I’ve had this thought on my mind for a few months now and wanted to get it written down and then presented to some fellow Atheist-Humanists. I find the idea of an afterlife, either Hell or Heaven, terrifying and the “just being gone” view of death more comforting than anything else.
A few months back I was discussing the issue of the ultimate happiness that supposedly exists in Heaven with a friend and when I said that any afterlife would be worse than Hell, she asked how I could think of Heaven that way. Heaven is touted as this wonderful place where you get to be with God and there is no pain or suffering, only happiness. Heaven is explained as the manifestation of all one’s dreams and is perfect in every way, so why wouldn’t one want that? Conversely, Hell is described as a terrible place where one is tortured forever and there is no happiness, only pain. It is the supposed manifestation of one’s worst nightmares.
Hearing that sales pitch almost always leads one to desire Heaven. Why wouldn’t one? It sounds like a 5-star resort that one never leaves!
When I hear the sales pitch, however, I hear a very different tale. I hear someone telling me that I will “enjoy” some life that will never, ever end. I will always be there and there is nothing I can do to change that. In Heaven (or Hell for that matter, but we shall focus just on Heaven) it is the same thing day in and day out. A constant feeling of pleasure and happiness that comfortably numbs oneself until one feels nothing at all. The days run into each other because there can be no end to the pleasure and there can be no room for experimentation, for that could cause pain. Life in Heaven would, quite literally, be a high one could never come down from. A high that would never, ever end. One is bombarded with “good” feelings to the point that one doesn’t even know what a good feeling really is anymore, all one knows is that there are some feelings overloading one’s consciousness. For me, that is terrifying.
What’s more (and this will be expanded upon in a post I’m working on about Jünger’s philosophy and happiness in Hell; that post will be more complex and for a different audience, however), this existence can hardly be considered a human form of living. Human existence, for all its ups and downs, is a machination of good and bad times. Despite our instinctive hatred for the bad times, they are, ironically enough, what allow us to enjoy the good times. Just like abstract ideas, in order for good to have any meaning or to be felt, there must be a comparison. One cannot say one’s cold if there are no variations in temperature. One cannot say to another, “you’re tall!” if everyone is the same height. The sky is not blue if there are no colors and the grass is not greener on the other side if there are no shades. Likewise, one cannot recognize a good or pleasurable feeling if there is literally no alternative feeling to be felt…and, in Heaven, that is exactly the state of affairs. I ask then, is that truly living? Is the human experience still the same if one can feel no pain or unhappiness? Is the human experience still the same if all one can feel is one emotion that eventually fades into a permanently numb state of mind?
These questions are open for you to decide, but for me, I hardly considering that a “human experience”.
Although I don’t particularly care for his music, I feel like the following lines from 50 Cent’s “Many Men (Wish Death)” philosophically captures what I am trying to say quite well, and thus I leave you with the quotation:
Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain
Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain
Death gotta be easy cause life is hard
It’ll leave you physically, mentally, and emotionally scarred.
Guest post by Peter Heft