(# …For what it’s worth, you make your own Heaven and Hell right here on earth… #)
I want to discuss Heaven and Hell. I believe that they are merely manmade, idealistic concepts, created and perpetuated to keep us sinners in line. I believe Heaven and Hell to be states of mind, really. Like the Temptations sang, I, too, believe that we make our own Heaven and Hell right here on earth, and this is where they begin and end. When we experience something very pleasurable in life, we say that we’re in Heaven, and when we are tormented and subjected to unpleasantness, we imagine ourselves in Hell.
There are many heavenly and hellish expressions in our vernacular. “Heaven on Earth” is a common one. You have heard it said that “war is hell,” but how do they know that? Well, being in a situation where you are being shot at for no good reason, and your friends are dying all around you and being mutilated and blown up, could what is done to you in Hell be any worse? I think that would qualify as “Hell on Earth,” don’t you? So where do we get all these notions about Heaven and Hell, having never been there? Supposedly, we have to die first to see them, so anything that we think about them must be a preconception. For those who believe in an Afterlife, they would ordinarily prefer to spend Eternity in a utopian paradise.
Has there always been a Heaven and Hell? If so, how did we first find out about them? If not, where did all the dead people go before their invention? Interestingly, Heaven was created out of the Jewish culture. It’s mentioned in the Old Testament, as early as Genesis. The Tower of Babel was intended to reach to Heaven, for instance. But then the Christians came along and changed the rules so that only they and their ilk who are “saved in Christ” are eligible to enter. The Jews had Heaven first, but now they are not allowed to go there themselves. What’s up with that?
Like the Boogeyman, it’s merely a means for our religious leaders to hold something over us, control us and threaten us with when we disobey. “If you don’t abide by God’s (that is, my) Word, you are going to Hell! … Do you want to go to Heaven when you die? Then you had better straighten up and change your sinful ways. Give your life to Jesus,” and all that other Christian propaganda. It seems that Heaven is reserved for a specialized chosen few, and those who don’t deserve to go there have to go somewhere else instead. So Hell was invented to accommodate the unworthy lot.
The Catholics have, in addition, a place they call Purgatory, which is a temporary way station while one’s as-of-yet-undetermined fate is being decided. I refuse to go through my entire life denying myself of certain pleasures and enjoyments so that I will be sure to pass over to some mystical place that may not even exist. But even if it does, what difference is it going to make after all? I’m dead. I can’t be worried about what happens to me after I die. It’s out of my hands. No person alive has the power or right to make that decision for anybody, including themselves.
I think, too, that we don’t have to wait until we are dead to have our fate decided. We all experience punitive retribution and suffer ensuing consequences throughout our lives for our actions and choices we make. But then, who makes those fateful decisions anyway? Since we all are sinners, what are our requirements and special qualifications to get us into Heaven? With karma constantly at work we experience heaven and hell all the time. I, myself, have been so blessed with good fortune most of my life, that I must be doing something right. But am I eligible to go to Heaven? Why not?
I always try to keep an open mind, so for the sake of argument, what if there really is a postmortem Heaven and Hell? I asked my sister, who is sure that that’s where she’s going, ‘What is the big attraction in Heaven? What is there to do for all Eternity?’ She says, “Praising God.” Hunh? Is that it? How does one “praise God” for all Eternity? I mean, what does that entail exactly, and for what purpose? It sounds to me like “Heaven” could be quite a tedious, monotonous bore. This is Heaven for whom? Of course, she couldn’t answer. She doesn’t know for sure. All she has to go on is her faith. I said, ‘Gee, Deb, you’ve been praising God all of your life. Isn’t that enough?’ I would think that after a while God would say, “Hey, enough with this blasted praising already! Okay, I get it. You all adore me. But I heard you the first time you said it. I don’t have to keep hearing it repeatedly, ad nauseum. Give me a break, will ya!?”
So then I asked Debbie about Hell. What’s so terrible about it? She says that Hell is constant torture and discomfort. But I’m dead! Only a conscious body feels pain, which is a result of sensitive nerve endings and brain impulses. You can’t torture a disembodied spirit or soul or whatever the heck we become after we die. But even if that is somehow possible, what difference does it make? You can get used to anything after a while. So whatever it is that is done to you in Hell, it will eventually lose its effect. Anyway, I would think that your heavy-duty masochists would be right at home in Hell. So then, is it really Hell for them? See, it all goes back to one’s state of mind. And besides, some people live their entire lives in constant torture and discomfort, so then they must already be in Hell, even before they actually die.
I have another question. Some believe that the Devil works his evil on us in order to claim our souls when we die. But we always have the choice whether to succumb to his seductive guile or live our lives righteously. I don’t know why he wants us so badly, but he must have his reasons. So if one decides voluntarily to go with the Devil, to sell our souls to him, as it were, why then would he punish us for our compliance? Since we have been told that Hell is a horrible, miserable place, why would we willingly go there? I would think that we would be rewarded with good treatment, which would inspire us to proselytize to get others to join our merry band. It’s not so silly a notion when it only points out the silliness of the whole thing anyway!
I try to use logic with these Heaven-bound Saviors in my life, who include Debbie, my friend Lloyd and my mother, when she was alive. They admit that they would like me to be “saved” for their own selfish reasons. They love me and want me to go to Heaven with them, so that we can all be up There together, that is assuming, of course, that they make it there themselves. Well, that’s all well and good. I appreciate the sentiment. But suppose I don’t make it there, and if Heaven is supposed to be this utterly fabulous place where all is bliss, if their loved ones are not There to share It with them, then how is that “heaven” for them? They would be eternally unhappy because certain people, and their beloved pets as well, are not there with them.
Some TV writers have had the same idea as this. There is a “Twilight Zone” episode (“The Hunt”) about an old country bumpkin who dies while he is out coon hunting with his trusty dog one day. The guy doesn’t realize that he is dead until he comes across a manned gate. “St. Peter” tells the man about all the good aspects of where he is taking him, but when informed that no pets are allowed there, the old man says, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going anywhere without my dog. He then opts to see what is down the other road, where he runs into an angel, who tells the old man that the place he just escaped from was not Heaven at all but Hell. And the reason they wouldn’t let his dog in was because he would know where they were. “Animals can’t be fooled as easily as people can.”
Why do people assume that when they die they automatically will be reunited with those who have gone on before them? We don’t know for sure that dead people all hang out together. Maybe every soul roams around in their own private limbo. The ghosts that people claim to have witnessed are usually alone when they manifest themselves. I have no knowledge that they commonly travel around in packs. Or if they are with others, they may not necessarily be people that they know. The Afterlife is most likely a vast place. We don’t know what special powers they have or how they get around or even how or if they communicate. Maybe they don’t look the same as they did in life but take other possibly unrecognizable forms. In all those countless number of souls, how do you find each other?
Moreover, how do these self-presumed “saints” know for sure that they will make it to Heaven themselves? The common belief is that only good people go to Heaven. The problem I have with that notion is that there is good and bad in everybody. No one is exclusively or entirely one or the other. So who are these so-called “thoroughly good” people? Maybe everyone is potentially eligible to go to Heaven, or contrarily, no one is qualified. At the “Pearly Gates,” are they going to use the argument that since they are saved, they have the right to enter? “Yeah, but… How about all those unborn babies of mine that you deliberately killed, Jenny? Or how about the time when you were destroying yourself abusing dangerous, addictive drugs and selling them to others as well, Lloyd? Or how about my gay children that you demeaned, denounced, disparaged and persecuted all of your life, Fred Phelps? So you think that just declaring yourself saved excuses you from all of your worldly misdeeds?” Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.
Have you noticed that in the movies, whenever a character dies or is already dead, they are automatically relegated to Heaven. “Daddy, where is Mommy?” “Your Mommy is in Heaven, sweetie.” (Really? But she was such a bitch!) “He is now with the angels.” Even if the person was not very nice in life, the writers still let them go to Heaven, as if death automatically absolves them of all their past sins and aberrant personality.
And of course, young children and especially babies all go to Heaven, but only if their parents believe in it. Who knows what happens to the deceased children of non-believers? Then that raises the question of whether young’uns continue to grow and age once they get to Heaven. What purpose or function would a baby serve there? For that matter, what purpose does anybody serve? As conjectured earlier, what is there to do, besides to “praise God?”
But on that note, one does not need to go anywhere to praise God. Don’t we do that anyway, all the time? God is right here with us. We don’t have to go any place to find God. Jesus Christ told his followers that someday they would inherit “the Kingdom of Heaven.” But he didn’t say that it was a place they had to go to. I interpret that as meaning that at some point in our lives may we achieve a sense of inner peace and self-contentment. That is an individual goal, however, which differs for each person.
The ever-popular Christmas carol “Silent Night,” which can be considered a lullaby, contains the line, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” To me, that sounds like a metaphor for death. If one is sleeping in heavenly peace, they must be dead, or otherwise in a state of earthly bliss, which would make it a mental assessment then, wouldn‘t it?
The Christian religions (maybe others, too, I don’t know) consider suicide a mortal sin. If you kill yourself, you will certainly go to Hell, they believe. But pardon me. God kills people all the time. Death itself is God’s doing, isn’t it? (# They needed a songbird in Heaven, so God took Caruso away… #) So why is it all right for God to kill us at will, and we still make it into Heaven, but if we off ourselves, we deprive God of “His” job and must be sent to Hell as a punishment? That doesn’t seem fair.
Some gung-ho fundamentalists insist that there are no homosexuals in Heaven, only “hets.” Well, I’m sorry, but how can you have a utopia without gay people? That doesn’t sound like much fun. Who would all of your pious, dead, fag hags hang out with, for example? And if there is no sex in Heaven, as some also believe, then why would someone’s sexual orientation on earth be a determining factor after death anyway? Are they afraid that we would be there seducing the big, humpy angels and preying upon the pretty little cherubs? You needn’t worry yourself. Don’t you see that we all make Heaven and Hell what we want them to be? It’s all just wishful thinking, which comes right back to its being our own state of mind.
I’ll go wherever I’m destined to go, probably where everybody goes when they leave this earth. Consider this. Death is inevitable. Every living thing dies eventually. So who or what has the time or inclination to monitor every death that occurs and decide the various places where each soul should go? I believe that we all go the same route, regardless of what others think about us or what we think about ourselves. So until then, I can’t be concerned.
Some people think that they will go to Heaven just because they want to. Actually, I believe that to be the case. Who else could make such a decision for us if not our own self? How would you know that you are in Heaven unless you think that you are? Only you can make that assertion for yourself. See, it’s state of mind, just like I said. Your Heaven wouldn’t be the same as mine because we don’t think exactly alike. It can’t be defined in any definite terms. Each of us will make it what we want it to be. No one knows for sure what the criteria are. It seems that one has to believe in Heaven in order to go there, but we can go to Hell whether we believe in it or not? Come on! Humans invented Heaven to satisfy their own peace of mind. There are some miserable souls who will opt to end their life because they believe that Heaven will be a better situation than what they have here on earth. Many of the Negro slave songs implore that they be taken home to Heaven. (# …and go home to my Lord and be free. #) You know? (# There’s got to be something better than this. #)
To illustrate this assertion of state of mind, let’s further explore this philosophical approach to Postmortem Destiny and Relocation. There is another “Twilight Zone” episode, entitled “A Nice Place to Visit” in which small-time, petty crook, Larry Blyden, gets killed during a robbery and comes to in a nicely-furnished apartment and is greeted by his “spiritual guide,” Sebastian Cabot. After he is informed that he is, in fact, dead, and since his surroundings are so satisfactory, Larry assumes that he must be in Heaven. He is further convinced of that when all his earthly desires are provided for him. All the money he asks for (although why does he need money now? He’s dead!), booze and young white women to fawn and gush over him. At the casino he constantly wins every time, never loses.
After a while he complains to “Mr. Fats” that he is bored. There are no kicks to winning all the time. He’s even sick of the gorgeous “broads” hanging around him. He can’t seduce any of them, because they are all too willing to succumb. There are no challenges or mystery to anything anymore. Everything is so predictable. What is the fun of robbing banks and holding up people if they know about it ahead of time and don’t even try to stop him? Plus, he doesn’t know anybody here; he is basically alone, because this is his own private domain, you see. So he tells “Angel” Cabot, “I don’t think that I belong here in Heaven. I want to go to the other place.” He is then informed, “What ever made you think that you were in Heaven? This is the Other Place!” Aha!
Another take on the subject is on a “Night Gallery” episode, in which John Astin is killed in a car crash and is immediately relegated to a subterranean Waiting Room. He turns on the radio but the only thing that he can find on it is annoying Muzak. Soon enters an old man, but when Astin tries to make conversation with him, all he talks about is the weather, his health and other boring prattle. There is a married couple there who are showing thousands of slides from a trip they took and are insisting that everybody watch them. There is a sign on the wall that has a long list of no-nos and what not is allowed there. He is assuming now that he must be in Hell.
When Astin asks for an audience with the Devil Himself, he does appear and John asks to be transferred to Heaven instead. The Devil tells him that “Heaven” has a room exactly like this one, and the people there just love it! “One person‘s heaven is another person‘s hell, and vice versa. Think about that,” he tells him. See? It’s state of mind, just like I said. So it doesn’t matter where you go. It’s we who ultimately punish or reward ourselves, depending on how we regard things.
This idea is further explored in the more recent film, Heaven Is For Real (2014), supposedly based on a true story, whereas a 4-year-old boy, Colton Burpo, while undergoing an operation for appendicitis, claims to have experienced an out-of-body episode, during which he sees himself being operated on, sees his mother and father in different locales of the hospital, making phone calls and praying to God, he sees angels who sing to him, meets his long-dead grandfather and unborn sister, and even meets and speaks with Jesus Christ! Since his father is a Christian minister, little Colton already has been taught certain images of Heaven, so why wouldn’t the child conjure up those impressions in his dreamlike state? What would he know of Hell? He’s only four! Jesus appeared to the boy as he looked in many of the pictures that he had seen. If he were a Buddhist, it would have been Buddha and Mohammed for a Muslim.
If you want to believe this story, and I don’t discount it completely, it only reaffirms that rather than an actual place, Heaven (and Hell, too) is merely a plane of consciousness, which varies from one person to the next. Heaven, therefore, to reiterate, is whatever each of us chooses it to be. If someone feels that they should be punished for their worldly transgressions, they will banish themselves to Hell instead. And there is no reason why we wouldn’t be able to venture back and forth between the two, depending on our state of mind at any given time. So then, we don’t really “go” anywhere when we die, only our soul, or essence, “crosses over” to the Hereafter. Since death itself is the same for everybody, I would think that our afterdeath would be the same as well. I believe that any retribution afforded us is administered while we are still alive. That means that we decide our own fate.
(# …There are no restricted signs in Heaven, there is no selected clientele… #)
Oh, really? Tell that to the Mormons. They are even more restrictive than the Catholics, who are another story altogether. (Check out my A Critique of Catholicism in another post.) Mormons actually deny people’s worshipping choices. If you are not a full-fledged, initiated and dedicated Mormon, you cannot set foot into their Sacred Temple. My acappella group, The Flirtations, played Salt Lake City once, and they wouldn’t even let us see the inside, even though we were visiting celebrities. And on top of that, everyone who wants to, cannot become a Mormon. You have to qualify to be a member of their church. Oddly enough, blacks can be members of the Mormon Church (Gladys Knight is a converted Mormon) but they cannot become priests nor do they go to the “Mormon Heaven.” Yep, they’ve even got their own heaven, don’t you know!
A passage in the Book of Mormon tells that because of a curse upon them, some whites were turned into black people, and whites who mix with them will suffer the same dreadful fate. There are always ways to sanction discrimination, in the name of religion. And it’s not enough that they segregate here on earth, they intend to keep their heaven exclusive, too. According to Mormon tradition, Abel Burns, who was a faithful servant to Mormon leader Joseph Smith, is the only black man in the Mormon Heaven. Wasn’t that white of them to let him enter? They probably just needed a token “gofor”/slave. I reckon old Abel must be pretty lonely and out-of-place up there, though, all by himself with all them white folks. Heaven, huh?
In the Greek myths and legends, all their mortal characters go to Hades, or the Underworld, when they die. Their Heaven, or Mount Olympus, apparently is reserved only for the gods and goddesses. So there is no judgment between good and bad, as everybody goes to the same place, regardless. When deserving thus, their punishment is usually bestowed upon them by the gods while they are still alive on earth. They may be turned into things or made to endure some sort of heinous torment. I guess you can say that those mythological characters do indeed experience Hell on earth, whereas Hades is the place they go for their peaceful, eternal rest.
I have a couple of other observations or theoretical queries, if you will, that I’d like to run by you. Why are all allusions to Heaven upward?—up there, on high, in excelsis, in the highest, “Cabin in the Sky,” we look up when we say our prayers or talk to God, “she raised her eyes up to Heaven … He ascended into Heaven.” Some Romance languages, like French, Italian and Spanish, even use the same word for both heaven and sky: ciel and cielo, respectively. And Hell is always downward somewhere—the Underworld, Down Below, “He descended into Hell.”
Again, it goes to how we humans think about things. When we feel good about ourselves, we feel uplifted, on a high, lightheaded. Conversely, when we are depressed, we feel low, down in the dumps, downcast. So naturally we like to think of Heaven as up, positive and happy, and Hell as down, negative and miserable. They don’t necessarily have to be up and/or down. Hell could be up there in the sky just as well as Heaven can, or vice versa, or neither place. They might be “over there” somewhere.
Another reason why I think Heaven and Hell must be theoretical rather than actual places, is because of their limitations of capacity. Here on earth we are all recycled and subject to the balance of nature. People (and animals, too) are born and then have to die eventually in order to make room for more. Otherwise, we would be over-crowded and there wouldn’t be enough room to sustain everybody. If those afterlife destinations where the dead are to remain for all eternity because they don’t have anywhere else to go, both places would have to fill up at some point. I’m talking about googols of creatures who have been dying since the beginning of time. Even if it’s only their spiritual essence rather than their corporal being, that’s still a lot of occupied space.
So, here is an idea. What if all our deceased souls are relegated to outer space? Since the Universe is limitless, that way we never would run out of space. Or else, as I have already concluded, Heaven and Hell both are merely in another dimension, if you will, or another plane of consciousness, which goes right back to the whole thing’s being a state of mind rather than something concrete
[Related articles: Credos; A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; Jesus H. Christ; Nativity Redux; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]