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What’s up with heaven?

What’s up with heaven?

Heaven (and its existence or not) has been having something of a cultural moment in recent years, with a number of books and movies purporting to relate individual near-death experiences.  And those stories, such as “Heaven is For Real” and “Proof of Heaven,” come from a Christian perspective, the desire to know whether or not this is earthly existence is the sum of our existence or not is not limited to church-goers only, but is a seemingly universal concern.  One might wonder: ‘what is it about this particular time and place in our culture’ that has brought these concerns to the fore of our collective consciousness?


A recent story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal offers an excellent investigation of this;

Why, by whatever name and whatever theology, has heaven been such a popular topic lately?

First is simple curiosity and the hope that there’s more to our existence than what we experience here.

“One of the philosophical causes of this is: This is our life. Is this all that we have?” says Dr. Aslam Abdullah, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada. “We think that, somehow, we do not want to believe that this is all we have, so we want to project ourselves in a new world, a new life, and we do not know what that life will be.”

Religion and faith can answer questions about heaven in ways human experience and observation can’t. And because religious beliefs and human experiences are so varied, each believer in whatever comes next probably will answer the question in his or her own way not just now, but at the time of his or her death,

“It’s quite possible that our own experiences and our own theology at times impact our own consciousness, and at the time of death, that consciousness becomes much more expressive,” Abdullah explains.

“It’s interesting that the word that is used in Islamic literature is Janna. It means something that is hidden from experience and from our eyes. So we are longing for eternity, and because most of what we learn tells us that … once we leave this world, this is the end, basically, this idea that there is a life after this one gives us much more meaning in this life and gives us much more meaning of our actions in this life.”


posted by Jon White


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Fr. Gregory Tipton

I think he’s onto something with the non-observational, non-experiential facet. In a Western World of material reduction questions like this are one of the few hold outs to whether or not there is non-empirical existence. And post 1700’s some even thought in order to justify Christianity in light of this “new” epistemology (except for Democritus and a slew of others before him), “spiritual experience” was born.

I think the Christian Tradition parts ways with this fellah when he says, “It’s quite possible that our own experiences and our own theology at times impact our own consciousness, and at the time of death, that consciousness becomes much more expressive.” He’s clearly been Westernized.

One, he suggests that “consciousness,” whatever that is, is separate from experience and theology — thoughts and judgments. If a Christian were to use the term “consciousness” it would need be equivalent to something like The Intellect, a part of the Soul. Under that framework theology and experience are ways of The Intellect/Consciousness’ formation and way of forming ideas. To suggest they could be separate would seem a contradiction in terms.

Second, to identify the function of The Consciousness as “expression” instead of thoughts, passions, appetites, etc. reveals his anthropological assumptions. He’s bought into the western, false myth that “M-A-N” is essentially a “self-expressing agent.” Thus the culture of emoting on one another instead of true dialogue, reducing all truth claims to emotional stances, and the all too familiar parsing out of using logic in the mathematics department and leaving it out when talking the faith.

I think it also a fun but strange phenomenon that folks talk about heaven like a bubbly clouded world and entirely leave off the new earth that is to be inhabited. We clearly don’t preach much on The Judgment or Last Things anymore.

The author of the article doesn’t depict such a “heaven,” but he does seem to have a disembodied view of the “afterlife.” Notice the talk of consciousness left off all talk of a resurrected body. Notice the leaving of this world never has a re-entrance where the soul becomes re-instantiated into a new body.

The Preface for a Requiem Mass states:
“to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is
changed, not ended”

In a sense then The Church does not believe in an “after life” or “another life after this one.” This makes sense because we believe the soul is made in the image of God, and it is through Him in which we live, and move, and have our being (in Being-itself). So our the principle of life is the soul.

Q: What do you call a body without a soul?
A: A corpse.

The question then is not so much about life, as it is about life with a body, and what kind of life. All will be Resurrected, then The Judgment occurs separating goats from sheep.

This question of heaven seems prevalent in all kinds of circles. “Shamans” and “chaos mages” and “Wiccans” sometimes talk of it. But when Christians end up asking the same kinds of questions that non-Christians are asking like “another life” a siren goes off in my head. That probably means we’ve forgotten our Story. But talk about “heaven” is also a siren that even non-Christians are still stuck in the Christian lexicon because they speak English. And that gives me Hope 🙂

JC Fisher

To me, the so-called “proofs of heaven” (including NEAR-death, not to be confused w/ death) experiences are so facile (in NOT being any kind of proof of an “after-life”), that they just end of making us Christians *look stupid* to secularists.

After-life is (for some of us) an article of faith, and a paradox: that’s certainly enough for me. No so-called “proofs” necessary (nor, for those who don’t believe, remotely sufficient).

Ann Fontaine

My thoughts on “After”

I am not so sure the concept of afterlife adds meaning to this life. To me it is more of a “pie in the sky” when there is no “pie on the table” — easier to just wait out this life in hope for a better one later. What if there is no later and this is it? Why not make this life the best one can for everyone?

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