As a fantasy writer with a massive amount of work in progress at virtually all times, (not to mention my day job), I frequently toy with ideas and concepts. It’s a hobby. When I do this, I don’t necessarily consider the logic or the veracity of these concepts in relationship to the reality that I currently inhabit. I think you know the reality I’m talking about – most of us are currently in it. It’s a “shared” reality with a lot of overlap. Perception largely determines its definition, making it slightly different for each of us, but still very similar in actual operation. Gravity, for example. So far I haven’t seen anyone with the ability to ignore it. Or the personality of any given individual. I’m sure it’s perceived somewhat differently by each person who knows that individual. Perception makes reality relative to the observer in a lot of ways.
In fantasy, I don’t have to worry about gravity. Nor do I need to concern myself with the existence of a soul or a spirit or any of the other unproven faith-based concepts. This means that I am free to think about them and write about them. Which I do. And one of the ideas I’ve recently been pondering has to do with the afterlife. In this concept, a soul, or a spirit, or some other such entity – let’s call it a “non-physical mentality” exists for each person – a component of personality and memory that continues to function after death. This is fantasy, mind you, so I’m not going to argue about the existence of such a thing. It’s my story, so I get to make the rules. (That’s the fun part for me).
So what if (and that’s the key to writing fantasy – asking what if) the afterlife that these non-physical mentalities inhabit after death is determined by their faith – their belief – in short, what they THINK becomes real. And the greater their belief in that thing, whatever it is, the strong it exists. In other words, Heaven as it appears to Christians as defined by their belief actually exists. But not everyone is Christian, obviously. The Islamic, Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu and yes, even the Greek versions of the afterlife exist as reality in this realm (which is defined by belief). Atheists who believe they won’t exist after death, don’t exist. The real problem, however, comes in with agnostics. What happens to them? They spend their entire lives not deciding on what to believe in because they simply don’t know what is real (a logical response considering the options available). And in this case, what they don’t know is that what is real is determined by them. Therefore, they enter the afterlife with the same question, and they’releft floating around in a confused muddle of minds that haven’t made a determination. I suppose this could be Hell, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s more like a constant struggle to create a defined reality – a tug of war between a multitude of minds who all want different things.
If the weight of belief defines the reality of the afterlife, the collective beliefs of each unified religion are like rafts in the infinite blackness of death. When unified, those who believe are given a place to dwell with like-minded believers. (I’m not sure HOW like minded they need to be, but I’ll work that out as I go). Shades of grey are going to exist, but they’re likely to get smeared across the unified versions of heavens, like walled gardens. I imagine the various afterlife realities would have to be full of factions. Where to draw the line?
In this story, the strength of any particular belief system would be magnified by the number of people who consistently believe in it – they make it exist by their belief – so I could have some select their version of heaven based on the largest collectives of consistent believers that hold that version in existence. Those that are closely aligned, but have slightly divergent beliefs, would probably fit into the larger versions. It would be a matter of convergence. Those that deviate slightly will be “bent” by the strength of the majority.
In short, if you want to create your version of “heaven” in the afterlife, you need to create a large number of believers in the material world. Can you alter this after death though? There’s an interesting question. And perhaps there are wars fought in the heavens over this very detail. Collect your believers and create your heaven, or join those believers who have already done so. After death, it becomes more difficult. Any specific heaven is not going to be interested in giving up their believers – they are the bedrock of their reality. Every soul counts. Every soul lost is one more brick out of the castle, one less cloud, one less… whatever it is.
I don’t know if I’ll write this. I’m sure someone somewhere has probably written something similar, not that that would stop me. One thing that makes this difficult is the sheer volume of religious research involved. Another thing that makes it difficult is the plot. What kind of plot would I apply to this environment? A war in the heavens? A struggle for unity? Agnostics beginning to create a unified reality? Or something like Dante – the escape from Hell? There area lot of options.
Anyway, there’s your crazy-ass thought for the day. Would it make a good story?