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Oh, for heaven’s sake

Stephen Hawking says that the pearly gates are fictional. He’s taking the fun out of the afterlife.

india Updated: May 17, 2011 22:42 IST

Belinda Carlisle will always be smarter than Stephen Hawking, considering that the former made a decent name for herself in the late 1980s for a nice little ditty called ‘Heaven is a place on Earth’. But in case anyone mistook Ms Carlisle’s insistence of the existence of terrestrial super-bliss to be evidence of heaven only as a metaphor, British astrophysicist Mr Hawking tells us, in no uncertain robotic monotonous terms, that heaven is a fairy tale. Which doesn’t mean that the two German cultural researchers (and brothers), Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were documenting facts. What Prof Hawking means is just that there is no heaven. (And that most women fake it.)

The business of the appeal of heaven should be strange to many of us. While ‘jahannum’ is a pretty well-defined bad place as described by the Muslim rulebook, for the rest of us, hell is ‘other people’ while heaven is people we find joy in hanging out with after we reach our 40s. Prof Hawking, however, is no sitting theologian. His comment about heaven being a work of fiction is in the context of him being asked whether he was afraid of death. Smart chap that he is, he dodged the question for Christian questioners. In the context of his familiarity with singularity points, black holes, quantum functions and nurses who love you, he knows that to be smart and to suffer from a motor neuron disease — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to be precise — is a blessing, therefore a happy fairy tale that for even more logical folks goes under the name of ‘luck’.

Heaven for most of us is imaginary high-end dance bars where apsaras who look remarkably like Helen or Bipasha Basu do an item number or two. But as Prof Hawking says, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers.” Hell, doesn’t he know that we just get reborn again?