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On Heaven & the Afterlife

An article on the Washington Post website asks :
What is your vision of heaven? What images from scripture, tradition or your own personal experience describe it best?
The answer given by Paula Kirby seems to me to be the best, most well thought out response to a question such as this.

I recommend you read it, but to summarize,  she says:
To a Christian, the only point of life is to win a place in heaven to be with God for ever. But what is the point of that? Apparently it is to praise God for his goodness in sending Jesus so that we could be saved from the eternity of torment that would otherwise have awaited us in hell (and there's another preposterous idea that has caused more than its fair share of avoidable human misery, but perhaps that will be a subject for another day).
Fortunately, there is not the slightest evidence that points towards the existence of heaven, for it would be nothing but unspeakable tedium. I can't help thinking that the people who find the concept appealing just haven't thought it through. Susan Ertz got it spot on with her witty remark that 'Millions yearn for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon'.
Absolutely!  Can you imagine spending eternity - not just a long time, but eternity in any state, let alone a state of bliss?

She goes on to quote blogger Steve Zara, who describes the tedium that this would entail, and the ultimate meaninglessness that the timescales involved give our short lives.

We live for say, 80 years. 1000 years later we are in heaven, in some kind of drugged-up happy state worshipping god. 10,000 years later, the same. 1,000,000 years later the same. 100,000,000 years later, the same. Life has changed on Earth, and so have the continents. But in heaven, it's just one happy drug party. 3 billion years in the future, the Milky Way collides with Andromeda. The heavens change, but not Heaven. 100 billion years, and most of the stars have gone out. Civilizations cluster around black holes to farm their energy. Heaven is still a permanent High. Trillions of Trillions of years, and perhaps the universe is more full of intelligent life than ever, as black holes provide vast energy. In Heaven we are still praising God, and he shows no sign of getting bored of it. 10^120 years, and the last black holes have evaporated. There is still potential for change, and so there might still be life, but with each thought lasting a billion years. God is getting a bit bored, so a promotes a couple of angels to become Seraphim. But on with the bliss and praising! Uncountable trillions of years, and a random fluctuation creates a point of inflation and a new big bang. But even this time is infinitely small compared with the endless bliss and praising the Lord that is our fate, our initial 80 years of life seeming of utter insignificance.

I for one agree that the very idea of a heaven and an afterlife sounds ridiculous. I admit that it might be nice for those who die young to live out a natural life in another realm.  Perhaps this is what religious types really want; not an infinity, just some sort of reprieve for those who die before "their time"?  Yeah, that might be cool, but unfortunately there's simply no evidence that such a realm exists.  The best we can do is live the best lives we can, generating and creating our own personal meanings, and making everyone else's lives as pleasant as we possibly can in the short time we have.

I don't think a real Christian, when confronted with the idea of existing for billions or trillions of years really wants that?  We can't even imagine 1000 years - our brains simply don't have the capacity to deal with this kind of timescale.  Dealing with deep time, on universe timescales boggles (literally) the mind. Can you imagine remembering the year 1066?

Meaning is personal.  I get mine in the friendships and relationships I build and maintain.  Also in the joys I find; love, friendship, music, knowledge, science & technology. Why would I want anything more?


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