A Critique of Eternal Life
They say childhood ends when you know you are going to die; I say adulthood begins when you accept it.
People often picture death as a sort of eternal blackness and heaven as pearly white gates; this is the core of our problem: death is unimaginable while eternal life is a bit too imaginative. Death is the permanent cessation of one’s existence, and I would argue that this is harder to accept than any religious doctrine. It is hellish to think that the universe will continue unabated while you are dead matter, that everyone you know will be reduced to nothing, and, worst of all, that life is devoid of any meaning. Or perhaps we forgot what life actually means—that the meaning of life doesn’t have to extend beyond living itself. Ultimately, I reject the Catholic idea of eternal life for the same reason that Catholics reject the eternal life of every animal but themselves.
Catholics’ ultimate purpose is to achieve eternal life with Jesus, and, worst case scenario, they have to live for eternity with Satan. In essence, Catholics strive to live happily ever after as if they were in a fairy tale. But then what’s the point of it all? Humans can hardly cope with the metaphysics of living for our brief earthly lives, so imagine the listlessness and languishing we would experience while living for eternity in a place we could never leave. By our very nature, we would search for something more because a perpetual cycle of love would simply lose its value along with everything in eternity. The mere possibility of eternal life can send us into an adrenalized reverie of a divine happiness that defies time.
I specifically use the word “adrenalized” because our understanding of eternal life seems more greatly rationalized by our adrenal glands than by our brains. Every conflict in human history has been rooted in a perceived inequality (two beings who perceive each other as complete equals in every facet will not experience conflict). Thus, an instinctive fear of being made unequal or marginalized can be seen as a basic human characteristic; one might even say that an inferiority complex is innate to humans. If you accept the above, then human life, in its most basic form, is a struggle for equality among beings who inherently view themselves as unequal. One can now recognize the ultimate irony of human existence: in living ethical lives, we desire above all else to achieve complete equality among humanity, yet this equality is attainable only through what we fear most, death.
In fact, plain old, “eternal oblivion” death offers the greatest measure of equality that humans could hope for; death is the equalizer that creates complete unity among mankind. Consequently, if Jesus conquered death, he may have conquered our only chance at equality. The Catholic Church preaches that all humans are equal, yet it denies death in place of the belief that we will live out eternity in heaven or hell. Thus arises the contradiction: if we, humans, are equal, why would we be separated to live, for eternity, in opposite states of being (salvation vs. suffering).
Catholicism now appears surprisingly cynical given that it emphasizes our inequalities through the lens of heaven and hell and dichotomizes humanity to live in perpetual separation; furthermore, one’s inability to leave hell negates humans’ potential to be reconciled. Belief in eternal life is akin to removing zero from the number system; we are left with a farrago of numbers that are forever unequal because they have no neutrality to prescribe to. Without zero’s nothingness, all the other numbers are chained to eternal conflict concerning the differences in their individual values. The law of relativity tells us that everything in our physical world is only made real through its relationship to something else (happiness exists because of sadness, wealth because of poverty). Following this reasoning, life must exist in relation to death, and since we are alive, death also must be real (life can’t exist in relation to eternal life). Eternal life can, however, exist in relation to temporal death, like a resurrection (well played Jesus).
Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection can only ensure his own eternal life; the capacity of each, individual Catholic to achieve eternal life is reflected in their ability to die temporarily. However, maybe we should dismiss nature’s laws—since no other organism can live forever, humans would have to be considered unnatural. Moreover, humans cannot comprehend the sheer torture that eternal life would be. As mortals, we fantasize about immortality in the same manner that immortals would fantasize about mortality. How is a heaven that we cannot leave our salvation and not a jail? We must also consider the limits of our psyche—all psychologists should agree that eternal suffering is just as impossible as eternal joy. Whether in heaven or hell, humans will eventually reach an emotional equilibrium or go insane.
We long for a continuation of the human experience even though we know virtually nothing about it. Unbiased, objective knowledge of our human nature can only be gained from an outside perspective who lives in some higher plane of existence. Christ the Lord serves this role for Catholicism, but Christ’s initial involvement in human affairs was His fatal mistake; by interacting with humans, God became a part of the human experience and, thus, unfit to be God. A god in contact with humanity is a god experienced infinitely many ways, and, therefore, a god understood infinitely many ways, and (after further differentiation) we are eventually left with infinitely many different gods, all of whom bear scant resemblance to the original. Consider whether your daily actions are more determined more by your faith in God or by your respect for the reality of death; if the latter is true, than death is already your god. The problem may very well be that God didn’t grant us the reasoning capacity to understand eternal life.
If this is true, then God created heaven for irrational beings. Let me tell you something that God never did: there is no afterlife, and we should be glad that nothing comes after it. Because those who think they deserve eternal life think themselves to be gods, and they are one life away from becoming demons.