A US company offers to deliver messages to the dead for about $20 a word — with a five-word minimum.
The company sends the messages via terminally ill patients who promise, for a fee, to deliver the messages to “the other world”.
The fine print of the agreement, however, warns customers that the company cannot guarantee the message will get through.
“The truth is,” the company warns, “no one knows what happens when someone dies.”
Maybe not. But there is plenty of speculation.
Heaven, in most religions, is the ultimate destiny of the blessed. It is, according to most accounts in literature, a safe and beautiful place — the opposite of earthly squalor.
It is not the venue of never-ending boredom, but the centre of high human aspirations; the most fragrant and splendid of places.
Philosopher and author Arthur Roberts, in his new book Exploring Heaven, lays out historical evidence that people will retain their identities and personalities in heaven.
“We’ll be more than information bytes downloaded on to an eternal supercomputer,” he writes.
“We will do things like caring for our bodies, working, playing, socialising, sharing affection, and worshipping.”
Roberts even talks of the possibility of animals in heaven, although he admits he is not sure and has no evidence.
Medieval Pope Gregory the Great recorded his vision of heaven — pleasant meadows with white-clad people, sweetly smelling air, bright light and houses made of golden bricks.
Islamic scholars wrote of a heavenly oasis with great feasts and virgins attending the faithful.
Huckleberry Finn said heaven was the place where a person would “go round all day long with a harp and sing . . . forever and ever”.
Karl Marx said the whole concept of heaven was merely “pie in the sky”.
Early Christians and ancient Jews had a different concept of the afterlife. They saw not so much pie in the sky, but pie served on earth.
They talked of an earthly alternative for humanity — the New Jerusalem built on this planet after the return of the Messiah. Only God could live in heaven, they said.
Most people seem to have a vague concept of heaven; perhaps a grand reunion of a loved one or a final escape from pain. Our instincts suggest that the real story of heaven is about how we might transform after death on this planet.
Those who believe in this new realm — and it seems logical to do so — feel it will be unlike anything any of us have so far known or experienced.
Who knows what heaven will be like? Will there be music, for example?
The religious experts seem to agree that music will be part of the new system. After all, music was, according to many traditions, the language God spoke to create the universe.
What age will we be in heaven? The medieval philosophers generally agreed that we would be about 33, the recognised age of “earthly maturity” and also the age of Jesus when He physically left the planet.
Will we somehow retain our present bodies? The Jews think so and that is why they reject cremation.
Christians talk of new bodies, fashioned like the body of Jesus when He returns the second time.
Buddhists and Hindus believe we will become pure spirits.
It’s all slightly uncomfortable to discuss. Death, no matter what the destination, seems a violent act; an enemy of life.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who worked with the dying, noted that none of the encounter groups of dying people she chaired wanted to talk about heaven.
It seemed embarrassing, even cowardly.
“What convulsion of values can have us holding up the prospect of annihilation as brave and that of blissful eternity as cowardly?” she said.
And what has happened to the old bedrock gospel concept of heaven as a “home” beyond this one.
In that vision, heaven is a destiny, a place where some things — such as love — will never come to an end.
The most amazing thing may be that the lessons we learn in this world will serve us well in the next. And the concentric circles of love we recognise in this world will be expanded in the future.
Nothing will be lost. It will simply be transformed.