I Love Heresy

I Love Heresy February 5, 2015

The title of this post refers to the class called “Heresy,” which I am teaching this semester.

We had a wonderful and interesting conversation in a recent class, on the subject of ideas about an afterlife, based on one of the readings for that class period, which was the Apocalypse of Peter. We discussed notions of retribution and the reasons why ideas of an afterlife had developed in the first place. We discussed the possibility for an afterlife to add meaning to this life we experience, but also to detract from or undermine that meaning, since it diminishes the significance of this life if its only point is to make it into another.

And of course, we discussed the issue which appeared on a PostSecret card that Hemant Mehta recently shared, as well as being discussed in a recent post by Valerie Tarico. Is there any way that a static kind of endless existence could avoid becoming tedious and boring?

boring heaven

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  • John MacDonald

    This reminds me of the episode of Star Trek Voyager where the immortal philosopher Quinn from the Q continuum wants to commit suicide to escape from eternal boredom. Quinn shows the court the Q continuum (or rather how it would be interpreted by their limited human minds) as a road stretching around the entire planet with one rest stop, a country gas station and store, and some Q standing around, bored. Quinn describes immortality as dull, that it is only possible to experience the universe so many times before it gets boring. Q tries to dismiss it and makes a poor attempt to show that the other members of the continuum are happy, but Quinn sees through it and confesses, to Q’s surprise, that it was Q’s earlier unrestrained behavior in an attempt to make his life fun that was the motivation for his own actions. Quinn makes an impassioned speech comparing his eternal boredom to suffering from a terminal biological disease for which suicide is the only humane release, and that being forced to live for all eternity against his will “cheapens and denigrates” his life, and indeed all life. Janeway is clearly moved by this and agrees to grant him asylum. Keeping his part of the bargain, Q makes Quinn human.
    I personally don’t believe we have an immortal soul. I think that is nothing more than an ancient fantasy. When a living thing dies, I think that’s it. When a mushroom dies, it doesn’t go to mushroom heaven. When a tuna dies, it doesn’t go to tuna heaven. When a bacteria dies, it doesn’t go to bacteria heaven. Why should it be any different when a human dies? The end of life is death and decomposition, nothing more.

    • I enjoyed that episode. Seemed mostly to touch on the issue of euthanasia, the right to die.

      • John MacDonald

        I think It’s a metaphor about the boredom of being immortal and if you die and your soul goes to heaven, what are you supposed to do for eternity. If there is a God, He better be a fantastic activity coordinator for all those immortal souls of the people that have died and will die.

  • All life that we know, experience, and for which we have evidence, is tied to our physical bodies, and particularly our human brains. We know that damage to the brain, whether by car accident or alzheimer’s, can result in memory loss, extreme changes of personality, mental retardation, and even complete vegetative states in which a person is alive but seems to be experiencing no discernible mental activity.

    Who am I without my memory, personality, intelligence, and ability to interact with the world.

    If a little brain damage can remove those traits that we consider the very essence of our personhood; how could our personhood possibly survive the complete destruction of the brain? I can hardly consider whether an afterlife would be tedious and boring, when the notion of an afterlife itself is meaningless.

    • John MacDonald

      Exactly right. This is one of the classic arguments of secular humanism.