What Is Heaven?

I used to have this recurrent daydream, where I was sitting in an Adirondack chair on the back porch of a red ranch house, looking over a sunny, uninhabited valley of fields, river, and woods, clouds floating above, leaves fluttering in the breeze.  There were no worries, no house payments, no place I had to go, no work expecting my attention.  Put a margarita in my hand and I could sit there a very long time.

The idyllic scene became my vision of heaven.  What’s wrong with dreaming?  While I’m at the red house, nothing and no one bothers me, except by agreement.  There’s a trout stream, where I catch native brookies, always putting them back.  Rain falls on the garden, as needed.  Happy Hour starts in the early afternoon.

People have been having such dreams for a very long time.  The Neanderthals buried their dead with implements and flowers, sometimes covered in red dye, or wrapped in a fetal position.  We’ll never know where they hoped to be reborn, but the intent seems clear.

The ancient Egyptians hoped to enter the Elysian Fields, where they would enjoy canals filled with water, bountiful crops, lots of sex, and overflowing larders of bread and beer.  Getting there was tough; you had to survive the judgments of Anubis, Thoth, and Osiris.  But, once you were in, it was the good life forever.

It sounds like my dream, except more fun.  That’s because I was raised a Christian; drinking and sex aren’t allowed in Christian heaven.  The biblical God is celibate and frowns on merrymaking.  The Egyptians, meanwhile, get to have a never-ending keg party.

It’s enough to make you think.  Should you pick a religion based on their vision of heaven?  What if I prefer the Egyptian one?  Are there choices ?  Judging from the number of Gods and Goddesses copulating in Hindu temples, maybe Hindu heaven is a good time.  Krishna was a party-animal.  Is there a God that let’s you design your own heaven, so I can include my Betty Boop lights and favorite bars?  If I’m going to spend forever somewhere, I want to enjoy myself.

Who knows what heaven is really like, of course, or if there is one at all?  When the time comes, we have no way of knowing what will or won’t unfold, or if we simply won’t remember either way.  Perhaps we have been reborn thousands of times but lack the memories to prove it.  Shirley MacLaine has been right all along.

If I had my druthers, there are some things I don’t want, that other people seem to find exciting.  For example, I don’t want to spend eternity anyplace that has gates of pearl and streets of gold.  That kind of conspicuous consumption is stupid.  Who are we trying to impress?  It’s heaven on the Jersey shore.

I don’t want to be reunited with my pets.  I got tired of pets.  Some pets I put down.  One cat I gleefully dropped at a shelter after it defecated on my winter coat, while I was wearing it.  Neither one of us want to see each other.

As much as I like my family, I don’t want to spend forever with them.  Uncle Don, bulging stomach protruding through a half-tucked shirt, smiling over a heaping plate of potato salad and hot dogs, is not on my list of hoped-for eternal companions.  Mormons seem to like the idea.

I don’t want anything that resembles politics or money in my future existential state.  The two seem to go together, but not in anyplace worth living on a long-term basis.  At the same time, I don’t want there to be nothing to do.  Are there heavenly entertainments other than Pigeon Forge religious shows and live reenactments of the crucifixion?

I do recognize the silliness of my worries.  If you were to ask me in a serious mood, if life continues after death, I’d say yes, but it is beyond our imaginings.  Physicists talk about an infinite number of universes, and I think that allows for many possibilities of ongoing transmigrations available to one and all.  I can even imagine a scenario where the next life occurs in a universe determined by this one.  In my Father’s house are many mansions; justice will be done.

In the meantime, there is some truth in saying we get what we wish for, and maybe that extends to eternity, too.  That’s why I keep adjusting my heavenly daydream.  You never know.  I’ve added a swimming hole in the river with a rope swing, a pool table, a meditation shelter complete with mountain views and wind chimes, and an enormous gas grill next to the hot tub that seats fifty.  Everyone is welcome for cocktails and burgers.

Further expansion is possible.  That’s because I’m an American.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “What Is Heaven?”

  1. This is my favorite so far.

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