This section describes the diversity of contradictory beliefs about life after death that are found among believers of various religions and religious skeptics. We recognize that many people of faith derive strong feelings of security from the beliefs about the afterlife taught by their particular denomination. Reading the essays in this section may cause them great distress, If you fall into this group, we recommend that you consider not reading further.
A sampling of quotations, mostly by individual Christians:
"If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will
go to heaven; If you're following another religion, then by default you will
go to Hell." Radio program "Life on the Edge," sponsored by Focus on the Family, and directed to teens, 2001-MAY-05.
"If YOU believe in Evolution instead of Jesus, you'll end up in hell." Chick Publications' gospel tract "Apes, Lies and
Ms. Henn." (Emphasis in the original. It implies that a person cannot believe both in Jesus and the theory of evolution.)
"Everyone is going to Hell according someone's religion." Anon
This statement is not factually true, because some religious groups do not teach the existence of a Hell. For example, Buddhism teaches Samsara, the belief that people, after dying, are reborn as a newborn and live successive lifetimes.
"... death, the most terrifying of evils, is nothing to us, since for the time when we are, death is not present; and for the time when death is present, we are not. Therefore it is nothing either to the living or the dead since it is not present for the former, and the latter are no longer. Epicurus (341 to 270 BCE), an ancient Greek philosopher in his Letter to Menoeceus.
"To be immortal is commonplace. Except for man, all creatures are immortal, for they are ignorant of death; what is divine, terrible, incomprehensible, is to know that one is mortal. From Luis Luis Borges, "The Immortal," 1943.
"For the living know that they shall die: but
the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the
memory of them is forgotten." Ecclesiastes 9:5 (King James Version of the Bible) This Biblical passage teaches annihilation, which conflicts with other biblical passages about the afterlife which imply a person will go to either Heaven or Hell.
"...we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by
the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect
them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have
done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers
in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound."
C.H. Pinnock 1
"If all of those who have not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior will be tortured in Hell after death, then this will include the sizable percentage of the human race who will die after never having never heard of Jesus, Christianity, or the Bible while on Earth. This appears to me to be profoundly immoral." Bruce Robinson, coordinator of this web site.
"How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and
vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his
creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such
a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary
moral standards, and by the gospel itself." Clark
H. Pinnock. 2
"Neither the Christian Ministry, nor the Christian church, are
responsible for the doctrine of eternal perdition. It is given in charge
to the ministry, and to the Church, by the Lord Christ Himself, in His
last commission, as a truth to be preached to every creature."
William Shedd, (1820-1894) an American Calvinist Presbyterian Theologian, professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary. 3
"Christian theology firmly believes that if you do not believe in
Jesus you are going to 'burn in Hell.'.... this is a crazy notion that man made up and contradicts what
God says in the Jewish Bible." S.J. Greenstein, 4
"That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more
abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell." Thomas
Aquinas (1225-1274 CE), Summa Theologica. 5
"How will you spend eternity -- Smoking or Nonsmoking?" Church Sign at the Floral City United Methodist Church in Florida. 6
"The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Jehovah~ez_rsquo~s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, the Religious Scientists, the New Agers, and the Mormons. All have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell so radically that it is no longer a serious threat." From the pamphlet "The Hell There Is!" 7
Among the "... 100.5 billion people who have ever lived, not one of them has returned to confirm the existence of an afterlife, at least not to the high evidentiary standards of science." From Shermer, Michael; "Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia," (Page. 1). Henry Holt and Co.. (2018).
According to Wikipedia,
"Psychopomps are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply to guide them."
Two further observations about Hell by the webmaster:
Jesus is quoted in the Sheep and Goats section (Matthew 25:31-46) as saying that there is only one criterion that decides whether a person will be sent to Heaven or Hell: That is, their behavior -- while alive on earth -- towards persons in need: whether they gave food to the hungry, gave drinks to the thirsty, gave friendship to the lonely, gave clothes to the needy, cared for persons who were sick, and visited those in prison. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people have treated others with kindness at some times, and ignored their needs at other times. The passage gives no method of evaluating the behavior of an individual to predict whether they have reached a passing grade to attain Heaven. This causes high anxiety in some individuals.
Most of the discussions of Hell in the New Testament by followers of Jesus also said that there is only one criterion that decides whether a person will be sent to Heaven or Hell. However, it is a very different criterion from that in the preceeding paragraph: It was whether they held certain beliefs about Jesus. For example John 3:16 is translated in the King James Version as:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Unfortunately, the verse does not sayprecisely what one must believe about Jesus. Thus, it is impossible to know in advance exactly who will end up in Hell. Also, this passage seems to indicate that the options are Heaven and annihilation, not Heaven or Hell.
What is our eventual condition after we die? Do we eventually land up in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory? Are we sent to one of these locations immediately? Do we simply disappear and cease to exist
in any form? Do we just sleep for a long time after death before waking up for a
final judgment? Are we reincarnated into new bodies -- either as animals or humans -- for another lifetime on Earth?
Within Judaism and Christianity, different traditions, faith groups, and authors over the past few thousand years
have proposed a variety of scenarios, including the above options and probably many dozens more! All have based
their beliefs on their interpretations of their sacred texts.
The Roman Catholic Church bases its belief on Heaven,
Purgatory and Hell on some main biblical passages in the Hebrew and
Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) and the 14 books of the
Apocrypha, supplemented by church wisdom and teaching and the teachings of Popes down through the centuries, some of which Catholics believe are infallible. One of their main teachings is that when a person knowingly commits a mortal sin, they are automatically going to Hell unless they attend confession and have their sin lifted by a priest.
Conservative and mainline Protestant denominations tend to base their
belief on their literal interpretation of certain passages of the Bible,
and their symbolic interpretations of others. They arrive at very different
beliefs from the Roman Catholics because both groups select different passages to read literally. They also reach different conclusions based on how they interpret key passages.
Liberal Christians generally believe that the beliefs of the authors of the
Bible evolved greatly over the approximately ten centuries during which the
books of the Bible were written. Thus, they see little internal consistency in the
Bible about the afterlife. Many liberals remain undecided on the existence and
nature of any form of afterlife.
Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, etc. are generally skeptical about the existence of an afterlife. Most see no evidence for any form of human consciousness existing after death. All indications are that the brain is the source of our memories, talents, personality, etc. It stops functioning shortly after its blood supply ceases. Its electrical processes discharge, and its chemical processes are degraded. Only people's influence on other people lives on: -- in their children and in other lives that they have
Theologian N.T. Wright has stated that most Christians do not hold the correct beleifs about life after death. He said:
"To understand what the first followers of Jesus believed about what happens after death, we need to read the New Testament in its own world â~ez_euro~" the world of Jewish hope, of Roman imperialism and of Greek thought."
"The followers of the Jesus-movement that grew up in that complex environment saw 'Heaven' and 'Earth' â~ez_euro~" God~ez_rsquo~s space and ours, if you like â~ez_euro~" as the twin halves of God~ez_rsquo~s good creation. ..."
"They believed that God would then raise His people from the dead, to share in â~ez_euro~" and, indeed, to share His stewardship over â~ez_euro~" this rescued and renewed creation. And they believed all this because of Jesus."
"Jesus embodied in Himself the perfect fusion of 'Heaven' and 'Earth.' In Jesus, therefore, the ancient Jewish hope had come true at last. The point was not for us to 'go to Heaven,' but for the life of Heaven to arrive on Earth.
"From as early as the third century, some Christian teachers tried to blend this with types of the Platonic belief, generating the idea of 'leaving Earth and going to Heaven,' which became mainstream by the Middle Ages. But Jesus~ez_rsquo~ first followers never went that route."
Faced with such a diversity of beliefs about life after death -- even within
Christianity -- some people conclude that no faith group really knows what happens when a
person dies. But most Christians hold tenaciously to the beliefs taught by their
own particular denomination. Most followers of other religions also follow the teachings of their faith tradition. This satisfies the main requirement that many people have of their
religion: to give them a sense of security in the face of an uncertain
and frightening world and the inevitability of their personal death.
Some people pray to God to find out what happens after death. Many of them believe that God speaks to them through prayer.
As I entered my teen years circa 1950, I had been taught to pray to God. But I had never felt His presence during prayer, or at any other time. Eventually, I became an Agnostic about prayer, life after death, and God's existence. I remain an Agnostic now, some seven decades later.
The question of so many people believing that they hear God's responses during prayer confused me. So I conducted a pilot study among about 85 people, all of whom had an active prayer life. About half of them supported same-sex marriage and half were opposed. Each prayed to God to learn His stance. 100% of those who supported such marriages, and 100% of those who opposed same-sex marriages found that God agreed with them! I tentatively concluded from the pilot study that prayer is not a reliable method of assessing the will of God.
Beliefs of specific denominations, including
Christadelphians, Christian Science, Jehovah's
Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day
Adventists, Twelve Tribes Communities, and Unity School of Christianity. A woman tells of a 23 hour visit to Hell.
"The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent," Criswell Theological
Review 4 (1990-Spring), Pages 246-47.
W. G. T. Shedd, "The Doctrine of Endless Punishment," Charles
Scribner's Sons, (1886); reprinted by Klock and Klock, (1980), Page 92.
S.J. Greenstein, "We are not going to burn in Hell: A Jewish response
to Christianity," Biblically Speaking Publishing Company. See:
James Patrick Holding, in his essay "The bogus quote parade: A survey of
displaced soundbites" comments that this "...quote comes from the Supplement to the third part of Summa Theologica. New
Advent says 'Editor's Note: St. Thomas died in the middle of his treatise
on Penance. The remainder of the Summa Theologica, known as the Supplement, was compiled probably by his companion and friend Fra Rainaldo da Piperno,
and was gathered from St. Thomas's commentary on the Fourth Book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard.' So we need to look and see if this remark is in
Aquinas's Sentences commentary. As it is the quote is not secure." He gives
it a OC/G rating (Quote is accurate to some degree, but misused/It's the real
"Church News," Floral City United Methodist Church, Floral City, FL,
http://www.floralcitychurch.com/ This quote is also reported widely on the
Internet as having been posted on a church exterior sign.