#SKEPTIMERGENT: the afterlife is for lovers

#SKEPTIMERGENT: the afterlife is for lovers February 25, 2013

If you’ve never come across it, you might find Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence to be really helpful like I have. There is debate about whether Nietzsche actually believed it. I highly doubt that he did, but, nevertheless, I think it’s an interesting thought experiment.

The basic idea is that you should live your life as if you would have to repeat it exactly the way you have lived it, over and over, forever. For me, this has helped me to rethink many of the things that I have chosen to do with my life. If I wouldn’t want to do whatever it is, forever, then why I am doing it? What kinds of things would I do differently, knowing that I would have to do them over and over again? Would I make the same commitments? Spend time with the same people? Work the same job? And on and on.

I love thinking about this kind of stuff.

Earlier today I had a random thought – another thought experiment, if you will – which made me ask some similar questions:

What if it turns out that the only people who are given entrance to an afterlife are those who are able to love, embrace, enjoy this life?

Before I go any further, though, I do want to point out that I don’t actually believe this will happen. The only “afterlife” that I can bring myself to believe in is the idea that “one lives on only through the stories, accounts and anecdotes that are told about one.”

But, if someone had the time, I’m wondering if this line of thought might actually be a good interpretation of much of what Jesus seemed to be getting at. Rather than interpreting ideas about “much being given” as a result of “winning souls” or doing a lot of “work for the Kingdom” or something like that, what if Jesus was trying to say, “You have been given the gift of life. Embrace it, all of it, right here and now. Enjoy it. Live it to the fullest. Don’t wait around for life to happen. Make it count. Celebrate the mundane. Don’t put your hope in a distant heaven; bring heaven to earth.”

What if?

How would that change your life, if you knew that right now was the important moment? How would you prioritize things? Would you spend your life “storing up treasures,” planning for the future, or would you find ways to invest everything you are into the things and people that are already all around you? What if being “faithful” has nothing to do with believing the right things, or even repeating a series of actions, but, rather, what if the most faithful are the most present, the most aware, the most engaged with everything and everyone around them?

How would this change the responsibility we have toward others, who might be unable to experience this kind of “abundant life”? This thought experiment is probably impossible for someone suffering from depression, or someone who just can’t seem to enjoy the present, to consider. But, maybe that is a challenge to get whatever help you might need to get to that place. Maybe it’s a challenge to quit settling for an unhealthy existence.

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be pretty interesting to consider.

This is a repost from my personal blog from December, 2012.

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  • Nietzsche should have received writer’s credit on Groundhog Day, I think.

  • Jay

    I believe that John 10:10 is saying just what you point out about what Jesus might have really been trying to get across to people. The times he talked about the Kingdom of Heaven it always seemed to be in the context of the natural universe and not only in an afterlife. If we examine the Lord’s Prayer as well it is all about the natural context of humans in community. It doesn’t say “help me to get by in this horrible place until I can fully be in your kingdom” it says, “Thy will be done on Earth” and “Give us This day Our daily bread…” etc. Heaven is the life abundance we can share with others in our daily lives, just as Jesus shared a life abundance with others. His abundance was not one of a lavish lifestyle but one of humility that all people were created by God and all could live outside of the bonds of injustice, here on earth.

  • Nietzsche was brilliant and does help us think down some interesting pathways. And, no question, when “heaven” is used as an escape for living well right now, it is as Marx said “an opiate.”

    Having said that – trusting that God is going to bring to fulfillment the creation, human cultural potential, and human indiividual potential in the new heavens and new earth is not an escapist trust, but realism. Either, as the Jewish author Jon Levinson says in “The Restoration of Israel” , God intends a future that only God can complete no matter how faithfully we co-labor, or we have no empirical or philosophical or social reason to think any of this world around us has any permanent meaning or sustainability. As John Pulkinghorne the physicist/theologian points out – everything we know scientifically indicates that this current creation cannot last. The Biblical theological position would be “nor was it ever intended to.” It is a stage in God’s great project in which we get to decide how much we want to co-labor with God for good and for God and for others. Hardly an escapist approach. Certainly not “provable,” but very coherent and consistent with any experience at all of a good and faithful God. And, neither Nietzsche’s view nor anyone else’s is “provable” as he was the first to admit – at least on his good days.

    • Nick Gotts

      No, it’s escapism, wishful thinking, pure and simple. There’s no reason at all to believe it. Just saying it’s realism, doesn’t make it so.