Here’s an idea: heaven is neither a place or a time—it is a razor.
I remember a discussion group in our church going mortar and pestle at the issue of disarmament. Some argued passionately that having armaments inevitably encouraged their use. Others argued equally passionately that nations needed to be able to defend themselves; peace was only achievable through a balance of power.
“So,” mused our facilitator, Grant Kerr, “will there be armies in heaven, do you suppose?”
It stopped both sides in their tracks.
Will heaven include death and domination? Will people be brainwashed into placid conformity?
I know a couple of people for whom heaven—if, in fact, they actually believe in any such thing—would consist of endless Formula One Grand Prix racing. Flinging their cars at impossible speeds into impossible corners, wringing every possible horsepower out of a screaming masterpiece of mechanical ingenuity.
Wait—will heaven have gasoline?
And could heaven include inequalities? Would one team be allowed to acquire better cars and drivers than another team?
Would heaven have winners and losers?
By raising such—perhaps facetious—questions, the idea of heaven challenges the superficiality of much of our thinking about what’s desirable.
Some, for example, might visualize an endless golf course, where every shot was a hole in one. Or a fishing stream, where every cast hooked a fighting steelhead.
A friend declared, “If there’s another life, I want to be a civil servant with a guaranteed pension, indexed to the cost of living, with a permanent medical plan.”
“Why would you need a pension in heaven?” I wondered.
If everything is provided for you, what value would a pension have? Or might heaven include illness, hunger, disability, and mortgage payments?
In these contexts, it seems to me, the notion of heaven serves as a kind of Occam’s Razor, slashing through unexamined preconceptions. Occam’s Razor is the name given to a philosophical principle devised by a Franciscan monk known as William of Ockham somewhere around 1300 A.D., it states that when choosing among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected. More complex solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—lacking absolute certainty—the fewer assumptions, the better.
Don’t confuse Occam’s Razor with Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
The intent of any “Razor” is the elimination of unlikely explanations. Flush the crap; cut to the core.
Please note, I’m not arguing that heaven does, or does not, exist. That’s beyond the scope of a short column. This is merely about the concept of “heaven”—whatever that may be—as a spur for thinking more clearly about Earthly issues. If we define heaven as an ultimately desirable state, why would we deliberately pursue policies that take a different direction here on Earth?
Why, for example, would we cling to monetary policies that increase inequalities? Or social policies that treat some people as having lesser value than others?
Or are we, perhaps, unconsciously asserting that an existence where no one has any needs, desires, or ambitions, would actually be a kind of hell?