About a year ago, I wrote a post having fun with the idea of what religious people think about the age that they will look like in heaven, any answer to which creates all manner of contradictions and problems. It turned out that St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) had thought about this a lot and laid out his vision.
In this article, Margaret Morganroth Gullette looks at what the various religions that have an afterlife as part of their doctrine say about this question, and they all seem to think that you will look young, a fantasy that is nurtured by popular culture.
According to Christian orthodoxy, if you’re worthy of being raised from the dead, you’ll be resurrected in the flesh, not merely as spirit, with a body restored like that of Christ, who died at 33.
In heaven there will be no whip marks, no scars from thorns, no bodily wounds. If eaten by cannibals or bereft of limbs from battle – some medieval people worried about wholeness in such conditions – people would regain their missing parts.
In Islam, in the traditional Hadiths – the commentaries that succeeded the Quran – the righteous are also youthful, and apparently male. “The people of Paradise will enter Paradise hairless (in their body), beardless, white colored, curly haired, with their eyes anointed with kohl, aged thirty-three years,” according to Abu Harayra, one of Mohammed’s companions.
She says that this cult of youthfulness in heaven clashes with the most desirable aspect of believing in the afterlife, that we get to meet the people we love.
For many people now, paradise is, more than anything, a place where we will meet loved ones. Often a beloved parent. I would have no interest in a heaven in which my mother appeared to be 33, when I scarcely knew her as a six-year-old. Nor would I want her to look six decades younger than I do, were I to arrive in my 90s.
She died at 96, and I want her to have the face I loved in her very old age. There she would be, still smiling at me benignly, as she does in a photograph I see every day of my aging-into-old-age life.
The concept of the afterlife is irredeemably problematic and its contradictions are only avoided by being utterly vague about the details and thinking about it only in the broadest of generalities. Begin to ask questions, pretty much any questions at all, and the whole thing starts to fall apart.