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article imageHeaven: It’s about adding our software to God’s hardware, according to Bishop

By Paul Wallis     Feb 9, 2008 in World
Heaven- More has been written, and more wars have been fought, on this subject, than most. Few people have any first hand experience of it, and fewer still have any original ideas about it. So a new idea of Heaven is likely to get a lot of attention.
The Bishop of Durham has his own ideas, and one of them is that the common Christian view of Heaven is wrong. He’s a Literalist, a believer in the literal interpretation of the Bible, but despite that, he has a philosophical approach that’s worth a look.
TIME Magazine has done an interview with the Bishop, and explains the apparent contradiction in a Literalist not believing in the standard concept of Heaven:
…It therefore comes as a something of a shock that Wright (Bishop of Durham) doesn't believe in heaven — at least, not in the way that millions of Christians understand the term. In his new book, Surprised by Hope (HarperOne), Wright quotes a children's book by California first lady Maria Shriver called What's Heaven, which describes it as "a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk... If you're good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]... When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him." That, says Wright is a good example of "what not to say." The Biblical truth, he continues, "is very, very different."
The Bishop is actually pretty articulate. He explains his ideas in a correctly phrased philosophical argument, which unlike most Literalists isn’t based on misquotes and yelling a lot.
(It would do Christianity a lot of good to get the hysterical, irrational, note out of its content. It’s a massive turnoff, particularly for practicing Christians, and does nothing for the quality standard of the message. Jesus didn’t do any rabid foaming at the mouth, nor was he a sort of hate factory on legs with a multi billion dollar budget.)
This is the essence of the Bishop’s view:
There are several important respects in which it's (the common view of the afterlife) unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, "Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven." It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.”
Which explains a lot, in Christian contexts. It makes a single continuity structure out of the New Testament. For those wondering, that’s how a philosophical argument is supposed to be put together: Premise, extrapolation, conclusion.
It’s also quite a departure from the clouds and choirs approach. The sky motif is common to most religions, ancient and modern. In some languages the word for Heaven and Sky are the same word.
Durham has a somewhat different metaphor:
…Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves." That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ's kingdom.
He points out that the New Testament is deeply oriented to the Judaist view of resurrection, but that the Greek views, notably Plato’s, also got enmeshed in the interpretations.
This is a sort of conceptual metaphysics which Literalists would probably say isn’t really metaphysics but a literal truth. It’s also the sort of integrated view missing from modern Christianity, particularly Literalism, which generally grinds out quotes of varying levels of relevance, rather than concepts.
It deals with the physical reality of humanity, relative to the concepts of Christianity. That’s a theological practice which has been allowed to slide for a thousand years or so, very much to the detriment of all concerned.
The quickest way to turn a belief system into an implausible form of pedantry is to load it up with dogma which must be “believed” rather than understood. We see regularly the effects of this process in the headlines, the mindless, selective, approach to Islam and Christianity which is so far removed from both.
If you get a chance, read The Gospel of Thomas, which isn’t about Jesus The Press Release, but Jesus The Teacher.
The guy was a thinker, and he made a point of explaining his ideas, and integrating them together, unlike this slopfest of rote ignorance trying to pass itself off as a belief system. He was highly expressive, like the phrase “He who has found the world has found a carcass”.
Durham is the only Literalist I’ve ever seen who’s moved beyond dogma and done a bit of thinking of his own.
There’s no Commandment saying “Thou shalt be a boorish, parrot-like ignoramus”, either.
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