It is far more common nowadays to see references to the
afterlife-angels playing harps, demons brandishing pitchforks, God
among heavenly clouds, the fires of hell-in New Yorker cartoons
than in serious Christian theological scholarship. Speculation
about death and the afterlife seems to embarrass many of America's
less-evangelical theologians, yet as Greg Garrett shows, popular
culture in the U.S. has found rich ground for creative expression
in what happens to us after death. The rock music of U2, Iron
Maiden, and AC/DC, the storylines of TV's Lost, South Park, and
Fantasy Island, the implied theology in films such as The Corpse
Bride, Ghost, and Field of Dreams, the heavenly half-light of
Thomas Kinkade's popular paintings, and the supernatural landscape
of ghosts, shades, and waystations in the Harry Potter novels all
speak to our hopes and fears about what comes next. Greg Garrett
scrutinizes a wide array of cultural productions to find the
stories being told about what awaits us: depictions of heaven,
hell, and purgatory, angels, demons, and ghosts, all offering at
least an implied theology of life after death. The citizens of the
imagined afterlife, whether in heaven, hell, on earth, or in
between, are telling us about what awaits us, at once shaping and
reflecting our deeply held-if sometimes inchoate-beliefs. They
teach us about reward and punishment, about divine assistance in
this life, about diabolical interference, and about other ways of
being after we die. Especially fascinating are the frequent
appearances of purgatory, limbo, and other in-between places. Such
beliefs are dismissed by the Protestant majority, and quietly
disparaged even by many Catholics. Yet many pop culture narratives
represent departed souls who must earn some sort of redemption,
complete some unfinished task, before passing on. Garrett's
incisive analysis sheds new light on what popular culture can tell
us about the startlingly sharp divide between what modern people
profess to believe and what they truly hope to find after death.
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