Nearly nine out of 10 people in the United States say they believe in heaven, according to a recent ABC News poll. But what exactly do people think of when they think of an afterlife and what do they believe is required to get there?
Barbara Walters travels to India, Israel and throughout the United States, interviewing religious leaders, scientists, believers and non-believers alike to get a range of perspectives on heaven and the afterlife.
Every culture has wrestled with the question of an afterlife, and most have come to a similar conclusion: The bad end up in Hell, the good go to Heaven.
If you were a Viking who died in battle, fierce goddess warriors known as the Valkyries would carry you to Viking Heaven, Valhalla, where you would join an eternal feast. The Romans thought they became immortal and were spirited off to Paradise on a fiery four-horse chariot.
The early Christians and Jews believed that man was not pure enough to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as flesh and blood. They believed all people were transformed into spiritual beings, filling Heaven with angels.
That belief has changed over the centuries, but angels still have an important connection with heaven. In cities all over the world, angels can be seen in watchful poses. "We believe that they are the ones who take care of us. They are the messengers of God. They are the ones who are God's very special friends and his servants," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., and chancellor of Catholic University.
"I always think of heaven as being a place where we won't have any troubles anymore. Heaven is a place where there will be peace and tranquility," McCarrick said. As a Catholic, McCarrick believes heaven is more than a spiritual place. Catholics, he explained, believe the body is resurrected. "I'm looking forward to meeting my mom and dad and the rest of my family," he added.
The Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, pastor of New York's famed Abyssinian Baptist Church, tells Walters he has had many visions of heaven over the years. He describes heaven as "no tears, no mourning, no suffering. It's eternal joy and happiness because you are at one with God."
Butts says he's certain of heaven's existence, but says it's in an indescribable dimension. "Heaven is in another dimension. So you don't necessarily have to look up but you can look out and see heaven. Heaven is a fourth dimension if you will," he tells Walters.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, tells Walters he believes heaven is indeed a physical place, but getting there depends on your behavior in this life. "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."