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Changing shape of Heaven

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Changing shape of Heaven
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AndiferousUser avatarPosts: 2727Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:00 amLocation: Laputa Gender: Time Lord

Post Changing shape of Heaven

Interesting editorial on the changing idea of heaven over the years, from the ancient Jews to Rapture, and brings to mind controversy over whether or not "my pet cat will go to heaven".

In reality, the heaven you think you're headed to, a reunion with your relatives in the light, is a very recent invention, only a little older than Goldman Sachs. Most of the believers in heaven across history would find it unrecognisable. Miller's book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, teases out the strange history of heaven, and shows it's not what you think.

Heaven is constantly shifting shape because it is a history of subconscious human longings. Show me your heaven, and I'll show you what's lacking in your life. The desert-dwellers who wrote the Bible and the Koran lived in thirst, so their heavens were forever running with rivers and fountains and springs. African-American slaves believed they were headed for a heaven where "the first would be last, and the last would be first", so they would be the free men dominating white slaves. Today's Islamist suicide-bombers live in a society starved of sex, so their heaven is a 72-virgin gang-bang. Emily Dickinson wrote: " 'Heaven', is what I cannot Reach!/The Apple on the Tree/Provided it do hopeless, hang/That, 'Heaven' is, to Me!"

We know precisely when this story of projecting our lack into the sky began: 165BC, patented by the ancient Jews. Until then, heaven, shamayim, was the home of God and his angels. Occasionally God descended from it to give orders and indulge in a little light smiting, but there was a strict no-dead-people door policy. Humans didn't get in, and they didn't expect to. The best you could hope for was for your bones to be buried with your people in a shared tomb and for your story to carry on through your descendants. It was a realistic, humanistic approach to death. You go, but your people live on.

So how did the idea of heaven, as a perfect place where God lives and where you end up if you live right, rupture this reality? The different components had been floating around "in the atmosphere of Jerusalem, looking for a home", as Miller puts it, for a while. The Greeks believed there was an eternal soul that ascended when you die. The Zoroastrians believed you would be judged in the end-time for your actions on earth. The Jews believed in an almighty Yahweh.

But even if you set aside the absence of even the tiniest thread of evidence, there is a great conceptual hole at the heart of heaven, one that has gnawed at even its fondest believers. After a while, wouldn't it be excruciatingly dull? When you live in the desert, a spring seems like paradise. But when you have had the spring for a thousand years, won't you be sick of it? Heaven is, in George Orwell's words, an attempt to "produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary". Take away the contrast, and heaven becomes hell.

And yet, and yet ... of course I understand why so many people want to believe in heaven, even now, even in the face of all the evidence, and all reason. It is a way, however futilely, of trying to escape the awful emptiness of death. As Philip Larkin put it: "Not to be here/Not to be anywhere/And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true". To die. To rot. To be nothing. We wouldn't be sane if we didn't seek a way to leap off this conveyor-belt heading towards a cliff.

So yes, there is pain in seeing the truth about Heaven, but there is also a liberation in seeing beyond the childhood myths of our species. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, written in Babylon 4,000 years ago, the eponymous hero travels into the gardens of the gods in an attempt to discover the secret of eternal life. His guide tells him the secret, there is no secret. This is it. This is all we're going to get. This life. This time. Once. "Enjoy your life," the goddess Siduri tells him. "Love the child who holds you by the hand, and give your wife pleasure in your embrace." It's Lennon's dream, four millennia ahead of schedule: above us, only sky. Gilgamesh returns to the world and lives more intensely and truly and deeply than before, knowing there is no celestial after-party and no forever. After all this time, can't we finally follow Gilgamesh to a world beyond heaven?

Anyway, it's a long article and there is more found here.

* Just to add that his writing style leaves a bitter taste, and I question the accuracy of all of his claims. But curious what other people think.
"As there seemed no measure between what Watt could understand, and what he could not, so there seemed none between what he deemed certain, and what he deemed doubtful."
~ Samuel Beckett, Watt
Wed Apr 21, 2010 4:44 pm
thenexttodiePosts: 729Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:59 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: Changing shape of Heaven

Thu Sep 29, 2016 8:33 pm
Gnug215ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2541Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 10:31 pm

Post Re: Changing shape of Heaven


Ressing a thread from 6 years ago, and saying nothing.

Consider this a warning!
- Gnug215

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The horse is a ferocious predator.
Thu Sep 29, 2016 9:06 pm
thenexttodiePosts: 729Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:59 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: Changing shape of Heaven

Gnug215 wrote:MOD NOTE:

Ressing a thread from 6 years ago, and saying nothing.

Consider this a warning!

Sorry. I wanted to say something but I dont have time right now. I think it is an interesting post.
Thu Sep 29, 2016 9:33 pm
australopithecusAdministratorUser avatarPosts: 4277Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:27 pmLocation: Kernow Gender: Time Lord

Post Re: Changing shape of Heaven

It's been almost 3 weeks since you decided to revive this thread for no reason, despite posting elsewhere you've clearly "had the time" to say something.

PROTIP: We've been at this longer than you have. We've seen every trick in the book. You're not original.

Mon Oct 17, 2016 11:27 pm
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