Heaven can’t be cut out of the garment of faith.

When I was a teenager, I would have been happy to do away with heaven. I felt that it was a disreputable concept.

I had a pragmatic mind, and the idea that Christianity’s value depended on something I could not see or know about, some place vaguely celebrated as having golden streets, disturbed me. I remember questioning a Sunday school teacher on the subject. “But even if there were not a place like heaven, even if life ended at death, don’t you think Christianity would be worthwhile?” I got a hesitant yes, and I felt better. I wanted a faith that was practical and valuable here and now. If I got a bonus after life, that would be fine, but it was not the reason I believed.

Why did I feel this way, which was at odds with the way so many Christians before me had felt? I think the period of my youth, in the 1960s, set many of us apart from the generations before. Through its events we lost any sense that we were part of history. The moon walk, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Vietnam nightmare, the new math, marijuana and LSD, encounter groups—all these were, it seemed to my generation, a departure from everything that had ever happened. We had no certainty where they would lead us. To heaven on Earth? To hell on Earth? Both views had their partisans.

Once lost, a sense of history—the continuity with the importance of time out of reach, forward and backward—is very hard to regain. For my generation, Christianity focused around two poles. We wanted at one pole a practical Christianity that helped people form sound marriages, raise their children well, form positive friendships, help their community and their world, work hard, and live well. That was the outside of life. The ...

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