One thing I’d like to write some day is a novel of speculative theology. That is, “assume some aspects of Christian theology are true; extrapolate”.
And here “extrapolate” is code for “as an atheist, I find the standard theologies stupid and horrible. Let me show you.” As in, “clearly this God character is a tyrant of worst description, and deserves nothing but a rebellion and a headsman’s axe! Also some priest entrails may be involved.”
There are many jokes about Heaven.
The funniest part about them is, they do what real theology usually doesn’t: they imagine Heaven as a place that has actual details.
If there is to be a revolution against God, what is God anyway? What are the Christian sources to the story? More propaganda than literal accounts, I think, as they all fawn over this God character: He would clearly, dearly like to be omnipotent, but omnipotency would make for a short, sad novel. Literal omni-attributes are as bad to stories as they are stupid in reality.
And the people said: “God is a bastard!”
And God said: “Do not think so.”
And they did not think so.
What kind of a story is that?
(And, realistically speaking, if God was omnipotent he would be a real rotter then; all-powerful and all-wise and this is the best he came up with?)
So: God is not omnipotent. There are limits to His power. What limits, exactly? Causality? Does God do time travel? (Please, no!) No matter His exact corporeal form or the lack of one, think of His limits in that way.
How many eyes does God have? How many things can He observe at once, and from which distances? Without technical or magical devices, that is — maybe God’s throne has a far-seeing system in it. Don’t say Heaven has no technology — that’s the lure of the fuzzy view where everything is nice, and that’s all there’s to be said of it. (Does Heaven exist in a technological stasis — if so, then which tech does exist there? Technology influences societies; changing technology, even more so. When did Heaven get the iPhone? And what does an iPhone-user say if Heaven doesn’t have one?)
How many thoughts can God’s head contain, simultaneously? God is not a human impostor, but if He is not all-powerful, there’s a limit to the simultaneous conversations He can engage in. (And what about the mouthparts?) Two? Ten? One hundred? Assume God can run one thousand simultaneous thought processes; this could translate to one very smart being, one superbly organized committee, if all those parts were concentrated on one single subject. (Assuming they can be — maybe God has plenty of attention, but little concentration.)
Well duh — traditionally God is very smart. But “very smart” doesn’t describe Him any more than very nice does; just keep writing “He” and not “he” to keep clear He’s not an ordinary guy, though even He has His limits.
Once you have the nature of God down, you can think about the character of God. Here the Bible comes handy. Just take a guess at which parts of the Bible are propaganda, and which the real being speaking. Who would say the things the Bible says, both the true ones and the fibs and the outright lies?
(A tangential rant: Fictional depictions never consider what we know about the history of the Bible! The first books were not written by Moses; Moses never existed as told in the first place and there’s no sign the Exodus ever took place, much less the Flood or the Tower of Babel. Did God erase the tracks? Or was it all a morale-boosting tale? Did He lie, or did the idiot scribe forget to write down it was all just an educational fiction? And educationary for what lesson? “No gay sex, no backtalking; also, no figs”? Why didn’t God pity the fool and tell him he’d missed the “mere edutainment” bit? In fiction, the facts of the Bible are as maltreated as those of science. In addition to cartoon physics there’s a whole edifice of cartoon religion where the Bible dropped whole from the sky.)
Is God jealous? Forgiving? Vindictive? Generous? Obsessed with the minutiae of submission rituals? Ever patient? Intimately concerned with the intimate actions of His people? Or is He a nice guy, but all law-and-order with that Hell thing? What are His values, and His chosen means? He surely thinks Himself all-good, but how does that translate to actual opinions, and their execution?
Does He want worship, or is He really okay with just obedience? What are His motivations? Does He want us to be good in a way He sees as good, or is He hooked on power tripping? Is He lonely, bored or just curious? What’s His Big Plan? Is He is a cynical populist, or are those just his writers? Pick any events which superficially explain the birth, evolution and history of the Bible, and its contents; extrapolate. (Sidenote: If you ask me, the “omnipotent creator deity so loved all mankind” explanation fits the facts pretty badly. “Petty tyrant gradually grows to want more subjects in the postmortem” fits better — if you ask me. People usually don’t.)
Now “God” is a concept from the age of kingdoms and empires. God wasn’t elected, and isn’t running for a re-election. He just is; long live God!
He has a throne; probably a crown and a scepter too. God is a celestial emperor; kings and emperors have a tendency to cause movements of protest against them, and to respond harshly to them.
If you want to be lazy, just take a history of the French Revolution and do a search-replace for “Louis XVI”/”God”, “nobility”/”the angels”. (Note that the Revolution was — if you ask me, an uninformed person — a noble, laudable effort with a tendency to get a bit too guillotine-happy. And it ended with a King replaced with Napoleon, an Emperor!)
Then again, “nobility”/”the angels” — what is the position of the angels in the heavenly hierarchy, exactly? They’re not the lords of human souls. (Unless the propaganda has been really thick.) If they are God’s messengers, how many messengers does God need? Do they have other duties? Are they the heavenly police? The welcoming committee? The army? (Was the army of the Lucifer Crisis one made for that purpose, or one of conscriptees? Was Lucifer a general, a courtier, a general purpose angel? And is he, sans propaganda, in punishment or in exile, or just lying low in a power base beyond God’s reach — cue comparison of the Revelation to various political bits where the triumph of the American Way/the Marxist Inevitability will surely be, eventually.)
Dear God, if angels are God’s menials, are they the downtrodden underclass that makes the bliss of human souls so blissful? Did Lucifer just want a labor union?
If angels are not the ones that do the physical work in Heaven, who is it, then? Are Hell’s souls sent up to serve… no, that is ridiculous. (Ridiculous-er?) What then: magic or technology? (Clarke’s law applies.) Or are the people of Heaven just happy (or propaganda-happy) to do with little, and do even that themselves? One could read Christianity as a preparation for a pretty frugal existence — but then there are all those promises of a treasure in Heaven.
And which, exactly, is more at home in Heaven: an illiterate first-century peasant, or a twenty-first-century businesswoman? How do they view Heaven’s amenities, and does either long for those he or she used to have?
What about women’s rights? The common answer would be that “God is all for women’s rights!” — but answers like that tend to get really fuzzy real fast. (And what of the old-timers: how happy are they to see those uppity twenty-first harlots cavorting around not deferring to their masters? Is Heaven segregated by the century? How does it deal with culture shock and diversity? Are there parts of Heaven where some souls shouldn’t go to after nightfall?)
Oh, and “nightfall”?
Does Heaven have a sun and a moon, or just the massive glowing central bulk of God-shine?
How does Heaven measure time? Do the souls need to sleep? Are there clocks and calendars? Does time move at the same pace as down here?
How long has Heaven existed, and how long have people been in there? And don’t bring Adam and Eve into this, unless your God is a trickster that fabricated a few billion years of history and a few million years of evolution just for a lark. Or if you bring the first couple into it, what kind of cave men were they? Do they recall their parents as animals without the spark of a soul in them? And how tired are they of the gawping sightseers, already?
How monumentally distorted would a society be if the old coots never went away? Where the patriarch, the boss, never died but only grew more ancient and venerable? That doesn’t sound like a society that would change on its own.
Some people are, one often hears, “exalted above all others in the eyes of the Lord”, and the like; is this a value judgment, or a statement of future authority? Is there career advancement in Heaven, or is God a most wise HR manager?
Back to Louis XVI — how does a nobleman, constantly pampered with service and attention all his life, make do with what portion he has in Heaven? Or, if he does fine, how about the eternally neglected peasant? How luxurious is Heaven?
And what is the society of Heaven like? There’s God at the top; there are angels (and archangels: that’s a sign of some structure) and souls. Some of the dead are saints or martyrs, but what does that exactly mean? Saints are exceptionally holy; you can CC a saint to get a better connection to God, or something like; but what does that mean, exactly? Are saints the bosses of some Heavenly bureaucracy? (Are there jobs in Heaven? Is it all volunteer work?) Or do the saints work for the customer service? (Again, warm fuzziness threatens: everything is done in a way that is always nice, always not messy — but that is propaganda, not description.)
Who are the people of Heaven? How are the organized? Children cannot live with their parents, if the children grew old — but what about those that died young? Do they grow up in Heaven? And what kind of a culture shock do they have, hearing from those who grew up in a much harsher environment? And what kind of psychologies do you get in a place where some people have seen ten years, some a hundred, and some two thousand?
Does everyone have a palace of his or her own? Or just his own? Is there communal housing, vast hundred-generation lineage houses, neighborhoods of friends reunited? How organized is the housing of Heaven? Can you choose where you live, who you live with?
Do married couples stay together in Heaven? What about those that remarried? Or does death do people apart? Can people fall in love in Heaven; and can they get married, or get a divorce? Can they have children in Heaven? (Even if they are souls, not embodied beings, who says two souls don’t have something they can work out, especially if they have the appearance of their former appendaged selves.)
If there are babies born in Heaven, there must be all-Heaven people and mudfoots that were born down here. How do these two groups feel towards one another — one is the children of eternal luxury and privilege, the others ascended beggars. Is there snobbery one way, and bitterness the other? Do the mudfoots hate those that never had to risk Hell, and do the Heavenborn think corporeal life made those that had it a bit funny in the head?
What is the geography of Heaven? Or the structure of its City… or cities? How many people are there? Are their neighborhoods populated by first come, first served? What’s the ratio of angels to humans?
Is Heaven a conglomeration of cities round the Throne of God, or a vast country of rolling green fields? I’m not asking for beautiful vistas; if a story is to be written, I need to come up with coherent statistics. Is Heaven of fixed size, or does it expand as more people come in? If Heaven is of fixed size, does this give the inhabitants a clue on the date of the End?
Does Heaven have seas, forests, mountains, plains, for the souls that yearn for that wild beauty? If so, does Heaven have wildlife? How cross would a nature lover — no, any sensible person — be if faced with a new world with not a single cat in it? And are these “good animals” that are reborn here, or are there Heaven-special down-with-lambs lions and the life?
If a lion of Heaven doesn’t eat a lamb, does it eat celery, then? What about the people? No matter what the souls are, eating is a pleasure of the body. So is drinking. Can a heavenly soul get drunk? Can they eat, and do they need to eat? (Think of eating as the process that looks the same, no matter what kind of soul-stuff is consumed or does the consuming.)
What’s the transportation system of Heaven like? Do people fly, maybe? (Harps and wings figure in a lot of the depictions. What kind of supermen are the people of Heaven?)
What about language? Is there some universal angelic language? If so, how do people learn it? (Remember, you can say “magic”, but that’s a solution with huge problems. If you’re willing to say there are things that can be just zapped into the heads of people, ask yourself what else goes in with the language? And what if God un-wills the gift: can He make an insta-Babel if He so wants?)
In the warm fuzzy version of Heaven, God wouldn’t do anything that was not nice — but really, reality is messy. People are complicated. God can’t always be nice. As He is not omnipotent, He’s bound to make bad decisions sooner or later. And if God has characteristics other than universal niceness, He had desires, and will act according to them. What’s the orientation period of Heaven like? What do those first lectures point out, emphasize, omit, repeat?
Angels, again — angels are spirits of some description. Do they grow up, or are they made ready and adult? Are angels as variable in “body” (soul?) and spirit as humans? Lucifer fell but Michael and Gabriel didn’t, so there was that much variety, once.
What is the process of an angel’s birth like? Is there sex? Do angels have a gender? Or the requisite parts? Since they are not evolved beings, do they get pleasure from sex, even if they’re capable of the act? Do they feel lust?
And if angels don’t breed, is there a machine (a temple?) for making more of them? (Okay, that is silly.)
If angels are a different, more direct variety of the children of God, does God need an angel-mother of some kind? Or does He take a tear, and wipe it, and an angel is born? How often does He do this, and how special an occasion is it? Do people gather to see an angel being born, or is it no more wonderful than a new bottle of milk? Are there angel nurseries, angel schools, angel universities, or are angels made knowing all they need to know? Do angels learn and change? How much is their psychology like that of humans?
How ancient is your average angel? Are angels immortal — wait, that’s an unclear question. Do angels have a fixed lifespan? What does it take to kill an angel, or do they just disintegrate in a burst of soul-stuff, and reform later, never to cease until God wills so? (If they die, do they have an afterlife? Or a second birth? Wait a minute…)
Can you die in Heaven? What, exactly, happens if a heavenly soul swings a cleaver at another? Disregard death; is there injury? Or instant healing? What kind of a thing is a soul, a saint in Heaven, exactly? Again warm fuzziness threatens: they’re nice, they have no pain, no want — what would that mean? And whether or not it is incoherent, is it true?
If you’re taken bodily into Heaven, do you shed your mortal shell somewhere along the way? Or would any Rapture mean millions slumping down dead as the only significant part of them, a “soul”, departs? Regardless of whether Heaven contains physical bodies or disembodied souls, how do they interact with their environment (whatever that might be made of), or each other? Presumably a soul has a human form, and can reach out and touch another.
(If not, this whole thing becomes very difficult to imagine. Or maybe the glory of heavenly bodies and Heaven’s tangible palaces are just God’s reverse version of the Matrix, and with a rebellion looming He dumps the whole thing, and millions awaken disembodied and confused, floating overlapping in a palaceless aether. (Even otherwise, how contingent to God’s will is Heaven’s existence? That ties to how powerful is God, exactly — remember, not all-powerful.))
It doesn’t really matter what the souls are made of, as long as they behave according to some laws of heavenly nature. (Which God has, probably, decreed, and could probably alter, with some effort.)
Souls have a lot of time in Heaven. What portion is spent adoring God? Does this mean organized massed services or private bliss? Can you phone God, or schedule a private meeting?
Do the people of Heaven write books, or poetry? Do they make sculptures, or movies? Is this all volunteer hobby-work, or is there a way to do projects where everyone doesn’t get to do exactly what he or she wants? Does Heaven have money — does it have an economy?
If you want a soul-sno-cone, how do you get one? Is there an angel in a booth, nearby? Do you fill in a form, phone in a wish, make a magical hand gesture at the observing spirits of the pantry? Is there a shop, and a monthly quota for gastronomical wishes? If luxuries are abundant and easy to get, money is meaningless — unless there are services that are not free in Heaven. Are the favors of others the currency of Heaven?
Sno-cones are uncontroversial, but what if you want porn in Heaven? Or a prostitute? Does God provide? Do other people provide, even if God doesn’t? What will the payment be like? (And if you say high holy people wouldn’t want such things, wouldn’t act on their wants — which mankind did you grow up with?)
If creative souls can write books, are there publishers then? Or critics? How many volumes has Shakespeare penned up there already?
What kind of a society do you get with free luxuries, a running crash of culture-shocked arrivals, and a monstrously powerful overseer for it all?
Please note I haven’t said anything about Hell yet. Nor about the interface of this world and the next: who gets to go to Heaven, and how picky is God, really? (And can you get yourself expelled from Heaven? If the people in Heaven are people, there will be idiots and criminals: people who lose their temper, who give in to temptation, and so on. Are they scolded, hugged by Jesus, sent to a re-education temple, thrown into a fiery pit? If they are people, they will screw up; what then?)
(If you can go from Heaven to Hell, what about the other way? Incidentally, and mathematically, if there’s a chance, no matter how small, that one will do a Hell-worthy deed in Heaven, then everyone’ll be in Hell eventually.)
These are the first few questions that come to my mind, trying to think of a novel of theological speculation. Maybe I have too much free time.
If I was writing this, the dead would probably grow tired and disillusioned and stage a revolution against Hole-Hands to topple him and his Papa God and to bring them before a court to answer for their crimes against humanity. (“Holy Ghost, junior member of the former ruling triumvirate, is still being sought.”)
That, though I don’t quite grasp what kind of an interim constitution this Secular Republic of Heaven might have, or how sweetly fucked up its politics would be. Probably there’d be a Declaration of the Rights of the Kinds Human and Angelic, and then something more. (“Also sought: Metatron A., the former Minister for Propaganda, General Lucifer A.A., the former head of the prison system. Meanwhile St. Peter, formerly of the Gate, a major offender under the New Act, was brought before the detheistification court today…”)