The songs that buzz over our heads in the grocery stores or the malls, do we ever actually listen to them? Sure, the idiots that put in commercials always seem to interrupt the best songs. Cut off a Crosby Stills and Nash song, but let Michael Bolton go by unscathed. Honestly, I've always listened to the music while I worked, as it made the day go by quicker. A song can take up 3 minutes of time, or more, and while working, it makes those minutes seem less stressful. You tend to forget about the ticking of your watch and forget about what you want to be doing. That, of course, is the reason, as it provides pleasure into an otherwise silent room. Allan Bloom compared music to instant ecstasy, orgasm if you will (and that's for a later blog), and there have been studies that make disciplined decisions harder to make while in a sexual mood. See the book Predictably Irrational, Chapter 3, I think, for that study. So people, hopefully, buy more because the music is on. But I have digressed from the intent of this post.
Recently, we have been playing Paul Simon's So Beautiful, So What and k.d. lang's newest album. Both have songs on them that describe Heaven. I found it odd that two recent albums would have such descriptions of the Afterlife, given that these are not Gospel albums at all. Further, the depictions of the hereafter are much different than that of conventional Christian belief. Paul Simon's take turns out to be a long line where you wait to see God, after filling out a form, much as you would at a voting station. In the song, the main character starts hitting on a woman in line, who, knowing that she was dead, just shakes her head. Reminds me (as a sidebar) of the lines in Bob Dylan's "Talking World War III Blues," where the man fins a woman, suggests they go play "Adam and Eve," and the response is "You saw what happened last time that started." Anyway, life is mirrored in the line that Paul Simon has us wait. And yet when we get to God, someplace high in space, we have lost the words we were going to say, as if we had any to begin with. Instead, we have a snippet of a song.
In k.d. lang's track, Heaven is a bar. A bar everyone wants to get to. One where everyone knows your name. Now, as much as we want Heaven to be like Cheers, Lang states in the chorus that "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." Heaven is then compared to a party, where, after everyone gets there, the same thing happens over and over, and when the "party is over, it starts again / exactly the same." This doesn't sound like a Heaven I would want to go to, and both images are frighteningly familiar. They have created Heaven in the image of man's world, just as the images of Mount Olympus and the jealousies and tantrums of the Greek Gods parallel the actions of man. What Paul Simon and k.d. lang forget is that God created us in His own image, not the other way around.
Take Stargate SG-1, for instance. The place where the Ancients go as they are ascending looks a lot like a restaurant, where the papers report on the goings on of Anubis and other bad guys. In Star Trek: Voyager,, the Q Continuum looks like a shack on some road in a western state. Again, nothing ever happens in these places, and it all repeats itself for all eternity.
A couple of other examples. In Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief,, the underworld, guarded by Cerberus, is basically a long line in which people wait in to get into the world of Hades. How pleasant. In Pullman's The Amber Spyglass , the afterlife is a bog full of dead zombie like people, colorless, lifeless. Of course, for Pullman, God is the bad guy, and Heaven is another dimension which is working on controlling the rest (see the episodes of South Park in which Heaven starts a war, and Kenny is the hero.
These are not the Heavens of the Christian faith, although there are other ideas that are positive. Look at the afterlife talked about in Final Fantasy VII, where all life joins the undercurrents of power and song that flow through the Earth, giving it beauty and life.
While this has no comparison to Heaven, I believe it could be compared, given the harmonies and music that are discovered in the strings of molecular particles such as Quarks. I talked about this before, in my blog post here.
There are so many other images of the Afterlife that are used in modern day works of culture. Take the waiting room in Beetlejuice, or Heaven in the movie Defending your Life. In these depictions of what comes after, it is a mirror of today's world, where waiting and defending are all that is done. There is no enjoyment of the passage of time, which is of the utmost importance since time is eternal. In fact, that is the main point of this blog. When we look at Heaven, we think of eternity as a linear time model. But the Bible depicts God as being outside of time, the Alpha and Omega, so we surely cannot expect Heaven to be in a linear time frame. Thus the idea of a waiting line doesn't work. We would exist in a time aspect that is far different from the model we understand today. It would be more like the Prophet's universe on Star Trek: DS9. Past, present, and future mean nothing in this time frame, but song and vibrating emotions do.
People spend so much time thinking about what happens after you die. I think more time needs to be spent living. Even for Christians, there's a whole lot of livin' goin' on (Ernie Haase song) between the Cross and Heaven. If we accept death, which we must, then life is so much easier to deal with. And if we see the afterlife as some gloomy bog or an endless line, then there's no point in dying, no point in living. What would living morally, toward the virtues of some loving God, what would that matter? We should try and live by our own beliefs, our own morals, those that we have adapted from our faith, from the lessons our parents and other elders have taught us, and then, believing in what we do, when we die, whatever happens, will happen. Jesus was assuring us life after death, but was also assuring us life before that death. Let's not worry about what it looks like, and make this life the best we can.