The concept of Paradise, the idea of some final reward waiting for the good folks after death, is a part of many religious traditions. From Dante’s Paradiso to that episode of Tom and Jerry where Tom dies and St. Peter won’t let him into heaven unless Jerry forgives him, we have a bit of a cultural fixation on the good life after death.
We’ve gotten pretty creative about portraying it, too. It’s not all angels in white dresses wielding harps anymore.
Supernatural is a mainstay in our Sunday posts, and I’d be remiss not to bring it up here. In Season 5’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, Sam and Dean actually visit Heaven and receive a message from God’s… gardener, Joshua. Supernatural’s idea of Heaven is an interesting one: you’ve got Heaven and then you’ve also got innumerable heavens. Heaven is the traditional part—where the angels live, etc., while the heavens are unique to each person who made it to Paradise. These individual heavens reflect the happiest moment in a person’s life, whether that’s shooting fireworks out of the back of the Impala with your brother or a peaceful, eternal Tuesday afternoon. Your heaven is cut off from pretty much everyone else’s, although soulmates are allowed to share. In this episode, however, an old friend returns to help the Winchesters travel between the individual spaces.
We never actually see Heaven in Good Omens, but we still get an interesting interpretation of it from the book. The forces of Heaven are trucking along with God’s ineffable plan for the apocalypse, but they’re sorely out of touch with humanity. Aziraphale, the angel gone native, is forced to admit that heaven is a little (a lot) backwards and that saving Earth and allowing humanity to continue is, in many ways, better than eternal Paradise. After all, as devil gone native Crowley points out, “Heaven has no taste… And not one single sushi restaurant!”
Saiyuki puts a spin on the Mahayana Buddhist tradition’s Heaven (along with, well, every other aspect of the Journey to the West story). Kazuya Minekura looks at the peaceful, unchanging purity of the heavenly plane and carries that to a logical conclusion: for a capricious, sharp-minded entity, Heaven would appear impossibly backwards and boring. The landscape of Saiyuki‘s Heaven is the same as you’d imagine from reading the traditional myth—gardens, building with Chinese architecture, pools filled with lotus blossoms—but the perfection of the setting belies the moral rot that creeps through the highest ranks of Heaven’s bureaucracy.
It’s interesting how many different conceptions of Paradise are out there, and I think it’s even more interesting that, when we portray Heaven in pop culture, we almost always have to portray it as an imperfect place. I guess a place that has no flaws whatsoever is boring, from a storytelling perspective, but these portrayals make it seem as though we humans are so pessimistic that we somehow can’t accept that a so-called perfect place could actually be perfect.
What are your thoughts on Heaven in pop culture, my dear readers? Hit me up in the comments!