Delving deeper into the concept of “heaven” can illuminate the numerous logical inconsistencies in the Christian belief system. Many Christians would ultimately be disappointed with their assumed final destination, as most of what they consider to be their identity will perish with their brains at death. As a child, I was told after I die I would go to a different reality where we will sing the praises of the Jesus for eternity, and only though the power of my belief in Jesus’s resurrection would this trans-dimensional journey be possible. This afterlife horrified me; I sang hymns at church because everyone else did, but I didn’t enjoy it. Forced-rejoicing for the rest of time sounded like hell, which I was assured would be the real worst fate imaginable: burning in fire. The threat of burning in hellfire for eternity, forever segregated from my family, was enough for me to accept any claims made by the church, including the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
Let us examine various claims concerning the supposed nature of the Christian afterlife.
“Only Christians will be in heaven.”
Once I escaped the confines of religious schooling, most of my friends were non-Christian. My concern for their soul’s eternal fate I never made vocal because I felt my irrational beliefs would drive them away. Insistence that a friend should hold my particular belief system to avoid an un-provable fate was not something I felt comfortable doing. This saddened me and a gloom settled over my mind whenever I thought about my poor friends who would suffer in hell from their supposed ignorance.
But luckily for me, heaven is paradise and bad emotions do not exist.
“In heaven there will be no sadness, as we will be with God. There cannot be suffering in heaven, so there will be no anger, hatred, or grief.”
As reassuring as these claims might seem, their emotional anesthetic quality is only skin-deep. In order to experience sadness one must know what happiness is. Emotions come as a package, not as individuals. To experience happiness forever would be an experience that would eventually become the dull, creating dissatisfaction and boredom. Objects and people that bring happiness can only do so for as long as the mind is entertained. After time, without novelty boredom sets in and the happiness recedes. Of course, the wonderful aspect of the objective reality is the relentless and unceasing change that permeates it. People and objects change and stay novel, preventing the dullness that accompanies monotony. This is a stark difference from the timelessness of heaven.
But heaven’s assurance of eternal happiness could only be realized by the ability to increase in the capacity to feel happiness. Of course, the constant increase in happiness would eventually feel constant, like the acceleration of gravity, but for argument’ sake let us suppose some increase in happiness would always be felt. One interpretation of hell is eternally burning in fire, with the intensifying capacity to feel pain so that a hell-bound soul will never feel comfortable that he has reached a plateau of pain. It only makes sense that heaven would be the opposite. If heaven is a place without sadness, hell could only be a place without happiness. But without the capacity for happiness, how could one understand the nature of pain? Only a fully-conscious soul would have this ability, and from the descriptions of the Christian afterlife it is clear souls will be less-conscious than in the objective reality.
If there is no sadness in heaven then there must be some sort of mental block enacted upon the souls by God. Of course, there is no evidence anything like a soul exists, as everything that defines personalities is contained within the body and the mind, the latter of which is a figurative construct of the body that heavily depends on the brain.
But, for the sake of argument, let us suppose some memories crucial to our identity could be contained in the “soul” and survive the trans-dimensional journey to the afterlife. Would residents of heaven have access to these memories? If so, would they have access to the sad memories? If not, there would be some glaring holes in their previous reality that may fall into question the nature of their heavenly reality. Who makes the decision of what constitutes a bad memory? In the moment of an experience, our judgment of the experience may be radically different than how we remember it. Sometimes an experience can become pleasant once passed, and the reverse is also possible.
If a sad memory did survive the journey to heaven, it could not be recalled as sad because that would require a capacity to feel sadness. Somehow, the nature of heaven will force the soul to cannibalize this memory and transform it into an objectively neutral memory to avoid sadness while still expressing the non-happy character of the memory. Is an emotional rewriting of personal history something that is desirable? The saddest moments of our lives can also be some of the most powerful, and through them important, character-defining changes to identities emerge. How would rational minds deal with this in heaven? Heavenly souls that maintain an earthly personality would still be required to feel the concept of sadness even though they could not experience it, which I argue is an impossibility. The concept of sadness would seem increasingly insignificant as the potential to feel happiness continues to grow in heaven. Without keeping the potential to experience happiness and sadness in proportion, sadness will become essentially neutral, not negative, obliterating its usefulness as a contrast to the positive emotion of joy.
Naturally, this leads to the question of how souls accrue happiness in the afterlife. Does each soul start at a baseline and increase at the same rate? Perhaps the soul’s happiness at death is the starting point. This inconsistency between differing soul’s level of happiness would inevitably cause sadness from jealousy. As jealousy is a negative emotion caused by the ego realizing differing circumstances, jealousy cannot exist in heaven and thus neither can the ego. The ego is the core of the personality, therefore the personality as-is could not exist in heaven. This recurrence of anesthetized emotions is a common theme in heaven.
“In heaven, everything will be perfect.”
The subjective claim of perfection is, at best, a constantly moving target. One will aim towards perfection and, upon reaching the original goal, will find more flaws worth perfecting. The objective claim of perfection is generally accepted as something which is free of flaw; however, the definition of a flaw is inherently subjective. A flaw is generally accepted as an inconsistency, such as a black dot on a white landscape. In the objective reality there are no true inconsistencies, only human misunderstandings. That black dot is necessary to discern the area around it, without it there would be neither object nor space. Expectations of purity will inevitably be raised accordingly with the level of magnification. There are certainly inconsistencies within the human sphere of understanding, but reality is continuous and accords itself with natural patterns which objectively exist. This is why science is such a useful tool in understanding the objective reality. Laws confine our world and are essential, though the exact nature of their existence is not understood that does not detract from their existence. Why does earth have the value of gravity that is 9.81 meters per second squared? We do not know, but we can describe this value with an equation and use it to calculate gravity on other world. Why does the gravitational constant exist, any why isn’t it a different number? These are questions perhaps cannot be answered. What is observable is an objectively continuous reality, and humanity’s failure to describe it accurately does not have any bearing on its perfection. To be perfect is to be free of flaw, and the objective reality is objectively so.
One claim of imperfection in this reality made by Christians is the various diseases that cause pain and death. Death itself is seen as a flaw, but it is most necessary to ensure the survival and renewal of life. Without death, life would lose its capacity to have meaning (not to mention overpopulation problems if new life is created). It is only in contrast with death that life can be understood and fully experienced. One life may not perpetuate forever, but life itself has that potential. Individuals can be as immortalized, in a sense, if their ideas survive. Death is surly not evidence of an imperfect world.
It goes without saying that the sorrow a Christian experiences after a loved one’s death would be mostly negated when they meet that loved one in heaven. They arguably did not feel the full extent of this person’s demise because of their faith they would see them again in heaven. Illogical hope is a often used blindfold to cover emotional pain. What about the people that will never be met again, those who claimed to have faith in Jesus but were in fact liars?
The claim of belief does not constitute actual belief. A person may claim to possess bravery and demonstrate cowardice. Refusal to admit the truth does not change feelings that exist. One may not even be conscious of lying to the self until confronted with one’s own failure of ideals. A believer may sincerely believe their God will rescue them until the point they are executed; in this situation, there is no time for the believer to accept their own error, obvious as it may be.
The people that will not be found in heaven, will their absence be noticed or will any memories of their lives be unceremoniously deleted upon arrival?
Perhaps the perspective when in heaven will change, and
“God will answer all of your questions in heaven.”
God will certainly have to answer for a lot. He could spend all of eternity answering questions, such as:
“Why did you make entrance into heaven commiserate on bad evidence?”
“Why did your design create the majority of beings to suffer for eternity?”
“Can you microwave a burrito so hot that you could not eat it?”
Entrance into heaven is contingent upon the decision to believe illogical things for irrational reasons. There is a reason behind everyone’s beliefs, even if they are not good reasons. Otherwise we could not function. If we simultaneously believed we could survive for eternity and also without our brains, we would soon be confronted with compelling evidence to the contrary. The ardent believers in the Headless Faith would rationalize that these “permanently limp mutes” still live, and would attempt to incorporate the dead into their society. It would soon be found the dead are not particularly skilled at anything more than having a weight and decaying. They would have to confine these people to safe areas where they could live for eternity in peace and quiet, perhaps 6 feet underground. Dark humor aside, the moral is trustworthy beliefs rely upon cause-and-effect relationships. Everything else is just blind, untrustworthy faith.
Let’s take the fundamentally important claim of Christianity: since God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead, eternal life in heaven is possible. This is not a cause-and-effect relationship between events. If at some point in the future it was understood death of the body was merely a genetic fault that could be reversed, would anyone accept the idea that this life-giving medical procedure constituted proof of an afterlife? Christians would respond with a resounding “NO!”
The claim that Jesus rose from the dead and disappeared into the sky has absolutely no relation or correlation to the claim of consciousness surviving death in heaven or hell. Whether God healed Jesus’s body from the fatal wounds he suffered or somehow reanimated his corpse is irrelevant in a discussion concerning heaven. Jesus’s resurrection is only a claim about biology, and one that has never been reproduced (and Christians claim never will be).
Is it possible to be happy without an ego? Value-judgments emanate from the experiences of the ego and differing happinesses can be found through alternate methods. A serial killer or a thief will find happiness in their chosen crime, but it is a different type of happiness than one gets from charitable giving. Experienced meditators find content-ness in the state of pure awareness. This feeling of bliss is not the same type of happiness typically experienced as joy. Joy through meditation may result when one believes he is freed from the ego, but alas it is another ego-trap! The spiritual phony who boasts at having no pride comes to mind. As consciousness is an innately subjective viewpoint, it is impossible to experience with complete objectivity.
If existence in heaven necessitates a lack of ego and there cannot exist sadness, the personalities of heavenly souls will be greatly diminished if not completely destroyed. Existing in a state of ever-increasing happiness for eternity will eventually cause a soul to desire an alternative, and the being will question the nature of reality (unless boredom and curiosity is repressed as well). Without the ability to remember painful events, to feel a full range of emotions, or to think critically, residents of heaven will be far less conscious than they were on earth. They will be in fact prisoners, as they are destined to experience this fate with no possible escape. The distress caused by the lack of their former mental abilities will inevitably cause panic, and they will turn to God to answer their questions. An omnipotent God is capable of answering all questions would naturally tell them the truth, in which case the souls might request to be returned to their former lives, where they seemed to possess more free will than in heaven. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
“Heaven is beyond human capacity to understand.”
It most certainly is.