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
- If God exists, He is omnipotent and benevolent.
- If He were omnipotent and benevolent, then the world we live in would be perfect.
- The world is not perfect (there is hate, anger, greed, etc.)
- 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.