Dreams of Heaven and Hell

I recently attended a lecture by senior members of the Indonesian police about a network of terrorists who called themselves … Continued

I recently attended a lecture by senior members of the Indonesian police about a network of terrorists who called themselves Muslims. Among the Power Point slides presented were mug shots of suicide bombers taken after the fact. Their explosive belts destroyed their bodies but left their heads intact, and the face of each was frozen at the moment of death with an expression of surprise, as if they had just seen or experienced something that really was quite unexpected. Did they behold the gates of Paradise, as they were taught they would by the people who recruited and instructed them in an aberrant version of Islam? Or did they glimpse the depths of hell as they stole away the lives of innocents in their campaign of horror? Where are the souls of those bombers now?

Surely they are nowhere, in the physical sense of a celestial or subterranean locale. If we are talking about a literal cartography of the cosmos, then, no, I certainly do not believe in heaven or hell. Nor, for that matter, do I believe that the word “now” has much relevance. Eternity is not something you check on your watch. If those self-executed murderers’ spirits endured in any way, they were beyond the measurement of present or future time.

Yet I imagine the killers did see something at the moment of their death, and I suspect that all of us do – a sort of final dream that is as real as dreams can be, and which takes us through the last moment of life that probably becomes, for each of us, eternity. The link between our unconscious and our visions of heaven and hell is, for me, one of the most fascinating and troubling areas to explore in the realm of faith. And one about which I continue to learn from books like Marie-Louise von Franz’s 1984 study, “On Dreams & Death: A Jungian Interpretation.” Among other issues, she looks at the difficulty we all have dissociating our spiritual life from our physical corpses, even though “only a few of us today can believe in a concrete reproduction of the old body.”

Dreams are the nearest thing we have to an experience beyond and apart from the body. And at the moment of death, I would suppose that part of that experience must surely be affected by the way our consciousness and our conscience come into play. How much have we loved and felt love? Have we been just or unjust, selfish or selfless, kind or cruel? Just as such questions play on us in our sleep, they must affect us in the moment that we die, and there is finally no bargain we can make with ourselves that will guarantee the desired result. “In that sleep of death,” as Shakespeare wrote, “what dreams may come … must give us pause.”

People of faith, genuine believers who have worshipped and obeyed their God or gods, probably have a better chance than others of experiencing that same sort of transcendent happiness at the moment of death that can come to us, rarely, in our dreams. How comforting to hear the priest administering the last rites say “through this holy unction and His own most tender mercy may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed.” Some who die may enter a world of nightmares, which is the closest thing to damnation that most of us have ever felt. Perhaps others, perhaps most, suddenly sense the void, an end of life with no new beginning at all. But that is almost too horrible for many people to contemplate.

In the Qur’an, one of the most moving and comforting phrases tells us that “every soul shall have a taste of death,” as if mortality were just a passing moment in the endless life of the spirit. I have always liked that thought. But what about the twisted teachings of those who indoctrinate fanatics like the suicide bombers whose heads were collected by the Indonesian police? Did they so believe in their version of their faith that at the moment of death they felt themselves transported to Paradise? Was their last shock of knowledge the vision that the Qur’an offers of “gardens of bliss” where they would recline on thrones, eating the sweet flesh of birds and drinking divine libations while surrounded by pure and beautiful virgins? That might be possible. But as I look at the faces of the murderers, I feel certain that the death their souls tasted was the nightmare that became their eternity.

  • Jihadist

    Mr. Christopher DickeyThank you for your interesting essay here on heaven and hell and terrorists. I had given it a pass until today and saw you refered to terrorists in my country of origin and country of adoption. As you know, they are members of Jemaah Islamiyah who had hope to force into being, a pan-Muslim state in mainly insular Southeast Asia covering Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. As if. Terrorists who call themselves Muslims, and think they will automatically go to heaven for a single act of terrorism like 9/11, or Bali bombings are deluded in their beliefs, and warped in their actions. If they really do know their Muslim belief (and not the special, particular and specific interpretations of Suras and Hadiths, or to create and accept fatwas by self-appointed clerical free-lancers), they should know that killing civilians is wrong and sinful; that no one go to heaven or hell based on a single, or a few specific acts in their life. By Muslim belief, as you well know, the judgement is for the cummalative summation of acts and deeds in one’s life. No credible Muslim cleric and members of the bona fide ulema would ever say who will go to heaven or hell, even for the most pious of believers, as the final judgement is by God and God alone. It should not be surprising if some Muslims say the terrorists are not Muslims, as by their beliefs and acts, they are contrary to the traditional beliefs of Muslims on heaven and hell, war and peace. As you know, Muslim terrorists kill more Muslims than anyone of other faiths. What they could not persuade in a peaceful way and by democratic means in Indonesia and Malaysia, they try by acts of terrorism. They are certainly very, very deluded in believing what they believe in, and in the methods to attain their objective. It only revulsed Muslims who wants to live by their faith as it should be -for individual dignity, justice, peace and equity. I would like to say that Indonesians and Malaysians are fearful of the terrorists in their midst. But rightly or wrongly, the terrorists are almost regarded as irritating mosquitos or ankle-biters. The history of both countries are replete with armed conflicts and acts of terrorism – from battles for independence to communist insurgencies to regional strifes to terrorists.In the fight against terrorists, the governments of both countries also has not instituted any colour coded system of public warnings and/or alerts. Not to do so may be imprudent, but to do so would let the terrorists know they can intimidate governments and peoples into varying states of fear.

  • Daniel

    Emily Dickenson wrote this poem about Heaven:What is — “Paradise”—Do they wear “new shoes”—in “Eden”—You are sure there’s such a personI shant walk the “Jasper”—barefoot—

  • A Hermit

    An interesting take on the subject, Mr. Dickey. I like it…

  • yoyo

    Mr Dickey

  • Anonymous

    Bertrand Russell….

  • Tim

    “But as I look at the faces of the murderers, I feel certain that the death their souls tasted was the nightmare that became their eternity.”Dickey, what is interesting is that you “feel certain” of this nightmare for the suicide bombers. Your certainty of belief is because you have seen. You, Mr. Dickey, have been honored by God to be given sight to see a glimpse of the spiritual world that exists around us but can not be seen except though spiritual eyes. Many who see those same pictures only see the gruesome disfigured faces and might, if barbaric, even make fun or laugh. You see with spiritual eyes and are “certain” of things that others might laugh at. You see and thus you have been privileged to be given a momentary glimpse of the spiritual world around us. Take care, Mr. Dickey, and cherish this vision (albeit a dark vision) Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us. Wow, this nightmare of a vision from someone like yourself is very thought provoking.

  • j

    Jesus Christ is the first jew and only jew I have known. So we will have to trust him in deciding what is heaven and hell.

  • BGone

    Christopher, an old clinical psychologist after having a few drinks said, “people do whatever in hell they want to” speaking from 30 years experience with those who need, must have, can’t do without his council. You don’t suppose we can explain what we see about us as simply people doing what they want to do?One with a gun in his face will most likely “want to do” what the fellow holding the gun tells him to do. Reasonable?Hell is a gun in the face. The fellow holding the gun is called a minister. What’s the difference in a minister and a bank robber? Honesty about what one is doing?

  • Tony

    Sir,The second more fundamental point looks at the relationship between Muslims and terrorism. Its fair to say that not all Muslims are terrorists, its also fair to say that those who are or purport to be terrorists have a perverted sense of what their religion stands for and represents. My own personal experience of Muslims tells me they are an insular, secular, type of people who by nature find it hard to integrate into western lifestyles and values. There are fundamental differences between between the western way of life and the Muslim way of life, they prefer their own culture to the exclusion of all others, they demand their “rights” in a foreign country, but rarely respect the wishes of the indigenous population which in turn creates fear and suspicion. I am genuinely baffled, perplexed as to why a person with such diametrically opposed views to those of the host nation would want to live in that particular country ? Economic benefit maybe, or perhaps to destroy the hand that feeds them. I once listened to the words of a local Imam who proclaimed that one day every country would be a Muslim one, regardless of the wishes of its people, because the Muslim faith transcends all national boundaries and all other beliefs……so much for democracy!

  • ahmed from bahrain

    Suicide is considered a sin in Islam. Period.Sadly in such places as none Arab Muslim countries many follow whatever their imams dish them out. So, in many ways it is the blind leading the blind. As for those who are Arabs and still commit such suicidal acts, they seem to be driven more by revenge than any proclaimed Islamic faith. Again revenge is forbiden in Islam where God implores patience in adversity.The only war that is allowed in Quran is based on self defence and it has its limitation such as if the offender stops then we must also stop even if the peace term is against us for God prefers people to live in peace and find their way to HIM than be at war for HIS sake when HE clearly tells us, again, in the Quran, that HE is beyond need but it aslo clearly informs us that: “Whoever kills a person it is as if he has killed all human beings and whoever saves a person it is as if he has saved all human beings.”The sad part of this is that it is the USA who supports the House of Saud that supports the teaching of such fanatics as Wahabis who do not tolerate any other Islamic interpretations let alone non-Islamic faiths. In short they are a disgrace to most Muslims but many fear voicing their abhorance for whatever reason.

  • Tim

    Tony, what you have said is measured and well though out. I agree with your conclusion that political will and unprecedented vision will be needed to ensure a world where all peoples and cultures can live together. Communism lasted for a very brief period on the scale of history and Nazism was really just a blip on the map of history. Islamo ideology and culture has existed 1400 years. This is a whole ‘nother animal with a past that includes the near conquest of Europe. Unless contained it will strive to and will find a way to dominate. The question poised was about things that we can not see, i.e. heaven and hell. These are not physical quantities that can be observed and measured. If one can not imagine, envision, or even consider the possibility of hell, something beyond this physical life, then it is fair to say that the expression of surprise captured on the faces of those who died is only about the missing bits of body having been blown into pieces. Also, viewed through a secular, materialistic lens we are all genuinely baffled, perplexed as to why a person with such diametrically opposed views to those of the host nation would want to live in that particular country. A lot of what is happening makes no sense. But from a spiritual vantage things become clearer. The war on terror, like many significant wars, is about ideology, concepts and your god vs. my god. We are participants in spiritual battle and the war on terror is just the manifestation of this spiritual battle on the physical plane. As long as they know this and we do not it puts us at a disadvantage. Yet, more Americans are beginning to see the real nature of this current challenge to our freedom. When you do, then you can also see that there is perhaps another dimension to the expressions on those faces and Dickey saw this. It could an overstatement on the whole thing, but Dickey is the one who chose to use the words “feel firmly” and he concluded his piece with this wording. It just may be that he is communicating something to us that is pretty rare these days and is truly a picture that represents what the heart of this war is all about. It is about a choice between heaven or hell.

  • Paganplace

    Tim:”"A lot of what is happening makes no sense. But from a spiritual vantage things become clearer. The war on terror, like many significant wars, is about ideology, concepts and your god vs. my god. We are participants in spiritual battle and the war on terror is just the manifestation of this spiritual battle on the physical plane.”Or you could ‘follow the money and power’ in your inquiries: and see that the ‘sides’ in the war on terror may not be as simple as you think: the fact is, casting this as ‘spiritual war,’ tends to affiliate people with one side ‘winning,’ and this only serves certain interests, including Bush’s friends the House of Saud, as Ahmed mentions, who’ve long been diverting attention from injustices in their own country by encouraging popular sentiment against the West. In a way, yes, there’s what I’d call a spiritual conflict, but it’s not the one some would lead us to think. “As long as they know this and we do not it puts us at a disadvantage.”At what, being the question.

  • Mary Cunningham

    Interesting piece, Mr Dickey…but it’s important to be clear headed about this. Suicide-bombing is a weapon, only recently invoked by Islamists.(‘Invented’– if we might use that word–initially and thereafter frequently used by the fearsomely secular Tamil Tigers.) Islamists have been politically active in the 1990s and 80s without resorting to suicide-bombing. During this period religion was not invoked at all: they were fighting against the occupation of the West Bank, repressive gov’ts in Egypt, Saudi, Algeria &tc. It looked then as if these militants had purely political aims. They were defeated in Algeria, for example, because in order to bring about a ‘perfect’ state they were murdering Muslim civilians in ever increasing numbers! What is happening today is happening primarily for a political goal–the remaking/’purification’ of the ME. These goals are set in opposition to liberal democracy of the West, are ultimately Utopian and, as such, have much in common with secular Western movements of the 20th century.

  • victoria

    i agree with mary- it is and has been political. one of the most annoying misquotes actually is relevant in this aspect. marx said ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’ it wasnt an anti-religion remark- if you read his whole statement he was asserting that religion WHEN USED AS A TOOL BY THE POWERS THAT BE is very effective at controlling the behavior of large groups of people. there is no spiritual aspect to this conflict whatsoever- the only people who really believe this at any level are those allowing themselves to be distracted into ways to voice their own prejudices against those who believe differently- its political- almost all of the terrorist actions have been motivated by political atmospheres- and are acts (horrific) of desparation. o by the way- the inventor of terrorism wasnt the tamil tigers, another person peripherally involved in his religion, but who didnt hesitate to use it to galvanize fighters for his side. and again for the record- arabs worldwide comprise less than 18% of the total population of muslims. one of the biggest democracies in the world is a muslim country called indonesia.

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