Offbeat 05 June 2015
One of the most interesting things about the Christian religion is the way it evolves. Some of the evolution is obviously purposeful, for instance the Pope’s statements on wealth, the environment and gender issues, all of which make sense within the human and current context of belief. The other type of evolution is evolution by omission. Think of it as a conversational tactic, in which something that disturbs the expected outcome is studiously ignored.
Here’s an example. One of the expected outcomes of the modern narrative is a world without slavery. As a result, the old testament laws concerning ownership of slaves are ignored. Apologists will point to the primacy of the new testament, yet comfortably ignore the old testament laws which still exist, for instance use of the death penalty.
Selective judgments and memory can be wonderful places to play, especially if, for some or other reason, you want to play with a Christian.
The point is that although Christian belief is positioned as an absolute truth, the truth evolves by omission as well. If a thought is uncomfortable, just ignore it and don’t mention it, sort of like you might ignore the existence, absence or presence of a disreputable relative at a family gathering.
One of the ideas that rarely if ever shows up anymore is the clever interplay between heaven and earth, and the dependency of the two upon one another. In metaphysical terms, heaven and earth co-exist. In terms of this thinking, without believers on earth there might be no heaven, and without heaven there might be no believers on earth.
In a nutshell, the nature of life on earth and the nature of heaven are interdependent upon one another. Consider how the Pope alters belief as he talks of environmentalism, gender equality and an existence that doesn’t require a vast amount of wealth. Given his position and influence is easy enough to imagine heaven as a place where the environment is in good nick, everyone has enough to be happy and women are not objectified as household cleaners with sex on the side.
There’s a common expression of the metaphysical side of the thing in the Lord’s prayer: ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.’
So what is the will of God if aspects of human happiness and aspirations are reflections of heaven?Judging by human indicators, the mobile devices and social networking must be something wonderful up there, with unlimited bandwidth all the time. And nobody will ever feel lonely on social media in spite of the fact that they rarely see one another in whatever form flesh takes in heaven. I could make some comments about fashion, architecture and décor, but I am sure you can jump to your own conclusions. Here’s a conclusion anyway: in the absence of inner happiness, buy something.
Emotional aspects other than materialism seem, however, conspicuously absent. Materialism is a way of avoiding human contact and the complexity and conflict that it brings.
What of heaven’s darker reflection, hell? That too seems to be in the process of conceptual revision in shared consciousness. In the first half of this year I have read two books in which hell is re-imagined as an industrialised type of city, controlled by a dour bureaucracy. Notably productivity appears ceaseless although purposeless, and the city is dirty and dark.
The authors have obviously abandoned the concept of the lake of fire and physical torment for the misery of psychological torment and a pointless, repetitive existence.
The scary new duality of good and bad consists of superficial materialism on the upside, and pointless but inescapable productivity on the downside. I actually want neither. Yet both of these are very true reflections of my own life, and the lives of others.
My error is that I accept the reality of others as metaphysical truths, when what I really need is a holiday with wonderful companions and enough time and energy to do something meaningful to myself.
Heaven and hell are exactly what we make of life.