- June 14, 2022
- Posted by: Piers Midwinter
- Category: Posts
This post will examine “Heaven” as detailed in the bible. I think there are three main kinds of believers when it comes to the bible
- You believe everything that is written in it
- You believe some of it
- You believe none of it
This post is primarily aimed at people who are type 1 or type 2 as detailed later in more depth. This post focuses on using facts/quotes from the bible and other well-known sources to prove that heaven is unlikely to exist. Logic dictates that if heaven is false, then so is hell.
A dictionary definition is a place regarded in various religions as the abode of God (or the gods) and the angels, and of the good after death, often traditionally depicted as being above the sky.
The first lines of Genesis in the Old Testament state that: 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
Straightaway, we have some problems. The light was created after heaven! That suggests to me that heaven is a very dark place! You could infer that hell must be light! How can you create heaven without any light? .
The confusions only get worse. Genesis chapter 1 says the first man and woman were made at the same time and after the animals. But Genesis chapter 2 gives a different order of creation: man, then the animals, and then woman. Genesis 1:2-3 claims that God created light and divided it from darkness on the first day; but Genesis 1:14-19 tells us the sun, moon, and stars weren’t made until the fourth day and so on…
Heaven is primarily God’s dwelling place in the biblical tradition: a parallel realm where everything operates according to God’s will. Heaven is a place of peace, love, community, and worship, where God is surrounded by a heavenly court and other heavenly beings.
The last book of the Bible, Revelation, conflates the idea of heaven and paradise. The author describes a vision of a new, re-created heaven coming down to earth. It is not escapism from this planet but rather an affirmation of all that is created, material, and earthly but now healed and renewed.
This final biblical vision is a lot like the garden of Eden – complete with the Tree of Life, rivers, plants and God – although this time it is also an urban, multicultural city. In what is essentially a return to Eden, humans are reconciled with God and, of course, with one another.
Corinthians 12:2 talks about a man who was caught up in the third heaven. Logic dictates that there must be two other heavens and indeed, the Bible writes about three heavens:
- The heaven where the birds fly, or the atmosphere above the Earth: Genesis 1:20, Genesis 7:11, Deuteronomy 11:11 and Daniel 8:8.
- The heaven where the sun, moon and stars exist: Genesis 1:14 & ff, Isiah 13:10, Joel 2:30 & 31, Matthew 24:29l.
- , The place where God (Jesus)is: I Kings 8:30 & 39, Psalms 11:4, 53:2, 80:14, Matthew 5:16, 45, K& 48, Matthew k6:d9.s John 3:13 & 31, John 6:38, Hebrews 9:24.
Three kinds of Christian heaven are confusing even for devout Christians to believe in!
Heaven is described in the Qur’an as a beautiful garden. Judaism describes heaven as “Under the tree of life are many pairs of canopies, one of the stars and the other of sun and moon, while a cloud of glory separates the two. In each pair of canopies sits a rabbinic scholar who explains the Torah to one.”
All of the main Abrahamic religions have an after-life paradise and rather unsurprisingly, only devout followers get to go there and everyone else is damned! This is a curious form of epistemological solipsism. Logic dictates that all of these religions can’t all be right! I could argue that God isn’t really bothered by what your faith is – which would undermine the whole enterprise of having a faith in the first place.
The other problem is what happens before life? In either case, the ‘life’ would have to be defined operationally and the gospels/holy books don’t do this in any great depth.
While the Bible never addresses reincarnation specifically, it is clear that the biblical model of life, death, and afterlife is incompatible with any form of reincarnation as posited in religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and certain New Age or Neo-Pagan belief systems.
The ancient Egyptians believed that when one’s body failed, the soul did not die with it but continued on toward an afterlife where one received back all that one had thought lost. So defining heaven becomes harder and harder the more you look at scripture. That doesn’t inspire confidence!
In summary, as New Testament scholar Paula Gooder writes: “it is impossible to state categorically what the Bible as a whole says about heaven… Biblical beliefs about heaven are varied, complex and fluid.“
Heaven is a “place of endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self; a celestial North Korea.”, Christopher Hitchens. Most people do not actually want to live this way. It doesn’t sound very heavenly!
The origins of heaven
Many people think that Genesis introduced the idea of heaven. Let us examine some well-established facts.
- The Brooklyn Museum contains a “Ritual Tube (Cong)”. The tube-shaped ritual jade object called a cong first appeared in northeast China in the Neolithic period, circa 4000–2100 B.C. Although the precise ceremonial use of the cong is unknown, writers in the late Zhou dynasty described the cong as a symbol of the Earth, pairing it with the ritual disk called a bi, which was thought to symbolize Heaven.
- In the neolithic times, the Chinese believed that praying to gods of heaven and earth was necessary to receive blessings.
- From the years 3400 to 2250 BC, the Liangzhu culture flourished along the Yangtze River Delta in China. Chinese bi discs are flat jade discs with circular holes in the centre. In analysing the bi disc meaning, some historians say it’s a representation of heaven; they’re often found with heaven and earth-like depictions. Chinese bi-discs can be found in many museums worldwide.
- The World’s oldest painting on silk; visions of heaven, earth and the underworld was found in a Chinese tomb which dates back 200 years B.C (Before Christ). It is documented in the United Nations digital library.
- If Moses was the author or compiler of the events in Genesis then the book was written during his lifetime. Moses lived during a period of time that is known as the Late Bronze Age (about 1550 to 1200 B.C). Some scholars disagree and say Genesis was written hundreds of years later. Even if we assume that Moses was the author, archaeologists are uncovering more and more evidence to prove beyond any doubt that the idea of heaven began a long time before Moses was born.
What history proves beyond all doubt is that the idea of Heaven started a long time before Genesis was written. This seriously undermines one of the main tenets of Christianity.
The forgiveness of sins
Here are some facts:
- The vast majority of faiths around the world do NOT have a confession.
- There are five main faiths that believe in the confessional: Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Orthodox Judaism and Islam.
- The Roman Catholic Church bases its practice of confession to a priest primarily on Catholic tradition.
- Nondenominational Christianity consists of churches which typically distance themselves from confessionalism. They have an inclination to regard the Bible itself as their authority – as opposed to listening to the Pope, etc.
- The concept of confession of sin to a priest is not found anywhere in Scripture.
- The ability to forgive sins is God’s and his alone (Isaiah 43:25).
- “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”, (First Timothy 2:5)
So, if you believe the bible to be the word of God, Priests can not forgive you of your sins. If however, you are a Catholic, I would remind you of the sheer horrors caused by numerous Priests who have abused the confessional. There are simply too many to list here. The Boston Globe is a notorious example.
One of the ideas that make heaven so attractive is the notion of Vicarious redemption. So what is it? It is the concept that a person can throw their sins onto someone else.
The bible story tells us that Jesus lived a life without sin on our behalf and then he died on the cross for our sins, and without that, no one would have eternal life.
Christians want to believe that Jesus’ death will completely exonerate them of all wrong-doing and become “like Jesus” in heaven. And vicarious redemption, they say, is the only salvation we have – the only thing that will keep us safe from the fires of hell.
“I find something repulsive about the idea of vicarious redemption. I would not throw my numberless sins onto a scapegoat and expect them to pass from me; we rightly sneer at the barbaric societies that practise this unpleasantness in its literal form. There’s no moral value in the vicarious gesture anyway. As Thomas Paine pointed out, you may if you wish take on another man’s debt, or even take his place in prison. That would be self-sacrificing. But you may not assume his actual crimes as if they were your own; for one thing, you did not commit them and might have died rather than do so; for another, this impossible action would rob him of individual responsibility. So, the whole apparatus of absolution and forgiveness strikes me as positively immoral, while the concept of revealed truth degrades the concept of the free intelligence by purportedly relieving us of the hard task of working out the ethical principles for ourselves.”, Christopher Hitchens
As a qualified ICT Teacher, I would love to know how vicarious redemption works operationally! Computers can sort and collate data according to type. They can thus easily find “sinful” data. It then becomes an easy task to delete it. There is just one snag. Humans are not computers! Sins change our character and also, everything we do and how. There is simply no way to remove sins without killing the occupant!
There is another aspect to this – many people believe that Jesus did not commit any sin and that therefore he will somehow forgive us of our sins. Please read the next section and maybe, you will question this notion too.
Was Jesus free of sin?
I think it is logical to say Jesus either was or was not the son of God. If he was the son of God, he would be free of sin. So, let us examine some of the Biblical quotes attributed to him…
- (John 12:8, Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7) – “For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” – he didn’t like the poor
- (Luke 19:27) – “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” and (Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:51-53) “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” – he is not a peacemaker
- (Mark 4:1) – Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” – humiliating a man for a lack of understanding
- (Luke 14:26) – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” – encouraging disciples to hate their own families!
- (Luke 20:35) – “They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage.” – discouraging marriage
- (Matthew 5:28-30) – “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out … And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” – that is a very strong punishment for thinking about a woman in a lustful way!
- (Matthew 19:12) – “There are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” – Castration (self-mutilation of the mutilation of others) is accepted!
- (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:230) – “He that is not with me is against me” – George W. Bush’s false dichotomy!
As Christopher Hitchens pointed out, “There’s no Hell mentioned in the Old Testament. The punishment of the dead is not specified there. It’s only with gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that the idea of eternal torture for minor transgressions is introduced.”
To rephrase that, hell did NOT exist before Jesus. It was obviously created overnight to punish anyone who doesn’t believe in him. That is tyrannical!
Do you still believe Jesus was free of sin? (and be honest!)
Are humans special?
The Bible teaches that out of all the creatures on earth, only a limited number of humans will go to heaven. (Revelation 14:1, 3) They go there to rule as kings and priests with Jesus. (Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 5:9, 10) The vast majority of humans will be resurrected to life on a paradise earth.—Psalm 37:11, 29. There is no mention in the Bible of pet heaven or dog heaven, etc.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the entire earth will be a sanctuary in the eternities and that includes being a peaceful place for animals. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a strong belief in pets/animals in paradise. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Latter-day Saints believe that animals, like humans, have spirits. Mortal and subject to death, animals will be saved through the Atonement of Christ.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church states “Although human beings are the pinnacle of creation, all creatures are the handiwork of God and thus are deserving of our esteem and protection. Because we are sinful, we sometimes forget our obligations to other creatures. Ecosystem and species destruction are visible evidence of our sinfulness.”
So, we can see that religious views around the world vary. Christianity has traditionally held that animals have no hope of an afterlife. But Pope John Paul II said in 1990 that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are”.
To summarise the faiths, there is no agreement as to what happens to animals or to humans for that matter. If God was so powerful, why is there no agreement? Instead of going around in circles and this is where Science triumphs…
Darwinism raises questions about the idea that we are special creatures and/or created in God’s image. His work shows that God isn’t necessary and that we could become extinct too. Richard Dawkins has said, “Evolution by natural selection is the explanation for why we exist.” and “Natural selection is not only a parsimonious, plausible and elegant solution; it is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been suggested.”
The theory of evolution is typically taught at the secondary level in most schools. It isn’t difficult to see evidence of evolution all around us. Here are three features anyone can see:
- Fossils document the existence of now-extinct past species that are related to present-day species
- Species may share similar physical features because the feature was present in a common ancestor
- We can directly observe small-scale evolution in organisms with short lifecycles (e.g., pesticide-resistant insects).
Albert Einstein once said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”. So, why should humans get special treatment? We have caused more destruction than any other species.
The truth is that humans are probably the only species with time to speculate about invisible gods! As Darwin once said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.”
What type of believer are you?
Type 1 person – These people tend to believe that the bible is the “word of God”. Richard Dawkins said, “Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction).” This is where you tend to find fundamentalists, creationists, quacks, mass-murderers, lunatics and gullible people. Another problem with treating the Bible as your main reference point over and above anything that has happened since (Darwin’s theory of evolution, the enlightenment, Newton’s laws of gravity, etc.) is a bit like saying the very first car ever built is better than a Lamborghini Xian. It is obviously wrong.
Type 2 person – This is where the vast majority of people. They basically pick and choose what they believe, hence the vast number of denominations. It seems to me if you are one of these people, you recognise that the Bible cannot be completely inerrant and are thus, beginning the journey towards type 3. Many people stay in type 2 because of peer pressure. It may not be what they actually think. Many people go to Church to simply look good in their community. It is noticeable how few people are religious in highly secular countries. So, if people are given the choice to be “godless”, they usually take it…
Type 3 person – This is where you find the Atheists, Agnostics, Scientists and/or well-educated people etc. Please read my post on Secular Morality – you will realise that most of the world’s revered, respected and trusted organisations (United Nations, Amnesty International, Children International, Red Cross, Oxfam, World Trade Organisation, etc) are all secular. There is probably a good reason why; namely, they work!
- Rather curiously, there is only one eternal or unforgivable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) – Mark 3:28–29, Matthew 12:31–32, and Luke 12:10, as well as other New Testament passages including Hebrews 6:4–6, Hebrews 10:26–31, and 1 John 5:16. All other sins are forgivable! This includes murder, rape, and a vast number of other atrocities. That is NOT a position of high morality. This is zero morality!
- “God is Santa Claus for Grown-Ups”,
- “I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.”, Thomas Edison
- “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he told the Guardian. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”, Stephen Hawking
- “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or (So) what’s a heaven for?”, Robert Browning
- “It’s a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for.”,
- “Faith is belief without evidence and reason; coincidentally that’s also the definition of delusion.”, Richard Dawkins
- George Carlin said, “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”
The more you read the “Old Testament”, the harder it becomes to treat it as being “true” or inspiring in any sense. Richard Dawkins has said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Most humanists now reject the claim that the Bible is the “word of God”. They are convinced the book was written solely by humans in an ignorant, superstitious, and cruel age. The evidence does appear to back that claim up.
There are many issues with the idea of heaven as highlighted earlier. However, the idea that a mass murderer can confess his sins to Jesus Christ and can go to heaven, is the most worrying, as it is clinically insane. It legitimises a vast number of evil crimes. All you have to do is repent and you will be forgiven! That is NOT a basis for a morally safe, civil, righteous and secure society. The idea of vicarious redemption doesn’t encourage us to take responsibility for our own life too.
Jesus was apparently a friend of sinners in that he wanted to save them. How many modern-day Christians would spend time with sinners? Let us be honest, it is impossible to live like Jesus. If we now examine some of the things he is supposed to have said, and then, still state he is the son of God, that really would be worrying! The idea of Hell should secure that one! As Ricky Gervais said, “Beliefs do not affect facts. But facts should affect beliefs if you are rational.”
The Historical evidence is very important as it clearly indicates that the idea of “heaven” originated in China. It was an idea probably borrowed by the author of Genesis and then later by Christ. Logically, therefore, heaven is not solely Christian and that in turn, undermines the faith as a whole.
The problem with the old texts is that they contradict each other hopelessly. We can not agree on how to interpret them. It is hard to pinpoint any exact facts, This leads to massive arguments and dissent, etc. It is simply safer not to use them as a reference point.
Some Cambridge International Schools have taken Religious Education off the syllabus entirely. International Baccalaureate programs now do not advocate a single religion or a political or economic system.
Why would anyone want to label a child a “Muslim” at such a young age anyway? As Richard Dawkins has said, “You would never describe a child as a Keynesian child, but we all ascribe to this anomaly where religion can be hung around the neck of a child.”
Type 1 people are clearly delusional. Type 2 people have already started to cherry-pick what they believe and can thus see that it can’t all be true. But in all honesty that isn’t too far from simply being a type 3! Think about it, you probably think all other faiths are wrong. You are almost an atheist! You simply need to go one faith further!
The best part about being a type 3, is that it requires you to take responsibility for yourself. Secular people do not have “God on their side”. They think for themselves because it is the sensible thing to do.
Sam Harris has said, “Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.” I think God is imaginary and heaven is in your heart. “The kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart – not something that comes upon the earth or after death.”, Friedrich Nietzsche