• czahar
    55
    In this post, I am going to explain why I wouldn’t want to go to Heaven even if it existed. I borrowed heavily from the argument put forth in chapter 11 of Shelly Kagan’s book, “Death” to support my claim, and I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the metaphysical and ethical questions surrounding death and dying.

    My reasons for finding Heaven undesirable are as follows:

    P1: In heaven, I will live forever (i.e., be immortal).
    P2: Living forever would be undesirable because of the law of diminishing returns (LDR) and it would limit my freedom.
    C: Heaven would be undesirable because of the LDR and it would limit my freedom.

    As far as P1 goes, I am going to assume the existence of Heaven. I am also going to assume it is the way it was described to me as a child — i.e., as a place where a chosen few will live eternally.

    P2 is where I feel the meat of the controversy lies. Most of us believe immortality would be a good thing. If we didn’t, Christians would have a hard time convincing non-believers why they should want to go to Heaven in the first place. Why would I want to go somewhere that offers me something I don’t consider good?

    I don’t think immortality would be a good thing, though. I believe this for two reasons.

    First, there is the LDR. I tend to lose interest in activities after I do them long enough. For instance, I am an avid reader, but no matter how much I love a book, I usually have to put it down after an hour or two. Reading it for three or four hours would be painful, and reading it for an eternity would be Hell.

    You might respond by telling me that in Heaven, I won’t do one activity for an eternity; I’ll do many.

    Well, actually, you don’t know that. Christians who believe in Heaven are usually vague about the details. For all you know, I could be reading my favorite book for all eternity.

    But let’s assume I won’t. Let’s assume I’ll be doing many of my favorite activities. Heck, let’s assume I’ll be doing all of them. I’ll read books, converse about philosophy, have sex with Heaven’s most beautiful women, and spend quality time with my son (not all at the same time, of course). Would that eliminate my feelings of boredom coming from the LDR? I’m not sure. Even doing many activities over and over again for long periods of time makes them seem less desirable. Doing them for an eternity sounds painful.

    The second reason I believe Heaven would be undesirable is the restriction it places on my freedom. As of now, I have some freedom over my life. If it became unbearable, I could end it.

    But in Heaven, I wouldn’t have that choice. How could I? The afterlife is the end of the road. There’s no death after it. Not only would I live in eternal tedium thanks to the LDR, but I would have to live in eternal tedium. Heaven would be one, big, infinite prison with no chance of parole.

    Maybe you could argue that, in Heaven, I will lose my ability to feel bored. But even if that were true (and there’s no reason to believe it even if we accept that Heaven exists), is that really desirable? Part of being human is about being able to experience both positive emotions like happiness and negative ones like boredom. Taking away my ability to experience negative emotions would be taking away a piece of my humanity.

    You could also argue that Heaven will offer an infinite number of pleasurable experiences. Again, even if we accept the existence of Heaven, we don’t know that’s true. But if it were, it would certainly get around the LDR problem.

    Or would it?

    Wouldn’t the very activity of doing new things over and over again become repetitive? Think of the child who gets a new toy every day; over time, getting something new just becomes a mundane, everyday occurrence. Why wouldn’t new experiences grow old in a similar manner?

    A final response would be that not going to Heaven would mean going to Hell. The person making this argument could say, “You’ve accepted the existence of the Christian Heaven, so you must accept the existence of the Christian Hell. You’re only two options after death are Heaven or Hell. Heaven is better than Hell, so you should want to go to Heaven.”

    This doesn’t follow at all, though, Accepting Heaven does not mean I have to accept Hell, as I can accept certain Christian beliefs without accepting others. But even if it did require me accepting the existence of Hell, Heaven would at best be the lesser of two evils, and that’s probably not how Christians want me to look at it.

    So, does this mean I want to die —i.e., have my consciousness completely extinguished for eternity? Well, yes, but not just yet. I haven’t had the chance to do all or even most of the things I want to do. I still want to watch my son grow up, visit Germany, and read a slew of books I haven’t read, among other things. Even though I want to die, I would still be sad if I learned that I was going to die soon.

    This is why I believe the best imaginable life for me would be a life where I could live as long as I wanted. I would stop aging at 25, and nothing could kill me or in any way harm my body or mind…that is, except a pill. If taken, this pill would kill me painlessly in my sleep, and it could only be taken after I made a conscious and well-informed decision to take my own life. Never mind how such a pill could exist; just assume it does.

    What do you think? Would you want to go to Heaven even if it existed, or would the LDR and the limits it places on your freedom make you choose death?
  • Gortar
    12
    First, there is the LDR. I tend to lose interest in activities after I do them long enough. For instance, I am an avid reader, but no matter how much I love a book, I usually have to put it down after an hour or two. Reading it for three or four hours would be painful, and reading it for an eternity would be Hell.

    You might respond by telling me that in Heaven, I won’t do one activity for an eternity; I’ll do many.
    czahar

    I don't think traditional Christianity suggests that heaven is desirable because you do many things that you like. One of the centrepieces of Christian understanding of the afterlife (which is not identical to heaven) is an eternal worship of God. Supposedly, you will want to have everlasting afterlife for at least two reasons: (1) you will continuously grow in knowledge of God and (2) you will want to worship God.

    The two are interrelated, but the idea is that in the afterlife you will be different from what you are now. Just from this point, we can already suppose that in our fallen state (again, traditional Christianity places significant emphasis on human sinfulness) we have neither moral nor epistemic grounds to properly understand the kind of wants we will have in the afterlife. In other words, on the Christian worldview, our present nature limits our capacity to even conceive of the "heavenly" ourselves. Hence, our reasons for desiring afterlife cannot be grounded in our analyses of human nature and the world the way we know them. Instead, the reasoning is something like:

    1. God's revealed truths collectively indicate that afterlife is desirable.
    2. God never lies.
    3. Therefore, afterlife is desirable.

    It seems to make sense, because afterlife is plausibly unlike anything to which we have a real-life referent. Thus, we likely have little grounds to suppose that the world we know can give us a good enough idea for construing what afterlife would be like. I still think though that there are helpful ways to think about why we would want this afterlife.

    Traditional Christianity conceives of afterlife as of a state in which people will have a clearer understanding of God and of his glory. Glory/greatness deserves worship, and infinite glory/greatness deserves infinite worship (there's no need to read "infinite" in a strict philosophical sense). If we understand God to have infinite glory/greatness, we will want to offer him infinite worship. Why don't we do it now? Arguably, because we have no direct access to either God or to understanding the extent of his glory/greatness. So heaven is desirable because we will want to worship God for eternity.

    Another point that can be made is something like this:

    1. Knowledge of God is never complete.
    2. Knowing God is satisfying.
    2. The process of acquiring knowledge of God is gradual.
    3. Therefore, the process of acquiring knowledge of God can last for eternity and is satisfying.

    The idea here is that the more you know God, the more you love God and the more you are satisfied. Say we suppose that humans can never fully know God. Also suppose that in the afterlife we will gradually grow in our knowledge of God. In this case, we will have an everlasting source of satisfaction via gradual growth in knowledge of God that never ends.
  • czahar
    55
    The two are interrelated, but the idea is that in the afterlife you will be different from what you are now. Just from this point, we can already suppose that in our fallen state (again, traditional Christianity places significant emphasis on human sinfulness) we have neither moral nor epistemic grounds to properly understand the kind of wants we will have in the afterlife. In other words, on the Christian worldview, our present nature limits our capacity to even conceive of the "heavenly" ourselves. Hence, our reasons for desiring afterlife cannot be grounded in our analyses of human nature and the world the way we know them.Gortar

    Let's talk about this part for now. We can move on to the succeeding paragraphs if necessary.

    First, how exactly are you defining "traditional Christianity"? Do you mean Christianity as it was originally practiced, say, when it was a young religion in the later days of the Roman Empire, or do you mean the type of Christianity practiced by most Christians?

    Second, if this is the traditional Christian argument for the desirability of Heaven, then it would bring up questions of identity. Would this being who exists in the afterlife still be me? After all, he would be something that, as you put, I have a limited ability to conceive of it. This would imply that he is very different from me, because if he were like me or almost like me, it would be fairly easy to conceive of him. So how would I know he'd be me? And if I don't know he's me, I can't justifiably say I would find Heaven desirable. I could only say that the afterlife being who exists after me finds Heaven desirable.
  • Gortar
    12
    First, how exactly are you defining "traditional Christianity"? Do you mean Christianity as it was originally practiced, say, when it was a young religion in the later days of the Roman Empire, or do you mean the type of Christianity practiced by most Christians?czahar

    By traditional Christianity I mean a system of beliefs accepted by virtually all Christians at all times throughout Christian history. These are tenants of Christianity, expressed well (although often confusingly and open to interpretation) in the early church creeds.

    So how would I know he'd be me?czahar

    One way to go about it is because this is what the Christian church has deemed to be a revealed truth. Acceptance of the notion that there are revealed truths is at the core of Christianity. The difficulty here, however, can arise if this kind of preservation of identity turns out to be impossible (or even highly improbably, all things being equal). In this case, we will have good grounds to say that Christianity has been wrong here. My training does not allow me to give a satisfactory answer on whether this preservation is probable or not (see Trenton Merricks and Hud Hudson, they have done some work on the metaphysical plausibility of this type of preservation of identity).

    What suggests that this kind of preservation is plausible, though, is situations where, say, people born deaf start hearing. Someone born deaf has no understanding of what it means to hear. But when they hear for the first time, they discover a completely new aspect of this life. I think we can agree that they remain the same person (in a loose sense) as they had been prior to starting to hear. You may point out (and rightly so) that even while being deaf, they would likely still want to hear, because people around them seem to enjoy hearing. But suppose there is a world where everyone has always been deaf. Their religion teaches that one day they will be able to hear, but they can hardly comprehend what it means. One day something happens, and everyone starts hearing. Here, again, they likely remain themselves in spite of this radical change. Something similar applies to life without sin or imperfection.
  • hachit
    137
    You may want to look at the God is what we need argument. In short we go through all this trouble looking for something. Everone from anti-thest and thest all agree. The thest belive that heaven has all we need to be happy for an eternity.
  • Mr Phil O'Sophy
    1.1k
    If Heaven does exist, then so would hell. And if the theists are right, then immortality is inescapable, you either get an eternity in one or the other.

    First, there is the LDR. I tend to lose interest in activities after I do them long enough. For instance, I am an avid reader, but no matter how much I love a book, I usually have to put it down after an hour or two. Reading it for three or four hours would be painful, and reading it for an eternity would be Hell.czahar

    What makes you assume that life in heaven/hell would be anything like mortal life here? If God exists, and heaven is by definition the best place you could ever go to, then what is so necessary about this law of diminishing returns? what makes it a law - i.e. something unchangeable? Is it not something God could get rid of? Could He not make you a bodily being that doesn't have to worry about laws mortal beings came up with in a philosophy book?

    Well, actually, you don’t know that. Christians who believe in Heaven are usually vague about the details. For all you know, I could be reading my favorite book for all eternity.czahar

    I think the theists are quite specific about it in that you live eternally without pain or sorrow, you experience never ending joy, and your freedom is unfathomable. If reading a book forever is your idea of hell, then thats exactly not what heaven would be. But maybe, if Hell turns out to be real and we end up going there, that could be one of the punishments..

    Would that eliminate my feelings of boredom coming from the LDR?czahar

    Again, I'm not sure whats making you think this LDR is something so permanent that even an omnipotent God couldn't get rid of it. What even made this a law in the first place? Wouldn't God have made it to begin with? Couldn't he just turn the setting off?

    Your assumption here seems to be that this LDR is something that even God is subject to, and that there is nothing he can do about it. I think you need to question this assumption.

    I’m not sure. Even doing many activities over and over again for long periods of time makes them seem less desirable. Doing them for an eternity sounds painful.czahar

    Maybe the good thing about heaven is that when you get 'bored' of doing things (assuming boredom is a feeling available to us in heaven) that we still have the option of doing nothing. Lounging around in our heavenly palaces and feeling eternal joy the entire time.

    The second reason I believe Heaven would be undesirable is the restriction it places on my freedom. As of now, I have some freedom over my life. If it became unbearable, I could end it.czahar

    This is an extremely strange thing to say. If we are assuming that there is such a thing as an afterlife, ending your life wouldn't actually end your experience it would carry on. And most of the time, wanting to end your life usually comes from a feeling of helplessness. Which is to say the lack of ability to control your circumstances. This would not be the case in heaven, you would have a lot more control and so a lot more freedom and a lot less motivation to want to end experience all together.

    Maybe you could argue that, in Heaven, I will lose my ability to feel bored. But even if that were true (and there’s no reason to believe it even if we accept that Heaven exists), is that really desirable? Part of being human is about being able to experience both positive emotions like happiness and negative ones like boredom. Taking away my ability to experience negative emotions would be taking away a piece of my humanity.czahar

    There seems to be an inconsistency in your thought here. First of all you argue that to be able to experience negative emotions in heaven would be a nightmare, (assuming that when you begin to feel negative there would be no return back to the positive) and that this is wholly undesirable, but then in your response to a critique of this claim you go to the contrary claim of saying that it is essential to be a human. Your response to the critique is holding a completely contrary position to the one prior to the critique. Which is it? Is experiencing negative emotions a good or a bad thing?

    You could also argue that Heaven will offer an infinite number of pleasurable experiences. Again, even if we accept the existence of Heaven, we don’t know that’s true. But if it were, it would certainly get around the LDR problemczahar

    We can if heaven is explained by the scripture that said theists believe in. Islam for example, defines it as such.



    I could probably keep writing some more, but its already a long enough reply as it is. So I'll leave it there for the time being.

    Very interesting post though. Thank you for sharing your thoughts of it with us :)

    Kind Regards, Mr Phil.
  • Terrapin Station
    7.9k
    I expected your post to simply say, "No beer."
  • Terrapin Station
    7.9k
    One of the centrepieces of Christian understanding of the afterlife (which is not identical to heaven) is an eternal worship of God.Gortar

    So it's like you're stuck in church forever.

    Pass.
  • Mr Phil O'Sophy
    1.1k
    lol, islamic scripture says there would be a heavenly wine that you can drink that makes you feel awesome without all the negative aspects of drunkenness.
  • Mr Phil O'Sophy
    1.1k
    So it's like you're stuck in church forever.Terrapin Station

    lol no, not necessarily. And at this point, if Gods existence is confirmed to you, it wouldn't be the same experience as one who holds disbelief would have in a church. The circumstances would be very different, ergo, so would the experience.
  • Terrapin Station
    7.9k
    lol, islamic scripture says there would be a heavenly wine that you can drink that makes you feel awesome without all the negative aspects of drunkenness.Mr Phil O'Sophy

    I was just thinking of the old polka standard:

  • Mr Phil O'Sophy
    1.1k
    The pesky uploader has not made this video available in my country!
  • TheMadFool
    3.1k
    You reminded me of "be careful what you wish for."

    Your issues with heaven:

    1. Boredom

    2. Generality of the term happiness - a case in point being trapped for eternity reading your ''favorite'' book.

    I guess we need to look into the definition of happiness. Your observation that it's too general in scope is the key here. By not specifying the nature of happiness it appeals to everybody - each person's version of heaven is possible.

    That, in effect, refutes your argument because happiness excludes any and every thing that it's not, including boredom, having to read a ''favorite'' book forever and quite literally anything else one can think of.

    I'm sure you can imagine happy states for yourself. That's your heaven - without boredom, doing anything you enjoy and also, if you like, an exit door out of there.
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