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Vanilla skies Heaven Peter Stanford 3844pp HarperCollins St Augustine thought nobody farted there St Thomas Aquinas saw it as a celestial Trades Union Congress - a place where the communion of the saints ruled co-operatively But the Scandinavian version meant a lot of singing boar-eating and mead-drinking Heaven cant always wait Peter Stanfords brisk popular theology - a mixture of creeds anecdotes and history - shows how the waiting turns into imaginative star-gazing To write a history of heaven is also to write a history of thought itself because as we look upwards we resolutely project from what counts as important for us in the existential present The Augustinian heaven reflected the neuroses of the man from Hippo the ascetic on the run from a sensualist past Aquinas produced a heaven of hierarchies that reflected the dynamic feudalism of his age The iron-clad Valkyries in Valhalla meanwhile made Teutonic sense for an early medieval warrior society Stanford provides a wise guide to the entire celestial anthropology Practically everybody of any consequence who has looked into the skies and tried to write it all down gets a mention And although the perspective is western and CatholicChristian Stanfords net is widely drawn In a nice reversal of the conventional categories he shows how it is the eastern religious tradi tion that has been individualising while the western one has emphasised the collective Too many orthodox Christians still like to parody eastern religions imputing to them a belief that the essence of the All is the Oneness of the True But the Buddhist revolution meant a highly interiorised examination of the self Heaven the place may be static But heaven the thought is always evolving The success of the Christian version owes a lot to its readiness to adapt to circumstances The idea that the body would be resurrected after death was borrowed from Judaism which itself picked up the notion when the tribes of Israel came
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