I rarely pick up the AARP magazine, but a stint in my eye doctor's waiting room got me reading "Life After Death." The article describes the results of a poll that asked people over 50 questions about death, religion, heaven/hell, reincarnation and such.
Death scares me. Not as much now as it used to, but I've still got a primal fear of not-existing.
Looks like I don't have a whole lot of company, since only 20% agreed that "Thinking about my own death and what happens to me after I die scares me."
Interestingly, the somewhat religious were more afraid of death (25%) than the very religious (16%) or not at all religious (13%). Uncertainty breeds fear, it seems.
Given that 94% believe in God, it isn't surprising that 88% of those polled believe they'll be in heaven after they die. However, those responding said that just 64% of all people get to heaven.
Only 17% thought that people who don't believe in Jesus Christ go to hell, which is lower than I would have expected. In fact, just 29% said that believers in Jesus enter in to heaven. This points to less fundamentalism among American Christians than is generally believed to exist.
Another sign: 23% believed in reincarnation. The article quotes Jeffrey Burton Russell, a historian:
If you took this study 50 years ago, the belief in reincarnation would be down at about one percent. Generally, the traditionally clear Christian vision of Heaven has declined, while the vaguer visions of the continuation of life have taken its place.
Sounds like a good trend to me. I can understand why people seek reassurance from their religion that death won't be the final chapter in the story of their existence. The End isn't an appealing final plot twist.
But divisiveness and intolerance sprout when visions of an exclusive heaven dance through religious heads, the gates to paradise thought to be open only to a select few.
So it was nice to learn that just 40% believe heaven is "a place," while 47% say it is a state of being. I wonder, though, where you reside after death in your state of heavenly being. No place? Placelessness? Every place?
(Detailed poll results are in a PDF file here).