What If Heaven Isn’t Permanent
If time is eternal and never-ending, then why wouldn’t the same hold true for life?
“And then the prince and the princess lived happily ever after. The End.”
Sigh. Fairy tales are magical, aren’t they? For a few wonderful moments, you immerse yourself in this fantasy world of love, intrigue, and happy endings and believe that everything will turn out fine in the end. We love fairy tales because they give us hope.
That may be a big reason for why religion is so popular. It gives us a perfect ending — Heaven. Which is complete and permanent happiness with eternal freedom from pain. Sure, life is a blessing, but very few of us think of our current state as the final goal. Most of us aspire to move on to a better place eventually, where there is less of the bad and more of the good. Or preferably none of the bad and all of the good.
But while I would be ecstatic for that to be true, what I don’t understand is this — if we are able to exist in our current life form — whether it was due to some past sin that we are paying for, an attachment to sensory pleasures, or a random act of science — how are we so sure that we won’t come back again?
I am not referring to the Eastern philosophy of reincarnation, where one may take birth numerous times to pay off karmic debts.
I am talking about once we’ve neutralized our karma or done whatever it takes to reach our final destination — detachment, prayer, charity work, or other good deeds. If we were able to be tempted by some apple and fall from “heaven” onto earth, how do we know it won’t happen again even if we somehow make our way back up to paradise? In other words, if we could fall once, couldn’t we very well fall again?
How do we know heaven — if it exists — is permanent? If time is eternal and never-ending, then why wouldn’t the same hold true for life? How does it make sense that there was only one cataclysmic event that enabled us to reach the state we are in — birth, temptation, or perhaps a fall from grace — and one final cataclysmic event that will pull us out of it? Why couldn’t there be multiple such events?
Even if there is no heaven, and we are simply random products of the Big Bang and physics, how do we know that the universe won’t drum up the right mixture of neurons, electrons, protons, and croutons and give birth to us morons yet again? Sure, it might have been a 1 in a trillion-billion-gazillion chance that the earth and mankind were able to come into being, but if it happened once, can’t it happen again?
Nietzsche famously posited the same fear in his publishing, Eternal Recurrence. He theorized that if time is eternal, then it is more than certain that life will recur endlessly as well. He was tormented by the worry that we may even circle back into the exact same life we are living now, because eventually the same configuration of matter that gave rise to us once will eventually regenerate and give rise to us in the same form. So horrified was he at the idea of having to relive his current life that he spent a whole book examining this scary concept. Oh, and he also went insane and was checked into a mental asylum. (Note to self: DO NOT GO CRAZY!)
It is partially for this reason that I don’t abandon my worldly life and become a detached, praying hairy hermit monk in the Himalayas. I’ve thought about it — and tough as it would be, I would happily do it if I thought I could achieve permanent Enlightenment that way. But I remain skeptical that all of that sacrifice is worth it, either because as an Agnostic I’m not sure there really is a Heaven or God, or because I’m not sure that our final resting place — free from all pain and suffering — is really permanent.
To begin with, it already seems like such a tough, self-sacrificing journey to get to Heaven in the first place, at least according to some religions. Hinduism theorizes that many lifetimes of being reborn into plant, animal, and human forms are involved — 84,000 lifetimes in fact — in order to atone for bad karma through suffering and good deeds. (Yes, that means we will one day be reborn as a lizard or spider or chicken sandwich, the animals we treat so cruelly as humans.) Only after millions or perhaps billions of years is our long arduous effort finally rewarded with moksha, or enlightenment.
And after all that, imagine if the finish line was only a temporary respite, one that could eventually end and culminate in the cycle of rebirth all over again? What if we all share the same plight as King Sisyphus — doomed to try endlessly to reach the top of the hill, only to slide back down again — but we just don’t know it?
I HOPE that isn’t the case. How depressing. Waaah! Everyone wants to think positive thoughts and stay optimistic, and of course, I do too. I most certainly hope I’m wrong. I pray there is a fairy tale ending in store for all of us — no matter how difficult the road may be to get there. Even if it’s tough, if we can eventually achieve a state of happiness that lasts forever, then all the striving will have been worth it.
So here’s hoping that one day we can all live Happily Ever After . . . but . . . I’ll fully believe it when I get there.