The promise of heaven plays a central role in the life of Pastor Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and his congregation. As an evangelical, Haggard believes if you are not a born again Christian, you have no assurance of going to heaven. But if you are "born again" in the belief that Jesus Christ is your personal savior, you are assured a place in Heaven. He also believes that this life is a sort of weigh station on the way to an eternal home. "Jesus Christ guarantees eternal life to anybody that'll follow him. … The purpose of life is to glorify God and go to heaven … 'cause heaven is our home."
Rabbi Neil Gillman, a professor of philosophy at New York's Jewish Theological Seminary, expressed Judaism's perspective on the afterlife. "For the past 2,000 years, most Jews believed that at death the body and the soul separate, the body is interred and disintegrates in the Earth, the soul goes off to be with God," he tells Walters. But that's not the end of the story. "At the end of days, God will resurrect bodies, will reunite body and soul, and the individual will come before God to account for his or her life," Gillman said.
Walters also traveled to India where she met with the Dalai Lama, considered by Buddhists to be the reincarnated Buddha. The Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is to be happy, and that you can accomplish that by "warm-heartedness." He tells Walters heaven "is [the] best place to further develop the spiritual practice … for Buddhist the final goal is not just to reach there, but to become Buddha. [It's] not the end."
As a Buddhist he believes in reincarnation and tells Walters that people can have second lives as animals. "If someone do[es] very bad, badly … kill or steal … [he] could be born in an animal body." Walters also talks to actor Richard Gere, a longtime follower of Buddhism. Gere tells Walters, "I don't think necessarily heaven and hell happen in some other life. I think it's right now."
Walters also speaks with scientists, who say they're beginning to understand why so many people believe in heaven. Still, they have yet to come up with the proof that it exists.
For most people, proof of Heaven's existence is not necessary. Faith is all they need. Dr. Dean Hamer, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, thinks he has figured out why this faith comes easily to some, but eludes others. "Whether a person is spiritual or not is not necessarily a matter of their will. It may be something innate about their personality," Hamer tells Walters.
Hamer suspects spirituality might be a personality trait encoded in our genes. He began his research by asking more than 1,000 people to answer a series of questions about faith and spirituality. He then tested DNA from the study participants and found that those who scored highest on his survey had a mutation of at least one gene that seemed to affect their level of spirituality. He named it "the God gene."
"It's a gene that's called VMAT2 and we can isolate it, and we can study it in detail. … This particular gene controls certain chemicals in the brain. And those chemicals affect how consciousness works. They affect the way that our feelings react to the events around us," he tells Walters.
Hamer also notes that researchers have been able to detect changes in the brain when people are in the midst of intense prayer or meditation.