Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gary Scott Smith

Gary Scott Smith chairs the History Department at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

His latest book is Heaven in the American Imagination.

From his Q & A with Paul Kengor at Catholic Lane:

Kengor: Do most Americans today retain a traditional Christian understanding of heaven?

Smith: As I have explained, my book details how images of heaven have changed over time in response to different social, political, intellectual, and economic conditions and challenges. Not surprisingly, the conceptions that many contemporary Christians (and others) have of the afterlife have been significantly shaped by recent cultural trends, most notably: increased anxiety (caused by devastating terrorist attacks, severe economic recession, and global social problems), the impact of the therapeutic worldview (which exalts self-fulfillment and personal happiness), the emergence of an entertainment culture (which stresses pleasure and amusement), concerns about the breakdown of the family and the impoverishment of personal relationships, and the growing acceptance of a postmodern, relativistic perspective on life.

Influenced by these trends, many Americans have portrayed paradise as a place of comfort, self-actualization, bliss, enriching entertainment, and robust fellowship. These views are portrayed in a variety of best-selling books and in numerous pop, rock, country, and religious songs. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is the tale of a murdered 14-year-old girl who watches events on earth while exploring heaven, while Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a story about an octogenarian amusement park worker’s life review while in heaven. Both have been made into movies. Anthony DeStefano’s A Travel Guide to Heaven is a highly speculative tour of the wonders and joys of paradise, which topped’s best-seller list several times. These portraits clash with earlier ones that view heaven primarily as place of worshipping God and serving Him and others.

Kengor: How has the New Age movement affected our views of Heaven?

Smith: Since 1980, Americans have...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Heaven in the American Imagination.

--Marshal Zeringue