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Beliefs by Christian groups and religious skeptics about the afterlife:


Heaven, Hell, Limbo, Purgatory, Reincarnation, Extermination ....

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Webmaster's note:

This section describes the diversity of contradictory beliefs about life after death that are found among both Christians 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.

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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).

  • "Everyone is going to hell according someone's religion." Anon

  • "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 (KJV)

  • "...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

  • "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. 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?" Sign at the Floral City United Methodist Church in Florida. 6

  • "The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Jehovah’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

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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 writers over the past few thousand years have proposed a variety of scenarios, covering the above options and more! All have based their beliefs on their interpretations of the Bible. Generally speaking:

  • 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 infallible teaching of Popes down through the centuries.

  • 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, there is little internal consistency in the Bible about the afterlife. Some 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, and that it stops functioning shortly after its blood supply ceases. However, people's influence does live on in their children and in other lives that they have touched.

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.

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Afterlife topics covered in this section:

bullet Beliefs of Christian Groups in Ancient Times including the mainline Christian church, and such early sects as the Gnostics, Marcionists, and Manichaests.

Current popular beliefs in North America:

bullet Beliefs of specific denominations, including Christadelphians, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Twelve Tribes Communities, and Unity School of Christianity.
bullet Is Hell a just and fair punishment? Is it compatible with the attributes of God?
bullet About Carlton Pearson, an evangelical pastor, who lost the support of his congregation because of his beliefs, and recovered.

See also:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. William Crockett, "Four views on Hell," Zondervan, (1992), Page 136. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store This is one of the Counterpoint series of books published by Zondervan. Each book presents conflicting views by Evangelical leaders on basic Christian beliefs. 
  2. "The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent," Criswell Theological Review 4 (1990-Spring), Pages 246-47.
  3. W. G. T. Shedd, "The Doctrine of Endless Punishment," Charles Scribner's Sons, (1886); reprinted by Klock and Klock, (1980), Page 92.
  4. S.J. Greenstein, "We are not going to burn in Hell: A Jewish response to Christianity," Biblically Speaking Publishing Company. See: http://www.mindspring.com/
  5. 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 McCoy. See: http://www.tektonics.org/
  6. "Church News," Floral City United Methodist Church, Floral City, FL, at: http://www.floralcitychurch.com/ This quote is also reported widely on the Internet as having been posted on a church exterior sign.
  7. "The Hell There Is! - Pack Of 50 Tracts," Catholic Answers, at: https://shop.catholic.com/

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Copyright 2002 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2015-DEC-08

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