The Passion of the Atheist - Heaven, Loss, and Eternity

"Surely heaven and eternity have a connection, but where does loss come into the equation?"

Heaven, Loss, and Eternity

These ideas may not seem to have anything really to do with one another. Surely heaven and eternity have a connection, but where does loss come into the equation? Furthermore, it may be difficult for the believer to see where the idea of heaven might pose an emotional heaven. After all, heaven is supposed to be the place where you're reunited with your lost loved ones for eternity. How could that be a bad thing?

In order to paint a clear picture, I want to address these issues in a specific order which leads from one to the next. Yes, this will be a logic exercise, but the logical train of thought is built on the emotions these ideas induce. As we see the fundamental flow of logic based on these emotions, we'll see that the atheist position makes a strong logical case that is built on emotional response.

Let's begin with eternity. The big problem with eternity is that it's a concept that we as humans honestly can't truly perceive. We can give a million analogies and nothing will even really come close to doing justice to the vastness and immensity of this idea. The idea of eternity is so immense that the vastness of our universe isn't even a blip on the radar of eternity.

So let's be honest and admit that we can't really comprehend eternity in any meaningful sense. Is there then a way we can relate the idea to something we can comprehend? I think that by examining the implications of what eternity represents we can comprehend the idea much more clearly.

Let us imagine that in the future there is a machine which handles the rationing of food supplies. At the age of 25 you go to this machine and it asks one seemingly simple question; "What is your favorite food?" So you think for a minute and answer, "Hot wings." From that moment on the only food rations you receive are hot wings. For the first week or two this is rather awesome. By week three you are kind of missing the taste of apples. By three months you are sick to death of hot wings. After a year you'd consider killing someone for a salad. This never ends.

This is the ultimate cost of eternity because knowledge and experience are finite. On a long enough timeline, which eternity certainly is, there is nothing you wouldn't have experienced. There would be nothing new to learn. On that timeline everything becomes hot wings. No matter how much you love them, you don't want hot wings for every meal of every day for all your life, never mind for all eternity!

This brings us to heaven. Heaven is supposed to make eternity worth it. In reality however, it's more like owning your own amusement park. All those rides might be great at first, but eventually you'll get bored. Eventually you'll want to see other amusement parks and ride other rides. But heaven is like all amusement parks wrapped up in one. Every ride there is are all right there. There aren't any other rides and you can only ride the Batman so many times before you just don't enjoy it any more.

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What good is eternity if there's nothing new? What good is eternal "life" if there's no life to live? For many atheists like myself the idea of heaven sounds more like mental torture and stagnation of the human experience. Many like myself don't want any part of that. We respect the human experience and the finite nature of it. For us, that is exactly what makes life great and worth living. Because we are finite we can never know or do everything and so there is always something new to reach for and experience.

This in turn leads to the idea of loss and how it relates to heaven and eternity. You see, heaven is just one side of the coin of eternity. There is also this pesky notion of hell to contend with. Now, I don't want to get into the issue of infinite punishment for finite crimes. Instead, I want to address the very real emotional problems that the idea of hell, and conversely heaven, present.

If you'll recall, heaven is supposed to be a place where one is reunited with their loved ones, but hell drastically complicates this. You see, one must admit that not everyone will go to heaven. In admitting this, we must assume then that at least some of our loved ones will end up in hell. So the problem becomes how one can enjoy eternity while knowing that someone they care for is being tortured and tormented for all eternity.

Consider the idea of a mother who dies and goes to heaven. When she gets there she is hoping to see her son who died before her in a car wreck. Her son however, once raped a woman and no one ever found out. He never repented of the offense and now he is in hell. How do you suppose this would effect that mother emotionally? Do you think his crime would simply make her write him off? How many mothers still love their sons even after they commit terrible crimes and get sentenced to prison? I dare say nearly all mothers would fit that bill because they have invested not only their time but also their emotions into that child. So how could she enjoy heaven knowing that her child was suffering? Add to that the fact that there is no reprieve from hell, and it's easy to see why this is a problem.

Now, the popular apologetics argument is that there can't be any pain or sorrow in heaven so god will take those memories away from you. How can you feel sorrow for your loved ones in hell if you can't remember them? Problem solved.... right? Wrong! This only creates a new problem, because everything that makes us who we are comes from our memories and experiences. So if god takes a memory to take our sorrow, he must also take a piece of us. Understanding this we must ask ourselves how much of ourselves we can lose before their is no self to speak of?

So when we take all this as a whole we can see that many atheists aren't enthralled with the notion of eternity. We see that many atheists do not see heaven as a gift but as a curse. And we see that for most atheists the supposed benefits of heaven do not justify the torment of hell. There is logic involved in supporting these ideas, but at their heart the ideas themselves are born of our emotions. It is our emotions which draw us to seek logic to justify them. These logical issues aren't all that clear at first glance, yet our emotions tell us something is amiss. When we feel that way we go looking for what the problem is that's weighing us down. If we are honest we can admit that these notions such as eternity and heaven cause strong emotions for us just as they do the theist. The only real difference is how we go about understanding those emotions and dealing with them. Unlike the theist we do not seek out any answer that will quiet our emotions, but rather we seek the logical ones that will give us a foundation of understanding and that show our emotions to be justified.

 

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