From Here to Eternity

What happens after we die is of course a major concern of all religions. The ancient Israelites, like most ancient peoples, seem to have had only a vague notion of some sort of shadowy existence after death. Their relationship with deity was mainly concerned with the here and now – protection from invasion and the promise of good harvests. In the centuries leading up to the Christian era, this changed gradually into ideas about a future Kingdom of God that would last forever, but the concept of personal immortality was far from central to that belief. The Christian and Islamic religions that grew out of Judaism had more definite views on the subject to the extent that for some Christians and all Muslims, this life is seen as merely preparation for the life to come. And ‘preparation’ seems to come down to preparedness to meet the often bizarre requirements of the deity. Protestant Christianity, with its reliance on salvation by ‘faith’ rather than ‘works’, is no different: eternal paradise depends on a willingness to accept Jesus Christ as personal saviour – in my view, as bizarre as any other divine requirement. Some other religions would have it that we are reincarnated over and over again until we reach some state of perfection. But this is just postponing the outcome: Buddhist Nirvana and Christian Paradise share the same idea that there is an eternal existence waiting for us beyond this one. Inevitably, the more one plays up the importance of the next life, the less value one places on this one. And over the centuries, right up to the present day, this mindset has left the way open for the most barbaric acts of slaughter on behalf of one deity or another. But in all this horrific disregard for this world in favour of an eternal future one, it is worth pausing to reflect on the implications of belief in a life that goes on forever, instead of just stopping at three score and ten.

Have you ever wondered what heaven might actually be like? Since we are going to be there for eternity – literally – it might be important to know how we might be spending our time. Personally, I find the flight from the UK to Spain tedious enough. What must eternity be like? Christians seem to view it as an everlasting ‘oneness’ with their deity – a sort of regression to the divine womb that sounds theologically satisfying, but doesn’t really solve the problem of what one might actually ‘do’ day after day into an infinite future. A more sophisticated version of this seems to be that time will no longer exist so the problem of it weighing heavily disappears. But I am far from clear how exactly there can be a ‘me’ if there is no time for me to exist in. Luckily, Sheikh Yahya Al – Jana’ (a Muslim cleric) has the answer. Apparently, we will be lying on couches eating and drinking, and most important, having a great deal of sex. And not just any sex. Sex with a limitless supply of virgins: and not just any old virgins either. Allah will give us the strength of a hundred men because we will be shagging a hundred virgins in a single morning:

 . . . each time he returns to one of them he will find that she is a virgin again and that she is even more lustful and feminine.

So there we have it. As the Sheikh so charmingly puts it:

The dwellers of Paradise will be busy . . . tearing hymens.

‘Tearing hymens’ has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Hopefully you now have the mental image: Paradise resembles nothing so much as a bacchanalian orgy in which repeated mass, consensual rape is the star attraction. Nothing I think can better illustrate the sheer paucity of imagination underlying all these beliefs. The infantility of Christianity is less of a threat to us all than the sadistic perversions of Islam; but really, how can anyone believe any of this nonsense?