When moderns think of the afterlife, if they believe in it at all, they tend to imagine the Great Retirement Village in the Sky. It’s a pleasant grassy field next to a placid lake, where it’s always mid-September, rain never falls from the fluffy white clouds, and the sun is always warm but never hot. Waiting on the shore are Grandmama, Uncle Albert, and Rover, who you haven’t seen since he got hit by a car when you were eight but is of course present because as everyone knows, unlike people, all dogs go to Heaven. Getting into Heaven isn’t hard. You don’t have to believe in God or do anything strenuous, you just have to be sufficiently nice. Maybe there’s a Hell, which isn’t very nice, but only serial killers and Hitler end up there. So long as you’re a pleasant person you don’t have to worry about damnation, anyhow. You’ll go to the good place, and once you’re in, you’ll spend eternity padding around and making chit-chat about old times.
It’s pretty boring, which is about the only thing it has in common with the more traditional Christian vision of Heaven, where one joins the angelic hosts and the legions of saints in a great, spiralling procession about the golden throne of the Almighty, raising their voices in rapturous hymns to His glory, your spirits united in soaring and eternal bliss. Basically mass, but for eternity. It’s a vision of the afterlife that only a priest could love, and maybe this is why Hell had to be posited. Getting into Heaven, according to many of the more demanding Christian traditions, is a lot of work: the path to salvation is always open, but is narrow and difficult, while the path to perdition is wide and effortless. The reward for picking one’s way along that perilous escarpment might seem a bit underwhelming, but it beats being tortured by cackling demons for the rest of time. There’s an implicit acknowledgement of the dullness of the Good Place in the Christian tradition in the recurrent jokes about how all the interesting people end up in Hell.
Categories: Religion and Philosophy