De Caeli Natura (On the Nature of Heaven)

Before I begin, I want to thank my friend Anne Thrope once again for contributing to this space last week.   Hopefully she’ll be kind enough to do so again in future.  As to this week’s post, I’d like to dedicate it to the memory of Christopher Hitchens.  What follows is a bit of irreverent fun on the nature of heaven.  Take from it what you will. 

DE CAELI NATURA
(On the Nature of Heaven)

Suppose for a moment that you believed in heaven.  And suppose for a moment that it was the sort of heaven that more or less mirrored earth.  That is to say, it’s not just disembodied souls floating around on clouds playing harps.1  But rather a more tangible existence, with proper human bodies, homes with south facing windows, locally grown grass fed beef, bartenders who know how to make proper martinis,2 and true double headers.

But if we accept for the sake of this silly argument that heaven is indeed something like this, then it seems to me, we must consider two factors:  Age and Time.  Let us consider age first.  And by age, I of course refer to the manifested chronological age of the heavenly habitant.  I think we must concede that if one is to live – well, not live, strictly speaking, after all, one is only in heaven if one is dead, presumably3 – I say, if one is to live in heaven, one must be able to choose the age of the body in which they are going to putter around.  Else what kind of reward is a happy eternity in a frail old body?4  But even this raises a question.  Does one have the option of designing an ideal body for themselves, or must they choose a model only from a given point on their own linear chronological continuum?  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  If I could show up looking like my 25 year old self, but be able to hit the ball like DiMaggio, maybe I don’t need some idealized body.5  In any case, it seems some decision must be made, and ideally, the choice of body will be made by the end-user.  It may be that upon arrival one must fill out a survey in triplicate as to which of their previous bodies they would like to use.6   But since I can only assume (i.e. hope) that heaven is nothing like the DMV, perhaps the administrators conduct some kind of cranial scan and have your pre-chosen heaven-body prepped for you by the time you show up.

So to sum up the question of Age, let us conclude for argument’s sake that one can choose for oneself any one of their bodies from any given point along their own linear chronological continuum, and that body can then be endowed with any sort of physical prowess up to the heights of human limitation.  What then of Time?

When you get to heaven, when is it?  Is it when you died?  Is it the future you could never imagine or the past you wished you could have lived in?  Put it another way, would great Caesar’s ghost (GSG) have to wait 2000 years for the telephone to be invented on earth before he could make a call to great Pompey’s ghost?7  Does GSG text now, where he couldn’t before?  Or does he just skip ahead and communicate telepathically, since sooner or later somebody’s bound to come up with that?  In other words, does heaven, at any given time, contain the full scope of human innovation, available for all to use?  Imagine GSG sauntering over to Samuel Morse and asking him what he is clicking away on over there, and Morse has to say, “oh, it’s my telegraph, but you’re before its time so I shall have to ask you to piss off.”  Meanwhile, Morse wonders why Bell keeps holding a little tube up to his ear and calling it Watson.  And they all wonder who’s that arrogant SOB in the black turtleneck carrying a little glowing box with white wires running up into his ears.

Taking this to its (or at least, a) illogical conclusion, will technology at some point begin to affect the population of heaven?  I refer specifically to the Singularity.  Surely the population of heaven is dependent upon people dying.8  But if we achieve the Singularity, such that people can live on indefinitely in robot bodies, then it would seem that their arrival in heaven would be indefinitely delayed.9  Add to that the question of Singularitized robot procreation – to wit: do they? – and we may be faced with, if not the end of humanity, then the end of new people/souls.

The irony to all this, of course, would be that heaven turns out to be much better than being alive on earth.  Yet on earth, you have all these people prolonging their lives with robot bodies and electronic brains for the sole purpose of avoiding the afterlife.10  Meanwhile, all the people in heaven are stunned by this development.  They want to let everybody on earth know that dying isn’t so bad after all, come on in the water’s fine, &c.  But alas, there are only two rules in heaven.  1) You’re not allowed to tell living people anything about it.  2) Don’t be a dick.

In the end  In closing, it is of course impossible for the living to know anything about heaven.  Sure, one can go to church, or synagogue, or mosque or whatevs, but they’re all trying to sell you something of which they have no actual knowledge.  Sort of like buying a Conestoga wagon from some shyster in New Jersey because he completely sold you on how beautiful Oregon is.  Maybe Oregon and heaven are both truly beautiful.  But speaking strictly for myself, I ain’t taking his word for it.  At least, not at his prices.

Ultimately, we can’t know anything about heaven until we get there.11  But what’s the rush?  Heaven is for æternity, but life is quite finite.  So pour a drink, put on your favorite music and live a little!

  1. Although, I suppose they could be playing harps if they wanted to.  On second thought, maybe they could only play harps if they knew how to play harps in life.  Alternatively, perhaps entry into heaven entitles one to virtuosic skill at any instrument one desires.  Which would sort of take the fun out of meeting Beethoven, who, come to think of it, probably wouldn’t even be deaf in heaven.  But following this line of loonery to its logical conclusion, the fact that Beethoven could hear in heaven would at least justify your newfound fluency in late 18th-early 19th c. German. []
  2. Whatever you think about heaven, I hope we can all agree there is no such thing as a “vodka martini” there []
  3. ‘Tho I would make an argument that playing centerfield for the Yankees and marrying Marilyn Monroe can’t be that far off []
  4. To be fair, I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.  In the Republic, Plato has Sokrates have Sophokles say that old age is great because the body is no longer ruled by hormonal passions. (329c: ἁϲμενέϲτατα μέντοι αὐτὸ ἀπέφυγον, ὥϲπερ λυττῶντά τινα καὶ ἄγριον δεϲπότην ἀπέφυγον.  I am most pleased to have escaped it [τἀφροδίϲια – aphrodisia], as if I had escaped from some raging and wild master.) []
  5. Plus, by virtue of this being heaven, chicks needs must dig me, right? []
  6. Or future.  Suppose I get hit by a bus when I’m nine.  Maybe I’d still like to utilize my 25 year old (temporally non-realized) body. []
  7. And incidentally, is the ghost of Pompeius Magnus – i.e. Pompey the Great – great Great Pompey’s ghost?  Great Pompey’s great ghost? []
  8. If we accept the premise that one can not be born into heaven, but only die into it, then it stands to reason that there are no unwanted pregnancies in heaven.  Likewise, if we accept that heaven is a place where nobody ever gets sick, then the need for condoms in heaven is entirely obviated.  Amen. []
  9. One might wonder, tangentially, how this would effect the heavenly real estate market.  I suspect that, even now, there is rampant speculation taking place.  Operating under the premise that everybody who is born will die, and that there are mathematically (failing some wepic disaster) far more people yet to be born than are now living, or indeed have ever lived, then heaven must constantly be looking for new places to stick the people who are flowing through their golden gates and planning ahead for those yet to come (or go, from our perspective).  So imagine the poor schnook who locks up a gazillion acres of heaven-space and starts developing luxury condos, manor houses, chalets, villas and whatever else the lately departed/newly arrived will want, only to find out that due to the Singularity demand has been crippled.  From there, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where the speculator/developer starts sneaking not-so-deserving souls over the border in the back of his van just to recoup some of his losses.  Now you’ve got an inlegal inmigration problem.  This naturally creates a host of headaches for HHR (Heavenly Human Resources), because all of a sudden you’ve got souls who were heretofore good people, but are now showing signs of xenophobia, raising the question: can/should they be kicked out of heaven for such narrow-minded bigotry?  And you thought the only thing heaven had in common with Arizona was a lack of sales tax. []
  10. For the first time since people discovered heaven, nobody’s dying to get in!  #zing []
  11. Or don’t get there, as the case may be []

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