I wrote about Ted Chiang’s Hell is the Absence of God (HAG) here last year. In his short story, the existence of God is a fact. Chiang explored some interesting concepts related to faith, Hell, devotion and the problem of evil but I thought he left untouched some epistemological questions which I think are worth exploring as well such as Heaven and the idea of “meta-faith”.
In the world of HAG we know that God exists and that there must exist at least one religion that he favours, so the second step would be to figure out which religion is the right one. All of them can’t be right because they contradict each other and we know that truth is self-consistent. All the epistemological issues that arise from here are very interesting. Ted Chiang focuses on loving God versus not loving God. But even assuming that you are loving God, how do you know that you are loving him in the way he wants? Here religion is a set of instructions on the best way to love God and we assume that any way worse than the best way to love God will not grant you access to Heaven.
So, I thought I would explore all this in a short story. I named the story “Heaven is the Presence of God” to keep the same flavour as Chiang’s story. The way I see it, Ted focused more on the darker side of theism where devotion and faith are the means towards salvation (i.e. not ending up in Hell). While this illustrates the very known concept of paternalistic reward-punishment trend in religion, Ted put religion as merely being made of the idea of salvation which is seen in terms of ending up or not ending up in Hell, but there is an alternative version: salvation in terms of ending up or not ending up in Heaven. Plus the problem of finding the right religion (i.e. the one that will grant you access to Heaven).
There are roughly nine A4 pages. I will be putting one page every week or two. Below is the first bit:
1. In the beginning it was the word
The word was a world. And it was a world filled with shadows and darkness. For where but in the dark can the blinding light of the glory of God be most appreciated? In this world where numerous religions claim to be the right one, confusion exists and so do lies. The depth of man is so vast that in his attempt to find order and peace he created a world of chaos and religious wars of his own. But it was also a world filled with light and brief moments of certainty, such as occasional miracles, which were defined by scientists as “physical phenomena of a supernatural nature that could not be explained by any law or principle known to man”. Some people at the verge of death were supposed to be “enlightened”. Eyewitnesses of the phenomena said that the enlightened person had been “touched” by God and so, was granted access to Heaven. Apparently, only people at the verge of death could receive enlightenment and only at the verge of death could one know whether or not he was granted access to Heaven. And it is the delivery of this enlightenment what the existing religions claimed to be the only one capable of granting by virtue of being the right religion.
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