The Heaven posts have inspired some interesting comments. Here are a couple from the first article:
From fellow Patheoser, Bob Seidensticker:
Here’s a version of heaven that’s a lot more sane than Yahweh’s version.
Everyone gets in–yes, even Hitler. But when you get in, you get the wisdom to use free will that God seems to have forgotten to give us. In heaven, you could do bad things, but why would you? You could hit yourself on the head with a hammer, or you could steal that guy’s wallet–but why would you do either one? They’re both ridiculous notions, thanks to that wisdom.
So when Hitler comes in, he gets great wisdom, and he realizes what a dick he’s been and how he squandered the one life on earth that he had. There’s no need to punish him–he punishes himself. This presumably wouldn’t mean sobbing in a corner forever but would be a mature realization that screwed up and a motivation to work extra hard to be a good citizen going forward (I say “presumably” because I don’t have this great wisdom and am just speculating).
(A vote for Bob for Cosmic Dictator is a vote for a progressive heaven!)
My vision of heaven: Living in a world where nobody died without choosing to do so. By whatever means, and universally for everyone, every person who is born is preserved from death until they make the conscious decision to die (at which point they simply cease).
It doesn’t bend people into some form or into some place that makes them far less human than when they lived. It allows everyone to come into their own at their own time and in their own way. There’s no such thing as wasted time, a wasted life, wasted opportunities, etc. Anyone can be as ambitious and driven or as easy-going and complacent as they want, and can strive at any point in the future to go the other direction if they choose. Eventually, when the person is full of experiences and boredom finally overcomes any perceivable potential for finding something new, then the person is ready to lie down and rest after a thoroughly satisfying and full life (whether that was 100 years or 100,000). Knowing that I will always have as much time as I need to experience or learn or discover whatever may strike my interest, and knowing that at the end of it I can close my eyes and slip away to absolute peace, would be my dream of heaven. Eternity need not apply. :-)
I sometimes imagine an uploaded afterlife, a big virtual reality with no practical storage limits, so that one could continue learning and growing and have no worries of mental or physical deterioration. I think most people who accept death philosophically would be less sanguine about it if their joints didn’t hurt and their brains and genitals were still fully functional.
You could message people you wanted to talk to, and if they didn’t want to interact with you they might have a non-sapient avatar for public access. I want to chat with Asimov, for example, but he probably would get tired of fans asking the same things. My appearance would be under my control (no glasses, for starters). I could dive reefs with no gear, sit on the porch eating home-grown peaches while watching a sunset, explore Saturn’s rings, play all the D&D I ever wanted, hook up with compatible perverts without STI worries, race Formula One cars… the whole population would be freed to come up with more cool stuff to read, learn, and do; there’d be whole worlds worth of things we haven’t thought of yet. And if someone’s a jerk, block ’em! They don’t exist in your universe.
I might not avoid terminal ennui forever, but I’ll bet it would take a hella long time. Get tired of it all? Delete. Or archive. Or prune memories. There’d be lots of people working on solving that problem, with more time and brains than we have now.
Phil Rimmer (beautifully put):
First let me recommend
“Sum” by David Eagleman. Forty tales of afterlives from that David Eagleman.
We aren’t built for eternity. Only the prisoner truly appreciates freedom. The greatest poetry is only accessible to those certain of total loss. Eternalists must settle for an inevitable heat death of the soul.
My mum and dad, vivid and questing as they were, admitted that their peak aliveness came during World War II. Death and loss came near, the threat of bombs and missiles. Each became, relatively speaking, adventurers with an urgent purpose. Propriety slipped and romance was licensed. My dad got some of the science education he craved from a Nobel Prize winner (HG Wells’ source for his ideas on nuclear power etc.) My mother, passionate about history knew she was now living through it.
What’s better than our struggles? What’s better than learning to be adventurers?
When my dad died he urgently wanted me to know that death was necessary. We gift the best seat in the house ever to the next generation through our collective efforts, that of a Professor Soddy’s, a teacher’s, a builder of spy radios working through the night, a soup bringer’s. We become as our brains are pruned within an inch of their remaining capacity, and despite our best wishes, less able to find and fix problems. New minds, without our fears, but with access to our wisdom, need to replace ours, if our mutual adventuring is to continue.
I simply cannot conceive of anything better than seeing ourselves as adventurers, mutual adventurers, making better people, making better soup along the way.
A big flaw I see in most heaven designs is the notion that it’s eternal and largely static. What is the point of an infinitesimally brief temporal lifetime followed by an eternity of anything? People like to consider meaning (or if you’re religious, Meaning). Well, if we’re beings created by a superintelligence, what sort of meaning would we have? I’d say you need a sequence of lives. Each one offers lessons, allows wisdom to grow, allows ethics to improve- both across the entire species as well as individually. When you move on, you aren’t punished for getting things wrong, but rather, you’re presented with an environment that hopefully allows you to improve yourself. That might mean different heavens for different people, or it might mean a very carefully constructed environment that just provides different opportunities. You go through this, and then “die” again, moving on to the next level.
The essence of being human is to learn and to improve. Any “afterlife” that doesn’t allow for this simply dehumanizes us all.
(My heaven is reminiscent of a number of Eastern philosophies which see an endless cycle of births and rebirths, with the general idea of each soul improving (or sometimes experiencing setbacks) and ultimately evolving to a god-like state.)
See some of my arguments against heaven in my reasonably priced ebook: The Problem with “God”: Skeptical Theism under the Spotlight.
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