Sunday, January 02, 2005

Does Heaven have a place for bears?

The other night I overheard a conversation between Harriet and Goofball.

Harriet: What if there are no bears in Heaven?

Goofball: No bears in Heaven?! Would you be happy in a Heaven with no bears?

Harriet: No. I'd be sad. That is what worries me.

Goofball: Then how could it be Heaven? Living without the Goofball would be hell.

Harriet: I know.

Goofball: So don't worry, there must be bears in Heaven.

Grandiose declarations of self-importance aside, Goofball has a point. Bears are an important part of Harriet's life. Harriet misses the bears on long vacations and is happy to see us when she returns. A Heaven without bears would be an eternal vacation with no promise of returning home to those who love her. Harriet would not be happy in a state of being without bears.

In the Christian tradition (it is somewhat more complicated in the Jewish tradition), Heaven is regarded as an ethereal abode of complete bliss and delight. Virtuous souls are rewarded for proper behavior on Earth with eternal salvation and residence with God and the angels. Unfortunately, given that souls are noncorporeal, Heaven is generally conceived as a place transcending matter and time. Thus, physical objects such as cars and stereo systems are unlikely to be the rewards of Heaven since they are physically constituted.

How then, might bears and their polyester filling fit into such a conception of Heaven? A number of avenues present themselves as back doors into Heaven for bears.

First, Heaven is frequently thought to be a place where the deceased can join her family and friends for eternity. If Saint Peter allows anything like a Friends and Family Plan, then bears will most certainly be allowed in Heaven. The bears are an important part of Harriet's family.

Second, perhaps bears possess souls. Free will is a complicated subject with regards to bears (and one I will touch upon at some point in the future), but it is possible that we possess souls. We have distinct personalities. We makes choices (e.g., to nap or to read Plato). We choose to give ourselves to others. At the very least, it is plausible that bears possess souls and it is impossible to definitively declare the contrary. If bears have souls, would they merit entry into Heaven? While it is possible that there may be a bad bear in the world, every bear I have met has been decent and kind and loving and gives freely of himself. Bears have no vices such as smoking or drinking or adultery. The whole point of being a bear is to love and comfort an individual with almost no regard for personal safety (hence, the scruffy bears who belong to young children). If bears have souls, then they definitely merit admission into Heaven.

Third, even if bears do not have souls, their essence is inherently noncorporeal. Prior to finding an owner, a bear is nothing more than a pile of stitches and polyester. The flickering of personality and caring is there, but it is not until a bear is owned by a person that the personality can develop and be expressed. Hence, a bear and its person are inextricably linked. Even when the polyester body that inspired the personality of the bear is not present, the person can take comfort in her bear. Wagsy has been known to appear like a guardian angel when Harriet is on vacation. The linkage is more emotional than physical. Thus, the ethereal nature of Heaven is no barrier to a bear. You can't take it (meaning money, boats and cars) with you, but the love of a bear can go anywhere.

Finally, it is entirely possible that Heaven allows for corporeal rewards. The eternal feast of Valhalla for the Vikings would seem to require food and drink and a big table. The lengthy list of foods to be provided to Islamic martyrs also would imply that physical objects have a place in Heaven. If such objects as food and drink are allowed, then I can see no logical reason to assume that teddy bears would not be allowed either. In which case, Heaven can have bears if she wants it to.

So fear not, Harriet, there is probably a place in Heaven for bears. The problem with notions of the afterlife is that they defy claims of a definitive nature. However, all Earthly signs point towards room in Heaven for the furry.


Blogger The Wags Dogs said...

Haven't you read the Velveteen Rabbit? There are two types of stuffed animals dearly loved and simply owned. Here we seem to be talking about the dearly loved ones (because if you were just interested in simply owned you could go to ToysRUs instead of heaven), so as you know when a dearly loved teddy bear is truely loved (and that requires being nice to babies by the way!) it becomes real and ultimately takes the form of the real creature it symbolizes. Therefore the question seems to be not are there stuffed animals in heaven but rather do all dogs go to heaven (we think there may be a book on that as well).

12:45 PM  
Blogger Goofball said...

Yuck. I don't want to be a breathing bear. Bears in the wild eat raw fish and hunt for grubs in the underbrush. They face a dwindling habitat and get shot at by yahoos with big guns and little sense. And I haven't ever seen a bear cuddle with a pretty woman. Nope. I wanna stay a baby, all new materials bear.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Pudgie said...

Yes, I have read The Velveteen Rabbit. It is a charming fable and captures an important element of the person/bear relationship. However, the vision of the afterlife put forward in The Velveteen Rabbit is obviously a mythology without empirical basis. Were such a transition from stuffed animal to biological animal to take place, the natural world would be full of paradoxes. For instance, why are grizzly bears endangered? For that matter, why do we not see Tyranosaurus Rexes roaming in the wild? Why does the World Wildlife Fund not sell stuffed animals of endangered species in hopes of repopulating the planet?

Indeed, I feel the transformation of the beloved rabbit is precisely where The Velveteen Rabbit errs in its depiction of the bear/person relationship. Bears are not Pinocchio longing to become real little boys. Where Pinocchio longed to be independent of Geppetto, teddy bears have no desire to be separate from their person. The relationship will grow and evolve, but the bear is necessarily bound to the person. Glance over Wagsy's New Year's resolutions. There is no desire to cut the strings and become an independent and biological entity. The Velveteen Rabbit underestimates the degree to which bear and person are symbiotic (and the process flies in the face of obvious empirical truths).

1:16 PM  
Blogger Buffy said...

Gross. Like, oh my god, have you seen how biological aardvark's live? It's totally like dusty and dry. Their hair is like all matted and tangled and has bugs all in it and stuff. They live in like dirty small holes they dig and don't sleep on a bed or look at themselves in mirrors. Like, it might be fine for them, but after leading such a glamorous lifestyle, I would be totally bummed out.

I'm totally not suited to be a biological aardvark. Like, they are nocturnal, which isn't that bad, since I go clubbing at night. But, like I also like the sun, so I can work on my tan (and it totally takes commitment since I have hair all over my body ... most people don't notice) and I guess that isn't allowed or something because natural aardvarks only come out at night. It's like a reverse curfew or something and it would totally suck. And even if I could go out in the sun, like I wouldn't have any sun glasses, so I would have to be all squinty and stuff and probably get crows feet.

If I like die or something, I want to be put in a glass coffin so everyone can see how amazing I look. Like people will come up and say, "Like, she was so totally beautiful." It would have to be a big glass coffin, though, because I wouldn't want my tail like all smooshed up under me for eternity. And like there should be some air holes, too, because otherwise it would start to get stuffy in the coffin.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Wagsy said...

Um ... since everyone else has said something, I feel like I should chime in. Um ... I don't like these kind of topics. They make Alexandra sad and my head gets all salty. Um ... I like soft pillows and moonlit walks along the headboard.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Goofball said...

Go, Pudgie! Dropping the knowledge and laying the smackdown on the boys from the Atlanta.

9:50 PM  
Blogger limone said...

I just wanted to express how much I love the thoughts you wrote down here. To me it's absolutely clear that teddybears have a place in heaven, moreso after your explanation. (Greetings, from Banana Bear too)

6:41 AM  
Blogger chenasaurus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:17 PM  
Blogger chenasaurus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:18 PM  
Blogger chenasaurus said...

Our bear has actually saved lives!
We love our teddy and we think he most likely will be reincarnated as a Boddhisattva! :)

11:22 PM  

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