Heaven on Birth

The recent death of George Carlin got me thinking again about a few things in recent dialog between me and my brother.  In his blog, he questioned the existence of an afterlife, and a slight comment debate sprung forth followed by a lovely conversation poolside a couple of weekends afterward.  Essentially, his main argument is that the existence of an afterlife requires the existence of infinity, for it would not make sense for an afterlife to terminate at any point, because, well, why would there be an afterlife then?  Furthermore, since the concept of infinity is irrational, then the concept of an afterlife is irrational and thus illogical/impossible/etc.  The argument holds water if you are willing to accept that infinity doesn’t exist.

However, it is not this, but one of his lesser arguments that I find myself pondering this morning.  Here is where I would really like to quote him, but my workplace has banned my ability to open the Blurty website (it deems it not work-related).  To paraphrase, he wrote that it cannot be expressly implied that the afterlife would be any better than our current life.  This is due to the fact that, empirically, we are able to assume that a new place will be in many ways similar to any other place we have been, and that the only differences will be superficial.  For instance, I have never been to see the Great Wall of China, but if I ever go there, I know that though there will be a really big wall and people who are culturally distinct from that of which I am accustomed, there will still be hate, ugliness, greed, happiness, love, gravity, a blue sky in the absence of cloud cover, various types of soil, water, etc.  So, if it is the souls currently on Earth who will inhabit Heaven, why would we expect the absence of such things as hate and greed once we get there?

But even this is not what I mean to post about today.  In fact, it is something of an opposite.  What I mean to post about today is the Judeo/Christian faith that Heaven will be a utopia where everyone happily coexists and there is no anger or injustice or prejudice or fear.

Here is my question: why must we suffer a life on Earth if it is possible for there to be a life such as Heaven?

This all falls under a couple of predefined notions.  First, that God is benevolent, and second, that God is omniscient.  Again, these are both held very highly in the Judeo/Christian faith.  It is assumed that God knows the entire path of every soul, and it is assumed that God wants the best for His children.  Hence, God knows, when I am born, whether or not I will lead a righteous life, and whether or not my actions and beliefs will earn me a right to pass through the pearly gates.  In other words, He knows whether or not I will be in Heaven one day, yet He forces me to live out my 70-whatever years on this planet.  If I am Heaven-bound, and Heaven is so great, why am I here?

This is reminiscent of the many great questions of the past, such as why do bad things happen to good people, or, if God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is our world so shitty?  The so-called Argument from Imperfection uses this to try to prove that God does not exist.  It is argued that

  1. If God exists, He is omnipotent and benevolent.
  2. If He were omnipotent and benevolent, then the world we live in would be perfect.
  3. The world is not perfect (there is hate, anger, greed, etc.)
  4. Therefore, God does not exist.

This is one of many traps believers fall into once they accept that God is omnipotent and benevolent.  The answer to this?  Some have said that this in fact is the most perfect world that could have been created considering the fact that we as human beings are flawed.  Others have said that a “perfect world” is an impossibility, and if something is impossible, then even something all-powerful could not create it.  I don’t care if either of these is right, or if both are wrong.  This is not the point of this post.

The point of this post is that according to this faith system, the afterlife – Heaven – is better than this life.  In fact, it’s a lot better.  No matter what, then, God knows that He created a life on Earth that is inferior to the life we lead when we die.  So my question remains, why do we have to live this one?  I’m not trying to disprove the existence of God or an afterlife.  I’m just asking the question.

True, this life is not all that terrible.  There is a great deal of beauty in the world, and there are a great many emotions and traits that are altogether human in nature.  It can be assumed, then, that these more human traits will not be experienced in Heaven.  Such would seem unfortunate, but perhaps would not be.  They are, after all, beastly traits compared to those of our pure souls.  On the org chart of all of creation, humans would be just barely above primates, and far below even the lowest angel.  But it is these base characteristics that keep life entertaining – lust, envy, passion, enjoying the taste of food that is really bad for you, enjoying the sensation of drunkenness.  If we lived entirely pure lives, they would be fucking boring.  Surely the omniscient God must know this; surely He must have designed this.  So perhaps it is our time with these base desires that is the purpose of this life, for afterwards we are destined to an eternity of purity. 

An eternity of boring purity?  No thank you.  In that scenario, the afterlife does not seem superior to this life.  Hence, the afterlife would allow us these base desires as well.  In that case, there will be inhabitants of Heaven who will take it too far, who will rob, rape, steal, etc.  As such, my brother is correct, and the afterlife isn’t really all that great – it’s just a continuation of this life.

On the other hand, I suppose it’s possible that our pure spirit forms simply will have none of these base desires in the first place, and therefore won’t be missing anything.  We’ll just float around for eternity in a state of complacent happiness.  That doesn’t really sound all that great, either, but what do I know? 

All I’m wondering right now is if the afterlife is eternal and is wonderful and we should all be very happy to leave this world and go to that one, why even live the meaningless life on Earth?  Especially if the afterlife is eternal.  I mean, think about it.  I don’t even remember a lot of what happened last year.  Do you really think that as millennia pass, you’ll remember the experiences you had on Earth?  Not bloody likely.

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8 thoughts on “Heaven on Birth

  1. One of my favorite taglines that just about every Christian I’ve ever debated with has used at some point in their “argument” is that “Mortal men can never know God’s true plan”. If you think that sounds like a total cop-out then we’re on the same page.

    Anyway, with that said, and assuming we’re all God-fearing Christians (BTW, if God’s so Good, why should any Christian fear him?), pondering the meaning of life (which, let’s face it, you are) is only fruitful for purely philosophical (re: trivial) purposes. All of your attempts at explaining God’s rationale are done in vain, for your lowly mind isn’t mean to know such grandiose things.

    If we are to keep up this facade that we’re strict Judeo-Christians, then the only explanation you’ll get for why we have to live this terrestrial life in the first place is one of dismissal and avoidance. In order to get any real or interesting answers, you’ll have to ask a non-Christian, but then you’re likely to get an answer that doesn’t have anything to do with Heaven, which is what spawned the question in the first place.

  2. As the purpose of the post was an exploration into philosophy/theology, I thank you for your acknowledgement that the act of pondering the meaning of life is, in fact, fruitful.

    However, I never meant to imply that we are “God-fearing Christians” or “strict Judeo-Christians”. Nor should it be assumed that anyone reading and agreeing/disagreeing with anything mentioned in this post needs to be. I am simply working within the framework of that faith system and using the assumptions built into that framework with the intent of asking a question with no definite answer. I can only hope that doing so will cause the reader to ponder something not before pondered, whether or not trivial.

  3. If you’re going to ask a question using the specific framework and assumptions of a religious group, then the only acceptable answer would be one that is based on that same framework and assumptions, whether it’s sensical or non-.

    That’s like saying you have a flow that is specifically NOT incompressible, steady state, laminar, nor frictionless and then asking the problem-solver to use Bernoulli’s equation to solve (instead of the Navier-Stokes equation which they should…unfortunately, the Navier-Stokes equation in its pure un-simplified form is unsolvable, kind of like the question of the meaning of life…see how I tied it all together there?).

  4. You are correct. The only acceptable answer to the question I raised in this post would be formed using the framework of the Judeo/Christian faith, since the question was raised from and directed at the scope of that faith. I don’t understand why you are arguing that that is an invalid method of debate. If I were questioning the reasoning behind the doctrine of reincarnation, an acceptable answer would not be “because Jesus said so”.

  5. Why wouldn’t the meaning of life be to live? If God set the standards by which all good people should live, why wouldn’t he be using life as a screening process for the afterlife? It would make sense to do so to keep the bad people (rapists, thieves, murderers, etc.) out.

    This world could be a way to test humankind’s willingness to have faith in a Judeo-Christian belief system. Just a thought.

    Or it could be 42.

  6. I think that’s widely held as the standard for why we are here by Christians. They would say that this is our trial in order to make sure we are Heaven material. The two arguments against that that I raised in this article (though admittedly not all that lucidly) were:

    1) God already knows everything, so He already knows who is going to Heaven, so there’s no need for the test; why not just separate the souls out now and get it all over with?

    2) We are only on this planet for 70 some-odd years on average, yet we live in an afterlife for eternity. We’ll forget everything from this life after, say, 10,000 years in the afterlife. So if the meaning is just to experience this world, as time extends out infinitely, that meaning becomes meaningless.

    Now, if this world is just a way to test humankind’s willingness to have faith, or on a more grand scale to test humankind in its entirety, well, that is an interesting concept. Even Maxwell might enjoy the thought that an anonymous godhead created existence, set it into motion (including evolution, etc.), and did so just to test some ideas it had for humans, giraffes, duck-billed platypi, etc.

    Or, yes, it could just be 42.

  7. Most definitely 42 is the answer to “life” and “the universe”, and perhaps even “everything” for that matter. But what, pray tell, is the question? It certainly isn’t “What’s 9 times 6?” as Adams suggests, for even mathematically that does not compute.

    You are right though, J.D., that I rather do enjoy the thought that some omnipotent yet apathetic “god” created this crazy train we call the universe, gave it some coal and set it ablaze, only to sit back in enjoyment and watch us derail ourselves.

    That said, my ultimate belief, which is entirely separate from the Judeo-Christian belief that God is omniscient, benevolent, and the mayor of some eternal utopia, is that the meaning of life is simply to live. Since we only have 70-100 or so years to live (depending on the state of medical technology), it only makes sense that our purpose in life is to live those years to their fullest. There’s something to be said for those “Bucket List” enthusiasts, and some famous philosopher whose name I don’t care to look up (though I’m sure J.D. can and will fill in the gap) said that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Nietzsche?), a statement with which I completely agree.

    Of course, if I were to further ostracize myself from Judeo-Christianity, I would say that the meaning of life is to procreate. Surely this is true for all of “God’s creatures”, from the smallest of prokaryotes to the greatest of Blue Whales, and they all seem more than willing to oblige (given, that is, that man doesn’t make them extinct). Since Man is nothing more than just another breed of animal (this is where the ostracizing comes in), it’s quite logical that our duty is to further the dominance and breadth of our species.

    I suppose that a die-hard Christian would make a similar claim, though I doubt that he would say that that is our “purpose” in life. If he were truly devout, he would say that our duty is to “spread the word of God,” and by “spread” he means kill anyone who denies the Ultimate Power that is God (see also: numerous Holy Crusades).

  8. So, I did end up looking that famous philosopher up, and it was Socrates not Nietzsche (could his name be any harder to spell?), but I suppose everybody already knew that except for me.

    Anyway, I looked it up mostly out of fear that I took that quote completely out of context and that it was actually trying to say something along the lines of “without religion you’re doomed to an eternity of Hell”, but was glad to find that I was spot on with my interpretation. Socrates said that while on trial and encouraged his students to seek the answers to life’s question without binding themselves to the popular beliefs of their society. I think that fits quite nicely with what I was trying to say. Guj!

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