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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bad angels, naked women, and libraries

I saw an interesting review of a book by John Casey - After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (ht Andrew Sullivan). Here's a little of it ....


Paul Johnson
After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory
By John Casey (Oxford University Press 468pp £22.50)

John Casey, a Cambridge English don with a Catholic upbringing followed by many years of doubts, has written an excellent book about what may follow death. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, the first people to believe in an afterlife, he surveys over 3,000 years of ideas about futurity, concentrating particularly on hell and heaven but, quite rightly, finding a key place for purgatory too .....

Casey provides a wide range of views about heaven from different ages and societies .... The best biblical account of heaven is in the apocryphal Book of Enoch (third to second century BC). In heaven Enoch was shown seven huge mountains of precious stones and pearls and a great many astronomical events, and had a chance to chat with interesting angels, including a group of naughty ones, the Watchers, punished for copulating with earthly women. St Augustine also goes into the question of sex in heaven, ruling that women will retain their sex organs, not for purposes of intercourse and childbirth but in order to become 'part of a new beauty', so that in heaven we can enjoy a woman's body visually but without lust.

Many writers on heaven, from Philo of Alexandria onwards, are inclined to stress the intellectual delights of heaven. Philo seems to think that all the saved will be able to indulge in philosophy seminars, making heaven a kind of Oxford graduate college, like All Souls. My own favourite is the image of some medieval rabbis, who saw heaven as a vast, quiet, peaceful library, where books jumped down from the shelves when you nodded to them, and soft-footed librarians dispersed cooling mint drinks. There is a comparable vision of a scholarly heaven in the writings of Isaac Watts, though his paradise is more like the Royal Society, with the stress on scientific discoveries. Casey, who enjoys himself by covering a vast amount of spiritually imaginative territory, also goes into spiritualist concepts, and even the taxidermist dreams of Hubert Eaton, who, in 1917, created Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California.

What Casey thinks himself he does not tell us. But he believes that such visions give us 'a sense of how deeply they mirror our most sincere self-consciousness ... our image of heaven and hell is finally an image of how we judge ourselves'. That, some may think, evades the issue. All the same, John Casey has written an instructive, often entertaining, and sometimes thought-provoking book.


If Casey is right and "our image of heaven and hell is finally an image of how we judge ourselves" then I'm not surprised Augustine's image of heaven incorporated naked women for his viewing pleasure (original sin, just war theory, and now this - how'd he ever get to be a saint??? :) My image of heaven .... a Snow White type of cottage in the woods, flowers, trees, animals and birds, my cats, and me playing scrabble every day with Jesus - oh, and there's no hell. Wonder what that says about me?


Blogger Cura Animarum said...

Trying to imagine the Kingdom is always a fun exercise. I picture a lot of space, landscapes, bright colors, much like the best place of Earth...but more. More there, more present, more complete.

Then sometimes I think it might be like a story I heard once by Leo Sofer; The Jar of Heavenly Music

As for Augustine. I think he gets a lot of flack for struggling with his own issues in an open and honest way. A lot of his writings really seem to take the shape of personal reflections and working out of ideas. I also like the idea that our saints aren't necessarily perfect persons. The way I see Augustine is a man aware of his own difficulties and demons and not afraid to confront them and wrestle with them publicly.

Or maybe he was just a nutter like the rest of us. In which case there's hope for us all in the communion of saints! ;o)

Hope you enjoy the story, it's one of my favorites.

12:08 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks - thant's so thoughtful of you to find a podcast of the story so I can listen instead of read :). Looking forward to listening it to it later after I mow the lawn.

I remember Augustine from college where my teacher just hated him - I guess I picked up his emnity. But women bodies in heaven just for guys to ogle - he had serious issues :)

I would like heaven to be like here but more too - the cats not catching and eating the birds, for one thing.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

and no lawns to mow

7:29 PM  
Anonymous Steve Hampton said...

Oh Crystal. What would we do without you!? On that "great, great come and get it day" - please invite me to tea at your cottage. -Steve

8:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

Yes! (achoo!)

9:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Steve,

You can definitely have an invite to tea :)

9:25 PM  

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