Sunday, June 1, 2014

Heaven is for Real! And I'm Supposed to be Impressed?

One of the questions I like to ask theists that highlights the absurdity of their beliefs is this: “What is Heaven like?” Upon hearing this question, I often see the theist’s eyes light up, but not in that, “I’m glad you asked!” kind of way. No, more like the wheels in their head start turning, gearing up to turn out some fantastical vision of their own making. But I think the question is quite fair given that going to Heaven is the goal of any given (mono)theist’s beliefs. If Heaven is the goal, one should have a fairly good idea what they’re pursuing. Given the importance of Heaven, I would think that whatever Heaven is would be clearly spelled out in religious texts if for no other reason than to motivate the believer to follow the rules necessary to get to Heaven.

Instead, what I get when I ask this question are answers as individual as the people describing Heaven. And this has to be so because Heaven is not adequately described either physically or in terms of what ‘life’ will be like, at least not in the Bible. There are much fewer passage in the Bible describing Heaven than the word itself is used. That being so, theists are forced to use their imaginations when thinking about moving to the Big City. But let’s take a look at some descriptions from around the Web that are at least somewhat scripturally-based:

1)     “Heaven is a place of ‘no mores.’ There will be no more tears, no more pain, and no more sorrow (Revelation 21:4). There will be no more separation, because death will be conquered (Revelation 20:6). The best thing about heaven is the presence of our Lord and Savior (1 John 3:2). We will be face to face with the Lamb of God who loved us and sacrificed Himself so that we can enjoy His presence in heaven for eternity.”

2)     “Most of us have heard that heaven is a place where the streets are paved with gold, the gates are made of pearl, and the walls made of precious jewels. Those images come from Revelation 21, which offers us the most extended picture of heaven in the entire Bible. If you ask me if I believe those things are literally true, the answer is yes and no. Yes, they are literally true but no, heaven won't be anything like we imagine. It will be much greater.”

3)     “So what will we do for all eternity? The answer is, we're going to help God run the universe…We will use our gifts to administer the new heaven and the new earth. Bakers will bake, teachers will teach, singers will sing, and I suppose that preachers will preach. For all I know, soldiers may march off to battle and quarterbacks will throw passes. Think of the flowers the botanists will study. Gifted astronomers will go from galaxy to galaxy studying the wonders of God's creation.”

4)     “Heaven has a river, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] down the middle of the city. On each side of the river there will be a tree of life, yielding twelve kinds of fruit every month. The streets will be pure gold, like transparent glass. The walls of the city will be adorned with every kind of jewel, emerald, onyx, amethyst, topaz, etc. There will be no need for a sun or moon, and no need for a temple or church. The presence of the Lord will be its light.”

What I laugh at the most when given the physical descriptions of Heaven is that if I visually imagine it, Heaven starts sounding like an episode of Pimp My House. Precious metals and jewels galore, oh my! Really? If everyone has these things, they’re not valuable anymore. Is God trying to wow us by showing us how rich he is? Sorry God, but not only do we have enough rich assholes flaunting their wealth on Earth but personally, I’m not that big a fan of gold, aesthetically speaking. Description-wise, I’ve failed to be impressed by anyone’s vision of Heaven seeing how obviously these visions relate to the desires of the person making such claims.

As for what ‘life’ would be like, I often hear from believers that we would spend most of our time (if not all) worshipping God for eternity. That sounds like it can get old fast, say, after a century or two, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Moreover, this notion of eternal worship again raises the question of why God requires worship or even wants to be. Regarding the third gem above, why would God need any help running the universe and why does running the universe sound a lot like the things we’re already doing on Earth? I’m particularly incredulous at the idea that soldier might go off to battle and kill people, er, that can’t die since this is Heaven, a place of ‘no mores’ according to the first gem? I’m surely not able to reconcile those two visions.

Here’s the thing about going to Heaven, a place where there is no more dying, pain, sorrow, suffering, etc. God could have created a situation where everyone started off in Heaven. BUT, apparently one is required to suffer first in order to deserve a room at God’s 1,000 star hotel. Not only that, but one has to increase their suffering by denying themselves many Earthly pleasures or pleasure of the flesh in order to deserve being somewhere where there is no suffering. On Earth, the believer is constantly tested (whether by themselves or by others or by situations) in order to be given a prize. And that’s where the catch-22 comes in: On Earth, all this suffering and free will stuff is a virtue but in Heaven these virtues are no longer necessary. While we often pass tests to see if we’re deserving of certain statuses, being required not to pass any more tests means whatever position I have in Heaven (assuming I’ve earned it; I’m not doing so good thus far…) will lock me into that fate. The theist may contend that I wouldn’t want to do anything else but be in the presence of God once I’m in Heaven, but I fail to see how this differs from being a mindless robot with no free will. So again I have to ask why didn’t God just make things like this to begin with?

The typical defense for such a grand oversight in the descriptions of Heaven is that the idea is beyond human imagination or understanding. Okay, so if I can’t imagine it or understand it, where does anyone get off claiming Heaven is somewhere we should want to go? Oh, that’s right, faith. But each person taking their vision of Heaven on faith means that there is no single unifying vision which means that even given a best case scenario all but one person’s vision of Heaven is wrong, if that one person is even correct. The choices then become this: Either everyone is wrong about Heaven, only one person is right about Heaven, or everyone is right about Heaven. It’s probably the case that everyone is wrong, but in case only one person’s vision is true, no one knows (pretending to know doesn’t count) who that person is. If we take option number three, that everyone is right about Heaven, I’m surely better off becoming a believer seeing how my Heaven is going to have strippers and a beer volcano.

As it stands, I don’t see a compelling reason to want to go to Heaven based upon all the current descriptions. Of course, I’m open to hearing fantastic visions, just be prepared for a lot of questions. There aren’t a lot of reviews of Heaven on Trip Advisor and I’m one those people who is really choosey about my accommodations, especially one that’s going to be forever.

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