I have written a number of posts recently on the issues concerning creating heaven from scratch and will now try to sum up my many thoughts as succinctly as possible here. The issue is that the idea of heaven is so ingrained in popular culture that it seems so plausible, and more powerfully, attractive.
But it isn’t. Here are some arguments or problem points:
- There is no reference to the language or theology of heaven in the Old Testament.
- There is no reference to the language or theology of the soul (the vehicle for you to and in heaven) in the Old Testament.
- We can see the evolution of the idea of heaven in the history of the inter-testamental period. In the Seleucid Empire, Hellenised Jews were persecuting regular Jews so that they questioned why good things happened to bad people. At the time, Earth was where all the action happened. How could you die in a state of unfairness? The Jews looked at Hellenistic culture and saw an afterlife and heaven/hell. They stole this idea to account for justice. Heaven suddenly springs up in this time.
- Heaven thus became functional to explain philosophical issues. But if it really was this endgame, why did we not see it in the entire OT?
- What is the point of heaven if God has divine foreknowledge?
- The ideas of heaven and hell stop you morally evaluating.
Heaven is the biggest reward in human conception, by definition. Hell is the worst thing, the worst outcome in human conception. This two-pronged emotional blackmail sits looming over any moral scenario. If a Christian, for example, is deliberating over a moral decision, they cannot extricate themselves from the personal consequences of such decisions such that the choice becomes more about themselves than anyone or anything else. The notions of heaven and hell are so finely interwoven within the human psyche, and so powerful, that moral evaluation for such people can never be done in proper isolation, and without the influence of those concepts. Moral evaluation, in a sense, is never done for the sake of mere morality alone, but is always, whether the agents realise or want it themselves, seen to some degree in terms of heaven and hell.
- If we supposedly have free will, and it is that important that evil and suffering is explained as necessary collateral for it (theodicies), then either it doesn’t exist in heaven, or does and the theodicies don’t work.
- If heaven is the important endgame, then why bother going through the rigmarole of an earthly, painful test? If God has divine foreknowledge, why not create heaven with the subset of people he already knows will get there? (see Ray Bradley for this)
- eavHeaven, in all major theology (together with hell) is a digital/binary outcome for behaviour that exists on a spectrum. This is incoherent or exists based on essentially arbitrary demarcation.
- For example, doing one more unit of good gets you to heaven with people who have been wildly better than you. Someone who has done one unit worse than you is eternally in hell or annihilated.
- When you die and go to heaven, what version of you goes? If you were most awesome at age 23 but die at 78, is it the curmudgeonly you that goes (sorry, don’t mean to be ageist)? If you were horrible for 49 years and then nice for 5 days, or vice versa, then which type of you exists in heaven? If you get dementia and die, is it the dementia mind that goes, or some previous version of you? If it is a previous version of you, how is this the “you” that is selected?
- There are huge problems with eternity – this leads to philosophical boredom.
- Let’s assume heaven is eternal, and your mind doesn’t get constantly reset. If you had a normal human mind with limitations to memory, you would not have the capacity to learn and remember everything, probably eventually becoming the most optimal version of your potential self. But if you had new mind in entering into heaven, such as some kind of infinite quantum computing mechanism that could carry on learning and experiencing in perfection, then you would perhaps approach something close to becoming God. The other problem is that your new, upgraded mind would be pretty far removed from who you are on Earth and how you operate. This might invalidate the youness in you going to heaven.
- Heaven is used by theists as moral justification for, for example, pain and suffering to babies (“they’ll exist in heaven for eternity, it’s ok!”) – this is not moral justification but compensation and would mean the theist is a moral consequentialist.
- The threat of heaven/hell is palpable: Matthew 18:23-35:
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
- Any version of heaven appears to necessitate a vehicle for navigating to and through the afterlife. The soul appears to be a thoroughly problematic notion. I could produce a list as long as this concerning the soul.
Any comments below with good arguments, those arguments will get added to this list.
Here is a very old set of videos I did on the soul:
See some of my arguments against heaven in my reasonably priced ebook: The Problem with “God”: Skeptical Theism under the Spotlight.
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