IS THERE A HEAVEN? AND, IF SO, WHAT'S IT LIKE? By Rick Kohler (Article)
From prehistoric time humans have pondered the afterlife. A hunter-gatherer taking a break from hunting and gathering sits on a perch, chin in hand, and thinks ‘what happens when the hunting and gathering are over?’
What distinguishes humans from the rest of animal life is that we can think. Yes, dolphins, chimpanzees and porpoises are said to have the intelligence of an average six-year-old, but not too many monkeys worry about what happens when the bananas run out. Yuval Harari suggests that the ability to think gives humans the gift of making up stories and believing in them.
Stone Age persons faced the same generic challenges we encounter today: hunger, danger, mystery, thirst, libido, love, fear, affection, anxiety. In those rare moments of reflection – dozing off on a mattress of grass tucked in a corner of a sheltered cave – humans came to the conclusion that they didn’t know what happened after the hunting and gathering were over; and, like all humans, what they didn’t know made them uneasy and suspicious. Using various forms of verbal communication -- grunts, as yet unwritten -- they chatted amongst themselves seeking how others anticipated the prospect of life ‘after’. And, their friends didn’t know either.
The sense of ‘time’ facilitated contemplation of the present, but not the future. In pondering mortality, Stone Age inhabitants found the prospect intolerable. There was no choice but to accept that bodies age and rot just by looking at evolving images reflected in a pool of still water as time passed. And then, death.
We don’t know what happens after we die and what we don’t know, we fear. Because we are intelligent, we make up stories and one of the most important stories we can devise is the story that tells us what awaits after expiry. And these stories of ‘afterlife’ that emerged over time were soothing, dispelling chronic anxiety caused by the unknown ... much like an oyster removes the discomfort of a grain of sand by coating it in mother of pearl. A place of eternal light, plentiful food, no danger and the luxury of reuniting with loved ones that have already ‘moved on’. A place where the lame leap like deer and muted tongues shout for joy.
There’s a whole school that says we were always there. Bertrand Russell cannily observed:
‘there is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of the imagination’.
Plato’s Myth of Er, of afterlife; the view of the Romantic Poets of souls breaking away from the plane of existence to become mortal for a while, then cycling back to forever-land – a constant refrain of eternity-incorruptible vs mortality-corrupt.
Hindus and Buddhists, today, favor reincarnation like the ancient Egyptians. Hindus describe a period of Kali Yug lasting 432,000 years through which incarnations must travel before reaching perfection. And ancient Egyptians believed this process could take 700 embodiments before fruition of promised grace.
Christians and Muslims lean to resurrection as the fundamental journey through mortality – folks only live once; rise after death; face judgement; and a routing either up or down. (By the way, in the case the routing is ‘down’ both Plato and Russell judged eternal damnation to be a disproportionately harsh punishment).
Jews have sympathy with resurrectionism, reschooling till attainment of the World to Come. And Wiccans are clear reincarnationists – they go to a sunny place called Summerland to await further recycling.
Through the ages, humankind’s dominant spiritual faiths have striven to advance and validate a worldview that is eternal with no beginning and no end. Mortality, one way or another, is a temporary space and when it recycles it rejoins a continuum, not an abrupt dead-end. Whether faiths revolve around Resurrection or Reincarnation, both share common roots with resurrection a final step in the process of reincarnation leading to attainment of that final eternal resting place, what many of those of us in the Western canon like to call ‘heaven’.
And after all this time, one might ask why do we not know more about heaven – there is no road-map – one cannot Google it nor consult Siri or Alexa. To help address this lacuna, what follows is an attempt at answering a few of the thousands of questions we all entertain as we contemplate what the Firmament must really be like.
I hope with all my heart there will be painting in heaven.
Q. What is heaven like?
Heaven shines with the brilliance of precious stones -- jasper, sardonyx, carnelian -- clear as crystal and has a high wall within which is a city, the holy hill, of pure gold as pure as glass. There is no night there for the shroud that enfolds all peoples has been removed and death has been swallowed up forever. Heaven is like a seed that has been planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree and birds of the air perch in its branches.
Q. Are residents assigned individual rooms? What are the amenities?
Check-in at the firmament occurs in the twinkling of an eye to the sound of trumpets. Immortal clients do not require rooms per se, only bandwidth. For they have become virtuous spirits converted to Angels. Modern comforts, such as are needed, are available at the blow of a panpipe.
Q. How do you get to heaven?
It is easy to find heaven: follow your spirit, make a big right turn and keep to the straight and narrow. Your spirit is like the wind, it blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from nor where it is going. Always, however, it leads to the pearly gates.
Q. What do you do in Heaven?
The verb ‘to be’ and ‘to do’ are superseded in heaven. Clients hang around a lot but there are no shopping malls. Meditation is popular though not obligatory and practical joking – especially ironic profundities – is benignly tolerated.
Q. Do we get to reunite with loved ones? If so, what kind of reunion is that? E.g. are conjugal visits permitted?
The atomic makeup of souls makes for ease of reunion – terms like ‘love’ and ‘hate’ have sublimated in the Holy City into ‘knowledge’ but not in the Biblical sense. The earthly African-American expression ‘do you feel me’ has broad application. Thus, feeling and knowing allow participants in reunification to tenderly appreciate the presence of those once loved. Contrary to expectations these sensations are not ‘personal’ yet the emotional chemistry of heaven makes for rich experiences.
Q. Some of our loved ones were jealous of other loved ones – is jealousy no longer an issue in heaven?
Heaven is a place where wolves lie down with lambs; babies can reach into vipers’ nests and cows are known to feed the bears -- former rival partners thrive in this universe of soulful union. Earlier visceral hatreds become soft, billets-doux of affection.
Q. Can we only reunite with loved ones in heaven or is it possible to schmooze with famous people like Genghis Khan, Catherine the Great, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill?
Heaven has the ability to adapt best practices from earth – Plato’s sense of some being more equal than others is a case in point. There is a VIP section, and, the answer is ‘no’. Social networking is limited to souls with whom you’ve had personal contact.
Q. Does heaven have hospitals – and if so, is universal health care available?
Despite a strong presence of the spirits of folks like Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss, universal health care is a non-issue in heaven because immortal spirits do not get sick. Phantom-limb sensations do occasionally emerge – folks who miss complaining of ailments -- and solace is addressed in the eager consumption of placebos.
Q. Do you need money in heaven?
This ‘root of all evil’ has no place in the firmament and its predecessor, barter trade, has prominence in the holy city’s divine social-intercourse economics.
Q. Are Facebook, TikTok, What’s Ap and Twitter available in heaven?
Yes, but they go by different names. For instance, Facebook is called Soulbook and Twitter is called Harp. One cannot unfriend a soul, only disperse it. Tweets are known as Harpoons.
Q. If souls enter heaven as incorruptibles does that mean gambling and stock markets do not exist?
Credit default swaps, shorting, trifectas and bumping are not in common use although a popular surrogate to ‘Craps’ called ‘Holy Rollers’ is an enduring passion.
Q. If mortals become immortal, do they keep their distinct characteristics and personalities?
Yes, but only to a point. For example, people who had annoying traits in life are assigned to special fenced-in zones where civil liberties are respected while isolation from others protects the innocent.
Q. Is sex a factor in heaven, or are we above that?
Sex enjoys an exuberant ubiquity but it is for pleasure only, not procreation. Sex toys are widely available but in heaven’s case, only amongst children.
Q. Will I still have orgasms?
Yes, but the expression ‘Oh Supreme Being, Oh Supreme Being’ more properly precedes achievement of climactic gratification.
Q. If we don’t speak Ottoman, Swahili or Middle English, are there interpreter services available or does the afterlife pre-equip souls with these skills?
Soul communication is extra-lingual; normally tele-kinetic thoughts like ‘do you feel me’ suffice for most interactions.
Q. What about territorial imperative – do we no longer begrudge hegemony?
Spiritual beings do not occupy territory as such. Only intellectual property continues to be controversial on the holy hill and ‘positioning’ becomes more powerful than ‘winning or losing’.
Q. Can alcoholics drink again – is there alcohol? Or wine at least?
Heaven itself is as ‘high’ as one can get. There are no vineyards in the gilded garden but wine is easily alchemized from its plentiful sources of water.
Q. I was always constipated; will I become regular?
Regularity is one of the many bonuses to eternity’s offerings. Souls do not as a rule require waste management and, indeed, the term ‘waste’ is superfluous.
Q. Then again, do souls or spirits or angels poop?
Evacuation is redundant in heaven: food production, consumption, digestion, evacuation, compost and nature’s way of cyclical repetition are superseded by the over-arching efficiency of eternity.
Q. Does Heaven have a Mission statement?
Renewal’s our name, eternal reward is our game.
Q. If reincarnation is in fact true, and I’ve had many lives, which of my identities will prevail in heaven?
Resurrection is a step in the greater ‘Wheel of Reincarnation’. Reincarnation means born again in another body, starting life from beginning as a baby, same soul in a different package with another identity. Although it is believed that memories from previous lives are kept, mostly they are not accessed by the conscious mind. In sum, identities prevail in eternal heaven but not consciously.
Q. Are Pets Allowed in Heaven?
The bible speaks of Jesus on a White Horse and lions laying down with lambs; the assumption that there are animals in heaven is correct, even if some argue that they don’t have souls. And because animals are soulless, they are permitted by special request only, and limited to one per Angel.
Q. Is there stress in Heaven?
Stress is a normal part of day to day functioning in the holy capital. But it never rises to a state of distress.
Q. When you get to heaven, do you find out which of the planet’s rich and diverse faiths is the one, true faith?
The FAQ’s preceding are symbolic and based on universal concepts. All faiths are part of the one, true faith. And this, in turn, occupies a parallel dimension that is undiscernible to the human intellect. Yet, in either dimension, there is to be found a coexistence of ever-expanding, neutral magnanimity.
Q. What, then, is the Meaning of Life?
The meaning of life is in the eye of the beholder.
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