"HEAVEN: WHERE IS IT? HOW DO WE GET THERE?"
A SPECIAL EDITION OF "20/20"
Is Heaven Somewhere Out There Beyond The Stars? Barbara Walters Takes Viewers On A Heavenly Journey Airing Friday, July 6, 9-11 PM (ET) On ABC
For centuries man has looked to the sky and asked profound questions: where is heaven and how do we get there? People have dreamed of heaven, dedicated their lives to the promise of heaven, even martyred themselves - committing heinous acts of terrorism - for the promise of paradise. Is heaven simply a myth dreamed up to give lives meaning or is it a real place? Anchored by Barbara Walters, "Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There?" explores the meaning of heaven with religious leaders of the major faiths, scientists, people who say they believe in heaven because they have been there, with celebrities who are vocal about their beliefs, and even with terrorists. "Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There?" A Special Edition of "20/20," airs on Friday, July 6, 9-11 pm ET on the ABC Television Network. (Note: this is updated from previous airdate)
Walters takes viewers on a journey around the world - to India, Israel and throughout the United States. She interviews people of different religious and scientific beliefs, each with strong opinions about the afterlife. They discuss their visions of heaven, what happens to the body and why it is important to believe in heaven.
Catholic - Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, an Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C. says the purpose of life "is to come to the end of your life at peace with the lord so that you may find an eternal happiness in heaven�This life is not what we're made for. We're made for heaven. We're made for the future."
Jewish - "The purpose of life is to live a decent life� and that you do it for its own sake, not for getting a reward," says Rabbi Neil Gillman of the New York Jewish Theological Seminary. "There is a tremendous emphasis in our tradition about what you do with yourself in your lifetime here on earth."
Baptist - Reverend Calvin Butts, Pastor of New York's famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, who says he has seen heaven, tells Walters that heaven is "eternal joy and happiness because you are at one with God."
Mormon - Elder William R. Walker, a senior leader within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sets things straight about one of the world's fastest-growing religions. "I think there are some people who think we are not Christian, and that's a huge misconception," he tells Walters.
Buddhist - Walters traveled to the Himalayan Mountains to visit the mystical home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who says the purpose of life is to be happy and to accomplish that by "warm-heartedness." He says heaven "is [the] best place to further develop the spiritual practice� for Buddhists the final goal is not just to reach there but to become Buddha. [It's] not the end," and he tells Walters that you can come back as an animal: "If someone do very badly� kill or steal� [he] could be born in an animal body."
Walters also talks to longtime follower Richard Gere who tells her, "I don't think necessarily heaven and hell happen in some other life. I think it's right now."
Evangelical - The promise of heaven plays a central role in the lives of Evangelicals, who believe you must be born again.
Atheist - "No, heaven doesn't exist, hell doesn't exist. We weren't alive before we were born and we're not going to exist after we die. I'm not happy about the fact that that's the end of life but I can accept that and make my life more fulfilling now because this is the only chance I have," says Ellen Johnson, a former president of the American Atheists.
Muslim - Islamic scholar Feisal Abdul Rauf says there is sex in heaven: "the real life is the next life� and based upon how we live this life, it determines where we shall be in the next. We are told we will be in comfortable homes, reclining on silk couches� so we're given the delights of sex, the delights of wine, the delights of food with all of their positive things without their negative aspects."
Terrorists and Heaven - Jihad Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, is incarcerated in an Israeli prison for a failed suicide bombing and tells Walters that only Muslims will go to heaven and that the reason he chose a martyrdom operation was to spend an eternity in paradise. He also says "God compensates the martyr because he lost his life and lost the world on earth. He compensates him with 72 virgins in paradise."
The special also explores:
The Science of Heaven - Why does faith come easily to some and eludes others? In search of the scientific rationale for heaven, Walters talks to expert Dr. Dean Hamer, author of The God Gene, and a former geneticist at the National Institutes of Health. Is there really a "God Gene" that affects people's level of spirituality? The special also looks at studies of the brain itself to see if it undergoes changes when someone is deep in the throes of a spiritual experience. These studies were done by Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University.
Near-Death Experiences - Walters also examines the phenomenon of the near death experience. What happens when you journey to the other side of death and back? Is this a real glimpse of Heaven or is there a scientific explanation for the NDE? Many scientists and doctors believe that the near-death experience is simply a function of a dying brain. But not according to Deb Foster, who was clinically dead for about four minutes and says she saw Heaven. Deb tells Barbara, "I know what I experienced, and no scientist can deny the near death experience. There is not proof that it doesn't exist. It exists, and I was there." Walters also profiles Colton Burpo, who at four years old says he saw Heaven during emergency surgery. His father, Todd Burpo, a pastor, has written a bestselling book about his son's experience called "Heaven is for Real."
Heaven and Real People - How do you tell children what happens to their loved ones when they die? Who do you see when you arrive in heaven? Walters talks to such people as Maria Shriver, author of a children's book on heaven, and Mitch Albom, author of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, for their take on the afterlife.