Friday, April 2, 2010

The Horror of Eternity

One of my Facebook friends just asked her 'followers' if the idea of the afterlife ever brought comfort to us. It was interesting to see some of the responses:
"The stress of wondering where I would go in the afterlife did not bring me any comfort. I don't remember when I first learned about Hell, but when I was a child, I was so afraid of it that I repeated the thought "I love God" over and over and over again in my mind."
"I never, even as a Christian, completely accepted the concept of Heaven and Hell because my dad was an atheist and I knew it. I tried my best to rationalize, though. I just couldn't understand the point of us being created only to be tortured. So no, it never brought me comfort."
"Absolutely not. I remember thinking who would want to live FOREVER? And I was maybe 7 or 8 years old."
"I was always terrified of the afterlife, particularly heaven. At a very young age, I was terrified of the thought of NEVER dying. I did not want to live forever, and worse with god. I was terrified about constantly being criticized by him. I did not truly understand what acts were sins and did not want to upset god."
Until a few years ago, the idea of the afterlife was nothing BUT comfort to me. I was raised in a liberal Christian family, and was taught that everyone was saved by grace at birth, meaning that nobody went to hell. The idea of people suffering forever wasn't even an issue for me. Everyone would go to heaven, where they could do whatever they wanted, be whoever or whatever they wanted, etc. It would just be a magical world where anything was possible. Definitely not the Biblical image of heaven, with the constant singing of praises to God.

It wasn't until I was 'saved' at age 17 that I began to think about the more orthodox idea of the Christian afterlife. it was at that moment that the idea of the afterlife ceased to be entirely comforting, and became a driving force for me to try to get other people to accept Jesus.

I think that, had I never become an evangelical, I'd still be a believer. Much of what triggered my disillusionment with Christianity was the realization that what I believed was a far cry from what the Bible actually teaches, and that what it taught was often things I found reprehensible. Had I not been 'saved', I would probably still believe.

I can't help but wonder if most Christians even consider what eternity really means. We're not talking about living for a long, long time here, folks; we're talking about forever. If you got bored, you could go and learn the properties of every fundamental particle of matter in the universe, give them names, and write a series of novels about them. Then you could scale up - name all of the quarks, the muons, the gluons, etc. Name all the atoms. Name all the molecules. And so on.

And you would still have eternity left.

You could learn the life story of every human being, alive or dead, through to the extinction of the human species.

And you would still have eternity left.

You could watch the heat death of the universe, unimaginably distant into our future.

And you would still have eternity left.

You could reach a point where there is nothing left to know; nothing left to do; nothing left to see. You could experience everything that could possibly (or even IMpossibly) be experienced.

And you would still have eternity left.

You could, as does Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, travel throughout time and space and insult every intelligent being in alphabetical order.

And you would still have eternity left.

It would never end.

And yet, according to orthodox Christianity, the result of a meager 70 years or so here on earth is meant to determine our outcome for eternity. According to any religion with an afterlife, this is what we're supposed to desire.

I can envision the result of achieving eternal life: Madness. Unfeeling, unthinking madness. An existence with no end and a desperate desire for an end. And yet the evangelical Christian is meant to believe that this isn't a possible outcome; that we'll be content to live forever, on our knees before the throne of God, singing praise to his name.

Any being that could be content with that is not something that we could call human. That's not to say evangelicals are inhuman, but rather that I don't think they've really thought it through. The only thing that could make me desire an eternity of praise and grovelling would be a complete removal of my personality and a replacement with something else.

I'm just glad it's not true.