If Heaven Exists
A Trip to Afterlife Anonymous
By Gerald Alper
Imagine this: you’re in a room, a place where those who suffer from incurable skepticism can gather if they choose for healing for one day a year. Whoever comes is guaranteed the same confidentiality that he or she would receive if they attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although it looks ordinary, the room is not.
What at first is a dais in front with a long grey table and a curiously empty row of wooden chairs begins to change as soon as the meeting begins. No one can explain how, but all agree that gradually faces, hands, bodies materialize into distinct human beings who once had lived but now are dead. None of them are reappearances of departed loved ones. None of them can be recognize from the recorded pages of history. But all have lived lives, all at one time or another had been skeptics.
All have returned from the afterlife to give testimony to their wayward, earthly brothers and sisters. Only two such meeting places of Afterlife Anonymous exist on earth. According to your choice, you can hear testimony from those who presently live in heaven, or those who are in hell. There to inspire and not terrorize their guests, they all speak plainly, all do their best to be reassuring. Each tells an individual tale of cynicism, despair and bottoming out. Those who are lucky enough to redeem themselves, tell how they managed to find the light. Their portrayal of heaven is described over and over again as indescribably joyful.
Rather than details, they strive to relate the most common, fundamentally human feelings. They do not to deny the divine but they are careful to exclude mention God the Father, which must be experienced to be believed. Although they do not sound so different than ordinary people who claim to be in daily communion with their God, their testimony which is seen and heard first hand, carries incomparably more weight as does their less fortunate brethren who did not make it to heaven, but in their own grim way are as eager to tell their stories of loss. The loss is not of missed opportunities on earth, but what might have happened in the afterlife. It is not a horror story of burning oil, taunting devils, and medieval torturing. It is the psychic anguish of recognizing once and for all the price that is to be paid for willfully destroying everything that has been precious about their soul.
Anyone who can picture the above can see the difference between someone who says he or she really believes in another world— but hardly acts that way— and someone who unquestionably does. If a place such as Afterlife Anonymous really was available, we can imagine the impact. At the very least, there would be an unprecedented explosion of spiritual rebirth. Pursuit of the transcendental world to come would far outstrip pursuit of the multiverse. Endless experimentation would ensue to determine the exact nature of the hidden laws of Afterlife Anonymous. Furious scientific and philosophical debates would erupt as to what exactly does the experience prove. That we have definitive proof at last that there is a superior being who designed the universe? That we are being toyed with, perhaps by a malicious extraterrestrial who comes from a planet of thousands or millions of years more advanced than ours? All would agree, however, that an authentic, supernatural event has occurred. In spite of which, assuming that we had not genetically changed, much of the world would go on as before. Although there would be wannabe saints galore there would be plenty of sinners. Those who rebelled for the sake of rebelling. Those who crack under the tension of waiting to learn the eventual fate of their souls. Those who were willing to pay whatever price in order to gratify their darkest impulses.
The above is what is called a thought experiment, excerpted from my brand new book, God and Therapy. What We Believe When No One Is Watching (IBooks, in press). It is meant to show the profound difference between beliefs that are rooted in real world experiences and beliefs that in the memorable words of the great physicist, Roger Penrose, are based on “fashion, faith, and fantasy.”
Published January 7th, 2016
Gerald Alper is an internationally recognized psychotherapist who is the author of 20 books. These include besides the celebrated Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Patient, The Paranoia Of Everyday Life, The Dark Side Of The Analytic Moon, The Puppeteers, The Elephant In The Room: The Denial of The Unconscious Mind, and more recently the just published God And Therapy: What We Believe When No One Is Watching (I Books, Alper). He's been a Fellow of The American Institute of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis since 1985, a reviewer for The Journal of Contemporary Psychology, a contributor of articles and essays to leading professional journals, a frequent guest author appearing on public access radio programs throughout the United States and Canada. His classic paper, A Psychoanalyist Takes the Turing Test, was included in the 2004 pioneering interdisciplinary anthology by Italian neuroscientist Franco Salzone who brought together seminal papers from both psychoanalysis and neuroscience. He lives with his wife in New York, stays in close contact with his two grown sons who remain hunkered down in Los Angeles and has been a practicing psychotherapist in Manhattan for the past 25 years.