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Books on Heaven Can’t Wait for Readers

What the afterlife holds, only heaven knows. But three new and forthcoming books explore this eternal question, and pursue a market revealed by the success of the bestselling Christian books "90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life" (Revell, 2004) by Don Piper with Cecil Murphy and "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn (Tyndale, 2004).

According to journalist Richard Schweid, what people through time and around the globe believe happens after death boils down to three things:Our bodies are resurrected. Our souls move on. Or death is the end.

The long illness of his mother, who died in March 2005, led Schweid to research these convictions for "Hereafter: Searching for Immortality" (Thunder’s Mouth Press, Aug.). It’s a first book directly about religion for the Barcelona-based author of "Che’s Chevrolet and Fidel’s Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba" (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and "Consider the Eel: A Natural and Gastronomic History" (UNC hardcover, 2002; Perseus Press paper, 2004).

Schweid talked to clergy, scholars and everyday folks, and conducted research in his native Nashville, in Barcelona, and in Varanasi, India. He looked at evidence of people’s afterlife views as far back as 7,000 years ago, examined accounts of near-death experiences, and watched an autopsy.

“People who’ve read the book seem to feel that I come down strongly on the side of ‘this is the only life there is’,” Schweid told RBL. “But I began the book as a confirmed agnostic, and I finished the book as a confirmed agnostic.”

Deepak Chopra’s "Life After Death: The Burden of Proof" (Harmony, Oct.) also was inspired by the deaths in recent years of his parents. Chopra, who grew up in India and has a Hindu background, believes in reincarnation. He points to scientific studies beginning to support that view, including a University of Virginia investigation of children who remember past lives and a University of Arizona inquiry into psychics’ communication with the dead. Chopra writes about how information theory—the idea that information, like matter and energy, cannot be obliterated—relates to soul survival.

“Death is the way that we all recycle ourselves, and the universe recycles itself,” Chopra told RBL.

At 26, Nathan Bierma, a Christian in the Dutch Calvinist tradition, seems young to be thinking about the next world. But the subject has fascinated him since at least high school, and he wrote Bringing "Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next" (P&R Publishing, 2005) with college students and twenty-somethings in mind.

He says he started work on the book when the "Left Behind" craze was at its zenith. “I wasn’t trying to take on the 'Left Behind' series, but I was saying there was a different vision of the end times and of eternal life in the Bible.”

Bierma believes everything we see here now—culture, work, play, nature, sidewalks—is a preview of a heaven that will be more meaningful than the conventional, vague visions of eternity. His message: “Take a new picture of heaven, and let that drive you in your daily life."