I’ve been thinking about Jeremy Rifkin’s talk on ‘The Empathetic Civilisation’ which he gave at the RSA last year. It sparked my interest because of this quote:
“There is no empathy in heaven, because there is no mortality. There is no empathy in utopia, because there is no suffering.”
This made think a little about our traditional ideas of heaven and hell:
Taking what Rifkin says, those entering heaven will have to leave their empathetic sensibilities at the Pearly Gates, because there cannot be empathy for those left behind. If there were, there would be regret and sadness, and these are not permitted.
I think that this forces us to reject the traditional notion of heaven as a final, bounded place from which all pain is excluded, and from which those who are ‘lost’ are excluded too.
In the comments on the previous post, Roland noted that “hell is not something Jesus ever threatened people with. He loved everyone.” What is interesting to note about the incarnation is that Jesus had to leave ‘heaven’ in order to properly empathise with us.
This is a principle that religion likes to forget. Heaven has been abandoned because God saw that it was a sterile, unempathetic place. Instead, the church is called to create ‘dirty heaven’ here on earth – a heaven in the midst of hell, if you will, because this is the true locus of love.
I think we can use this to twist the Zizekian understanding of the early church. His understanding is that the Christian community gathers around the death of God. They are the true atheists because they see that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the divine – is in the sacrificial, loving, empathetic gathering with one another to serve the poor.
What we might now do is to say that it is not the death of God that signifies this community, but the abandonment of heaven. The truly empathetic community is the one that has given up on the idea of the perfect place to come, and is happy to have abandoned heaven, as Jesus did, in order to make dirty heaven, right here.