About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's heaven gonna look like?

I have been reading Mark Twain's “Letters from the Earth” for some time now, a strange and compelling book, a collection of writings about religion, politics and the human condition, published 50 years after Twain's death (he died in 1910). As the New York Times put it: “The attitude [in the book] is that of a Swift, the intellectual contempt is that of Voltaire, and the imagination is that of one of the great masters of American writing.” Sounds just like my cup of tea.

A juicy bit comes right at the beginning of the book, when Twain has Satan visit the Earth and write a series of letters with his impressions to his two archangel friends, Michael and Gabriel (this must have been before “the fall”). The second letter makes the very good point that human beings seem to imagine heaven as a place where, really, they don't want to be, because it simply goes contrary to everything they normally like to do.

For instance, “the human being naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys – yet, he has left it out of Heaven!” Secondly, “in man's heaven everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there.” Third, “every person is playing the harp – those millions and millions! – whereas not more than twenty in the thousand of them could play an instrument on earth, or ever wanted to.” Moreover, “all the nations on the earth ... are on an equality absolute ... they have to be 'brothers'; they have to mix together, pray together, harp together, hosannah together ... [while] here on earth all nations hate each other, and every one hates the Jew.” Lastly, “every man in the earth possesses some share of intellect, large or small; and be it large or be it small he takes a pride in it ... and then contrives a heaven that hasn't a rag of intellectuality in it anywhere!”

To summarize, the Christian heaven has no sex, everyone is supposed to be singing and playing the harp regardless of his musical abilities, one is forced to associate with people one doesn't like, and there isn't a book or newspaper in sight, not even CNN. You know, those 72 virgins offered by that other group begin to sound quite appealing...


  1. Massimo --

    It's an odd coincidence, this posting. Having read the book about six months ago, I stocked it in my "reading room", i.e. the lavatory, and only yesterday did I pick it up again. The first section is a devastating critique indeed, and I heartily recommend it to both believers and nonbelievers, if for no other reason than to show that atheism is not a new movement.

  2. You reminded me of a weird animation I saw back in the 80's called The Adventures of Mark Twain. Part of it was based on Letter from the Earth. There is a disturbing scene where the child characters meet Satan. If I saw it at a younger age it would have certainly given me nightmares for a long time. Here is the Wiki and video clip links:




  3. Sorry, Massimo, but HaridAnn Coulter has already revealed the truth about Heaven: it will be the Republican 2004 Convention, forever and ever and ever ...

    I already have my trident and pointy tail picked out.

  4. Seems I recall hearing Ted Haggard say that you will be able to eat whatever and however much you want in heaven. Maybe for clergy its all the gay sex on meth that you can handle! LOL

  5. Sheldon --

    This certainly points up heaven as a relative thing. The children in a Catholic heaven are almost certainly in hell. :-I

  6. Maybe for clergy its all the gay sex

    Oops, you forgot Republican Congressmen there... (specially the most homophobic ones)

  7. 'You know, those 72 virgins offered by that other group begin to sound quite appealing...'

    Bringing up the question once again what hetero female me would do with my 72 female virgins for all eternity. Knit? Make craft items out of plastic bottles? Play bridge? Auugh...noooo....

  8. Christine,

    If you don't want 'em, can I have yours? :P

  9. On our mortality & heaven, what does the Bible actually say about it?

    ".. For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations,
    though they had named lands after themselves. But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Selah'

    Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah Psalms 49:5-15 (NIV)

    'Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.' 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV)


    and perspective from
    Heaven is forever - Berit Kjos

    "All pain and tears would be wiped away. "He will swallow up death forever," wrote Isaiah, "and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces." (Isaiah 25:8) Instead of pain and loss, there would be an inheritance -- something so wonderful and glorious that we can't even comprehend it with our present earth-bound minds. Paul saw only glimpse, but we can sense his anticipation:

    "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." (Romans 8:16-17)

    Special blessings would be reserved for those who suffer for His sake.[32] Among the first in line would be those who gave their lives to do His will, but received little or no human praise for their faithfulness. In heaven, their "Father who sees in secret will reward" them with a love that far exceeds our finite understanding.[33]

    While God, in His perfect justice, promises special rewards for those who gave Him their lives, all of heaven's citizens will find their "cup" of happiness overflowing. This final joy will be far deeper and fuller than all the earthly delights combined. Lacking earthly words for heavenly glories, the Bible can only use inadequate images like mansions and streets of gold to symbolize the very best the human mind can communicate. But those barely hint at the wonder and magnificence of our future home. "For now we see in a mirror, dimly. . . . "

    Yet, by faith we can count on God's matchless creativity. He who designed the majestic redwood tree, the multi-colored orchid, the royal lion and the iridescent butterfly for this finite planet will surely add to His new earth
    [35] a dimension of beauty and splendor that we can't even conceive. When He delivers His creation "from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God," we will gaze in awe and delight with joy unspeakable at the brilliance of all He has prepared for us. (Romans 8:21)

    New bodies, a new earth, no more pain, a heavenly inheritance that will last forever. . . While those promises delight my heart, they can't compare with the best of all: meeting our Bridegroom "face to face." We will stand before a wonderfully real Person, the King of the universe -- not simply an impersonal "glory" or radiating "light" as some tell us. Many saints have described that heavenly moment, but no earthly words can do it justice. Paul tried: "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,"
    [36] he rejoiced, "and thus we shall always be with the Lord."

    Do you see the contrast between the evolutionary one-world spirituality and the unchanging heavenly realm? Unlike the new paradigm with its evolving human consciousness that absorbs human identity, the biblical truth is that we individually will spend eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ, who "is the same yesterday, today and forever."



  10. "While God, in His perfect justice, promises special rewards for those who gave Him their lives, all of heaven's citizens will find their "cup" of happiness overflowing." -- Cal

    The problem of evil is often explained by apologists asserting that god created evil so that we could know true happiness by comparison. This means that either a) there is no happiness in heaven or b) there is evil in heaven.

    Furthermore, other apologists explain the existence of evil by asserting the principle of free will. If we accept this ridiculous argument for the sake of discussion, it becomes obvious that there is no free will in heaven.

    All of these logical contradictions call into question heaven's existence. Those who cannot see this are either purblind or convinced.

  11. Thump
    The reason freewill does not make sense in the context of heaven is because the dye is already essentially cast.

    Scientifically speaking, if that might even rate in this discussion, the location of sorts may be a time(less) domain, where choices which are time dependant things would tend to be pointless.

    Did you happen to hear about the largest discovered black hole ever the other day? It is claimed to have "possessing a mass 16 times that of our sun." http://www.jpost.com/servlet/

    I am not suggesting that it is heaven, not exactly anyway. But what I would suggest is that there are these monstrously incredible things in the universe that we have no idea what they actually are here for or why they exist. I just would rather hold out for the thinking that somewhere out there it might be more than possible that there is this other "place" that ".. as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"*- 1Cr 2:9

  12. Cal,
    Thanks for the facinating fairytale!

    Will people be able to draw in heaven?

    Over at the blog of a Greta Christina is a wonderful post about why atheists have a reason to be angry, and I have cut and pasted a relevant paragraph to this discussion below:


    "I'm angry at the Sunday school teacher who told comic artist Craig Thompson that he couldn't draw in heaven. And I'm angry that she said it with the complete conviction of authority... when in fact she had no basis whatsoever for that assertion. How the hell did she know what Heaven was like? How could she possibly know that you could sing in heaven but not draw? And why the hell would you say something that squelching and dismissive to a talented child?"

  13. Anonymous said...
    On our mortality & heaven, what does the Bible actually say about it?

    I say....
    Has anyone heard from their dead relatives or friends from heaven as to what it is like? Or from Hell?

    And as for Twain. I am always tickled by his irreverence, and forced see our lives now as not so different, i.e. people are people and 150 years is a drop in the bucket.

  14. S: "I'm angry at the Sunday school teacher who told comic artist Craig Thompson that he couldn't draw in heaven."

    Wow. It's hardly worth getting angry with a Sunday school teacher over a place called heaven that one does not not even believe exists. Much less that drawing could somehow take the place of being in the presence of God forever.

    Sometimes I am very aware that God is near, it has something to do with my general attitude towards Him. Other times He does not seem particularly close at hand, but that is usually when I have spent more time with people or in circumstances that attempt to confirm "disbelief". The spiritual world is funny and interesting that way.

    Truth of the matter is, if it seems to me that God is far off, it is I who have moved. I have put too much "material stuff" between He and I.

    Drawing could certainly be considered material stuff.


  15. On that note..

    I think my husband and I have even become a little jaded and skeptical ourselves about life and people in general.

    This last week we listened to a teaching by this young man, Britt Merrick, (son of a surfboard maker) in NV that so stunned us, we both just sat there after his teaching for like ten or fifteen minutes without hardly saying a word to each other. We both knew that God spoke through him to us. And, yeah, kinda like being smacked in the forehead and knocked off yer chair, spoke to us.

    It was an interesting situation because if I am not that easily impressed about claims to extra special spiritual giftings, my husband is much harder to impress. He's been there done that, got all the tee-shirts for you name it. But one day, I think it occurs to even hard-headed people like us that the Spirit of God rests heavily and intentionally on some people.

    that is what I saw this week.

    I also heard a story about a missionary from France at the event we attended (who has been kicked out of France) who had gentleman come to their church who had been an atheist. After several weeks of attending church, this atheist became a christian (because he had seen no hope in France for a long time, but had seen hope inside this group of believers)

    and so he asked the pastor/missionary if he could start a Bible study for atheists.

    Interesting idea, that. Only an atheist would have the insight to believe that other atheists actually want to study the Bible. ;)

    But I do believe that too.


  16. "Interesting idea, that. Only an atheist would have the insight to believe that other atheists actually want to study the Bible. ;)"

    You have been trolling around here long enough to know that lots of atheists are quite familiar with the Bible, and some make it a point to know it better than most Christians. (Not yours truly, because I have better things to do.)

    Of course a critical reading of the Bible will not lead to a belief in it being the word of God. To believe the divinity of the Bible requires an a priori leap of faith. There is no independent confirmation of the Bible's veracity concerning supernatural events.

  17. Man, what a scary thing a sick mind is, sheesh...

  18. I remember that video too..a clay animation intended for the young.


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