Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Earthly Reflections on Imaginary Places

For me, it's just a silly question. Unanswerable. Why waste your time? Even people I know who take religion and heaven very seriously admit that it's a feeble attempt for puny humans to imagine the kingdom of God. Besides, as a militant agnostic (my young daughter reminded me years ago that I couldn't be an atheist because I have no faith), just trying to imagine the unimaginable gives credence to religion which has been the cause of so much of the world's problems (wars, over-population, child abuse).

My friend Thomas D., who writes the Bible Commentaries blog Satan Wrote the Bible, is more empathetic. He often tries to think like religious people, in order to better understand them, to better communicate with them... Perhaps to convince them that it is their certainty of that which one cannot be certain that causes most of the problems with religion.

In his latest post, What Is Heaven Like, Thomas D. immediately goes for the humor in the common view of heaven as full of gold and diamonds. Frankly, this ornate version of heaven is probably not as common as it might have been during the dark ages, when the Catholic Church was torturing people in the basements of their overly ornate cathedrals. Perhaps heaven back then was imagined as gold-plated as a way to shame the church over its feeble attempts at Godliness. Whatever. Thomas D. goes for the obvious for us nature jockeys.

Those who do try to describe heaven usually have a lot of gold, silver, diamonds and other jewels radiating bright light. I like to sink my god-given feet into the soil (I seldom wear shoes) so I can’t imagine a worse place than one made of hard metals with stones scattered about. Give me grass, shade trees and garden soil rich in humus. Fill the air with the scents of flowers, moldering leaves, ocean spray. Lift my spirits with chirping brooks and bird songs and, please, please let there be sex.

Reminds me of the song Heaven, by Loudon Wainwright III (So Damn Happy):

"There'll be lots of drinking in Heaven
Smoking and eating and sex
What you didn't do in this life bad for you
Will be totally cool in the next."

From what I know of biology, I think the clue worth walking away from here is "soil rich in humus." In my weird reductionist way, it seems that everything that dies eventually decomposes into the soil, which in turn supports new life (plants) that support more life (animals) that die and support the soil, in a kind of circle of circles. Even in the really long view, where stars are born and die, the matter that was us-come-soil-come-plant-come-animal-come-us-again goes on to be new rock, new soil, new mineral, new nutrient...

Perhaps it's way too humanist of me to accept an imperfect world as the best we can get, but when you put one persons unhappiness, or even despair, on the scale of a cold, indifferent universe, this existence of ours just keeps bouncing along in different forms randomly colliding and interacting forever, and that's about as heavenly as it's going to get.

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