Q: Last week I attended a tour and luncheon at a South Florida museum with a wonderful collection of Broadway costumes. It was a great tour, and it gave me some insight regarding faith. I grew up more than 1,000 miles from New York City, and never saw a Broadway show until I was an adult. Nor did any of my friends or neighbors, but my mother loved Broadway musicals and I grew up listening to the scores of “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma” and “West Side Story.” To this day that music makes me smile. I had no proof — until I entered that first Broadway theater years later — that Broadway actually existed. But as a kid, while the records played on the turntable, I would sing the songs out loud and dance around the living room. During those years, I never doubted that the theaters and Broadway productions were there. Last week I realized that heaven is a lot like Broadway. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it’s there.
— From S, somewhere in South Florida
A: My experience growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and spending summers visiting my maternal grandparents in Wichita, Kansas, was very much like your childhood. I would listen to the recordings of Broadway musicals in my home and in my grandparents’ home. I still vividly remember listening to Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin in “South Pacific.” I did not dance around the house, but I sat transfixed at the music and lyrics and at the passion that made them seem perfectly matched. It was fantasy in the service of love and art and it had a great moral message. I, too, never visited New York City until later in my life. We took a car trip to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. That was the first time I saw a Broadway musical. It was “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” with Robert Morse. Nowadays, I miss songs about love with melodies. Thanks to my folks, my nature and Broadway musicals, I remain a hopeless romantic.
However, I think there are more than just obvious and trivial differences between believing in a Broadway you have not seen yet and believing in a heaven you have not seen yet. Broadway musicals were “seeable” even before you saw your first one. Heaven is not seeable in the same way. Nobody can go to heaven and take a selfie with an angel, listen to the heavenly choirs, visit with Aristotle, Freud, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad; and report back. There is evidence for the existence of Broadway and for the existence of heaven, but it is different kinds of evidence.
Broadway is empirical evidence, which is the evidence you can see, touch, taste, or put on a poster. The evidence for heaven comes from the promise of God through our sacred texts, which is enough for those who already believe in them. For others, belief in heaven can be a spiritual inference from the belief that we are not just material beings, but have within us a part that is immaterial. One can call this our soul — as I do — or one’s consciousness. It seems reasonable, even without the testimony of revelation, that the part of us that is not matter, cannot die but lives on in some way and in some place. That place is heaven. Heaven also functions as a necessary belief for those who want to believe that goodness is rewarded and evil is punished in some place beyond our lives here on planet Earth.