From a Collection of essays Beyond Religion II. (No. 27, Nov. 1997) The cover of The Gate is included as heaven is now the permanent residence of my mother.
Most people I know regard heaven as a sort of happy retirement camp. They picture themselves sitting outside their expensive condominiums, around their tepid pool, basking in the penumbra of the Royal palms, forever sipping their tall, cool Bloodymarys, Manhattans or Martinis, and never being in danger of developing cirrhosis of the liver. (Some people seem unaware that all drinks in heaven are tall and cool, in stark contrast to the hot and... in the other place).
Perhaps this heavenly indulgence will finally give due credit to the contention that liver is the seat of emotions and desire. Furthermore, in this heaven, every one will be very important. Since we shall all be clad in equally flowing robes (Speedo trunks and/or scanty costumes), no one will be able to tell how we made our living in the down-under. In fact, we shall all look pretty much alike. Regardless how we gorge ourselves, we shall display divine figures, full heads of hair, and equally as divine suntans. Skin cancer shall be abolished, as will all other diseases. They (nobody) will be able to tell if we came from Europe, the USA or Australia. There will be no Afro-Americans, Euro-Canadians, Sino-Europeans or Euro-Australians. English will be the spoken language, although some will speak Spanish and a few French (rather badly), and of course Latin. It will be just like home. Retirement home. We shall all enjoy getting bored together. In style.
Others imagine heaven quite differently.
Some think that if they blow themselves to kingdom come while murdering some innocent people who disagree with their demands, they will take the elevator directly to paradise where they will be instantly surrounded by forty (in fact, up to seventy-two) beautiful concubines, or women, or wives. I have a slight problem with this image of the ever-after, but that's probably because I enjoy, right now, quite enough problems with just one, single concubine, aah... woman, aah... wife. Actually she is whatever she chooses to be. I recall Shakespeare's prognosis: "I know I am too mean to be your queen, and yet too good to be your concubine." Perhaps in heaven she can be all three. I'll just do my best to enjoy them all.
Then there are those who'd rather recline on a puffed-up, fluffy clouds, surrounded by ever-smiling angels strumming their golden harps. I strongly suspect the angels would be attired in Mozartesque regalia, and be conducted by the immaculately tailed, fiddling Tarzan, known to the aficionados as André Rieu. They would play on and on and on. For ever and ever. (For the uninitiated, André is a European import that, surrounded by crinolined angels, enthralls elderly ladies).
Given forty harpists (with or without André) versus forty beautiful concubines.... We all sleep with our choices.
And then we have the serious guys (and dolls).
They (we) will spend their (our) eternity at the feet of their (our) chosen deity (catalogue available at the gate), basking in His (Her) glory, rejoicing with the (above mentioned) angels. They (we) will be peeking down, way down, (with just the most innocuous of smirks) at the poor saps who still didn't even make it to the antechamber of the pearly gates. Here we shall luxuriate in lavish and eternal peace, serenity, and peace. Well, definitely serenity. (And peace). Our joy will in no way be tempered by our knowledge (we shall be fairly omniscient) that our aunt and uncle, possibly also that second cousin (she was a bitch), are frying dead (though seemingly alive) on the sharp prongs of the glowing spits wielded by the long-tailed and horned (if not horny) devils.
Anyone for Florida?
For reasons of my own, I refuse to list the possible alternatives of hells (Gehenna, Hades, the Valley of Hinnom, Tartarus, are just some of the attractive-if-unseen locations) of which we also have a ready supply. The most prominent and popular of them all is the make-it-yourself hell. Surprisingly, some of these locations do not sound as bad as having to put up with forty wives, day in and day out (alternatively night in, night out) or, alternatively, to put it mildly––to getting bored stiff.
Is there a heaven?
That rather depends on the definition. If the question suggest that there is a place we go to, after we're dead and buried... I doubt it. I am deeply convinced that heaven is for the living, not for the dead. According to on of my reference books (the Bible), heaven is a state of consciousness. It is that, the awareness of which, we develop, over the years, perhaps over countless reincarnations. This same reference assures us that God resides in this elusive state, and since God is in heaven and heaven is within us...
A wondrous proposition.
To me, heaven is a state of becoming, in which I shall forever have the opportunity to learn, to improve, to reach out further and further, without ever being in danger of reaching the end. It is an inexhaustible source that continues to supply the allurements and the challenges for my journey. It is a destination––yet also a beacon––in the endless ocean. It is infinite. I find infinity the most fascinating of concepts. For me it embodies eternity, unbounded intelligence or knowledge, eternal pursuit of the elusive; it means forever being beckoned, tempted, fascinated, and enchanted. For me heaven is also a condition in which I can share my joy with others; share my findings, discoveries, conquests. Forever. That's a really long time.
And my heaven embodies one other attribute. It is a state of consciousness wherein the greatest power is the power of love. In fact, there is none other.
"Surely for the godfearing awaits a place of security,gardens and vineyards
and maidens with swelling breasts, like of age,and a cup overflowing".
LXXVIII The Tiding
Arberry A.J., The Koran Imterpreted, (Simon and Shuster, Touchstone, New York 1986].