As always, I was drawn into some comment threads today. On a particularly non-religious thread – specifically, a thread discussing Uruguay’s legalization of marijuana markets – somehow a man brought up going to heaven, making some obscure and ridiculous connection between the smoking of pot and going to hell. (…Don’t ask, I still don’t know how that happened…) His comment about heaven somehow evolved into whether people in heaven can ‘look down upon us’ here on Earth. Here is his full comment on the subject:
The Bible does not specifically say whether or not people in heaven can look down on us who are still on the earth. It is highly unlikely that they can. Why? First, they would sometimes see things that would cause them grief or pain, namely, acts of sin and evil. Since there is no grief, tears, or unhappiness in heaven (Revelation 21:4), it does not seem that observing earthly events would be possible. Second, people in heaven are so preoccupied with worshipping God and enjoying the glories of heaven that it does not seem they would have significant interest in what is happening here on earth. The very fact that they are free from sin and experiencing God’s presence in heaven surely is more than enough to captivate their attention. While it is possible that God allows people in heaven to look down upon their loved ones, the Bible gives us no reason to believe this actually occurs.
It occurred to me that this specific situation is one of the things which drew me away from the Christian concept of God, and specifically the Christian concept of the afterlife. My concern with this situation stems from my love for my father. As I’ve described before, my father is a very loving man, kind-hearted, self-sacrificing for the sake of others, and overall just someone you want by your side in life. I mean, he stopped once in the middle of downtown Baltimore on our way to an event (already being late as it was, mind you) to help an old man and his granddaughter change a flat tire, for no other reason than to be helpful and generous of his own time for the benefit of those people he found in need. He is one of the most genuine people I know, and he is not religious. I do consider him spiritual in his own way, but he takes no obvious interest in any specific religion, although he most certainly is respectful of religions and those who believe in them. A testament to this fact is that he is married to my Roman Catholic mother.
Being raised as a Catholic, my later years in life brought me to the realization that my mother was far from a role model of the teachings of Christ. Oh, she goes to church every week, and she says her prayers with head bowed low and passion in her voice. I know this brings her comfort in her life, and I have no qualms with that. But outside the church, when her head need not be bowed, her hypocrisy is painful at times. She is certainly her father’s daughter, a father who would curse racial obscenities at those pedestrians in the parking lot of the church on a Sunday morning, trying to beat everyone out to McDonald’s, and with his 7-year-old granddaughter in the car. Now, my mother does not go nearly to such an extreme, but her adamant disapproval of so many people for so many reasons, which devolve into insulting slander and politically-driven rants that can last for hours, it is comparable enough to me. She is by no means a terrible person, but if I had to choose which parent was the better role model, I would hands-down choose my father.
The point of my above tangent is to say that, according to Christian doctrine, despite the goodness of my father and the hypocritical nature of my mother, my mother will be the one going to heaven, and my father will be going to hell. I’m not going to make this a personal gripe about how my daddy is too awesome to be in hell because he’s my daddy and I love him too much and all that jazz. What I am going to make this is an analysis of the personal divisions which the Christian God forces upon His human subjects.
Using my parents as an example, let’s say they both die and are presented before the Christian God. God tells my mother that, due to her unwavering faith, despite her shortcomings as a person, she is welcome into heaven. Looking upon my father, God says that, despite his constant goodness in life, he never accepted Christ as his savior, and so his good works are forfeit and he will be sent to hell.
Now pause for question #1 in this scenario: Will my mother be given the option to deny God for the sake of her love for my father? OR Will my father be given the chance to repent his denial of Christ, spend some time repenting in purgatory or some such place, and be ushered into heaven for the sake of his love for my mother? Addressing the second aspect of this question first, I would assume that the answer would be no, that God would not allow a second chance at repentance by someone who spent his entire life denying Christ as the only option of salvation, especially because that repentance is not based on actual regret of his life, but instead is, again, only for the sake of his love for my mother and his disinterest in be eternally parted from her. Going back to the first aspect of this question, I would also have to deduce that no, my mother would not be given the option to forsake God for the sake of my father, but I do not believe her decision would be completely voluntary. You see, one of the things I was taught about God was His ‘awesomeness,’ to use the word far more literally than as it is used in the common slang. The awe which God’s presence incurs on the common man is not comprehensible, and for someone whose heart is dedicated to God, it is irresistible. In this, my mother, being the dedicated Catholic and Christian she is, would be taken in by the awe of God, the ‘peace’ of heaven in God’s presence, and would forsake all worldly things, to include her love of my father, leaving him to hellfire. So, to conclude this question, no, God’s command on the souls of mankind are absolute and cannot be changed by those individual souls pining for those they loved in life.
[NOTE!: I am not saying the above as a commentary against my mother personally. This is an example of how I perceive the separation of loved ones in the afterlife of Christian mythology, and so should not be taken as a commentary against my mother’s love for my father.]
Question #2 and #3 – In heaven, is my mother conscious of the absence of my father’s soul, as well as conscious of his current state of eternal hell? AND In hell, is my father conscious of the absence of my mother’s soul, as well as conscious of her current state of eternal peace and bliss in heaven? To question #2, I’d refer back to the reasoning why my mother would not be permitted to go to hell with my father in question #1, and also make reference to the comment from the thread which started this whole train of thought. Heaven is meant to be a place lacking in torment, sadness, fear, pain, etc. All negative emotions are eliminated from the picture. Basically, it is a realm where the choice of evil is not available, and only good thoughts and good decisions can be made. This is due to, once again, the overwhelming awe of God’s grace present to all souls in heaven. All things which could invoke negative emotions is avoided and eliminated from the psyche. In this, we must assume that all the loved ones of those in heaven who did not make it to heaven must be eliminated from the psyche as well. For can someone live in eternal bliss and peace knowing the love of their mortal life is forever burning? I can’t comprehend that the souls of heaven can even acknowledge the existence of hell while in the perfect bliss of heaven. To take it a step further and know the people experiencing that hellfire would go against the all-good of heaven and God’s grace.
Now, mind you, it is another question all-together whether God intentionally eliminates the memories of those in heaven or if God’s presence is enough to permanently distract the souls of heaven from their mortal memories and their possible acknowledgment of hell. It could be assumed that the awe of God would be enough, but we being the tricky humans we are, it is possible that God would take an extra step and simply remove the possibility that the souls of heaven could remember such people as their lost loved ones or such places as hell.
Moving on to question #3, I take an even more terrifying deduction and say yes; my father, as an addition to his eternal torment in hell, being denied the eternal experience of God’s grace, would also live in the eternal torment of being separated forever from his beloved wife. I would even take an assuming step farther and say that he would even know that my mother no longer had a recollection of him, and so would never love him again, even if she saw him face-to-face. If this is not the will of God Himself (and assuming that Satan is the lover of all things torturous and evil which Christianity portrays him to be), certainly Satan would make it a point to contribute this tidbit of knowledge into the torturous eternity of my father’s torment.
So, what does all this have to do with my long-since-past leaving of Christianity? Simply this: if the god of creation puts us in the position to live a life among other men and women, encourages us to fall in love with one particular person, live a dedicated and unquestionably loving life with that person, to the point of having children and growing old together, and then expects us to forsake that love because our mortal life is over, why encourage that love in the first place? To me, to be Christian is to put so much weight on one’s relationship with God, there is no room for any other relationship, despite how much the church encourages just that. And even if one finds true love in life, what of it? That love, despite the passion and here-and-now, is not eternal, no matter how much you assume it to be. Even in the Christian marriage rites, the bride and groom say in their vows, “…’til death do us part.” So this love for our significant other means nothing after death? And the love we have for our fellow man, our friends, our family, is just as forsaken in death, simply because God’s love trumps it out of existence?
This is simply another example, for me, of the lack of ‘unconditional love’ by the Christian God, emphasizing all the more to me how unlikely this image of god is to being the truth about a creator. Of what purpose can this life be if all things not-god must be forsaken and abandoned as if irrelevant to ourselves after death, simply because our creator is greedy for our full attention? To me, this is no life to live if that is the result. I love my fiance more than anything on this Earth, more than my parents, more than my Elkhound, more than candy and hockey and anime and all the other petty and not so petty things I care about in my life. To think that, in death, we would be parted so far, so needlessly wasted our lives on a love that would not be permitted to last forever, breaks my heart to tears. The best consolation I have in the possibility of the Christian God being the truth is that my fiance is as far from Christian as I am at this point. I cannot accept such an image of god, and if that god be the truth, then he can send me to hell right alongside my love, and we will burn eternal, middle fingers held high to the sky.