The Quest for Paradise

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A common belief in many religions is that death is not an end but a transition from this life to eternal life. Ideas of what eternity constitutes vary greatly in various myths and religions. In The Quest for Paradise: Visions of Heaven and Eternity in the World’s Myths and Religions, John Ashton and Tom Whyte, who are specialists in comparative religious studies, describe attitudes toward the afterlife not just in the major monotheistic religions, i.e. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but also in societies from ancient Egypt and Greece to modern African and Native American cultures. The breadth and objectivity of their analyses are impressive.

Among certain people, such as the Aztecs and ancient Egyptians, an idyllic afterlife was reserved for members of the ruling or warrior classes whereas ordinary people spent eternity in more unattractive and somber places. Other religions, however, offered all believers the possibility of spending eternity in a paradise of one form or another. In Islam, for example, paradise is often represented as a beautiful and well-irrigated garden. In all of the three major monotheistic religions, the story of Adam and Eve is an integral aspect of the desire for the afterlife because it represents a search for paradise lost due to sin that believers hope to experience again after death. John Ashton and Tom Whyte explain very well the complex evolution of images of the afterlife in the three major monotheistic religions but also in Buddhism, Hinduism, and many aboriginal and Native American religions. This is an excellent reference work in the field of comparative religions.