This got me thinking. All the models of heaven that I’ve seen have had glaring logical flaws, inconsistencies, and mutually exclusive parts in their descriptions.
The traditional image of humans wearing togas, clouds, and /nothing else/ seems somewhat dull, and I don’t see any logical or spiritual reason for it to be this way. I can only imagine that this model was invented by a poet in the middle ages, along with so much other supposedly canonical Christian imagery (See Cracked for details).
As to the model of “Like earth, but with a strictly invite-only guest list. No dogs allowed.” — If we assume that heaven is a place of happiness, how can we be happy when the things we love are barred from coming with us? If it’s not a place of happiness, then this model is just a limited (worse) version of earth. Either way, this model sucks too.
There’s also the idea that everybody gets their own personalised heaven. At first this seems great, but some people’s heavens would be mutually exclusive — the only way for them to co-exist would be in strictly segregated areas. Everybody would have to have their own simulated universe where they are the lone conscious being, and everybody else is robots for their pleasure. This seems to be a place of happiness in the same way that getting high on drugs is happiness — with the world bending to your will you could stimulate the brain to release the chemicals of joy, but deep down it seems meaningless and depressing. This model is shallow happiness at best.
So, what could heaven be like? Let’s start from some “facts” (I don’t actually believe any of these, but they seem to be fairly standard among religions)
- There is a soul, a consciousness that can live without the body
- You will meet your ancestors
- Heaven is a place of happiness
So, let’s start with a whole bunch of dead people, their souls idly floating above their bodies according to fact #1. What do they do now? In order for fact #2 to be true, they all have to go to the same place. But wherever you have multiple consciousnesses, you will have multiple viewpoints, disagreements, arguments, fact #3 gets broken. There is a straightforward solution to this: all souls go to the same place, and they do not remain separate. Heaven is the place where all souls merge into one all-knowing blob of experience and memories.
Extrapolating that this blob of consciousness is ever expanding, growing in knowledge and spiritual power, how does God feel about the competition? My answer to that would be that the blob itself /is/ God — when a child is born, a fragment of the God splits off and enters the body; it spends its life gaining knowledge and experience, and when it dies everything it has collected is merged back into the whole. This collective-consciousness God shapes the world by choosing which bits of itself to put where.
This model of the afterlife seems logical and self-consistent (please point out if I’ve missed something), so I think it’s ahead from the start – and for bonus points it also accounts for both the “heaven” and the “reincarnation” theories. It even tells us what the meaning of life is (Well, it pushes the reason one step further up the chain at least – we now have the question of why does the blob exist and why does it want to collect experiences, but these questions are no less answerable than our current ones).
As an atheist attempting objectivity, the latter model seems all round better. I wonder why the first few models are the ones that are preached about, and I don’t hear anything along the lines of this one?
—- Essay ends, rambling follows —-
I’m pretty sure there are a few religions with ideas of a shared life-force that we all come from and go to – I can’t name any real world religions that believe it, but I can name enough fictional ones that I assume there is some basis in the real world somewhere.
To be cynical for a moment: the mainstream models of heaven might not have logic or provide happiness, but they do put the preachers in power, allowing them to continue being mainstream. The latter model says that it’s fine to kill the preacher because that’s another useful data point for the collective consciousness to have. The net result is that popular belief is not influenced by memes that are true**, but by memes that protect themselves, which is an entirely different tangent of depressing.
** not saying that this model is true, just that a logical model is more likely to be true than a self-contradictory one.
Tangent! If you don’t care about religion but you think the idea of memes protecting themselves is interesting, see research on conspiracy theories — theories where every element is pinned down with specific verifiable details get rejected when somebody thinks a single element might be dodgy. The successful conspiracy theories are the ones that don’t have any details, they just give a general idea and allow people to fill in the blanks with whatever they want to believe o.o