed our idea of our belief, and in some ways made it small.

Russell states literal interpretation of heaven, God et al, is hard to obtain since no real place, person exists in order to describe. Therefore, we must describe in the best way possible with the words we have – brilliance, stars, light, love, and more. Heaven is the ideal, and each person’s interpretation of it is full of different language, words, and metaphors. Moreover, since most of the descriptions of heaven are Christian-based, most have stayed with metaphors which are consistent throughout time (e.g., Christ sits at the right hand of God. God sits in a throne.) Heaven is not a place to most, and as a result, there cannot be a throne for anyone to sit in. Metaphorically is the only way to describe something not real and make it so. Historically, heaven has changed with the eras, with the writers being the swaying factor of what people believed. Christian writers, theologians, and scholars rewrote the ideas of heaven and God many times over. Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Luther, Darwin, C.S. Lewis, and other writers gave us their viewpoints of heaven, their beliefs, and we adapted and incorporated each of them into our belief systems. © 2009

In order to fit religion into the real world and make it more appealing to people who believed in the physical, writers adapted and wrote versions of heaven that used more worldly metaphors. While based in Christianity, deviations as seen in many of their writings, are proof of the beliefs of the time. It is similar to the idea of history is written by the winner. Variations of where heaven was, who was there, what it looked like, and what you had to do in order to get there, can be seen throughout history.

Russell gives us many writers version of heaven, evolution, church beliefs, but the one which stayed with me throughout the book was Stuart Phelps, a 24-year old, who wrote about personal satisfaction – getting...
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