Back in August PZ Myers linked to a reality-based retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” in which Jack trades the magic beans for a cow, and is berated and banished by his family as a consequence.
JACK: This cow can get us through the winter. [. . .] And I never understood what was magical about those 3 beans.
JACK’S FATHER: They were given to me by my father who was given them by his father whose father SAID THEY WERE MAGICAL.
Jack goes on to get a degree in applied economics and live happily ever after with his cow; his family freezes and starves to death.
One commenter, Kenny, raises the following objection:
and of course we know that this is a fairy tale because “lived happily ever after” does not exist in the real world. Jack and his cow will also eventually die. oh but wait, maybe there is a “lived happily ever after” if what religion says is correct and there is/are a God/Gods.
Kenny’s extreme linear-mindedness is almost endearing, but his remarks did lead me to wonder: do Christians believe that heaven is a place of eternal happiness, that once they die and go to heaven they will be happy forever. Like, interminably happy?
George Carlin has this great routine about the cliches and inanities people mutter when somebody dies; so good it’s worth embedding.
“‘You know, I think he’s up there now, smiling down at us, and I think he’s pleased.'” Carlin opines that the deceased would be far too busy with celestial activities to be smiling inanely at the living all the time. “What kind of eternity is that,” he asks.
But you’d think that the deceased would be at least as sad about being separated from his or her loved ones as would be those loved ones, and at any rate surely could not be pleased that his or her death has caused so much misery.
And if you do end up in paradise, it’s highly likely that there will be those dear to you who wound up in the other place. Your atheist brother, for instance, or your lesbian grandmother. Could you really be happy knowing that your friends and family are suffering flames and torture for eternity? If so, what does that say about your morality?
And surely heaven can’t be a place in which it is possible not to be happy, otherwise how is it all that different from a life of general happiness and contentment on earth (albeit spliced with the odd not-so-happy moment)? Isn’t eternal happiness part of what defines heaven as heaven? Or is it the case that however happy you were alive, you’ll be just as happy in heaven, except in heaven they give you one more ice cream, or one more blowjob (or pegging, if that’s your bag), or one more line of coke to sniff off the back of a nubile hooker?
And is it even permissible to be unhappy in heaven? Wouldn’t that constitute a kind of blasphemy, a sign that one is discontented in this state of communion with the divine? We know the Abrahamic God isn’t always happy, but then he’s not always the staunchest observer of his own rules. But how does God enforce eternal happiness? Are the unhappy people banished to Hell, or at least to purgatory, until they get over it? Or is there some kind of mind-control at work, some kind of H-chip (shades of the Happy Helmet from Ren and Stimpy) interfaced with your neurological wiring that ensures that you have no choice to be anything but happy? If that is the case, is that really happiness?