Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > March 2021

Real heaven is a place on earth.

A few days ago, the newest Mars Rover, NASA's Perseverance landed successfully. I am looking forward to another virtual tour of Mars soon, like the ones the previous Rovers have made available to us via their many photographs. This time there's a mini-helicopter to send back pictures too!

Panoramic view of Mars from Persevernace Rover - Feb 21, 2021 NASA photo
(Copyright NASA, released for public non-profit display)

I have been very interested in looking at pictures sent back from the previous Rovers, who covered many kilometres of Mars as they gradually crept across the surface over months and years. It has been a great accomplishment to put them there. It's part of an ongoing fulfilment of human curiosity. But also there is something that I find very striking in the photos: everything is incredibly desolate.

It would surely be an adventure to visit Mars, or the moon, or Antarctica on Earth, or the dark depths at the bottom of the sea, but generally people don't choose to live in those places indefinitely, even when they can.

Mars is a cold planet, but nevertheless the warmest parts of Mars may reach +20 C in a summer afternoon. But as a summer vacation it is definitely lacking something: trees, grasses, flowers, variety! Looking at the photos of Mars, it seems like each photo is just more of the same rocks and dust strewn over a landscape. It's no place where you would find it pleasant to go for a hike on an afternoon, compared to the parks of Earth. And even if habitation is eventually set up there, it would be no easy thing to maintain.

Thinking of this makes me appreciate Earth even more than before! If there's anything better, it's not in this solar system. There may be planets in other solar systems, but the closest is unreachable with today's technology, and one may have to go many solar systems further out to find anything comparable to Earth.

People like to imagine heaven as a better place yet, but the concept of heaven is generally not well defined. The ecology, social structure, and technology is generally left unspecified, so that people can imagine it however they want, agreeing only that it must be "wonderful." And of course, there would be no wars, poverty, or starvation. Furthermore, each person likes to imagine that he (or she) would be eligible to go to heaven, along with his family and friends.

But let's stop for a moment to think of what would happen if we actually did that--transport everyone to a place that seems wonderful in every respect. Where there is war and poverty on Earth, what causes those situations? Those problems are caused by people! And if we take those same people to heaven somehow, without teaching them how to live better, we would get the same results! Heaven would be ruined.

Maybe it's immortality that would differentiate heaven from earth, but even that has its problems. If people continued to have children, the planet would quickly become overpopulated. Children are so fun-loving that I feel it would be sad for childhood to become rare, or forbidden; but that would probably be necessary.

Perhaps to solve that people would spread far outward to other solar systems, but that could put people so far apart that it wouldn't be practical for them to visit their families any more. That is assuming that they even remember their families. A human brain has a limited number of cells and a limited memory capacity. In real life, memories fade as the mind chooses which it will keep. In immortality, where an infinite amount of time can pass, the knowledge of one's childhood and early life may become useless, and the person will gradually lose the knowledge of where he came from.

But that's not the worst that could happen. If the same people of earth who create wars and poverty and torture are there, to do the same things again, it would be much worse. If a mortal person is tortured, at least there is some end to it. If that victim was immortal, he (or she) could be tortured forever. Immortality is not necessarily heaven. It could be hell. This is a risk that is too great to leave in the hands of imperfect humans.

Considering that, I'm thinking that Earth's a pretty good place to be right now! Although Earth has it's problems, there's a lot of good on earth too. There are many nations on earth where people live peacefully, where governments are responsible to their citizens, where food is plentiful, and people help each other through difficulties and disasters. I am fortunate to live in one of those places. Moreover, the capabilities we have to zoom across our land faster than any animal, to fly, or to see and talk to people far across the planet are truly incredible. This is the best time to be on earth that there has ever been.

Really it's hard to imagine a much better place. It's the people that make it wonderful, and being good people is within our own control. Real heaven truly is a place on earth.

I'll acknowledge there are still problems, even in the best nations, such as pollution causing global warming. But there are technologies to solve that and the process of adopting them is underway. It's a challenge to make that better, and meeting challenges is also part of a worthwhile life.

Moreover, for the parts of the world in turmoil from fighting and starvation, consider that the only thing different about their people is that they didn't learn how to prevent it. Biologically the people themselves are pretty much the same, which also means that they could learn to behave differently. There is a solution possible.

Eventually, heaven won't just be a place on earth. It will be all of earth. It's within our power jointly to make it so.

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