Tuesday, October 25, 2011

H is for Heaven & Hell (r3/26/11)

Many Catholics don’t know—but they should—that the place they call Purgatory does not appear anywhere in the Bible. The Medieval Church invented it. Why? Because when one thinks about an afterlife consisting of rewards or punishments, one soon realizes that most people are neither good enough for Heaven nor bad enough for Hell. Since their souls have to go somewhere, a “third place” called Purgatory was invented. There once your sins are purged, you may Pass Go and proceed to heaven.

Protestants, who deny themselves the handy option of adding new things not revealed by Scripture, are stuck with Heaven and Hell and no place in-between. Makes you wonder why Jesus, who had so much to say about the Kingdom of God, Eternal Life and Damnation remained silent on the question of Purgatory. He must have thought Heaven and Hell exhausted all the possibilities. Maybe he didn’t give the subject much thought. But isn’t God supposed to think of everything? Hard to imagine a Divinity making  a conceptual error of this magnitude.

Think about it. Can you name anyone so bad that he or she deserves to suffer for eternity? Guys like Hitler, Stalin and Chairman Mao leap to mind, but eternity is a very long time, and, after slow frying bastards like these for, say a year per victim, all but the most sadistic among us would be inclined to say “Enough Already!” and turn off the burners.

Forgetting for a moment about world class monsters like Genghis Khan, it’s not easy to think of people you’ve known or heard about who are bad enough to be sent on a one-way trip to hell. Or, good enough for a one-way trip to heaven. Think of the best person you’ve ever met and the worst. The gap between them is probably wide enough to drive an earth mover through, but is it broad enough for you to say to one: “Spend Eternity in Bliss” and to the other: “Be Damned Forever?”

When I think of the worst people I’ve known, a few days packed together with dozens of other bad people, in a locked cattle car, during a long Russian winter, would be more than sufficient. As for the best of them, most probably believe that virtue is its own reward and would be embarrassed if anyone tried to reward them for doing the right thing throughout their lives. And, since they surely know themselves much better than anyone else possibly could, they probably know they weren’t always as good as other people imagined. One suspects that even St. Francis must have lost his temper once or twice.

That’s why God, if She really existed, and was privy to all our innermost thoughts and longings—as well as all our words and deeds—would qualify as a pretty good judge. In addition, She would also know and remember all there is to know about everyone else who ever lived. Now imagine a Divinity with all of this knowledge, and lots of wisdom to go along with it, sitting in judgment of Adolph Hitler. Knowing everything about him from the moment of his birth on 20 April, 1889 until his death on 30 April, 1945. Can you imagine this God sentencing even Hitler to an eternity of unending torture? Even if this God were Jewish, eventually enough is enough!

So Hell is simply a moral impossibility. What about Heaven? What’s it like? Mohammed said something about 72 virgins. One wonders why not 72 porn stars?  Given the sexual capacities of men and women, the question is How many men would each woman in heaven need? (Some say Mohammed meant 72 raisins. This sounds like a joke.)

 The Christian heaven isn’t fleshy. The body is gone and only the soul remains. How do souls feel? What can they feel? Does it matter if it’s hot or cold? What about wet or dry? Sweet or sour? The list goes on.

Supposedly it all comes down to something called a State of Bliss that goes on and on and on and on and on. Is there no limit to how much bliss a soul can handle? Can you opt for nothingness after the Bliss begins to get really tiresome after say 311,365,981,409 years?

My idea of Heaven would include the option to eavesdrop from time to time on the goings on back on earth. You could tune into the BBC world news and even check up on friends and descendants still alive. Maybe you could choose to hear only the good news. Massacres, famines, tsunamis, incurable illnesses, etc. could be weeded out. Besides, if you’re already dead, you’ve probably already seen enough hurt and despair “to last a lifetime” as the saying goes. Unless, of course, you died young.

After a few decades of eavesdropping, when all your friends and even your grandchildren are dead, you’d probably stop tuning in. But you could still socialize with old friends,  play cards, watch baseball or do whatever you’d like. But doing all of those things means you still have to have a body. Without a body, time would not only seem to stand still, it really would.

Any sane person would choose utter extinction over this.

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