Forgive me, Father; I know what I do, what I construe
I might not go about it the right way, but my heart is true. —the Yakadude.
Boredom is the fear of not having enough diversions for your mind, diversions to remove it from its endless, restless searching into the nature of reality. Boredom is the disconcerting feeling you get when the veil of distraction is lifted and you try to avoid staring into the sheer abyss of clear perception. I found out just how much when I was younger.
I was seven. We were latchkey kids and lived in a three bedroom apartment—we had so much time in our hands with very few things to occupy ourselves with. We had very few toys, no VCR (all the TV we watched started when NTA began transmission by 4pm), a lean library (at least, books that would interest me; having read all the non-boring, story-oriented parts of the Bible several times, and our story books also). It became dreary, bleak sometimes, wading through the viscous, ennui-choked layers of time.
I remember sometimes lying down, daydreaming. Our Sharp radio usually would be playing some slow-tempo song: a BoysIIMen blues, an old country and western track and such. (I have always hated those songs ever since; I guess I’ve associated blues and country songs with mind-killing boredom. On the other hand, I have always liked rap for the primary reason that in those days I only heard rap when I went to the barbershop—one of the few times I leave the house—or when our neighbor plays it loudly over at his house. For me, the slow songs our radio played represent the prison tunes of our house, things I despise. The head-banging beats of the old Snoop-Dre-Tupac collabos of the radios outside the house symbolize freedom, cheeriness, and everything nice. The old Timbaland and Magoo hit tracks I heard on the stereo in the video game house, which I’d sneak away from school to visit to play Mortal Kombat with my lunch money; those are pure thrills, heaven in disguise).
Before this time, my daydreams were really utopian, of the boy-becomes-successful-and-meets-girl variety; usually featuring any of my classmates who I was having a crush on then (I’m not mentioning any names; don’t even bother asking). But I’m one of those guys who would usually jump some pages of novels and get to the end in impatience; I would rush my daydreams to the end (ripe-old-age and death). So, it isn’t surprising that I got to daydream about the afterlife also.
In my dreams, the fun continued in paradise. But wait a minute; what is heaven? Endless fun, right? There I got turned off. I mean, I’ve tried to visualize things to fill that time in heaven, and I filled up about some hundred years. Then, what do I do for the rest of the thousands, millions, billions, gazillions, and infinite years after? For some reason, I kept imagining falling through an abyss. I mean, at a stage you appear to have stopped falling; you seem locked in space for all the movement you make. You may be actually moving, but the kinesis loses any significance as it takes on a static quality. I could end up feeling like this for all eternity, I would think. An existence without novelty, much like our house was! At this point, I’d tell myself: if it gets too bad, I could have an appointment with God and ask him, with all due respect, to lay me to permanent rest. I’ve had so much fun, Sir, but really, I feel I should be going. Thanks for your expected cooperation. This is usually the stage where I jump out of bed, and join whatever mindless pastime my brothers were engaged in; it was a scary subject for my immature mind to dwell on. This is usually when we get up to cutting the worst capers: like plucking tufts of foam from our mattresses and littering the whole house with them; shaving off dust from our black lacquered table-top and sniffing it like snuff or cocaine (you could go crazy on that shit); or cutting out patterns from the dining room carpet. We’d get thrashed for that but anything to get us out of the monotony was acceptable.
Let’s see if we have the same ideas about the afterlife. It is an existence (spiritual or bodily) after death in a heavenly or earthly paradise or an infernal hell. If we concur on that basic point, then we can proceed.
THE CONCEPT OF HEAVEN
I will use the term paradise and heaven interchangeably for the good aspect of the afterlife so most people can identify with it. Paradise, according to most, is where we go to meet God after we die. It may be heaven, God’s house in the sky, where we stay as his guest in an everlasting banquet for playing on his team. Or it may be an earthly paradise where we get to rule the world and have others subservient to us as our reward for being obedient to God. It may even be some other planet in another universe.
We may exist in paradise, as some believe, as basically human (with some psychological, moral, philosophical and physiological tweaks and modifications) living it up, or we may be spirits, the body part of us having been destroyed, floating about in Nirvana.
I wonder about both scenarios. Check out the first one: we remain human. Does it mean we will still undergo the basic biological functions like feeding (yummy), shitting (ewww), and sex (grrrrrrr)? Would we work, or would the need to work negate the infinite freedom? Would work be necessary or just something we do to relieve boredom? Would we maintain our basic family units? If negative feelings like sadness and lack would cease to exist, what would we feel about, say, the breakdown of the family unit? Suppose second son is a bad guy and didn’t quite make the cut-off mark for admittance into heaven, would Father be happy nonetheless? What if a father is very desirous of company of his only son who doesn’t share his enthusiasm, whose happiness is then sacrificed? Wouldn’t that be less heavenly for the loser? What happens to human desires? Do they cease to exist? What of our personal inclinations? Do we then become virtual zombies or personality clones, or do we retain our conflicting personas? A lot of people would still want to get laid, so what about that? A few might also want to switch their spouses for younger, more attractive, hotter partners— I don’t think their demand is worthy of consideration; I’m just mentioning it.
The next one is where we all become spirits, floating around Heavenscape. The spirit is devoid of biological drives; human desires mean nothing to it. Mansions in heaven do not seem so hot anymore; a spirit has no need for material concerns. A spirit no has distinguishing physical characteristic, as it exists in a purely intangible form, without corporeal bounds. Now the said spirit is like others; with no distinguishing feature, so it is no different from any other spirit. Also, the heaven comes with a provision; you become a know-all, and who realizes all truth. So, practically, everyone knows everything anyone else knows. And think the same way too, as our different views on reality are so because some are wrong. So when your spirit is the same with everyone else’s, you lose your existence as a separate entity, and become subsumed into a larger one. And for heaven to work as an ordered society, self-will ought to be under the control of a higher authority, whether it is relinquished willingly or not. The concept of heaven is also perfection, a state that is complete and wants neither addition nor subtraction. This is a state where one has no independent thought and no independent existence; only a perfect absolute consciousness. This sounds suspiciously like death.
HEAVEN AS A NEED TO GET PAID
Most times when people are charitable or do good deeds, they tend to perform these acts with a smug feeling. Even if not that, there is this thought at the back of their minds (sometimes right there on the front where everyone can see it) where they believe they are gathering HEAVENLY AWARD POINTS (HAP). Like a rich man handing down charity to a poor crippled beggar might think while giving him some money:
See, Lord, I’m now giving this guy some money. You know where it says in the bible, “Give so it shall be given unto you”? Well, I don’t, but that doesn’t matter. I’m giving this guy some money now, ok. And you know these are things that must count in my favor when considering my Heaven Visa application, eh? Hey, St. Peter, what are you doing there? Stop sitting on your ass and snap a pix of this will you. We got to keep evidence! And speaking of evidence, St. Peter, you have to lose all evidence of last night backdoor deals. It falls under the purview of what the blood washes away, right? *wink, wink*
When people act well, it rarely is out of the spirit of true philanthropy. The act usually has the underlying motivation of the ultimate paycheck for being good: the Heavenly Visa. Well, at least people I know don’t attempt to hide it. I keep hearing people singing in churches, “Heavenly Race, I no go tire”. I mean, without that motivation, would they be good? Probably not.
Heaven as a concept seems practical as a means to inspire more people to philanthropy and civic responsibility. Social order would only exist and thrive if the comprising individuals would sacrifice some personal desires for the good of community. To encourage that sacrifice, society ought to reward selflessness and punish selfishness (or at least, commend selfless behavior and frown on personal indulgence) to a certain degree. Individuals, on the other hand, would gain immediate personal satisfaction more from self-satiation than from giving to the community. The hitch is that in satisfying self, sometimes the society is negatively affected. A delicately balanced system where selfish indulgence is offset by selfless sacrifice is induced by societal reinforcement, but this can only go so far. Heaven as an added incentive becomes logical, even necessary.
Heaven, in this sense, works on the principle of ‘fun deferred’—fun not had now which may be had later, in a better, more lasting way. This is also a justification of passivity; the way the more docile, cooperative members of the society accommodate the inconvenience of their sacrifices. You can’t eat your cake and have it, the patient dog eats the fattest bone, and the likes of it are popular aphorisms that promote this philosophy. The good thing though is that it is a necessary belief for the preservation of humanity.
At naughty times, I wonder what would happen if God was to send an unequivocal, unimpeachably authentic message from heaven saying, “Hey guys, just be good to yourselves okay. You only get one life so make the best out of it.” I think that then the world as we know it would be destroyed.
VALIDATION OF BELIEF
Our intelligence is our most valued asset as humans. Nothing itches—nothing infuriates—more than being thought of as an idiot or ignorant, of not knowing or lacking understanding. We treasure our opinions even when what we have as opinions are not sound. Heaven does exist as the expected ultimate vindication of our intelligence. It’s our chance to stick our tongue out to the losers and tell them, “See, I told you, we ROCK! Heaven’s really our backyard! So suck it!”
But let us consider a curious facet of this circumstance: we think differently and this divergence of opinion creates the possibility for the assumed superiority of one set of values over another, and becomes the sole reason for one’s belief being ‘good’ and the other’s, ‘bad’—and thus the necessity for a heaven.
HOPE AGAINST FRUSTRATION
People are often dissatisfied by events in their lives which they cannot control to the end they desire. There might be a buildup of disappointments which could wear down the resolve to continue and burden them with despair…else there is a superlative aspiration that transcends this existence which is reasonably attainable (but not easily attained so that it retains some level of challenge for them) and which offers ultimate satisfaction. Focusing on the more distant superlative goal helps adjust to the more immediate shortcomings, and trivialize them so one may push forward to the more “important” objective ahead. It is not surprising that the ones who feel the pull of the promise of paradise more are those socially and economically disadvantaged. The heavenly race goes at a more leisurely pace when one is having fun.
The downside of this is that one’s sense of industry and commitment to pursuits in this life is played down in the face of the more lasting life promised after death. A society of ‘heavenly racers’ is one that build flimsy structures for today while making sturdy ones for an afterlife. It is ironic that the heavenly racer eagerly anticipates the destruction of this existence for his expected reality to happen.
HEAVEN: ABSENCE OF FRICTION
In heaven, there is no strife, no dissent, and no friction. Everything is in its place and moving in parallel with everything else; there’s no possibility of clash. This absence of tension also means that the dynamics of human relations will cease, life losing all excitement if the mechanical inefficiency, brought about by the friction between the rough surfaces of humans, is removed.
Most days in your life, you experience some form of friction; your irritating workmate’s crush on you, the conductor’s sleight-of-hand in trying to slip you a torn N20 naira note, the tension at the town meeting when your uncle’s wife picks a quarrel with the president and they trade vicious family-smearing insults, the mad rush to the hospital when your nephew bashes his head and bleeds like crazy, even the pleasant friction of hanging out with friends. You experience some sort of attendant emotions, sometimes negative ones; a heightened feeling that makes you feel alive. Thus, when you sit down to write in that journal of yours, you are thankful that this isn’t one of the days you just write down the date, sigh, put a sad smiley, and go to bed; today you have something to write about.
Now, let’s say you are a single guy on a work leave, in a strange city where you know no friends and have to stay indoors. At first, the absence of stress might be blissful, and invigorating. But then, you find yourself reaching for the TV remote hoping that something interesting—a good show of human friction—is showing. And soon enough, you start wishing that something happens—even if it means your refrigerator blowing up so you could go to the fridge guy—and when you can’t stand it anymore, you get into some casuals and mosey over to the office ostensibly to show your envious colleagues how much fun you are having being free and all— but actually, you are dying to get back to work.
All I’m saying is that I hope there are very good TV channels up there. Here’s an idea: the HeavensTV should air live broadcasts of all the action in Hell and call it Big Brother Hades. I’m sure there’ll be some objections to the idea—like it being a perverted sadistic entertainment or the corrupting influence it may have on the saints.
What’s love without hate; joy without pain; Samurai Jack without Aku; South Park’s Leopold ‘Butters’ Scotch without Eric Cartmann—what are life’s pleasures without its unhappiness? I think there’s a word for it; ‘BOREDOM’.
THE DUBIOUS APPEAL OF IMMORTALITY AND PERFECTION
Be careful what you ask for; for you may get it. —Chinese proverb
Life is worth living for its bountiful pleasures. The loss of life is unpleasant mostly because the only existence we know is living. And the fear of the unknown (and unknowable) often overcomes the curiosity to know. So life is the best deal ever.
Man is a creature of unlimited desires locked in finite time. Paradise offers him infinite pleasure. For the paradise to be truly attractive with its infinite capacity to offer pleasure, it must also offer infinite time to enjoy that.
The appeal of immortality stems from man’s appetite for more and being rarely being satisfied with his lot; his being an Oliver Twist. We want so much and we hope and believe we could get it, if only….
Man’s mortality isn’t seen for the blessing it is. It is a blessing for the pressure it puts us in, the pressure of limited time which compels man to strive to achieve much. We realize that we have no certain hold over our continued existence that we wish to make something of ourselves to transcend the limits of that life, and this infuses that puny life with overarching meaning, purpose and influence. We wish to live forever and failing that we make something that lives beyond us, and hopefully, forever.
This pressure also provides the friction that is necessary for social interaction. We are compelled to act only when we feel the need to. These needs are mostly drives that seek to elongate a very finite existence, and most times we need social interaction, either as cooperation or competition, to achieve these.
The beauty of man is his imperfection. That is what life is; constant evolution. The beauty is the infinite possibilities of what can emerge from the wet clay which man ever is. The irony of it all is that for life to make any meaning and for it to retain its attractive hold on us, we must always strive for the ever-elusive perfection.
As such, a perfect immortal is contradictory to the term, ‘living’.
These are just my thoughts on the subject, mostly conjectural. I don’t claim to know for certain if heaven (and hell) exists or not (I actually have more questions than answers), although my opinions suggest quite clearly towards what direction I am persuaded.
Having said that, I wish to concede that it is a form of hell not to believe in the comforting assurance of a heaven, and that it is also a piece of heaven to possess the unshakeable faith in heaven that dwarfs the troublesome hell which life could be at times. It is rather odd that the babies, crazies and imbeciles who are least affected or concerned by life’s pressures are the ones who seem to have come closest to experiencing a heaven on earth.