What if there is an afterlife? Personally I don’t believe in one, but still. What would it be like? The Christian version is that you get judged on your behaviour in this life then go to either heaven or hell. Some versions of Christianity require that you are at the very least baptised, or that you experience being “saved” or that you have taken part in certain rituals before your worldly behaviour is considered.
These lead to awkward questions about, for instance, babies who die before they have a chance to be baptised or whatever. Will they be condemned for ever? I hardly seems fair and various versions of Christianity have ways of getting around this issue. Some suggest that such babies go to a third type of afterlife where they experience neither heaven nor hell – a sort of post life waiting room, which to me seems to be a particularly cruel version of hell!
What is heaven like, though? It must be a pleasant place, as it is a given that it is a reward for a good life, and it has been suggested that it is a place where, the Deity, God, is glorified and worshipped, where all is light, and all the “souls” there experience the joy of being in the presence of the Deity.
Since no one who has died has reported back, the sources for these ideas come from speculation presented as fact, or, as some claim, divine inspiration, an actual message from the Deity. There’s a world of difference between these two options. In other words, it’s either a complete fiction, or absolute fact.
What could we logically deduce, given, for the sake of argument, the existence of an afterlife? It could be that we are reborn in this world, as either a new human or an animal. However, no human can remember any previous existence on this earth, or even on a planet circling a star somewhere across the Universe.
Of course some people claim to remember previous lives, but strangely, these remembered lives are frequently people who were famous when they were alive, like Anne Boleyn or Shakespeare, and the people who claim to be such reincarnated people often get well documented details of their lives wrong. Of course, history may be wrong, completely wrong, but it is more likely that people who claim to remember previous lives are mistaken or even purposefully deceitful.
If we dismiss the idea of reincarnation, what then? Certainly we can throw away all we know of physics. The only thing that we can be sure of is that things will be different. It may well be that there would be something analogous to our usual physics in play but we have no way of knowing what that would be.
It may be that personality as such would not exist. No meeting with a previously expired spouse in the afterlife would occur, as the personality of the spouse would not exist, and nor would the personality of the recently expired person.
If personalities of the dead did exist in the afterlife, then this could cause issues. What if the recently expired person had remarried after a spouse had previously died. Which of the two spouses would be matched up with the recently expired person? Maybe the physics would be similar to our current physics, but different enough that one person could spend eternity with two or more people?
I get the impression that there are many more versions or varieties of hell postulated than there are heavens. Visions of hell are often detailed and gruesome. One only needs to look at the right most panel of “The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch” to see some extreme examples.
Hell is punishment for transgressions in this world. Punishment extends “for all time” which would seem harsh as, surely any sin would be expiated eventually, just as any punishment with the exception of capital punishment in this world is time limited. However this assumes that time in this world is the same as time in the next world, and this may not be so.
Eternity may pass in a different way in the next world – maybe how eternity feels to the sufferer may depend on the seriousness of the transgressions. That may be fairer than for a minor transgressor to suffer through an endless time, judged by the standards of this world.
In accounts of heaven and hell both have inhabitants who have never (so far as I understand it) ever been mortal or human. Angels inhabit heaven and devils and demons live in hell. In both realms the job of the inhabitants appears to be to provide direction for the souls or entities from this world. Angels presumably assist in providing the dead souls with their appropriate rewards and devils and demons punish the transgressors.
Over the centuries people have imagined or vouchsafed a vision of heaven and hell. It seems that both heaven and hell have a hierarchy of inhabitants. The hierarchies are power hierarchies with the Deity at the top of the one, and the anti-Deity at the top of the other one. This is either a reflection of the prejudices of the person who is imagining these realms, or an interesting structural characteristic or heaven and hell.
Naturally hell is nasty and heaven is nice. I don’t know if it is some cultural bias as a result of my background and upbringing, but it seems to me that the stories and legends of hell are much more detailed than the stories and legends of heaven. My thought is that people are more interested in the gruesomeness of hell than the niceness of heaven.
Certainly the Wikipedia articles on heaven and hell support this theory, as the section on the Christian hell is much longer than the corresponding article on the Christian heaven. The Christian heaven merely has “many mansions“, while the Christian hell is more complex. In fiction especially as exemplified by Milton’s Paradise Lost, and in myth as in Egyptian beliefs hell can be envisaged as complex hierarchies.
But basically, we have no way of knowing for sure if heaven and hell are real and separate realms from our standard world. There can be no physical contact between such realms and our own, since physics describes only the behaviour of things within a single realm and it has no purview outside of that.
We can’t know for sure, so while we may think that they exist and believe in heaven and hell, we should look for our ethics only in this world. Any other course is illogical.