Heaven and Hell (4) 0

Might Heaven be best described as simply the opposite of Hell: an eternal experience of pleasure, happiness, success, desirable company, instant gratification, hope fulfilled?  Most people would probably agree on that being ‘heavenly’ in a general way. But just what brings pleasure and happiness, who in particular provides the right company, exactly what wishes need to be gratified and what hope fulfilled, are questions to which there will be as many answers as there are people.

No one has been able to describe ideal conditions for life on this earth that would be attractive to all or most people – or even ‘equally as much to my friend as to myself’. One man’s ideal state is another man’s purgatory. How many would choose to live, for instance, in Thomas More’s Utopia?

It is a communist, slave-owning society. The slaves are foreigners or criminals. (Their chains are made of gold, but that’s unlikely to be much of a consolation to them.)

All the citizens, both men and women, live by compulsory labor on the land and in handcrafts, except a minority who are scholars and may choose to become ruling officials or priests. The ruling officials, the ‘administrators’, watch over and control the rest. They monitor and correct activity in every household, and uniformly govern the affairs of the towns. They constitute the state.

All religions are tolerated. Atheism is too, but it is despised and feared, and atheists are subjected to constant counseling by the priests to cure them of their perversity.

Meals are eaten communally, households taking it in turns to prepare them. The administrators get the best food.

There is no private property. Everyone is dressed in the same simple garment. People ask for what they need and officials dispense it to them.

Everyone gets free health care. Euthanasia is administered by the state. Citizens feel protected from the struggle for survival and the need to make hard decisions, but at the cost of self-determination.

No one may choose to leave the country, which is an island, or travel about in it without a permit. To do so is a crime punishable by enslavement.

Women toil in the fields and workshops equally with the men for the same six hours a day.  But they are subject to the will of their husbands. They may not wear make-up. They have to confess their sins to their husbands once a month. They alone carry out the domestic chores (in addition to their other work). A few may become priests in their old age, but not administrators.

Both men and women are given military training, but women are never put in command over men.

Gambling and hunting are forbidden to all.

It is a vision that partly matches and partly differs from that of the Left in our time. One notable difference is that in Utopia there is no sexual freedom. Pre-marital sex is punished by forced celibacy for life, and adultery by enslavement.

In Karl Marx’s ideal egalitarian society the state will eventually ‘wither away’, there’ll be no private property, and the only authority will be one that administers and distributes things (as in More’s Utopia), ‘to each according to his need’  – the need being judged by the distributors. But where his theories were put into practice, in Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, the state remained robust, the people lost their liberty and suffered poverty, misery, arbitrary incarceration, summary execution, forced starvation, massacre, torture, enslavement, labor under the lash.

It seems that the plans of a few for how everyone should live will always turn out to be hellish. No one can plan a public heaven, because heavens are made of infinitely variable individual choices.

Hells are communal projects, but every real Heaven is a private enterprise.

Jillian Becker  December 18, 2009