Monday, July 26, 2010

There must have been some point when I thought heaven was a great thing. Who wouldn't, after all, find the idea of a perfect existence appealing.  Gradually, though, the mystique fell away

Heaven, at least as the Christian mythology envisions it, is a strange and somewhat empty concept.  Talking about some sort of perfect place may seem all well and good, but it only stays that way if we don't examine it too closely. Perfection, like love or justice, is something that most people can get behind without any real agreement as to what they actually mean.  The nuts and bolts of perfection can vary greatly from person to person, and so does each persons concept of heaven.

I happen to enjoy books, so my perfect place would obviously include a library. Some of my coworkers, on the other hand, have something verging on phobia when it comes to the written word; any hint of it would likely be scrubbed from their version of heaven. Scenarios like this are easy to imagine and not always easy to resolve. While it might be that heaven could include libraries for those who enjoy them and other areas for people of different interests,  what happens when we extend things to the universal? If my idea of perfection includes only those who share my interests, where does that leave people who don't? Is heaven segregated?

While heaven has been consigned to the nebulous, hell has received a much more descriptive treatment. Lakes of fires, eternal dismemberment, a constant wailing and gnashing of teeth. Books are written detailing the fate of the damned in the most horrifying terms.Torment, it seems, is much easier to imagine than perfection.

Instead of working through the gritty details of heaven and hell and dissecting their issues, I'm going to look at things on a simpler level. Heaven I will take to be a place of contentment, hell a place of suffering.  With that in mind, I am going to work through a simple scenario to see where it leads.

Consider now a situation where you find yourself in heaven only to discover that a loved one has ended up in hell.  Personally, I would feel terrible if this occurred. The thought of someone I love suffering, especially eternally, is supremely disturbing. In fact, were I to find myself in this situation, I would feel compelled to help my unfortunate friend.

This of course, is something of a problem. If I follow the christian mythology, the sentence of hell is irrevocable. There is no possibility of relieving the suffering. Still, I cannot sit idly by, enjoying heaven while knowing that my loved one is suffering; to do so would be a torture itself. With no hope of granting relief, I would do the only thing I could. I would choose to share their suffering.

I don't think this is a drastic statement. Rather I think it flows naturally from human compassion.  This desire, to show some small measure of care by suffering alongside those you love rather than abandon them, seems to me innate to most humans. Perhaps I'm too much of an optimist, but I do think that most people would choose as I do.

There, I think, is where the snowball begins. Once I choose leave heaven and share the torments of hell, it seems to me that those who love me will follow suit. The same goes for those who love them, and so on. Soon enough, entire populations are suffering together in hell. Some, perhaps, would choose to remain in heaven, those people who are so concerned with themselves that nothing can phase them, but I would like to think that they are a minority.

Here, though, is the final kick. If God is indeed all-loving, then he has followed us down to hell as well. Being omnipotent, his infinite capacity to endure pain has relieved ours. Heaven, then, isn't an eternal reward, it's a final test to weed out the selfish, self-absorbed bastards.

Of course, I don't really believe any of this, but it is something to think about. The next time some kind-hearted theist tries to save you from the torments of hell, tell them you prefer it to the loneliness of heaven.

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