Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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Heaven is no place for me

I finished reading Dante's Divine Comedy, which was interesting, but kind of difficult to get through. That's not to say that it took long to read (it didn't; the whole thing is pretty short), just that it was sometimes difficult for me to understand what was going on without looking at the headings provided on the version I used. I tried out different translations, but while I found Mandelbaum's much easier to follow than Longfellow's, I still had some trouble with it. Maybe I would have preferred it if it had been written in prose instead of poetry. I don't know. Regardless, it was interesting, and I have to agree with other readers who've said that Dante had a pretty big ego, what with his grouping himself among the great poets of history and placing his political opponents in Hell. There was definitely a local flavor to much of it, which is probably part of why I found it hard to follow, as I'm not particularly well-versed in Italian history of Dante's time. More noteworthy for me were the appearances of heroes and monsters from Greek mythology, of which the author was obviously enamored.

Even in the fourteenth century, Dante apparently still regarded Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven as actual physical places. Satan sits encased in ice in the center of the Earth. Purgatory is a mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, probably on the exact opposite side of the world from Jerusalem. Heaven is made up of spheres in which the planets can be found. It's quite possible that Dante didn't mean for these locations to be taken literally. I actually just read this article, which explains how the writers of the Bible conceived of Heaven and Earth.

What does the Bible actually say about Heaven? Well, according to Ezekiel and Revelation, it's apparently inhabited by cherubim, who have features of humans, lions, and eagles. Ezekiel also mentions a bunch of wheels, and precious stones are a pretty common appearance in descriptions of God's abode. The Heavenly Host hangs around singing songs of praise. I'm not sure where the idea of halos and harps that shows up in cartoons comes from, but it really doesn't seem too out of place. According to Dante, they also form themselves into patterns and letters, like some kind of heavenly air show, or possibly celestial cheerleaders ("Gimme a G! Gimme an O! Gimme a D!").

Matthew 22:30 has Jesus saying that people after the resurrection "neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." That kind of suggests that they don't have sex either, and would that really make for much of a paradise? Actually, Genesis suggests that angels ARE capable of sex, but that their offspring are Nephilim. Anyway, it's certainly a far cry from the seventy-two virgins that suicide bombers think they'll get in Paradise. Some Islamic writings claim that the houri are virgins every time anyone has sex with them. I'm not sure whether that means their hymens rupture every time, but I hope not. Of course, the thing about the virgins is a minority view within Islam, but Muslims seem more likely to make sex a significant part of Paradise.

Anyway, the main theme of Heaven seems to be that there's a lot of singing, and everyone is always happy. But then, can you really have happiness with nothing to compare it to? When I was a kid, I had a dream that my family ended up in Heaven and it was an amusement park, which is more appealing in some ways. But really, I find the whole idea of everyone's personality and memories living on in spirit form. I mean, they'd have to, or it wouldn't really be YOUR afterlife, would it? Some popular conceptions also make the soul recognizable as the person it was in life, and give it somewhat of a corporeal form. Sex with houri wouldn't be enjoyable or a pitchfork to the posterior painful without nerves or some approximation thereof, right? Also, the Heaven and Hell view has it that all of these souls (excluding the ones still inhabiting bodies) are concentrated in two places. At least reincarnation has them reused, which more in line with how nature usually works (not to mention more environmentally friendly {g}). The position of early Christians and some Jews of the same era is that there will eventually be a bodily resurrection, which works better with some of those ideas, but presumably requires that souls would have to be stored somewhere in the meantime. I suppose the flesh will also be restored, unless there's supposed to be a millennial kingdom of skeletons. Which would, admittedly, be pretty cool.
Tags: bible, books, religion

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