As a rule, the people I’ve known who spend all their time talking about heaven, thinking about heaven, straining toward heaven, are people who are sure I’m not going there. Apparently, heaven is someplace only people who believe exactly as they do end up.
I bet their heaven sounds really nice to them. Once they get there they don’t have to put up with all the people who think they’re wrong about everything. As a matter of fact, I think the whole idea is that everyone there is just like them. In their heaven they can finally get away from all those pesky Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Unitarian Universalists. And I can only imagine how much relief they feel to be rid of all the gays and lesbians.
I know there’s a lot I probably don’t understand, but the concept of heaven as presented to me by most Christians involves a form of existence and self-awareness similar to that which makes up our current experience. I just can’t think of any reason why the self-awareness that makes me “Marg” should survive the transformation of death. It sure seems to me that what I think of as “Marg” is a product of a certain story, a certain complicated neural pattern, and a certain physical presence. At the least death is a major dimensional shift, and if something of what I call “Marg” does endure that, I sincerely doubt that the packaging would be such as to lend itself to any kind of recognizable existence or similar self-awareness.
It would be just like human beings to think we are (at the core) some big huge immutable force that survives even the cessation of everything observable. It would be just like us.
Some people argue that a concept of heaven is necessary to get people to behave properly. I don’t buy it. On the contrary, I think behaving properly can only happen when there is no expectation of receiving special consideration because of your actions. Note that Jesus didn’t say treat other people well so they will treat you well. Jesus said to treat other people as you would have them treat you. There’s no certainty of reciprocity in that.
The concept of heaven has actually been used throughout history to convince people to behave in terribly destructive ways. For a current example take a look at the new breed of killers we have labeled terrorists. Promised eternal and lavish rewards in the paradise of the afterlife, they sacrifice themselves and kill other people in the process.
Since I’ve come around to this way of thinking, I’ve started being much happier with my life right here, right now. Right here has much more shimmer. Right now has much more depth. I’m hungry to experience all the beauty and diversity I can in this earthly existence. I am digging for all the love and truth telling available. I am motivated to express all the delicious and intriguing self-awareness this one little life has to offer. I am also almost inconsolably troubled by those people who insist this life is nothing but a sorry exercise in sin and suffering, a disappointing prelude to the better life awaiting them in heaven. So I’ve decided that they can keep their heaven. From what I’ve heard about it I don’t think there’s any way the pursuit of heaven can be any more fulfilling than what I’ve got going right here, right now.