The worst thing about becoming a christian as a teenager was the thought that consciousness never ever ends. I actually struggled with the whole concept of death because all these different ideas of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ and ‘ghosts’ and ‘afterlife’ sounded absolutely tortuous.
I remember our youth pastor saying that in heaven we will be singing songs to god for the rest of eternity. I thought (and was fairly certain I detected that he though this too) that sounds like the most boring eternity ever. Yet he asserted it was biblical. What would be the point of going through all of this life here on earth then if in the end we just end up mindlessly worshipping in an endless cycle? It makes no sense.
Even thoughts of a heaven that contain everything you could ever want sound a) illogical and b) like the novelty would wear off very quickly. First of all, how would you divide all the individual heavens? People would have to have separate dimensions because each person’s heaven would be so incredibly different and highly conflicting. The show Supernatural tried to illustrate this when Sam & Dean went to heaven, but it quickly becomes confusing jumping from one person’s heaven to the next. Is heaven filled with memories? Fantasies? Does gravity exist in heaven?
Not to mention the many times I was told that there is no marriage in heaven. Although, other faiths do have marriage in heaven. Some say that we won’t know our family members, but then how could that be heaven without the people we love the most? That, and animals don’t go to heaven so our sweet pets that have departed wouldn’t be there.
Then of course there is the novelty factor. I liken it to an ongoing video game like World of Warcraft or The Sims – collecting, questing, working toward something is way more fun than having everything. It gets boring really quick. I imagine sitting in heaven with all your gold crowns walking on streets of gold would get old with nothing new or unexpected.
Eternal torment simply does not fit with the image of a loving god. I remember trying to rationalize this and make sense of the fact that people who didn’t know jesus were supposed to suffer for all of eternity because their names were not written in the book of life. (This all sounds so stupid to me now). I wondered if maybe god gave everyone a second chance to accept him when they are being judged.
What really blew my mind is the friend of mine who was our resident expert on christianity believed that hell was simply ceasing to exist. God would annihilate all of the souls that rejected him. In a way, this ‘mercy’ fits better with the image of the loving god. I think it helps believers sleep at night. Yet, to me, the concept of heaven and eternity was so problematic that the thought of life just coming to an end like a good sleep at the end of a long day sounded the most appealing. Being forced to continue to live forever in any of the heaven scenarios I described would’ve been my personal hell.
There are so many speculations and doctrines and ideas about what lies beyond the grave. I think being aware of our own mortality is difficult to come to terms with so we make up stories to bring comfort at the thought that our loved ones still exist somewhere, that we will not cease to exist. In the last year, we have been living in a more rural environment and we’ve seen lots of life and death of animals. Baby goats, chickens, puppies, squirrels, birds, and all sorts of animals. We have also seen dead animals that have been hit by a car, caught by a dog or cat, died of illness or old age. The bodies are lifeless. An empty shell. One moment the creature was alive and the next it is dead. There is no coming back. The rest of the squirrels continue on with their squirrel business and life goes on. Creatures are born, age, mate, eat, sleep, play, die. We are no different. Our body shuts down and our brief mark in history is over.
At first I was relieved to know this for the reasons mentioned earlier, but occasionally it is a difficult pill to swallow. The reality that life will continue to go on in our absence is disquieting because it delivers a blow to our ego. How can the world go on without us? And yet, I have had friends whose spouses have died and left children behind and while it is incredibly sad and the spouse is missed, the children continue on with their lives and adjust to the absence. I realize that sounds insensitive, but it is true. That is the ultimate goal of parenting, right – to raise kids to become self-sufficient and able to get along without you? I wouldn’t want my kids to fall apart if I died. I would want them to keep on doing exactly what they are doing and grow to be capable adults.
I only even thought of all this tonight because I watched the movie, Dream House. Without giving it away, let’s just say there are unresolved issues as there are in most all scary supernatural movies. It was unsettling for me, not because it was scary or supernatural but the thought of having died and being stuck freaks me out. Limbo, purgatory, ghosts haunting houses, whatever you want to call being stuck in the space between the living and the dead or heaven and hell just sounds awful to me.
It is not because these concepts are unappealing that I no longer believe in them, by the way. There is simply not enough evidence to believe in any of it. As much as I would like fairies and unicorns to exist, wanting them (or not) to exist does not make it so. There is no evidence and so I do not believe unicorns exist (even if the bible references them). We have no evidence of an afterlife and quite frankly, it’s rather arrogant to think that we are important enough to have an eternal consciousness.
I will say that the one thing that I am sad I will miss out on is storytelling. Stories like Harry Potter, video games, movies, literature – all the creativity that sparks our imaginations. I am sad to miss out on future stories, but that’s all the more reason to be grateful for today and relish every moment of it. We have one shot. Life is so much sweeter when you realize it is only temporary. When you are always looking forward to life after death, you forget to cherish life here on earth.
So, today and every day I will try to be conscious about the mark I’m leaving on this world and love every minute of it. Hug your kids. Encourage. Inspire. Love. Create. LIVE.