I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith: Heaven
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Neil, given your experiences, and how you’ve used them to help produce this current work, in terms of novel writing and script writing, why do you think there are almost no stories, at least none that I can find, where a character goes to Hell and can just come back the way characters seem to go to Heaven and don’t stay there?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, of course, there’s one classic version of it, and that’s Orpheus in the Underworld, which has been made into various operas. That’s where I first encountered it. I suppose Inferno — both Dante’s version and then the later re-doing of it by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle — is precisely that of a human being who gets to go to Hell and then come back, maybe not necessarily to Earth, but in the case of Dante you manage to get out and go to Heaven.
But in terms of modern stories, I guess the only one I can really think of here is Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come, where the hero follows his wife from Heaven into Hell to rescue her, which again is an Orpheus story. But in terms of why it’s not done, I don’t know.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Well the Persephone story and in the case of Dante’s Inferno you’re kind of getting a tour of Hell, there are the exceptions admittedly. But it seems like there are a lot of stories about people going to Heaven and they don’t stay, which confuses me because if I ever got to Heaven I would not want to leave. And then you have lots of stories, horror stories especially, nobody gets to leave Hell.
I guess the idea is, if you get to leave Heaven, why would you ever choose to? I guess, maybe, you don’t get to leave Hell because it’s a punishment, like you don’t get to leave prison. But why would anybody choose ever to consciously and deliberately leave Heaven?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, only when the writer writes Heaven in such a way that it’s not worth staying. Which means essentially that what we are doing is we’re encountering stories in which Heaven is a device written by a writer who doesn’t believe in it.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: That’s the thing about your novel. You’re very pro-Heaven, and you very much have the idea that Heaven is a place that you want to stay, and yet the title of your novel is Escape from Heaven because of the plot situation that you’ve got, and the ultimate fate of Earth with the political campaign between Jesus and Lucifer.
But it’s interesting that people who might pick up your book, or see the movie that will eventually be made of Escape from Heaven, could expect this more typical modern idea that when you get to Heaven you can’t wait to leave it. I guess it’s dull or something. That is the opposite, actually, of what you’ve written, despite the fact that your work is entitled Escape from Heaven.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, that’s because my fundamental premise about Heaven is different.
Heaven is supposed to be “perfect.”
Well, if Heaven is “perfect,” we know that perfection means that there is no moving forward. I mean, once you are perfect, why do anything except basically sit around and sip tea? You know, there’s nothing to do. You don’t have to do anything. All your needs are fulfilled. You don’t have any wants. There’s no excitement. And it does come across as dull.
In the same way that when we have the concept of God being “perfect” it makes Him static as well, why should God take any action whatsoever? Why should He create? Why should He do anything, if everything is perfect?
Perfection is death. Perfection is an ending. Perfection is saying you’re done.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But your Heaven is not perfect.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right! “My” Heaven is not perfect. My Heaven? My portrayal of Heaven, my map of Heaven.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: You know what I mean.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. The Heaven in which I am mapping is not mapped to be perfect. The God who I am saying that I have been in communication with is alive, and dynamic, and makes choices, and, therefore, there’s a before and after, better or worse. But there is none of this static idea of perfection. Everything is still alive. Everything is still in play — and I play it that way.
Now. It’s interesting that my view is actually scripturally correct, because not only does the Old Testament show us God changing His mind and “repenting the evil that He thought to do unto His people” — as it says in Exodus — but also, in the last book of the Bible — The Revelation of Saint John the Divine — we are told that there is a war in Heaven, and Heaven is destroyed, and a new Heaven is created afterwards.
People don’t remember that there is a re-creation of Heaven, very much the same way as the restoration of Eden is supposed to be the re-creation of Heaven. There is a fall of Heaven itself, and then a re-creation of Heaven itself, or a new Heaven, a new and better, improved Heaven.
Well, that’s what I portray in my novel.
We have a war in Heaven, which goes back to the dream I had, in which Heaven falls under attack and, in essence, is devastated in this war.
Well, a Heaven which is devastated is not a nice place anymore. It’s not Heaven in the way that we think of Heaven.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: It’s not “Heavenly?”
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s not “Heavenly,” right. But again, this is playing with words.
If Heaven is a real place, then it is a place that can suffer the same destruction as other real places, such as New York City, being hit on 9/11 and having the Twin Towers disappear.
So when Duj goes there — and he has to escape from it because it’s a war zone — then that accounts for both the experience that I had in my dream in which I had to escape from Heaven which had fallen under attack, and then, in the novel, Duj has to escape from Heaven because it’s fallen under attack.
But the title is also a more general metaphor than that, because — in essence — aren’t so many of us in effect escaping from Heaven?
If, in fact, we don’t like the meal that is set before us — and we reject it — if we don’t like the idea that Earth is not perfect but it is perfecting — it is designed to be a tool to perfect us, an environment in which we play a game to get experience points — to use an old gamer’s metaphor — and what happens afterward is a goal we don’t want, we don’t like God’s plan — how many different ways do we escape from Heaven everyday?
If God says that it takes sperm and ova to have babies — and sperm come from a penis and eggs come from an ovary — and the two of them getting together is what sex is — and yet somebody chooses two women or two men, well, that’s an escape from Heaven.
Not that I’m condemning it as evil or anything like that. I’m simply saying it’s not part of the plan because you don’t get babies from it.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Unless you go to the lab or something like that, which is another escape form Heaven.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, we could argue whether it’s a diversion or part of the learning process, whether it’s Science Lab or not.
Remember, I do believe that we are intended to become gods under God. That is part of the cosmology, and part of the eschatology, that I’m portraying in Escape from Heaven. That, in fact, the whole point of this exercise, both for angels and humans, is that we are going on paths to make us into gods who are capable of having these enormous powers, and using them, and living forever. With all the challenges of that, the challenge of living forever, you have to be the sort of person who can survive living forever without going crazy, in the same way that God had to figure out a way not to go crazy, not to be bored, not to accept perfection as an end.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: So, in essence, it’s also an escape from perfection, and that’s where the story begins.
That’s when things become interesting. And if you believe that we live forever, it basically means that we go through perfection, as a verb, but not end up in it as a noun.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: In other words, “Escape from Heaven” can also mean “escape from the idea of perfection,” because that is static?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now, my last question in this sequence, and this is a psychological question, not scriptural, not based on any of the world’s holy texts.
Neil Schulman, before, during, and after these experiences – psychologically — never seemed to accept the idea of Hell. Give me psychological or philosophical reasons but not scriptural reasons — why do you think there is no Hell?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Wow. Well, for one thing, I guess I’m optimistic enough to think that God, sooner or later, will get through to us. I don’t believe in a punitive or penal philosophy to begin with. I don’t think that God goes out of His way to administer punishment. I think that, sometimes, He steps out of the way and lets us suffer the consequences of our own actions, and that is in fact punishment. But there is no necessity for creating the prison called Hell, to condemn prisoners forever, to accomplish that because what, in fact would be the point?
Let’s look at it in terms of capital punishment here on Earth. Capital punishment is a contradiction in terms, because if you are killed the punishment is over. In fact, you have destroyed the punishment by ending the person who is capable of regret or perceiving it. Once you have eliminated that which is capable of perceiving punishment, you have eliminated punishment.
So, in the same sense, that it is only something which is able to reform the criminal or, in this particular context, the sinner, would there be any meaning to the concept.
Now if you want to argue that Hell is a reform school, a penitentiary — with “penitent” being the root word — that you reach the point where you are penitent for what you have done and attempt to make reparations — if you want to argue that is what Hell is then, okay, I don’t have a problem with Hell. I think the Roman Catholics would call that Purgatory though.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yes, I like what you’re saying. It’s like when we talk about libertarian as capital “L” or little “l” or the State as capital “S” or little “s”. What you’re saying is small “h” hell, you can see that, but capital “H” Hell, you don’t see why that would be necessary, and what purpose it would serve for God. Is that right?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That is correct. In other words, the idea of eternal punishment — I have said this before — seems to me to be such a dumb idea that only someone who lives a short human lifespan could have such contempt for the idea of eternity as to think of eternal punishment.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: That sets up my final question for I Met God by J. Neil Schulman. Here is my final and obvious question: do you think, expect, or hope that you will meet God again in this lifetime or do you think the next time you meet God will be after this lifetime?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: You’re asking me about my hope and my expectation.
Well, of course my hope is to meet God anytime I can, and if I can do it while I’m still alive, great. And if I have to wait until after I’m in the next life, great.
I still feel I have work to do here and so, if I were to die soon, I would die regretfully because there are still things I need to do. I have a daughter who I want to see to adulthood. I have a mother who I’m still taking care of. I have works which I still want to write and — very frankly and very selfishly — I want to be here to see Escape from Heaven produced as a movie and done right. That’s something I want to hang around to do.
Also, when I die, I want to die thin. That’s just a very vain thing and, dumb as it is, I’d like to get myself back into shape before I go. Leave a beautiful corpse, as they say, for the short amount of time before it turns back into dust.
But, I’m not ready to go, but if I do go, then I know that where I go next is going to be exciting, and I’m confident that God’s going to be there and it’ll be a return home.
I’ve already been shown my home on the other side. So I know that it’s going to be someplace that’ll be very much like a kid being offered dessert and then turning away from it. You know, “You don’t want dessert?” “No, I don’t want dessert! I want to stay here!” That kind of thing.
So, again, I may not have my phobia about death anymore, but I’m not ready to embrace it yet.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Thanks, Neil.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Thank you, Brad.
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!