How Old Will You Be When You Get to Heaven?

Margaret Morganroth Gullette

Many religious faiths propose different versions of heaven as a location: There are walled gardens with streams, flowers, pleasing scents, pretty angels, rapturous music or delicious accessible food.

But what about us – the once-mortal – who will go on to inhabit the heavenly real estate? What form will our bodies take? Not all religions posit bodily resurrection. But those that do tend to depict them as young.

As the author of prize-winning books on age and culture, I tend to notice unseen forms of ageism.

I wonder: Is the cult of youth what we really want trailing us into the afterlife?

The righteous are young

According to Christian orthodoxy, if you’re worthy of being raised from the dead, you’ll be resurrected in the flesh, not merely as spirit, with a body restored like that of Christ, who died at 33.

In heaven there will be no whip marks, no scars from thorns, no bodily wounds. If eaten by cannibals or bereft of limbs from battle – some medieval people worried about wholeness in such conditions – people would regain their missing parts. The body would be perfected, as the Apostle Matthew promised in the New Testament when he wrote, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear.”

In Islam, in the traditional Hadiths – the commentaries that succeeded the Quran – the righteous are also youthful, and apparently male. “The people of Paradise will enter Paradise hairless (in their body), beardless, white colored, curly haired, with their eyes anointed with kohl, aged thirty-three years,” according to Abu Harayra, one of Mohammed’s companions.

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