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. 

(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. ((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.))  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, ((Whatever you think about heaven, I hope we can all agree there is no such thing as a “vodka martini” there)) 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, presumably ((‘Tho I would make an argument that playing centerfield for the Yankees and marrying Marilyn Monroe can’t be that far off)) – 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? ((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.) ))  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. ((Plus, by virtue of this being heaven, chicks needs must dig me, right?))  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. ((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.))   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? ((And incidentally, is the ghost of Pompeius Magnus – i.e. Pompey the Great – great Great Pompey’s ghost?  Great Pompey’s great ghost?))  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. ((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.))  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. ((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.))  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. ((For the first time since people discovered heaven, nobody’s dying to get in!  #zing))  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. ((Or don’t get there, as the case may be))  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!


**Owing to a particularly busy schedule, this week I have asked a friend of mine to provide a guest post.  Below, Anne Thrope offers some thoughts on holiday cheer at the office. If she should seem a touch excitable at times, we beg you indulge her. We hope you find her ruminations not unworthwhile.

Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t care about your “War on Christmas.”  Let’s get another thing straight.  I also don’t care about your Christmas either.  I am, however, a fierce partisan in the war of “Can’t You Just Leave me the Fuck Alone?”  Look, I don’t mind caroling.  I don’t mind it because at 27 years old I’m perfectly capable of putting my headphones on.  Or earbuds in.  Whatever.  It doesn’t bother me if you want to dress like a hipster Santa Claus or a slutty Mrs. Claus.  I grew up in the East Village back when you could still get crack with your bagel in the morning.  I’m used to people who dress like idiots.

At least she’s wearing a hat. So I’m sure her mother approves.

Reindeer aren’t locally raised, so Hipsters can’t drive them.

My problem is when your holiday spirit invades my workplace.  For starters, I work in an office.  Sterile isn’t the word for it.  Soulless, maybe.  And probably degrading.  Look, you remember what Sarah Palin said?  No, not that one.  The one about lipstick on a pig.  That’s what your little dinky lights around your desk are.  And your holiday cards on your cubicle wall.  My god, man, you’re just gilding the cage.  If you really want to help somebody, bake some tree shaped cookies and sprinkle them with green sugar.  Or arsenic.  Whichever.

I’ll tell you what, though.  I can even take the lights and the cards and the obnoxiously shaped cookies.  I mean, I don’t have to sit at your desk.  And by the grace of whatever god you’re praying to this holiday, they let me wear headphones at mine.  So I can tune you out, you and your confabulated holiday cheer.

You must understand, the great war of Can’t You Just Leave me the Fuck Alone is not a war of aggression.  We have no lust for new lands, no desire for power.  It is strictly a defensive engagement.  We wish only to keep you behind your own borders while we sit ensconced in our grey little bunker.  Ah, but what is this?  In the spirit of the holidays you send an embassy?  Waving a white flag?  Well, it has been a long war, and we are tired.  If you believe we have something to talk about, do come in.  Yes, we ask that you leave your arms at the gate.  Check your goddamn Santa hat with the corporal.  It’s not that we don’t trust you.  It’s more that we don’t much like you.  Nothing personal, you understand.

What is that in your hand?  Ah, you bring us terms.  Sit, sit.  Please.  Would you join us in a glass of rum?  No, I’m afraid we don’t have any milk in the bunker.  Oh, yes, we do have eggnog.  Here, let me just pour your rum into that.  Now then, what is it you wish to discuss?

Embassy: Oh, I’m so glad you allowed us in to speak with you!  You know, we’ve worked together for over a year, but we hardly ever chat.

Anne Thrope: Yes…

Em: Well, oh and first of all, happy holid – are you quite alright?

AT: Yes, child.  Just cracking my neck.  Do go on.

Let the good times roll, baby!

Em: Umm, yes.  Well.  So I was thinking.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we started a Secret Santa around the office.  You know, nothing much.  Maybe five or ten dollars.  I was just thinking that would really lighten things up around here.  I mean, as I’m sure you know, nobody’s gotten a raise in this company since the Carter administration, and I think it would really make a difference to a lot of people if they got a little something from a coworker.  And of course, as I said, it needn’t cost much.  After all, it’s the thought that counts, right?

AT: *pinching the bridge of my nose while you smile like a madwoman.

Em: So can I count you in?

AT: Look, I…<sigh>…is everybody doing this?

Em: Well, I was going to send out a mass mail this afternoon.  But I thought if I could get a couple of people down for certain, that would make it easier.

AT: And you came to me first becau – <sigh> – this means rather a lot to you, does it?

Em: Oh, I wouldn’t say that.  I just think it’d be super fun!

AT: I see.  (Turning to an aide).  Leftenant, bring me another bottle of rum, will you?

L: But sir, you’ve had half a bottle just in the 15 minutes since the embassy arriv –

AT: Bring the damn bottle, soldier!  On the double!  That’s on order.

There’s a reason we promoted young Morgan to captain.


L: Yes, sir.  Right away, sir.

So I finished my rum and agreed to her terms.  What else could I do?  I may be a bitch, but it’s not in my nature to completely disregard people who mean well.  And if there’s one thing you could say about this cheerful bobbing mass of inane smiles it’s that she’s damned annoying.  But I suppose she means well.  And anyway, what’s five dollars?  (I assume she was kidding about the ten-spot).

Now just because I’m going to participate doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.  In fact, I’m going to hate it.  Every step of the way.  Because that will teach her a lesson.  Surely.  But I have two major problems with all of this.  The sort of problems that I’d confess to you over a pint at happy hour if we worked together.  (Alternatively, if we worked together, we would not be going for happy hour).

First, I resent feeling coerced.  And make no mistake, “friend,” this was an act of coercion.  You corner me and ask me to participate in some action which you assure me will have as its issue the improved morale of my colleagues.  Wherefore the only thing more inconvenient to me than engaging in this ritual is meeting with your looks of disapproval for the next several weeks and the passive aggressive barbs which shall surely be slung in my general direction when you arrive at your next bright idea of chipping in for so-&-so’s birthday.  Ah, I can see the email now.  “Julia over in accounting [ed. Not even our department!] is turning 31.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all chipped in for this [ed. meaningless] anniversary of her birth and got her a gift card to the Disney Store?  Of course, don’t feel obligated.  While it’s only five or ten dollars, I know some people can feel put out by this, and that’s the last thing I want…ANNE!”  Hey, honey, go play in traffic.

Ok, he’s kinda cute.

So yeah, I’ll throw down a fiver to get out of that email.  But I’m also annoyed by the whole Secret Santa thing as a practical matter.  Let’s be honest.  Five bucks barely buys you a round trip on the subway these days.  And what’s worse, you’re not even going to give me a five dollar metro card, i.e. something I could actually use.  Instead I have to look forward to some trinket, some gewgaw, some knick-nack (paddy-whack, can’t I just go home?), that a) I have no use for and b) I’ll feel guilty about throwing away because some poor sap put the intellectual equivalent of five bucks worth of thought into it.  This leaves me with two choices.  Establish said bauble on my desk whence it shall be as a font of astonishingly dull small-talk.  Or else take it home to my shoe-box sized New York City apartment whereupon shall it add to the overall clutter of the place, and make it that much harder to realize my dream of just once getting the whole joint cleaned up, if even for a day.

Oh, and here’s a question.  Who the hell appointed you ambassador from the North Pole anyway?  No, really.  How does one arrive at the conclusion that they ought to self-anoint themselves as Grand Marshall of Secret Santa Ceremonies?  Does one look around and see in the faces of their coworkers a latent desire to join in such a ritual, if only some brave soul would be the first to ask?  I think I know what you see in their faces, friend.  These are beaten men and women.  Worn down by corporate directives and politically correct goodthinkfulness, they just want to earn their paychecks and get home to their families.  (Or bottles.  I’m just saying).  Can’t you let them slave away in silent dignity, dead to the world around them?

In the end, you’ve succeeded in breached my bunker.  You’ve snookered me into your little rite, shanghaied me with your deceptively friendly holiday wiles.  The least you could do is bake some cookies.  And I mean real, nice, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  Not those blasted flavorless sugar cookies whose only redeeming quality are their “fun holiday shapes.”  And so I say, Merry Christmas to all, and to all…can’t you just leave me the fuck alone?  Cheers.

**Miss Thrope is a regular contributor to The Cynic, where she frequently disapproves of most things.  Her most recent book, Seriously?  Could you walk any slower?, did not appear on the New York Times best seller list.  She lives in New York City.  Alone.