My friend Paula Kirby recently wrote an excellent article examining the concept of heaven and the difficulties of an eternity with God for humans with short attention spans and the nonsense that the clergy put forward to hide the contradictions. You can read her thoughts here:
Paula is spot on as usual, however I have been considering the issue of the afterlife due to a discussion with a religious person who shall remain nameless for the moment and this has taken me down a more philosophical path.
There are endless versions of Heaven. In fact there are more versions than there are religions as the followers of those religions can't even agree between themselves. But what about Hell? How many versions of that are there? Many have the usual pits of fire but for example some Norse sects claim that everyone attends Valhalla where those that died in battle enjoy feasting and fornication and that those that died of egregious natural causes merely get to watch and be jealous. Some scripts claim the "damned" have to serve the warriors for eternity, but never get to join in. There are not many followers of Norse mythology as religion these days so I'm not going to take this 'Hell is being a waiter' idea any further for the moment.
The evanglical wing of Christianity that claims to be well respected in the USA confirms the existence of Hell as a geniune place of fire and brimstone and torture and eternal damnation. There are even websites to promote this happy news and in fact Hell Houses have been built so children can be scared into supporting God. At the other end of the Christian scale of foolishness is the good old Church of England. The General Synod has changed it's position on Hell often, from adopting the fire and brimstone approach early in it's history to the relatively recent abolition of Hell as a place.
On 14th July 1996 the General Synod considered a report by the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England called "The Mystery of Salvation." This greatly updated the CofE's position as set in the early 1900s when Hell was considered a mere separation from God.
The 1996 report suggested that those who didn't pass the entry requirements would suffer separation from God... and then "Annihilation." No pain, no torture, no brimstone, no pits of timeshare salesmen, no nothing.
I have a copy of the book of the report and at this point I will admit that I have not read it all yet. Partly because I'm not sure I have the strength, and partly because I find Harry Potter a much more realistic read. But I do note that there is no given time limit for this Annihiliation.
The CofE has never accepted the Roman Catholic concept of Limbo and so I don't believe that they think God will let the damned wait about a bit for their Annihilation. But what is the point in that? If at the point of death a dirty heathen's soul is annihilated then he will never know of the existence of the Heaven that he has been denied.
In fact, as a dirty heathen this is what I'm expecting anyway!
So perhaps there is a waiting room so the atheist can sit and wait as the saved walk past him through the Pearly Gates, I can picture the scene....
Announcer: Would J Smith, T Smith and L Smith all like to come through to St Peter. Foul Atheist, please wait you will be Annihilated in a moment.
Athiest: Annihilated! What is that?
Announcer: You will be destroyed in a blink of an eye! You will never enter Heaven. You will never meet God.
Atheist: In a blink of an eye?
Atheist: every cell in my body, every taradiddle in my soul destroyed in a blink of an eye?
Announcer: YES INDEED
Atheist: My brain and my thoughts too?
Announcer: YES YES YES!
Atheist: So it's not actually going to hurt at all then?
Announcer: err well no, but...
Atheist: There will be nothing left?
Atheist: not an atom?
Announcer: NO NO NO
Atheist: So I won't feel regret or even be slightly perturbed then?
Announcer: Oh do fuck off.
It is clear that just as Christianity has not been able to define a Heaven that is remotely appealing, mainstream Christianity has not been able to come up with a proper version of Hell either. Writers much better than me have noted that Hell does not have to be fire and brimstone etc to be somewhere you don't want to spend eternity. An airport check-in queue would be just fine.
The wonderful radio play "Old Harry's Game" by Andy Hamilton has, in short 25 minute episodes, come up with more genuinely scary versions of Hell than any person who claims expertise in theology. I recall Beethoven being forced to listen to his piano compositions being played by a Demon with no fingers. Oliver Reed being forced to wait at a bar for eternity in a pub where he just can't catch the bartender's eye. Jeremy Clarkson being dropped in a pit of Health and Safety inspectors, and of course the Evangelical Christians having to spend their days locked up with gay black atheist porn stars (which they seem to enjoy).
To the rational mind there is only 1 hell and that is boredom. As a result of that Annihilation does not scare me in the slightest. If there is only separation from God and I'm lumped in with a load of people that like to have an argument, then that doesn't scare me either: that just sounds like real life. Even fire and brimstone doesn't scare me, because it is not something capable of being boring!
As for Heaven? There are many good people that I simply don't find agreeable company. No doubt they feel the same about me. It could not BE my heaven if they were there. I'd rather have the annihilation... and more to the point, after 80 or so years on this planet we should welcome it, if for no other reason than to make room for our children.
This is the real problem with the concept of an afterlife of any kind, good or bad. It encourages childlike behaviour. It prevents the individual adults forming an adult society.
We don't own this planet, we merely borrow it from our children. We owe it to them to go, and go completely because it is the only way they will properly become adults and throw away infantile things.
Funnily enough there is a simple way to reach this happy state. The application of a simple thought...
Reason Above All