A daily diet of reality, reason and delusion would constitute mental feastings few would come to table to consume. But if one tabled romance, emotion and illusion, every chair would be occupied. Humankind’s reluctance, nay, refusal to live on a diet of reality, reason and delusion has engendered among other fantasies—heavens.
Christians have a heaven. It is the place the faithful who believe and comply with theological prerequisites will reside in glory forever more. It is a place of golden streets and marbled dwellings where families unite and live free of fear of future and remorse of past. Hope is unneeded. Appetites are gone. And sin is left behind. It’s an existence that is cheery and wholesome that extends to the end of time.
Muslims have a heaven. Its dimension in time is the same as Christians: forever; but their heaven is more fleshy and materialist, at least, for the males. The promise is that they will have a multitude of houris at their beck and call, that is, beautiful and voluptuous virgins. And to round out their paradise, there would be an abundance of all that is scarce in the lands from which they ascended to Paradise. Sand would be fertile soil and deserts would be lakes. Allah would bless the chosen with bliss.
There are other religions that have envisioned the destination of the soul upon death and it is always a heaven relative to the non-heaven of earthly existence. The Hindus live and hope to unite their souls with the Universal Soul. But it may take a reincarnation and less sinful living the second time around or the third for the union to take place.
The common belief is that only humans have souls. Chimpanzees, humans’ closest relative, just die and become food for worms and dust again. No chimp has a soul or a heaven. But Rupert Brooke, an English poet and soldier in WWI, who is known best for these lines: “If I should die, think only this of me; / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England…,” wrote a poem, titled “Heaven,” in which he imagines that perhaps fish wonder about what happens to them when death comes and have hopes for a heaven.
Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June
Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And sure the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto Mud! — Death eddies near—
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.
As a boy on my grandfather’s farm, I had access by foot to the Greenbrier River. I was there swimming and fishing at every opportunity I had to get away from the hoe, plow, ax, scythe and other tools and ways of farming. I knew the excitement of feeling the tugging on the line, setting the hook and reeling in the catch.
But I have long ago given up fishing. Once while I was walking the bridge over the New River and remembering days gone, my mind dredged up this thought: It is mean and deceitful to worm a hook and dangle it temptingly in fishy waters. To bait a hook to catch a person is unconscionable. So when I read Brooke’s poem and the lines that in fish heaven no fly conceals a hook, I met the only other person I have known who sees the worm and fly on the hook as do the fish. Only in Fish Heaven would there be no hooks. Just as in humans’ heaven there would be no guns, no bait and switch, no meanness and deceit and no tree stands, where a hunter waits for a wary trophy buck that nervously explores its haunts for food and love, and downs it with a high-powered gun.
BANG!! Now the animal
Is dead and dumb and done
Nevermore to peep again, creep again, leap again,
Eat or sleep or drink again, Oh, What Fun!
Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)