Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Heaven or Hell

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(artwork by Rob Stinogle)

I’m sitting in my local coffee shop and I see that they have some Halloween decorations up already, including a paper cut-out ghost.   

It makes me think of my father, who passed away a few weeks ago.

Not in a scary or eerie way.  If he were to become a ghost, he wouldn’t be a scary one.  He might be a nagging ghost, but not a scary one.   

Whatever.

The paper ghost makes me think about the spirit world and whether it really exists.

I should start out by saying that I don’t really believe in ghosts or spirits or even souls.  I have a pretty scientific outlook on life.  It’s very nice when people say to me that "your father is looking down on you."  I smile and appreciate their kind words.  But I don’t buy it.  To me, believing that is akin to teaching Creationism in school.

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One thing I realize is that most of my images of heaven and hell are colored by Christian thought.  You know, Angels with Wings vs. Dante’s Inferno.  

I think Judaism cleverly plays it dumb by not offering a very clear picture of the afterlife.   Maybe that’s why it’s traditional to rush the body into burial:  so nobody asks the rabbi any tough questions.  
 
Are there any knowledgeable Jews out there who can paint a clear picture of the Jewish afterlife?  What is a Jewish heaven?  Is there a Jewish hell?  Or is the Jewish hell being stuck in heaven for eternity with all of your relatives?

The traditional heaven/hell split is completely unappealing to me.  In Hell, there is suffering and pain — so there must be some sort of sensory feeling.  So, why not some sensory feeling in heaven?   Angels just seem to fly back and forth like Jet Blue flights between JFK and Long Beach.  Without the body, there’s no food, dancing, or sex — all the good stuff.

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Who the hell wants to go to heaven?  It sounds more dull than a vacation in Albuquerque.

Sure, your soul is still there.  You can think and ponder great thoughts.   Oh great, it sounds just like being in fucking grad school again.  Who wants that?  And do you at least  get weekends off to go to some keg parties in Hell?  That’s probably where all the hot girls end up anyway.

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OK, back to my father.  I guess I’m just like other Jews throughout history — avoiding the afterlife issue by talking about all sorts of other things.  How do you think Jews became such good lawyers?

Hi, Dad.  (that is, if they let you read blogs up there.  But wait a minute, you don’t know how to use a computer.  Mom always printed it out for you at work.   And I’m assuming they all have Macs in heaven, right?)  

C’mon, God.  Loosen up a bit.  Don’t make heaven such a drag.  Give the deceased some fun.  I know I’m going to be depressed when I go  — no more pizza, naked women, or reruns of "The Jeffersons." 

And those heavenly robes — I do not look good in white.

51 Comments

  1. You are thinking way too far ahead. Stick with planning for next week. Less to stress over that way. Except if it’s planning a class in Creationism.

  2. You’re right…I personally look better in black than I do in white….Also, if I were to see a pc in heaven instead of a Mac, I know where I really am at. Noooooo!!!!! Also, because those hot girls in Sheol have penises ;). Great post Neil, now I’m gonna be freaking out about death for the next week or so.

  3. RM –

    I went to Hebrew School for years and until right now, I never heard the word Sheol, which, according to wikipedia, is an early Jewish concept that was later translated into Hades.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell

    I also didn’t know much about Gehennom, another idea of “hell” in Judaism.

    From Wikipedia:

    Gehennom is fairly well defined in rabbinic literature. It is sometimes translated as “Hell”, but this doesn’t effectively convey its meaning. In Judaism, Gehennom is not hell, but rather a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on their life’s deeds. The Kabbalah describes it as a “waiting room” (commonly translated as an “entry way”) for all souls (not just the wicked). The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not in Gehennom forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 11 months (just short of a full year’s cycle). Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Olam Habah (heb. עולם הבא; lit. “The world to come”, often viewed as analogous to Heaven). This is also mentioned in the Kabbalah, where the soul is described as breaking, like the flame of a candle lighting another: the part of the soul that ascends being pure, and the “unfinished” piece being reborn.

  4. I purposely keep my spiritual views murky so that the scientific side of my brain never has to come into conflict with my spiritual side, but I do know this: while there is a God and He is good, religion is generally evil. At best it’s that wacky neighbor that messes up your plans by constantly trying too hard to help, at worst it’s genocide. Besides, I’m pretty sure there is a Hell and we make it for ourselves by the way we treat each other. Maybe Heaven is just getting away from Hell.

  5. I seem to be getting more cynical as I get older when it comes to god, religion, and the after life… or the lack there of.
    Ever since a course in mythology, I have had an Elysian Fields vision of the “after life” stuck in my head… we all go the same place, just some live in better neighborhoods.
    But then again, I think that holds as much credibility as Creationism. It’s all bullsh*t… all make believe.

  6. I love The Jeffersons reruns, too. I don’t believe in a heaven or hell. I believe in the here and now.

    • well the only thing about that is my friend, you only can live in this world at least 90 years but in heaven it will live forever. It is up to you to choose. If God is in you life while you live in this world, you will have peace, true happiness, and love. God said he is peace. Most people don’t want to believe in God because there are certain rules you have to follow. I am sure we all want to live our life without rules but just freedom. One may argue that human knowledge is what controls that world. So i wish you could sit down and think for you self and let you soul and mind choose instead of your body

  7. i just wrote a post about this neil that i am planning on putting up sometime this week. what a coincidence.

  8. Well there’s always purgatory (if you’re Catholic). I think that you can wear black there. Or a ballgown. or a tuxedo.

  9. My Life is God's Comic Strip

    October 18, 2005 at 6:48 am

    This site will make you sorry you asked (only because it’s so boring)…but it will answer your questions.
    http://www.near-death.com/experiences/judaism06.html

  10. Well I look good in white, as long as I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything, it ends up all over the front of me.
    Good post Neil. Although I don’t agree with you, live and let live. 😉
    Besides what have I got to lose? If I’m wrong, what harm was there in believing Creationism? If I’m right, I have everything to gain. Well excep’t there won’t be much use for my black cocktail dresses.
    3T

  11. You’re welcome I guess Neil, wow, I can’t believe they’ve never taught you that, but then again, I was kinda home schooled and I grew up reading the entire Torah :-S go figure dorky me.

  12. there is nothing wrong with people believing in creationism… it when schools teaching anything that is based on the belief of a “higher power”, that’s where the problem is.

  13. oh to just top it off, it was a personal preference of mine to read it, There is a lot of liquor in my life which has made me forget quite a bit….lol, but was not forced upon me to read it. But it was translated…:( I can’t read hebrew….damn me.

  14. I highly recomend Mark Twain’s Letter from Earth. It’s about an angel that gets kicked out of Heaven and writes to his angel buddies still there about the silly earthly beliefs.

  15. Thanks, Comic Strip — now I know why kaddish (memorial prayer) is recited for 11 months. So, my conclusion is right. Jews may be “smart” — but they have no idea at all about the afterlife!

    By the way, I know this is a hot issue, so I looked up Creationism:

    Creationism or creation theology is the belief that humans, life, the Earth, and the universe were created by a supreme being or deity’s supernatural intervention. The intervention may be seen either as an act of creation from nothing (ex nihilo) or the emergence of order from preexisting chaos.

    Actually, I have no problem with that. I probably believe that too. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t dinosaurs or that we weren’t apes. Don’t some scientists even think the Big Bang was some sort of of “otherworldly” event?

    Jeez, I must be totally boring my readers with this. I’m going to have to make up for this dull pseudo-serious post with some photos of topless women at the beach (or is that more for myself?).

  16. Neil,

    If you are really interested there are a ton of resources out there, such as Ask Moses. If you are looking for more info let me know and I can try and hook you up.

  17. Jack, since I know you are a religious man, I’m more interested in what you believe — or are you as murky about the afterlife as everyone else?

  18. Neil, I think the concept of afterlife was created because it’s just to scary to think it all ends right here…I’m with you, don’t think anything is really going on once we’re done here…but if there is…it better include lot’s of Haagen Daz.

  19. Neil,

    I don’t know for certain any more than you do, but here is what works for me.

    If I believe in G-d (and I do) then it makes sense to me to believe that there could be an afterlife.

    I am not sure if I believe in the traditional descriptions. I have read various kabbalistic and mystical texts about it, but thus far nothing really sticks.

    But when push comes to shove I do believe in Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come and I believe that it will be a place that will make more sense and be filled with things that allow us to be content and at peace with ourselves.

    I also believe that there are multiple paths to get to this place and that entry is not contingent upon belief in religion but solely upon being a good person.

    If this makes me naive or silly, so be it. But I see no harm in it and it makes sense to me.

  20. Jack, no reason to feel silly. Scientific views on what “life” is all about don’t give any more answers.

    It would be nice to think that people are rewarded and punished in the afterlife depending on their life on Earth, but that’s a little iffy. That probably came about to help with moral instruction. But it leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

    I’m also curious about those crazy suicide bombers who think they are going to heaven to meet some virgins? How did Islam get to that point?

  21. FWIW, I don’t believe that you have to believe in G-d to be a good person. You can be an atheist and still be good, but there certainly are some people who need the extra help.

  22. I agree with Jack on the point that you don’t have to believe in a higher power to be a good person…
    If we are all we got and only in the here and now, shouldn’t that make how we treat ourselves and others right now that much more important?

  23. Religious people do everything for benefiting in the afterlife – Kabbalah on the other hand teaches you how to advance while you’re here – meaning way before you die – there is no heaven and hell (well there is but it’s not what you think) – all those fairy tales about reward and punishment are what traditional man-made religions have grilled into us over the years. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Your Dad is in a great place Neil – he simply switched to another form for advancing as easily as we slip into a clean shirt – he could have just been born into the most wonderful loving family this morning – we don’t know for sure but we do know that this body of ours that we worship so much and do everything for all day is just a container for our true essence – and that essence is timeless and limitless Neil. You can experience it right now or come back to this world and do everything all over again from scratch … nursery school, high school, marriage, divorce etc.,,, or you can just skip all that and save yourself hundreds of years of serving your physical body – that doesn’t really give you anything lasting anyhow.

    I hope I actually made sense this time and that you can actually get what I’m saying – and if you haven’t yet – here’s a clue – start studying kabbalah now! Real kabbalah – I haven’t had a chance to post this clip yet from our New York Congress but these young guys say all this much better than me so check it out!

    http://www.kabbalah.info/engkab/newsletter/50/vid1.wmv

  24. and on that point… doesn’t it mean more to be a good person because we are focused in the moment and not just to reach the goal of getting into heaven?

  25. Being a good person is not going to benefit you at all unless you understand the thought of creation – that we are programmed to receive – that is our true essence (totally opposite to the giving force that created us) – and being a nice person without having that big picture in front of you means just doing it to feel better about yourself. That’s not what we were put here for. People who study kabbalah are totally aware why they do everything they do – they use a very calculated system to measure and compare all their actions – and yes – ultimately it’s all about ‘love thy neighbor’ – but if you’re going to go to the trouble of doing that then at least learn how to draw some light from it … I’m probably still talking Chinese, huh?

  26. I know this is the issue that philosophers have pondered for centuries (Aristotle, Aquinas, Maimonides, Kant…etc), so no one can really find answers in a c-list blog post, but isn’t the big question:

    If “justice” isn’t meted out in heaven and hell — and it is pretty clear that the good and bad don’t always get justice in this life (why cancer and hurricane victims?, why OJ not guilty and the success of US magazine?) — then there really isn’t any reward for being “good” other than just doing it.

    And Josia, kabbalah sounds interesting, especially dealing with this topic, but I’d be wary of any group that says they are “totally aware why they do everything” when greater minds than you and I haven’t come close to understanding anything. I’m a believer in the old Platonic ideal that the more you seriously delve into something, the less you’re probably going to really understand.

  27. You’re right – that’s how it works – the further you go the more you realize how little we are and how petty our thoughts are compared to the grand scheme.

    Kabbalah is the most advanced science in the world Neil – it’s been under wraps for thousands of years because we weren’t ready for it – we didn’t have the “vessels” to contain/grasp it – only a few select souls in each generation were chosen for that (Abraham, Moses, etc.) – and for passing the word on – all this has been going on all this time just for us – for our generation to benefit from it.

    I’m not talking about a group being aware of why they do everything I’m talking about YOU – the individual who is exposed to the wisdom of kabbalah.

    And you’re wrong this C-List blog has all the answers now …:)

  28. Kabbalah is religion not science… its the same argument of the creationist…
    Keep your religion outta my science!

  29. How do you know it’s a religion? Have you ever been to a kabbalah class or read a kabbalah book? I know that to an outsider it looks and smells like religion – but I’ve tried religion before – this is a VERY different experience – you don’t just do things because that’s what you’re supposed to do – you test everything on yourself – there is the system – and there is you – the researcher in the center – nothing else actually really exists.

    I hate that I sound like such a used car salesman here – sorry if I’m coming on heavy … I really just want as many people as possible to discover what I discovered …

  30. I’m not talking out my ass Josia.
    I’ve belonged to synagogues with Kabbalist Rabbis.
    It is religion. No more science than scienctology.
    I am not discounting it as a religion… I hold it in as much light as any other religion.

  31. “synagogues with Kabbalist Rabbis” – this is not the kabbalah I’m talking about …

  32. Anonymous City Girl and Josia…maybe we can get Tom Cruise to settle this once and for all.

  33. Cruisin Mom… he’s the perfect arbitrator!

  34. Josia: “Kabbalah is the most advanced science in the world Neil – it’s been under wraps for thousands of years because we weren’t ready for it – we didn’t have the “vessels” to contain/grasp it – only a few select souls in each generation were chosen for that (Abraham, Moses, etc.) – and for passing the word on – all this has been going on all this time just for us – for our generation to benefit from it.”

    Are you saying that God said, “Abraham, Moses, etc., now that you have the wisdom, let us wait for 5000 years until another great generation comes into being who are wise enough to handle this wisdom: Wise men and women such as Ashton, Demi, Esther (formerly Madonna), Josia, and C-lister Neilochka.

    As generations go, this is a pretty stupid one. We pretty much sit around listening to music on our iPods. I for one cannot finish a New York Times crossword puzzle without cheating. Why do you think my vessel is ready for Kabbalah and Isaac Newton wasn’t?

  35. >>It would be nice to think that people are rewarded and punished in the afterlife depending on their life on Earth

  36. Hey! I think my post was cut off. I was trying to say that being judged for what I do here is not comforting, but rather “yikes-inducing” to me. You must be one moral dude!

  37. you might get better matzah ball soup in heaven than in albuquerque…

  38. I prefer to think that people are nice to each other and do the right thing because it is right and not because of reward or punishment.

    That is what I am teaching my kids.

  39. The people on your list are actually learning what Jack is teaching his children – how to be nice and succeed at life here in this world – they’re using the Zohar and other holy stuff in some weird way to do that – that’s not what authentic kabbalah is about.

    You’re right – we are a pretty stupid generation so far – everything has pretty much been developed in this material world and now we’re just dealing with the frills …

    Abraham and Moses and all those other guys you read about – that was us back there – that was us at the destruction of the temple etc. – we keep coming back again and again and it’s all been planned that way from day one. Moses’s soul is a special soul that keeps coming back in different forms to leave us writings that suit that particular generation – the last time around he came in the form of Ba’al HaSulam (owner of the ladder) – Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag who wrote the commentary on the Zohar – who was also my rabbi’s teacher’s father … he wrote very clearly that in our generation the wisdom would become exposed to everyone because if once upon a time someone like Moses would do the work for all of humanity – now we have to do it ourselves.

    I’m not sure if your vessel is ready for kabbalah – you’re asking a lot of questions about important stuff and that indicates that the question about the meaning of your life is starting to bother you … that’s when the ‘point in the heart’ opens up and starts looking for answers that can satisfy it.

    Whether you will pursue this some more or not right now is the only real choice you will make in this world – everything else in your life was predetermined from the moment you were conceived.

  40. Josia — And I thought explaining baseball to Sophia was difficult!

  41. everything else in your life was predetermined from the moment you were conceived.

    I believe that I have 100% complete free will. I am the only one in charge of my past, present, and future. This is why I believe that palm reader, tarot cards, etc are bullsh*t, cause how can someone see my future if I have complete free will. To think anything in my life is predetermined by an outside entity is the unthinkable.

  42. Wait till you have to explain baseball (or any other one of those games) to me!!

    City Girl – I believe I can fly if I try hard enough – can I prove it? Nope
    I can’t prove to you that you don’t have free will either – it is only something you can grasp on your own when you become exposed to the “big picture.”

    I know it sucks to realize that we’re not as amazing as we like to think – we’re so small in our present form you have no idea – I used to be the best at everything I did … but keep on thinking that if it makes you feel good. I don’t care about feeling good or being the best dancer/skiier/rollerblader/swimmer/whatever at this stage of the game – all I care about is getting closer to the goal ASAP.

  43. I believe that Jews teach that we are not to inquire of the dead or worry about the afterlife. Here and now is enough. Or as Thoreau said to Emerson on his deathbed, “One life at a time, Waldo.”

  44. “Or is the Jewish hell being stuck in heaven for eternity with all of your relatives?”

    Neil, what a great concept…but I think you’re wrong. Sometimes that’s called HELL ON EARTH!

    But if your concept of Jewish hell is right, imagine those family reunions:

    “Leo, what the hell are you doing here? I thought you were one of the good guys.”

    “Sarah, your skirt is too short, your shirt is too tight. Stop flirting with the devil. He’s a hot-blooded shaigetz.”

    “Aunt Ethel, you’re not the only one shvitzing here, you know–quit complaining!”

    “Someone pass me a marble bagel and shmeer on some cream cheese and some SMOKED salmon.”

  45. Can someone please explain what it means to be a good person? If being a “good” person gets you to Heaven, we better have a really lax definition of “good” or NONE of us will make it.

    I’ve never met a 100% “good” human being in my whole life. Have you?

    I do actually like the Jewish concept of the after-life though. Makes G-d a lot more merciful than the “eternal hell” doctrine that Christianity pre-supposes we are all headed for — and it is more in line with all the near-death experiences that have been written about.

    Of course, we’ll never truly know until it happens.

  46. So sad that neither ‘Christian’ nor ‘Jew’ read their own sacred scriptures!

    Paraphrased explanation: Genesis records God telling Adam & Eve that they were going to return to the ground they were formed from. (Die)
    Revelation reveals a Day where the dead (even in HELL- Hebrew/Greek “grave”) are to be resurrected & judged.

    So simple- so clear! No “Immortal Soul”, no Hellfire, Purgatory, or a heaven with trillions of human angels!

  47. God, this is sickening…Heaven is Hell. Pleasure on Earth will only lead to more harm than good. Don’t choose the wrong path…

  48. Read a bible to find the real truth
    Everything is in there
    🙂

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