HEAVEN – ARE THE DEAD THERE YET?

At various funerals I have attended I have heard lots of different statements about heaven, many contradictory, but virtually all delivered with great authority. At one funeral a somewhat surprised crowd were assured by a Christian spiritualist that: “This man has not died, he has merely gone through the garden gate”. Some churches teach that when end times arrive we shall all finally be united in heaven- and others teach that people who have admitted their sins have already gone to heaven -and still others that St Peter waits outside the Pearly gates to determine who is in and who shall be cast out into an eternity of servitude in the fiery pits. Some are sure that our departed parents are waiting for us there – and others that we will have to play harps and sing a lot of choruses.
(I fear I might be excluded if harp playing and singing in tune is a prerequisite).

You can find scriptures to support many different beliefs about life after death and predictions about end-times etc. I am assured by women who considered they should be allowed to speak in Church or pray without their heads being covered that although Paul was right on many things – he did not always get everything entirely correct! (Am I allowed to allow such things on the internet?) If this failing of Paul is true we might remember in passing that many of the authoritative statements about getting to heaven originate from Paul. Because the statements about after-life and end-times all refer to things which cannot be verified by anything other than non-verifiable statements from elsewhere – and because some of the predictions have now passed use-by date and have actually been shown not to have come to pass (including I might add, a statement ostensibly attributed to Jesus by one of the gospel writers about what people listening to him would experience in their lifetimes), just maybe we should say a little less with certainty.
In any case I want to suggest the huge list of failed prophecies (which I collected for one of my posts) should at least make us a little less confident and a little more cautious about setting ourselves up as authorities on such matters.
This being the case, why not simply admit the nature of statements about who gets to heaven and when it will happen are simply beyond our ability to know… yet there are lots of great ideas that can be implemented in the here and now, ie the things that James called “True Religion”. Jesus’ instructions about forgiving our enemies, turning the other cheek, do unto others etc and Paul’s lists like Love being patient and kind and keeping no score of wrongs etc etc give us plenty to go on with in the meantime.

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4 Responses to HEAVEN – ARE THE DEAD THERE YET?

  1. Rachel says:

    Hi … I agree there is a lot we don’t know and we need to be okay with that. I think it is misleading and presumptuous when preachers at funerals talk about this person in heaven … how do they really know? They do it in the name of comfort, but I agree – it is misleading and deceiving on many counts.

    Rachel

    • dave says:

      “There is a lot we don’t know and we need to be okay with that.” The belief in a life after death is a big part of many Western religions. The belief is a big ‘hope’ since a life after death is a contradiction in a natural sense, since all animals go through the life and death cycle; the belief implies human beings somehow have a way to circumvent this natural cycle.

      The belief in a life after death is a denial of death. I have held an old, ailing dog (our family pet) being euthanized and so have felt something that is quite alive simply fall asleep and become lifeless. The moment is certainly quite sad to imagine the future without someone or something that was very much part of the past. I can imagine someone trying to offer comfort that ‘he has not died’ but that is simply suggesting the actual circumstance, someone who was alive has just died, should be denied as if the person has just left the room.

      The concept of life after death is actually extremely scary. When we are awake, our consciousness (consciousness) is the dynamic interaction between our memories and our environment, through our senses and through our empathy for other people (since we are social beings). If there is some way that our consciousness persists after death then it is subject to permanent sensory deprivation, a form of torture intended to break a person’s capacity for reason.

      Tales of what people expect of heaven or hell always seem to presume sensory interaction. To resume acquaintances with deceased family or friends there must be some sensory interaction because that is the basis of our consciousness and our inherent social nature.

      If the life after death enables the consciousness to resume life in a ‘supernatural’ human form then this falls into the ‘parallel universe’ trap, a belief in something that is absolutely impossible to verify since it is by definition not of this universe (since in this universe the natural cycle of life and death reached its natural conclusion, so this other universe does not follow the rules of nature here). This is truly a religious belief, one that cannot be touched by reason.

      If the end of a human life is also the start of a new life after death (in this parallel universe), then what meaning is associated with the after life? The human life cycle (infancy, adolescence, adulthood, parent and wage earner, senior) is an adventure of different challenges along the way, with the evolving social context. How can there be a natural cycle when the next life is eternal? It has a start but no end? Eternity implies no need for growth (with no change) and hence no need for challenges. Happiness will arise only when there is an appreciation of its opposite, sadness. If there are no opposites then there is no vitality in the environment, just like day with no night, or warmth with no cold. Conflicts are necessary. A life with no challenge is also one with no purpose since the social community also has no purpose, when it has no social context to confront with possible success or failure.

      The only way the after life can be survived by a human consciousness is if the next existence is essentially the same as this existence, with natural cycles, conflicts and challenges, etc. After all, we have evolved to adapt to this environment so our social behaviors are suited to it. If all remains the same in the after life then the stories of heaven (eternal happiness!) and hell (eternal pain!) have no meaning as well since no change will be intolerable.

      If there is illness, death, and rebirth then the after life story becomes comical as this proposal becomes no different than the life experienced as a human being, except there are extra lives. Perhaps like a cat is said to have nine lives, do humans get only a certain number in the after life or is that number also infinite? This sounds like the movie Groundhog Day.

      The belief in a life after death is also a denial of this life. There is difficulty in defining this entity that will pass to the next life. Psychology is the study of individual and social behaviors. Just about everything that a person does involves a social context. The life after death is almost like cutting out one’s brain (the physical basis for our consciousness) and putting it into a new environment. Each organ is an integral part of a body’s physiology and grafting it somewhere else is difficult, for both the organ itself and the new host which might reject the intruder. The belief in the after life suggests one’s consciousness can be removed from one’s body and from one’s social environment and then can resume its old behaviors in a new external environment is a denial of our social nature as a human being. Each person is a part of their social context, and this organ analogy is obviously recognized when someone dies and everyone in the circle feels that change in the group, or when a new person enters a mature group and everyone in it must adapt.

      The belief in life after death does not stand up to critical scrutiny.

      The correct interpretation of human life is the concentration on this life and the social environment is the key both to one’s survival and to the enjoyment and challenges to be found in human existence.

      I have enjoyed several books about Korean Zen master Seung Sahn. He often ended his letters with something like: … I hope you only go straight, believe 100 percent in your everyday life, get enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

      What do you imagine is in this ‘true religion’ beyond concentrating on our humanity?

  2. peddiebill says:

    Some very interesting thoughts to ponder. I had never thought of the “scary” bits of life after death before, but I certainly follow your reasoning and find it persuasive.
    I would be interested in others reactions to your comments Dave. In this instance your comments are rather more interesting than the original post. As to the Zen master who talks about wishing to save all beings from suffering. Perhaps he sets the bar too high?

    • dave says:

      I take it only as a goal to pursue. Of course there will always be those in need but I expect most would agree that inequality can be moderated. Weather disasters and the like will always occur, just because those ups and downs are what the world does.

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