NOTES on the SOCIAL GENESIS OF HELL & HEAVEN
[Wednesday, February 16, 2011]
The Appeals of Heaven
~*~ Missed all of this ~*~
Paradise the eternal garden of bliss, tranquility, fulfillment, etc.
From the Persian paridaeza, garden, walled enclosure, hunting park.
Via Greek paradeisos, for the Persian royal gardens; cf. Sanskrity paradesha, beyond or supreme
country/land; in Semetic languages: Akkadian paradesu, Hebrew pardes, Aramaic pardaysa, Arabic
Sociological implication: from c.2500 BC down to the Bronze Age, who lived the most pleasurable and
comfortable mode of existence? The Great Kings, Pharaohs, Emperors, and their royal families and
From the natural beauty and purity of Dilmun (the lush Sumerian paradise) and the Garden of Eden (of
the Hebrew scriptures) and similar early pristine paradises, the depictions of paradise become
increasingly filled with royal symbolism and even the gods are depicted upon thrones, in palaces, in
splendid cities with cultivated gardens and parks
A mutually reinforcing representation: Kings on earth divine Kings in heaven
Cf. the projection theories of Feuerbach, Durkheim & the changing social imaginary
Anthropocentric Theocentric models of the afterlife
These are the two broad recurring tendencies of afterlife speculation
Theocentric models are largely the product of intellectual and religious elites who take seriously the view
that the divine is ultimately beyond human description; heaven is thus best characterized as being in
the presence of the Divine, being united with God, etc., in a non-earthly state, often without gender or
other human aspects (the intellectuals alienation from the social and biological finds expression here)
Thus, scriptural accounts are symbolic!
Anthroprocentic models concretize heaven in ways that express human longings for comfort, luxury,
ease, etc. and so we have heavens of cool streams and fruit-groves, golden streets and gem-covered
buildings, reunions with friends and family, etc., a sort of super vacation resort (this perspective is oriented to mass religiosity and the compensatory impulse to rectify or eliminate all worldly misfortunes
and sufferings in a super-human life to come)
Thus, scriptural accounts are to be taken literally!
In each major religious tradition, one can find movements back and forth between these two positions,
as well as continuing co-existence of two-tiered interpretation: one for the religious professionals, the
other for the believing masses.
In the New Testament, paradise is sometimes identified with the restored Earth that will come with Gods
kingdom, at others it is treated as the equivalent of heaven as when Jesus, on the cross, says to the
repentant thief being crucified alongside, I promise that today you will be with me in paradeisos (Luke
23:43); or when Paul speaks of a man (or himself) having been caught up to the highest heaven
caught up into to the paradeisos, having heard things that are not to be spoken of (2 Cor )
Later Church Fathers, like Irenaeus and Origen, would distinguish paradise from heaven, viewing the
former as basically a school for the souls of the righteous dead, to improve prior to the permanent entry
In the Medieval period, heavens are returned to the Eden imaginary, with lush terrain, abundant fruit,
tame animals, (sometimes nudity), or depicted as the Heavenly City, paved with streets of gold, gem-
But for the intellectuals of this era the Scholasticsthe emphasis is on contemplation and
study, the Beatific Vision of beholding God directly, singing Gods praise through eternity.
Christians heaven in the Renaissance incorporate ancient Greek and Roman motifs, of the Elysian fields,
Arcadia, the Golden Age, conjoined to the Heavenly City image, where contemplation of God takes place,
which is surrounded by a fertile and green Eden as a countryside for friendship, human activities and
Reformation heavens return strongly to spiritualized, theocentric understanding, where eternity is filled
with singing of God and contemplating His divinity.
Heavens in Modernity tend to register the individualism that rose to prominence, with an emphasis on
reunions with family and friends, on leisure activities, sports, on hugging God
Day of Judgment downplayed or ignored entirely (save for Fundamentalists)
In memoriam sections in newspapers: the parted by death, reunited in heaven formula POPE JOHN PAUL II General Audience of 21 July, 1999
Heaven is Fullness of Communion with God
1. When the form of this world has passed away; those who hve welcomes God onto their lives and
have sincerely opened themselves to his love, at least in the moment life of death, will enjoy that
fullness of communion with God. which Is the goal of human life.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity, this
communion of life and love with the Trinity, and the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed is
called heaven. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the
state super, definitive happiness. (n.1024)
Today we will try to understand the biblical meaning of heaven, in order to have a netter
understanding of reality to which this expression refers.
In biblical language, heaven, when it joined to the earth, indicates part of the universe.
Scripture: says about creation: In the beginning God created the heavens ad good (Genesis 1:1)
Heaven is the transcendent dwelling place of the living God
~*~ Missed this ~*~!
Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the swelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished
from human beings (cf. Pasals104:2f); 115:16, Isaiah: 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of
heaven (cf) Psalms 223:4-29
2. The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ.
3. After the course of our earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father thus comes
from our insertion into Christs paschal mystery. St. Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in
heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be
caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the
Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians: 4:17-18)
[Cf. the rapture beliefs of contemporary evangelicals]
Sacramental life in anticipation of heaven
In the context of Revelation, we know that the heaven or happiness in which we will find ourselves is
neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the grounds, but a living personal relationship with Holy
Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father that displaces in thrisen Christ through the communism of
the Holy Spirit.
~~ It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these ultimate realities since their
depiction s always so not ??.
Heaven is the blessed community for all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ (n. 1026)
5. This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose centre
is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self-study through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy
properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will have already begun to
experience that joy and peace which one day will be completely ours. We know tat on this earth,
everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the ultimate realities helps us to live better
than penultimate realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek
the things hat are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1) in
order to be with him in the eschatological fulfillment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the
Father all things, whether on earth or in heave (Colossians 1:20).
Heavens in Hinduism
Afterlife consists of stages of upward and downward mobility for the soul or atman in various life-
forms and across the caste spectrum interspersed by purgatory periods in hells (narakas) and blissful
periods in heavents (swarga, in Sanskrit)
These Swarga are heavenly domains located on and above Mt. Meru, where the righteous live in bliss
prior to their next reincarnation; these individuals are not yet ready to attain moksha or liberation from
Samsara (the rebirth cycle) and union with the divine.
-- The Celestial Messenger: You wish to weight the advantages and disadvantages of the life in heaven.
This shows the superiority of your intellect Atheists and untruthful persons, and those who have not
performed asceticism or performed great sacrifices, cannot go there. Only virtuous souls and those of
subdued minds, those who have controlled their sense, who are free from malice, intent on the practice
of charity, and heroes and men bearing marks of battle who have performed the most meritious acts
attain to the celestial regions. ~~ Missed all this about good and bad stuff ~~
HELL a divinely or cosmically sanctioned place of torment either temporary or eternal for wrong-
doers, the unrighteous, non-believers, etc.
A scare tactic for social control? Cf. Kritias of Athens
A sumbolic projection of human despair, alienation Cf. Feurbach + projection
Shakespeares Hamlet: The dread of somet