Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Heaven

The Washington Post's On Faith Blogs featured a question regarding "Heaven" in late March. 

What (or where, or why) is heaven?  What is your vision of heaven? What images - from Scripture, tradition, culture or your personal experience - best describe heaven for you?

Of course, the question presupposes that there exists somewhere in this world, or some realm of some world, a place called Heaven.  The responses are quite interesting, as well as the comments left for panelists.

Mark Driscoll starts his piece by stating that "everyone believes in a heaven."  He almost lost me with that generalization.  His point, however, is that we all have idealized images of what we would like the world to be.  I can accept that idea.  I know I have wished for less poverty and more peace, among other things.  Winning the lottery would be kind of nice as well.  Driscoll continues by attributing this need to idealize to the fact that we were all kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  He obviously writes from and for his limited christian understanding, detailing the "tragedy" of being banished from Eden and the coming Metropolis of Heaven he says is referred to by Revelations. 

John Mark Reynolds starts his piece, entitled "Just Once to See and Hear Jesus" by writing about writing in a way that only a philosopher can.  I might have found it beautiful had it been part of some novel, however once he starts discussing one "Word" that is true, etc, it becomes clear that he is philosophizing his ideas and wrapping them up in literary cloaks so that one cannot see how ridiculous they truly are. 

"I will see. What will I see? God, of course, but God is a very big Person and my eyes, even in Heaven, are very small. In Heaven, I will see God through Jesus, the God-man. He is not just an image of God, an icon, but Very God and looking at Him in His human nature will lead me to as much of God as men can see. "

I especially enjoy the term "God-man."  It reminds me of the phrase "man-child." Quite apropos considering the magic one would have to believe in to agree with Reynold's piece.

Julia Neuberger discusses the idea of heaven on Earth in a quick post.  She states:

For me, Heaven is not out there. it is not beyond the sea, above or beyond us, but the capacity for Heaven lies within us-- the good life, making a difference to others, a sense of the transcendent, a moment of pure joy.  

I found this a more respectable notion of heaven than those where heaven is seen as a physical place.

Ramdas Lamb begins his piece, entitled "Heaven is Overrated" with the following paragraph:

Heaven, hell, and the afterlife are totally theoretical and any belief in them is based solely on faith. No one can affirm their existence, as no one can prove their non-existence. Practically speaking, then, any belief in the them is only relevant to the extent that it affects the way we live our lives here and now. 

Lamb was a Hindu monk before he became a professor.  His piece is especially interesting because it comes from a perspective that isn't often represented in American religious circles.  It is also a breath of fresh air in comparison to the heavily represented Christian views on the topic.  Regardless, there is one Christian view I want to highlight: that of Jim Daly.

Jim Daly is the President and CEO of Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian group.    Of course, as an evangelical, Mr. Daly has a personal relationship with God.  He tells a little about it here:

I believe what I believe about heaven not only because of what I've read in the Old and New Testaments, but because I have met the one man who has been there and back -- my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ. His words, actions and yes, His promises, have left me with a great spirit of peace amid the rising chaos and challenges associated with life here on earth. 
I still find it amazing that people can talk of "meeting Jesus" and "talking to God" without others thinking they are bit crazy.  Regardless, Mr. Daly has it on personal confidence what heaven is like.  I imagine the hatred spewed by Focus on the Family regarding issues like abortion and homosexuality will have no effect on his gaining admittance.

Karen Armstrong, a former nun, makes an interesting point in her piece:

I personally think it best not to try to imagine what we call 'heaven', because it can only be some kind of projection or wish-fulfillment. We can become so fixated on 'getting into heaven' that all our good deeds become purely selfish - as irreligious as paying into a retirement annuity for a comfortable life in the hereafter. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of ego - not fantasies about its eternal survival in optimum conditions.

I think she makes a succinct point regarding heaven.  I don't think I've ever heard a believer consider that heaven would be a disappointment or boring.  It is always wonderful in some fashion, and particularly in the fashion that they would like it to be.  While Armstrong points out that religion is "supposed to be about the loss of ego" I would argue the opposite.  Most religious are precisely about ego.  To create a god in man's image is ego.  To envision a paradise of eternal life, basically the life of the imagined god, as a reward for man is ego.  I think this is especially obvious in the evangelical mode of thought.  It is ego to think that there is some almighty creator that cares about you so much that he listens to all your prayers and even has a personal relationship with you. I could go on, but I'll save it for the bible dissection.

Here's a paragraph from Paula Kirby's piece to end with.  I recommend you read her entire post.

I am always slightly taken aback when the religious cite heaven as a reason to believe. Quite apart from the illogicality of believing in something just because you would like it to be true, an afterlife is such a transparently preposterous notion. Even the most devout believer in an afterlife has no difficulty accepting that death is precisely what it seems to be - The End - for every other species that has ever lived. In the case of everything from an amoeba to a dandelion to a wasp to a dolphin, these believers accept that death is death, and that's it. But somehow, according to them, for humans it isn't the end, even though we witness precisely the same processes of dying and decomposition in humans as we do in, say, pygmy marmosets, and even though there is not the slightest evidence to suggest that any part of human existence or experience will not ultimately be traced to purely material - and mortal - processes.