Monday, March 02, 2009

One man's heaven is another man's hell

Music is an extremely popular art form. It seems to be a cultural universal. People with disposable income are often major consumers of music. Not to mention radio and the Internet.

The popularity of music makes all the more striking the diversity in musical taste. While some music lovers are fairly omnivorous in their musical taste, many music lovers are quite discriminating. One man’s music is another man’s noise. One man’s noise is another man’s music.

And this is representative of a broader phenomenon: it’s quite possible for two people to have the opposite reaction to the identical experience. Indeed, that’s rather common.

To someone with bad taste, good art is bad art and bad art is good art. Same thing with other matters of taste.

And that, in turn, raises an interesting possibility: one man’s heaven could be another man’s hell.

In pop culture, hell is depicted as the opposite of heaven. Hell is a torture chamber and all that good stuff. Fire and snakes and demons with pitchforks. The negation of all that’s good.

But, in principle, hell could be a lot like heaven–for a large part of what makes something pleasant or unpleasant is not merely the objective experience, but the subjective taste of the individual.

The damned might find heaven distasteful because they have bad spiritual taste–like someone who can’t stand to hear a particular musical genre, or a particular musician or singer or instrument.

In that respect, hell wouldn’t have to be the opposite of heaven. Rather, the damned would have to be the opposite of the saints. The setting could be much the same for both. Even if hell were a duplicate heaven, heaven might well be hellish to the damned.

I’m not, of course, stating this to be the case. The details of heaven and hell are bound to be speculative to some degree. But, hypothetically speaking, you can lavish someone with the best of everything, and thereby make him utterly miserable if, in his inverted scale of values, good is bad and bad is good.


  1. Interesting. Perhaps, for example, the lazy-damned will balk at all the good work opportunities of their afterlife.

    I think I'll incorporate your analysis here into future apologetic discussions on Hell.

  2. Someone once posited the fact that "Our God is a consuming fire" itself could account for "the fires of hell." Sort of the extreme version of what you are saying here.

  3. steve I agree with you,hey patrick I tried to send you an email but the email address you gave me did not work.

  4. Hi Steve; I've tentatively held to a similar view for some time, based in part on the passage(s) John points out regarding how God's presence is like fire. It seems very plausible that hell, far from being the absence of God as is often imagined, is in fact very similar to heaven in its objective characteristics, and involves God's full presence with the damned. And the damned can't bear it.

    It's not a view I've really seen seriously considered much, so it's nice to discover someone else who finds it plausible.


  5. Dominic, you might read River of Fire:

    In terms of Heaven being "intolerable" for some, did you hear that joke about the Triabloggers discovering there were Catholics and gays in Heaven and then were so mortified they ran screaming all the way to Hell?

    I'm just kidding, there are no Catholics or homos in Heaven. Or Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, apostates, backsliders, Pentecostals, charismatics, Continuationists, Christian evolutionists, etc. etc. (there were 73,000 other groups here but I ran out of space).

  6. This reminds me very much of CS Lewis' comments about Hell and its residents. He talks about how we are becoming each day creatures more suited for Heaven or for Hell; that if we were the latter, we would not choose the former even if we were presented the option because it would be so opposite our character; that the door to hell is locked from the inside because people who reside there have finally had God say to them, "Have it your way," when they would not say to Him, "Thy will be done."

  7. Seems biblical indeed.

    Rev. 14:9b-10, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb."

  8. Hm.

    But could that account for the physical suffering which Scripture pictures in hell? (I.e., after the general resurrection.)

  9. Reminds me of the "Twilight Zone" (or was it "Night Gallery"?) episode where this hippie-type dude dies and expects fire and brimstone, but instead is stuck in a room with a boring old man and a couple showing home movies. Satan, before he waves good-by, tells him, "I'm told they have an identical room up there. What's Hell to you is Heaven to somebody else."

  10. Did you get this from an atheist blog? Because atheists are always saying that heaven would be hell to them. This is not really an original idea. Nice try though.