“Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s publicity-generating if you try.” (With apologies to John Lennon).
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (a.k.a. “oh, yeah, the brainy guy with the wheelchair and the robot voice”) has once more riled up the religious world. Interviewed by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, he rejected the notion of heaven, calling the afterlife “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Hawking is an inspiration, demonstrating how one can overcome severe physical handicaps in order to rain on everyone else’s parade. Granted, his views on eternal night do carry a positive philosophy that could be paraphrased as “You only go around once in life, so you’ve gotta grab all the gusto you can.”
If he’s going to borrow old beer slogans, all he needs is a team of Clydesdales to be the Philosopher of the Century.
Controversy is nothing new for Hawking. In his 2010 book “The Grand Design,” Hawking posited that the universe could have sprung into existence spontaneously, without a Creator. His next book amends that somewhat.
Hawking’s comments go beyond rejecting a Christian “pearly gates” concept. It means no 72 virgins, no reincarnation, no Happy Hunting Ground. The leaders of the world’s great religions have scheduled a roundtable meeting to present a unified front against Hawking’s heresy. The meeting will materialize just as soon as they negotiate a deal with the delegates who think a round-shaped table is blasphemous.
Some have theorized that Hawking makes his audacious statements purely out of jealousy of the late astronomer Carl Sagan. Sagan had his iconic “billions and billions of stars” catch-phrase, and Hawking has allegedly stockpiled a warehouse of “billions and billions of superstitious nincompoops” T-shirts. (Many of those nincompoops hope that Hawking will wind up “in a better place”: the remaindered book bin.)
I don’t really think Hawking’s words will sway that many minds. Americans in particular are too savvy to be persuaded by a mere collection of academic honors. (“We’d better see what Ashton Kutcher tweeted about Hawking first.”) But if his ideas do catch on, the societal changes are mind-boggling. Radio stations will suddenly play less of “Stairway To Heaven” and more of “Wipeout.” Funeral wreaths will replace “Rest In Peace” with “Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out.”
Many see malice or haughtiness in Hawking’s pronouncements. Perhaps he sincerely views himself as the counterpart of the kindly stranger who warns you before a big speech that you have a booger dangling. It’s just that the magnitude of his advice is overwhelming.
Hawking regards the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail, and the consciousness as something that will fade into oblivion.
I like to think that those components will be recycled for a grander purpose that not even Hawking can wrap his mind around.
(Danny Tyree’s e-mail address email@example.com. His column is distributed by Cagle Cartoons Inc.)