Stephen Hawking Says He Don’t Believe in Heaven

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Oasis Concert - Noel Gallagher playing Champag...

Image by Anirudh Koul via Flickr. I think I have this shirt.

“go and tell it to the man who lives in hell.” (Noel Gallagher).

Now, friends, listen.  When I was a youth group leader, we used to talk about “hell monkeys,” by which we meant people who tried to prop up Christianity with appeals to the fear of Hell with a capital H.  So when I say “hey, Stephen, I love your righteous mind, but as far as there being no heaven, friend, go and tell it to the man who lives in hell,”  I don’t mean “go and tell it to the man who’s on fire for eternity.”  Rob Bell alert: I don’t actually believe there’s a place of eternal, conscious torment.  I just don’t. Do you?  Do you really?  Even if you do, I bet you wish you didn’t, and I don’t say that with any particular relish.

When I heard that Dr. Hawking thinks there ain’t no heaven, my first thought was: in other news, it’s been confirmed that the Pope, is, indeed, Catholic.  My second thought? Oasis quote!  “Go and tell it to the man who lives in hell, good sir.”  Go and tell it to the woman who’s been to hell and back, friend, go and tell it to the gent who knows there’s a heaven like he knows he’s in hell now.  Maybe I do mean that heaven is a place like I’m saying hell isn’t, or maybe I mean heaven is Reality as such, in other words, that God is Reality, the grounding of our being,  and that there’s a surprising narrative arc to the story of history, and to our personal stories.

I can’t say I’d be upset to find out I’m wrong about all of this. I’d never know, of course.  But it strikes me that heaven is the opposite of not knowing,  a state of spirit, union, reality, what have you, where we may know fully, even as we are fully known.   That’s my hunch, anyway.

Hawking said heaven’s a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark, and that passes the muster of “Everything I’ve Been Told About Reality is Totally Wrong 101,” but I expect something a little less glib from a mind like his.  And anyway, I hope for heaven, but not because I’m scared of the dark.  That’s just silly.  When kids are scared of the dark, it’s because of what they imagine is creeping around in it, not because they sense the impending dread of annihilation.  In fact, kids don’t get scared of the dark until someone tells them they should be, long after they’ve established skills like object permanence by which they understand that  things don’t disappear when the lights go off.

The good professor’s recent “there’s no heaven” moment of “Imagine”-esque aplomb is what it is.  It’s not really news, any more than it was news when the USSR said Yuri Gagarin didn’t find God in low orbit.  We’re talking about physical apples and spiritual oranges. A entirely materialistic cosmology amazes and enthralls me.  The vast expanse of the universe does things to my soul I can’t explain.  Maybe that’s akin to some innate fear of heights, maybe there’s an evolutionary edge to feeling things like awe, epiphany, transcendence.  And maybe heaven is in these details even as I don’t expect the Hubble to send back any pictures of the Holy City coming down. Even as I don’t expect pristine, cogent metaphysics from the leading scientific minds of history.

I’m one of those saps who’s always been interested in the theory of The Thing In Itself.  My impulse to sit and appreciate a moment, a painting, a puddle, to find some unifying string in all of it or even to appreciate it for what it is, well, this borders, at times, on obsessive compulsion.  Maybe so, maybe so.  Maybe we’re only talking about chemicals.  In my silly, time-bound mind, I have to wonder, though, who the hell put them there.  And why.

8 thoughts on “Stephen Hawking Says He Don’t Believe in Heaven

  1. Yes, I saw this and thought it must be a slow news day. What else was he ever going to say if asked the question?
    True story; A minister was riding in the back of a London cab. The cab driver says, by way of conversation, that he doesn’t believe in this Heaven and Hell stuff, and asks the minister if he won’t look a bit stupid if there’s nothing after death, after all. The minister thought for a moment and replied that, he does believe in Heaven, but if he dies and there’s nothing, well, he’d had a happy life believing, anyway. (Heard on Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day2 some years ago.

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  2. I always thought it would be interesting (if not funny) if whatever you believed is what you got.
    “We’re packing a bag for a place none of us have been
    A place that has to be believed to be seen.”
    –Bono

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  3. As a child I was afraid of the dark because i did “sense the impending dread of annihilation”. I don’t know, I’m just strange. But to this day when I get nervous about the fact that life does end eventually for every living thing, I get up, find a person, turn on the radio or go outside and remind myself that this life is about LIVING and that whatever comes after is after. I do believe in my heart of hearts that there is something for us after this body. I can’t imagine that such perfect beings as humans were created totally by chance, and I feel a sense of calm in that belief.

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