Would You Want to Live Forever?
Eaden: Eternal life without God would be hell.
Dijon: Really? You love feasting with friends, wine, and stories—what some say is the best that life can offer. Wouldn’t you want to feast forever?
Eaden: Of course not. Feasting would grow tiresome.
Dijon: While I agree that parts of life grow tiresome, I can imagine being eternally content. My morning coffee is always wonderful.
Eaden: Will you feel that way after drinking an Atlantic ocean of coffee?
Dijon: If my heavenly routine was just drinking joe, singing in a choir, or feasting, it would be awful. But what if feasting were replaced with a more varied activity, say reliving the lives of historical people. Be Cleopatra and Napoleon. What then?
Eaden: However exciting Cleopatra’s life was, experiencing it over and over will also become tiresome. Endless repetition is oppressive.
Dijon: One couldn’t experience all possible lives even in eternity. One, two, three, the natural numbers are infinite, yet they can all be mapped to real numbers between one and two. There are orders of infinity. New lives are lived faster than you can relive them; you need not be Cleopatra more than once.
Eaden: These endless reincarnations would soon become variations on a theme of tediousness.
Dijon: So you crave not only newness but also new types of newness…
Why do you read the Lord of the Rings every couple of years?
Eaden: I enjoy imagining the scenes, the words are beautiful, and Tolkien filled his story with Christian analogs.
Dijon: Are there ever passages you hadn’t noticed before?
Eaden: Occasionally, but it’s more common for a passage to provoke new thoughts than for me to not have noticed it.
Dijon: I see, but Lord of the Rings is your favorite story—you’ve read it more often than any other.
Dijon: Are there any books you read when you were young that you’ve entirely forgotten?
Eaden: There are a few. I may have a few vague recollections if I reread them, but that’s all.
Dijon: If memories fade fast enough from our finite minds, eternity could feel new and even newly new.
Eaden: If the distant past is completely forgotten, you may as well be a different person! What would be the purpose of it all?
Dijon: I don’t remember you playing with me when I was a baby. Do you think those memories were meaningless?
Eaden: No! But I remember them! And even if you don’t remember them, they affected you.
Dijon: Well, I think the purpose of heaven is to enjoy the coffee.
Eaden: You’re being facetious. Enjoyment, even a sophisticated sort, isn’t a good purpose.
Dijon: If heaven could be improved, God would have already improved it. It seems any purpose would have to be a sort of enjoyment—perhaps enjoying God’s presence.
Eaden: Enjoying God is a good start, but a good purpose can’t be selfish. Thus, it must focus on others. Thus we can’t merely enjoy God, but we must have a relationship with him. Relationships produce meaning.
Dijon: But the foundation of relationships are shared experiences. We feast with friends and tell stories—relationships with the past. Relationships are important but not fundamental. They are only a higher-order sort of enjoyment.
Eaden: I’m not so sure you can reduce relationships to mere enjoyment like this …
Dijon: Plato agreed with you. He emphatically distinguished the enjoyable and the good. To him, a pastry may be enjoyable, but to be good is to have a well-ordered soul that leads to piety and justice. While I agree with Plato that all enjoyable things are not good, I don’t think the concepts can be split so cleanly. Take any just action and ask why repeatedly, and you’ll hit a foundation of enjoyment. Why not steal your neighbors’ food? So they don’t starve. Why don’t they want to starve? Because they want to live. Why do they want to live? Because they enjoy living. Thus, I think justice is an empty concept without enjoyment.
Eaden: I’m saying relationships are fundamental. Plato says the good is fundamental. You say enjoyment is fundamental—
Dijon: I don’t think enjoyment is fundamental, but only that the good and relationships would be meaningless without enjoyment, and thus they can not be fundamental. Perhaps none of them are fundamental.
Eaden: You say relationships aren’t fundamental, but how could there be an afterlife if we didn’t have souls? Aren’t relationships just connected souls? You’re carrying your physicalist worldview into a discussion of the afterlife. It seems inconsistent.
Dijon: You’re right that I approach these issues as a physicalist, but I don’t think you can brush aside my arguments quite so easily. Do you believe our souls are present here on Earth?
Eaden: Of course.
Dijon: And do you agree that our relationships here are built on shared experiences?
Eaden: Yes, although both the enjoyable and unenjoyable ones.
Dijon: Thus, unless relationships in heaven are different, my argument stands.
Eaden: Heaven is different—
Dijon: The mystical escape hatch—it may be correct, but it does tend to end the conversations!
Eaden: I hope I haven’t frustrated you. Does it surprise you that I believe we can’t comprehend what heaven is like?
Dijon: No, it doesn’t. Mysticism frustrates my mind, but it’s unfair to call it an “escape hatch” since that implies you are using it to win an argument. I’m certainly not frustrated with you. And I don’t think the mystical argument is unwarranted.
As you know, I don’t believe there is an afterlife. Of course this disappoints me. Still, some people think if there is no afterlife, then even our short lives here must be meaningless—a breath in the wind. I don’t think this is true. Earlier, you said, “if the past is completely forgotten, it must be meaningless.” While you may be forgotten, you still did exist. You did live justly. You did love and build relationships. Why must meaning be yoked to memory and permanence?
Furthermore, I think enjoyment is an inextricable part of the good, as much as ascetics like Socrates dismiss pastries and coffee. Therefore, if enjoyment is meaningless, then the eternal life of the Christian must be as meaningless as the short life of the physicalist. I see no middle path apart from mysticism.
Eaden: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” I think relationships are fundamental and that our relationship with God, while unlike Earthly relationships, is somehow what makes heaven worthwhile. Without it, eternal life would be hell. I better go. I enjoy our conversations.
Dijon: As do I! Thanks for your eternal patience with me.
Eaden: Good night.