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The question of heaven: Or, a Boring Superman

If we think about the question, “what is heaven?”, it seems to me that there is a widespread belief among us that heaven is something that concerns the human psyche, i.e., an internal human state of consciousness. It is a kind of personal "mental adjustment," the way each of us would individually choose to see the world.

The topic is somehow discussed in one well-known Czech song “Nebe na zemi”(“Heaven on earth”): "For anyone who wants to live in a world full of wonders, and make those wonders to be heaven is completely up to you.” Man can get a similar impression from reading another Czech classic, “Labyrint světa a ráj srdce“ („Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart”). As its name suggests, bliss ( Paradise) can be found only in the heart, in the psycho-emotional center of a man whose heart has become a symbol. Outside, the world "out there" is a labyrinth, and in a labyrinth are Minotaurs, roaring lions, confusion and chaos, the fallen world that can not be straightened out or reformed (although mankind is constantly trying to do so). So retire into yourself, "Gnothi seauton", "know yourself", reform yourself: this is a natural reaction, often referred to in the Greek tradition of the Delphic oracle.


The Kingdom of God is not inside

It is a bit strange, because Jesus, who indelibly influenced the Western world, never said "the kingdom of God is inside you." On the contrary, he emphasized as one of his central theses that "the kingdom of God is at hand". So he who is seeking the Kingdom of God inside of himself is looking in vain; he will never find it because it has never been there and never will. Paradise is not inside of man, though it is psychologically set. The kingdom of God is not within, but among. And that is something entirely different. Here, therefore, faith passes the baton to sociology and economics—and all the other humanities, the heirs of the mission, which explore things not between "heaven and earth", but between people and people.


Superman and micro-miracles

Have you noticed anything strange with superheroes? Economics has a habit of dealing with both the micro- and macro- levels. Superheroes do sensational micro-miracles, but no proper macro. A superhero (relatively non-systematically) changes actual and specific conditions, but not general and systematic ones. It would pose no problem for Superman to rescue a bus full of children, but to once-and-for-all tweak the rules of the roadway or transport would be a different story. Spiderman simply grabs a lot of thieves, but his genius does not contribute to the institutional reform of the police .

Likewise, Jesus healed many lepers and blind... but blindness and leprosy cured as such? Jesus saturates several thousand hungry, but does not solve the general problem of hunger. All the miracles that Jesus ever did—with the exception of salvation itself— were micro-miracles. It therefore has to do with our current superheroes, who are now filling the cinemas: it does not change the nature of miracles, the fabric of things, does not change the system, does not propose reform or revolt and their micro-miracles (no ideas)are actually irrelevant in terms of history. Those who were in the right place at the right time have been healed or saturated, and that is great, but for those who were not? Tough luck. In these cases, the flow of history was not changed.


Boring superman

And here we can see the role of those silent superheroes who, although they cannot heal or feed the multitudes, are doing painstaking 'macro-miracle' work. No doctor can save the leper as Jesus did, but he can save the multitudes, to the extent that today leprosy in our society is completely eradicated. No bureaucrat can catch a train falling off of a bridge, or replace a missing rail with his iron body as superman could, but improved traffic rules save the lives of hundreds of times more than superman could have even caught, even if he was working full time only on traffic accidents (even Superman can not save two accidents at once).

And this is where we come to the institutions, to things "among the people" that can not be cured miraculously by wave of the hand, but only through slow work, full of trial and error, insecurity, boredom, quarrels and controversies. However, the goal is the same: to help people make present the kingdom that is "in between"–where there is less poverty, fewer diseases, less blindness and more living.

Why would Superman be interested in the fate of some inferior human beings? Why pursue justice, and why care for the weak? After all, the rules of the jungle, like social Darwinism, dictate helping the powerful ones. Where did the idea come from that God would be good and righteous? In other religions (as in Greek or Babylonian mythology) the gods are evil, nasty, petty, and are not interested in righteousness and goodness. The ideal that the world should not be hungry, that we should help to each other, that the effort for justice is worth it, that the good is a higher ontological category than evil—these are all feelings we have from The Book. Faith sown so deeply that we do not consider it as a faith, but a truism. Likewise, today (economic) progress is not considered a miracle, but almost a basic human right.

Translated of an article published in Hospodářské noviny, Czech Republic


About the Author: Tomáš Sedláček (1977) is a Chief Macro-economic Strategist at ČSOB. He served as a non-political expert advisor to the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Czech Republic, with special responsibility over fiscal consolidation and the reform of the tax, pension, and healthcare systems. He also served as an economic advisor then-president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel. (www.tomassedlacek.cz)