Hi and welcome back! Recently, we examined a bunch of questions about Hell that somehow I never thought to ask while I was Christian. But in writing it, I soon realized that I’d also had tons of questions about its counterpart. Today, let me show you some of the questions I had about Heaven. In their way, they represent bigger dealbreakers than anything I didn’t ask about Hell.
(Of course, everything mentioned in this post depends mightily on the existence of an afterlife in the first place. By assuming that humans continue to exist in some meaningful way after death, Christians get wayyyyyyy ahead of themselves in fantasizing about Heaven. All the credible, objective evidence we have ever discovered strongly–as in universally–contradicts the notion of an afterlife of any kind.)
First: Child-Cas Meets Heaven.
When I learned about the Crucifixion as an 8-year-old, I went into hysterics.
At the time, my aunt–a nun–taught girls my age at a Catholic parochial school. So my mom sent me to her to get me calmed down.
At my grandma’s dining-room table, she distracted me from my anguish by getting me to think about Heaven. It worked grandly.
But my aunt proved willing to go on record about surprisingly little about the end-run goal of her entire belief system. She told me she didn’t know exactly what Heaven would be like–but that I’d love being there. I’d be with Jesus, and become part of our god.
I had no idea how to conceptualize something like becoming part of a god. So I immediately asked which part I’d become. I was imagining myself being the very tip of his pinkie finger, an idea which both fascinated and displeased me. That didn’t sound like something I’d love at all, as interesting a theoretical concept as it was.
She told me she didn’t know how that’d work, but promised me again that I’d love Heaven and should concentrate my efforts toward getting there and avoiding Hell.
This incident occurred exactly 40 years ago. In all the years since then, Christians haven’t gotten much further along in their ideas about Heaven.
But Which Heaven?
A while ago, commentariat member AG graciously shared the results of a Bible study she undertook regarding Heaven. It turns out that the Bible makes the realm sound even weirder than Christians imagine it to be:
. . . when believers die, they don’t go up to heaven to be with god. They stay generally dead until the resurrection and judgment of the dead. After the judgment, the ones deemed worthy get new bodies. Then the old heaven and old earth are destroyed. There is a new heaven and new earth. The holy city with god’s throne comes down from heaven to earth. The city walls are is twelve stadia (1400 miles) wide, long, and high. The saved live in this new Jerusalem on earth, not in heaven! I didn’t expect that. All those streets of gold and pearly gates are not going to be in heaven. They are going to be on the new earth.
God and Jesus, who seem to get melded together, will also be living with the saved in the holy city. They will be the light source because the sun and moon will have been destroyed. There will be a river of the water of life running from their throne through the middle of the city and the tree of life will grow on either side of the river. How it accomplishes that is not mentioned. Maybe it straddles the river? . . .
One other thing I noticed is there is a conspicuous lack of the mention of women with regard to heaven.
I sure never heard much of that! Heaven as a Borg Cube sausage fest? Intriguing!
But I heard no shortage of other descriptions for Heaven.
In my years as a Christian, I heard countless versions of Heaven from Christians’ mouths. From endless feasts to perfect cities to glorious reunions with friends and family (if they’re TRUE CHRISTIANS™) to the biggest library imaginable (as Biff once claimed to me), Christians have no few ideas about how Heaven will totally work.
A World Without Human Appetites?
I was, of course, Christian well before marrying Biff. I endured at least one Rapture scare before marriage as well, and remember being very sad that I’d be zapped into Heaven before knowing what sex was like. There’d be no sex there, after all!
It didn’t even occur to me to wonder what people would be like without the drives that lead us toward our various appetites.
Some people hunger for particular stuff more than others do. But most of us hunger for something. Be it food, sex, adventure, athletics, knowledge, drink, companionship, and more besides, our appetites define us in a great many ways. But the Heaven of the Bible–and even the Heavens in fervent and fertile Christian imaginations–has none of these appetites. They simply don’t exist; they have been excised from our minds, along with our old bodies.
Usually Christians’ ideas of Heaven involve the “wedding feast” or “marriage supper” mentioned in Revelation 19:7-9. That said, I’m not sure how a feast would work in a Heaven where people neither hunger nor thirst–as Revelation 7:16-17 relates. I mean, everyone seems to (think they) know that the canonical Heaven is asexual. But no desire to eat and drink? Whatever will the Southern Baptists do with themselves there?
A World Without Senses?
Christians often speak of getting new bodies upon reaching Heaven. But these bodies will contain no appetites. Will they be able to sense anything at all?
Pleasure and pain, as any bondage enthusiast could tell you, represent two sides of the same coin. Being able to sense the one means sensing the other, too. Cutting off half the equation makes as little sense as insisting that people can walk one mile northward–but not an equal distance southward.
The situation worsens, however.
The pleasure many people feel when they begin eating good food comes from chemicals released in our brains. Those chemicals are part of our reaction to hunger. If we couldn’t ever feel hunger, how could we feel pleasure in eating?
And missing our negative emotions means people in this imaginary Heaven might not remember their dearest loved ones, if they didn’t “make it” (as Christians said back in my day)–or even that Christians who “made it” would be delighted at imagining the sufferings of their loved ones in Hell.
A World of Pure Monotony?
So, sure, it makes sense to me that Heaven got sold to early Christian converts as a land where drives, appetites, and needs simply didn’t exist anymore. I can see why the Bible’s anonymous
hacks writers prized an afterlife like that. Back when it was written, satisfying our appetites was much more difficult. People died for lack of food and medical care, and most spent their lives toiling in service to others with few ways to relieve boredom.
Instead of a fun, exciting world where we indulge our appetites without fear of overdoing it, we get a Heaven where people pretty much do the same thing every single day. Two popular visions of Heaven involve 24/7 feasting forever or/alongside worshiping the Christian god 24/7.
I can see why fundagelicals in particular would like the idea of feasting forever. Every single group get-together I remember involving Southern Baptists or Pentecostals centered around eating tons of food. But most Christians don’t even regularly attend church–the bare minimum of which amounts to an hour or three once a week. It’s hard to imagine them getting gooey over the idea of 24/7 worship when they clearly don’t enjoy it even on such a short basis.
I don’t even like doing stuff I enjoy for too long. It’s hard to fathom being happy in a world like that, especially doing stuff I’m not into.
But Heaven has people acting like not-people in more ways than this.
A World Rewired?
So Heaven-Cas wouldn’t hunger or thirst, nor desire sex, nor ever grow bored with monotony.
At what point does Heaven-Cas stop being recognizably Cas?
And other Christians would need to be rewired even further. For my part, I tried very hard to be honest, kind, charitable, respectful, and accepting of others. My peers, though, could be monumental jerks-for-Jesus–just as so many Christians can be today. They’d require a lot of rewiring to be good neighbors in Heaven.
By my late teens, I knew quite well that Jesus doesn’t change anybody for the better. In fact, the very worst people I met up until then were fervent, devoted, lifelong Christians. That trend continues nearly unbroken to the present day. It’s so rare to find someone who hasn’t been hurt, harmed, victimized, cheated, or injured by Christians that they’ve been forced to evolve copious hand-waving to deal with the fact that Jesus doesn’t make them, as a group, more trustworthy, moral, kind, or compassionate than non-believers.
And in Heaven, these awful people would be totally rewired to be decent human beings–forever. I’m astonished I didn’t wonder about this idea more than I did.
A World Without Sin Natures?
What I refer to here is, of course, what many Christians reckon as our sin nature, which these Christians imagine causes people to behave in ways that offend their god. Humans’ sin nature is supposed to be part of the curse that this god inflicted on the first set of humans for disobeying him in the myth of the Garden of Eden. Even though he also sporadically promised he wouldn’t hold children responsible for the things their parents do, he made sure that every child born since then also suffers from a sin nature.
In fact, this sin nature–which, again, he cursed humans with–offends him so much that if people don’t telepathically apologize for having it, he’ll set their ghosts on fire forever after they die. He’ll do this no matter how well anyone lives and treats others. Just possessing this sin nature ensures eternal torture forever, unless people offer this god the telepathic apology he wants for something that isn’t even their fault.
Let’s ignore the very serious concerns that anybody sensible would have regarding this situation (which I raise anyway in the endnotes), and just assume for sake of argument that this really happened.
Would Pat Robertson, remade to be more like Fred Rogers, be recognizable? Would he even still be Unca Pat at all, with his sin nature stripped away for good?
A World of Broken Promises?
Of course, the Bible is filled with promises that don’t come true for Christians. No gods are looking out for them, any more than any gods look out for anybody else. They suffer from catastrophic accidents, illnesses, and natural disasters like anybody else would; they have no special reputation for squeaking free of any of it. Their prayers might as well dissipate at ceiling height as reach any divine ears, for all the tangible results they get in reality.
But Christians cling to this one promise above all. No matter what else in their belief system comes with loads of asterisks, conditions, hand-waving, and fine print, this one promise about Heaven simply must be true–somehow:
There must be an afterlife for me,
and it must be not-Hell.
The details, if questioned too closely, remain irrelevant before that one ultimate concern.
I didn’t even particularly care what Heaven was like. It could have been exactly like Earth, for all that it mattered. It could even have been more like Mars or Venus, or the cold vacuum of space itself–which I did sometimes imagine–an eternity of discovery and exploration! WHEE! (But entirely non-canonical.) Really, though, it didn’t matter what Heaven was like.
All that did matter was avoiding the fate that came to those who didn’t telepathically apologize enough for possessing the sin nature that their god had cursed them with in the first place.
All that mattered was that I’d ensured that my ghost would not be set on fire forever after I died.
Picking Their Gear: Love and Terror.
Today’s Hell-believing Christians understand that point as well, I suspect. They might include whatever their vision of Heaven is in their sales pitches to potential recruits, but if they get any pushback at all then they lean back on threats of Hell. This human life, as they see it, is about obeying well enough to get into the one realm–and thus avoiding the other.
Heaven tends to center on love; Hell tends to center on terror. That’s why, when Christians ask some of the questions I’ve raised here, the answers they get from their leaders eventually run aground on the same admonishment:
Yepperinos, that’s a dang good question there, bucko! Keep Jesus-ing as hard as you can, and you’ll find out the answer in Heaven. I promise it’ll all totally make sense then. Don’t allow these silly questions to put your “salvation” in jeopardy!
Back then, I never noticed how often this admonishment included subtle threats of eternal torture for questioning anything too closely. But I’m free now to ask questions and find answers–and to reject claims that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny, like the idea of afterlives, Heavens, Hells, and omnimax gods who get mad at people for being people, then remove what makes them who they are so they can be acceptable to himself.
I’m so glad to be away from such a crazymaking ideology.
NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides on Monday! Then: yikes, we have some new revelations from the Southern Baptist Convention in their ongoing sex-abuse scandal. This just gets worse and worse. See you soon!
First: Adam and Eve had no knowledge of sin, so could hardly be convicted of sin by any fair judge. They were little more than children. Christians generally reckon children as getting free passes to Heaven. Why not now?
Second, as I mentioned, this same god assured his followers that he’d never hold children accountable for what their parents did. And yet he does exactly that in this myth. How is that fair?
Third, maybe if this godling didn’t want his stupid tree et from, he shouldn’t have put it right in the middle of his garden with no way to stop his pet humans from reaching it. You’d think an omniscient god might have figured that might happen. Why didn’t he take steps to stop what he surely knew was coming? Did he just want to doom literally billions of men, women, children, and oh-so-sacred fetuses to horrible deaths?
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