A question that has been asked many times for centuries. In the news, movies, television, even blogs just like this one and now its my turn to explore this age old question. Now, I’m not just asking this question cause choose not to believe in God. I’m also asking cause I’m honestly just curious.
See, I believe young children, as well as adults, fear death because we don’t understand it. We tell our children about God and heaven and angels to make them, and ourselves, feel better about the losses of loved ones we all face in our lives. So I guess the point of this question is when I do have children, how do I reassure my child using a world view I don’t agree with or not sure of.
On the brink of death, some have brought back reports of lights, beloved ancestors surrounding them, and feelings of peace. Could that be heaven? I personally think it has more to do with the way in which our brains die. For example, stroke victims with damage to the right side of the brain describe that same sense of peace and connection, a loss of boundaries if you will. I even looked this up last week, that neural scientists have covered the shaved heads of monks with countless electrodes to see what patterns their brains make while they focus inward in the deepest states of meditation. What appears on the monitors, and what the monk describes himself “seeing” is a tiny point of light. The monk isn’t dying, his mind’s energy is focused. Why do we see that same point of light when we die?
The brain is so complex, perhaps its energy takes longer to decipher, caught up in the synapses, unable to liberate itself. From reading a health magazine recently, I learned that, like heat on a cloud-filled night, long-wave, infrared energy unable to escape its atmospheric bounds, reflected by tiny droplets of water back to the ground. It does escape, eventually. The electrical impulses that allow our hearts to beat and our brains to work cease to fire. And our minds do die. But are we seeing heaven as that happens? I’m talking about testable science here, a theory, not faith necessarily.
After I die, there will be nothing I will recognize or remember or process coherently. My body will decay and, if I’m lucky, my gases will be liberated into the atmosphere to be breathed by another creature. I talked about this in an earlier post, it was a post that talked about what happens when we die. My carbon, nitrogen, minerals, and bits of solid matter will become the humus that passes through worms as they creep in the darkness, creating casts of soil, the living material critical to the survival and success of a plant, from which food is grown. Taking up the essential elements of the me that once walked the same land surface, creating a leaf eaten by a caterpillar, an apple eaten by a bird, or an ear of corn eaten by another human. Perhaps this is the rebirth that became another world religion. Not ashes to ashes, but life to life.
But what about that evil place below, hell?
Let’s explore that for minute, hell is a place of eternal torment, a realm of unrelenting suffering for all sinners, heretics and unbelievers. It is a land of fire and brimstone arranged into nine circles and filled with imps and demons who deal out cruelly ironic punishments for all of eternity. Ruling over all of it is Satan, who supposedly sits on a throne made of skulls or something. But upon a strong investigation, I came to conclude that indeed, there is no mention of the word Hell in the bible. Some modern bibles have replaced the words “Sheol”, “Tartarus,” “Hades”, and “Gehenna” with the word “Hell”. But the bible, in its original language only used the former four words to describe a place that people go when they die, (aside from heaven of course).
I talked to my friend about this one a few days ago and has his own alternate theory of Hell, he says that that the options god (if he’s real) gave us are to either go to ‘heaven’, or be destroyed forever and cease to exist. Heaven is more of an option that god is offering us, not forcing it upon us saying, “believe or be tortured for eternity”.No, god is saying “If you do not believe, you will not be punished, you will simply cease to exist. You will ‘return to dust'” Heaven is more a gift that he offers us, however, we are not punished for not taking it.
But to me, Hell is a creation from man, not an actual place.
Artists and writers took those vague descriptions in the bible and ran with them. The understanding of hell as a fiery subterranean cavern full of lava and demons shoving flutes around for eternity owes its popularity largely to the medieval double-team of Dante and Hieronymus Bosch.
Dante’s Inferno popularized the idea of hell as a ‘nine-level first-person-shooter’. He pioneered the concept of contrapasso, the idea that prisoners of hell are subject to ironic tortures related to the sins that brought them there. Like the “flatterers,” who spent their lives bullshitting, and were forced in hell to “wallow in shit” for eternity.
As for Satan being the ruler of hell, that’s a misconception we can probably blame on John Milton. In Paradise Lost, Satan famously said, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” But there’s a reason why God cast Satan and his minions into hell instead of Wisconsin, Hell sucks for everyone including imps and demons. According to to Peter 2:4:”God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into chains of darkness to be held for judgment.”
I’m merely thinking aloud here and by no means is the end of this never-ending debate but I’m curious for Your Thoughts?