Here is another guest piece from Dana Horton, who is interested in secular spirituality. There are some questions that could be raised from this, as I add below. Over to Dana:
Is Bugs Bunny in Heaven?
(Reading time 3 minutes)
Last week we had a great time talking about evil and suffering, and whether these provided any definitive proof of God. We concluded … nothing. There did not seem to be a clear connection between suffering and the existence (or not) of God. Even if God exists, he/she/it may not actively engage in preventing all suffering, because life would be pretty boring and pointless without it. And even if we had a secular panel of ‘experts’ to make determinations on who suffers, and how much, we would quickly find out why it is not an easy question.
I thought we’d follow that one up with another fun one on the concept of heaven. Is heaven some kind of paradise in the sky where we go after we die? Or did we homo sapiens just kind of make it up?
Who did we steal this idea from? We finished devouring the book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering by Scott Samuelson. It was one of Mark Manson’s (Subtle Art of Not Giving a F&#@) recommended books from 2020. Without that recommendation, there is no way we would have picked this one up at the local Barnes & Noble. But we found that Dr. Samuelson is a good writer — he makes tough topics easy to grasp. And this book is a surprisingly fun read (in a weird kind of way). Plus he was kind enough to give us a thumbs up on this week’s write-up.
The premise. Y’know, each of us has a version of heaven and hell that probably looks a lot like our own moral principles. These principles were probably largely ingrained by our family or religious traditions. For example, the Mormons believe you stay married forever in the afterlife – consistent with the importance they place on marriage in this earthly life. The ancient Norsemen believed they sat around in a great hall drinking mead in the afterlife until they went out to do battle with a giant wolf. So there’s that.
Are either of these versions right … or wrong? We’ll all eventually find out in the end. But in the meantime, let’s consider the idea of heaven as a perennial paradise where harps play all the time and no one ever gets permanently injured. It would be kinda like the classic Saturday morning cartoons (#millennialsmissedout).
Cartoon characters never experience permanent suffering. Wylie Coyote always pops back up after being flattened by the anvil. Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam are always looking to do harm, but never quite get it done. And the shame/guilt laid on by Tweety’s Grandma are ineffectual in influencing behavior modifications in Sylvestor.
How about Bugs Bunny? Is Bugs happy in this environment? Of all the cartoon characters, he is the one who obviously knows he’s a cartoon and seems to stay detached from the imagined real life of the other characters.
What’s up, Doc? The answer to Bugs’ question in the cartoon heaven is always “nothing” because all the obstacles in life are removed. The cartoon characters have lost their stories (or they never had them). To stretch the analogy, if we humans transplant ourselves into some imagined cartoon paradise where the only thing to do is sing and strum harps, that does not sound all that fun. At least in this life we have our stories. And our stories involve conflict and struggle, with real results. Unlike the cartoons.
One of the notions in Christian doctrine is that all we have to do to get into heaven is believe in Jesus. That is almost too easy. You’d think it should be a little more challenging to be worthy of getting there. But maybe not too challenging … just in case.
But don’t expect to get to heaven by simply obeying the 20 MPH speed limit in a school zone. Obeying speed limits is not a guarantee we’ll get to heaven. Good luck explaining that to St. Peter.
Maybe this earthly life thing is all just a test. In his book, Samuelson summarizes an ancient Hindu epic that provides a pretty good analogy for heaven and our time here on earth. It’s called the Mahabharata (no, we do not plan on reading it). It must be pretty long, because even Samuelson says it is “infinite”. And it is applicable whether we have a religious view of the afterlife or not.
Most of the story is about a fratricidal war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas (think Jets and Sharks in West Side Story). The Jets king Yudhishthira wins the war. But ultimately finds himself on a journey to heaven … along with a stray dog that somehow attached itself to him during the journey.
Finally, Indra, the king of the gods, appears before Yudhishthira and offers to give him a ride to heaven. But he must leave the dog. Yudhishthira says, “I can’t do it. It would be wrong to turn my back on such a devoted creature for no more than my selfish desire to go to heaven.” After the two argue the point for a while, Yudhishthira stands his ground. But it is revealed that the dog is Dharma himself, the god of righteousness. In refusing to renounce Dharma, Yudhishthira has passed Indra’s test and earned the right to enter heaven.
Whatever our vision of heaven might be (even if it is secular), it seems like heaven will always be deferred for one more test. Therefore we must remain vigilant in our ‘duty’ here on earth to be worthy of heaven, even when life is hard. It is all a test. Samuelson’s advice at the end is spot on: No matter what you’re promised, don’t renounce whatever that dog stands for.
Dana Horton is from Ohio, United States and has recently retired as Director of Energy Markets a large utility company. In August 2019, he earned his ministerial license through a New Thought religious organization called Centers for Spiritual Living based in Denver, Colorado. He acted as interim minister at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living for several months afterward, where he learned a lot more about religious and spiritual organizations. At this time has no interest in returning to any formal religious structure. But he enjoys investigating spiritual principles, how they originated, and how they might be applicable to everyday living.
- Can there be a naturalistic account for heaven or an afterlife in any coherent way? Perhaps with idealism?
- Can a belief in something erroneous have a net benefit – i.e., are there good reasons for believing false things?
- Can there even be a coherent account of heaven under, say, Christianity? (I don’t think there can.)
- Is heaven merely a manifestation of “just world theory“?
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