‘Heaven is not eternal, it’s just everlasting,’ says Joseph Campbell.
‘I don’t follow that,’ Bill Moyers replied.
‘Heaven and hell are described as forever. Heaven is of unending time. It is not eternal. Eternal is beyond time. The concept of time shuts out eternity.’
Joseph Campbell is a comparative mythologist, the great mind behind The Hero’s Journey, among his many achievements.
The first time I read this quote I thought Campbell was saying that heaven is a place or state of being that we can experience in the world today. Such an experience may be in the present moment, and each moment in time can be seen to last forever if viewed from outside of time.
But the more I think about these words, the more unsure I am of what they really mean.
If you have a magical “heavenly” moment where time seems to stand still, is this moment not outside of time, and hence an eternal moment?
The few times I’ve experienced such moments it feels as if nothing exists outside of that everlasting occasion. In my memory I can revisit that moment at any time. Yet to feel as if time has frozen, makes me think such a moment is outside of time, and hence eternal. I’m confused.
In my recent post on panentheism I described my “belief in God” but not in a supernatural spooky God of punishment and reward. It seems to me such a conception of God originated in immature minds, institutionalized to motivate behaviours that the powerful desired from the masses. A panentheistic (all-in-God) understanding of the relationship between humans and their universe is based on what is, that is, interpreting meaning out of the great mystery and magic that exists in the natural process of evolution and consciousness of being.
This returns me to Campbell’s thoughts on heaven.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell as a physical place where one’s individual soul transcends or descends to when their body croaks. I do, however, believe in heaven and hell, as states of mind-body-soul in the world today. I have experienced and witnessed both these states at different times of my life. These moments are everlasting – they will exist forever inside time. But they are not eternal. They are not a place outside of time, where I will go after I die.
I think there’s a trace of the eternal in every moment, and a trace of the moments in the eternal. But this is all but a guess. Whether one is absorbed back into all that is, inside time, or disappears into the eternal, I suppose is something we’ll just have to wait to find out.
 Campbell, Joseph (1988). The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. New York: Doubleday. p. 280.