Today, I came across a blog post dealing with the question, ‘is there a heaven and a hell?’ The comments were beginning to look a little predictable. There were a few people who were in the ‘it says it in The Bible so it must be true’ camp. Of course, at the opposite end of the scale, the atheists will counter that it is ludicrous to base your beliefs on anything it might say in an ancient book.
Somewhere in between are the humanists who will point out the irrationality of the God of Love seeking to punish – torture actually – unbelievers for their lack of faith. So, where do we begin with this subject?
Let’s start with the atheists.
Amongst the atheists, we have those who wish to invoke science to support their own beliefs that heaven and hell do not exist. They will argue that there is no hard evidence for the existence of these places – that’s true, of course. But, there is also no hard evidence for the existence of the ‘multiverse’ and yet, many scientists believe its existence to be a strong possibility.
In both of these cases – the religious heaven and hell and the multiverse theory – we are contemplating the possibility of dimensions of existence outside our own four-dimensional spacetime. As they say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In other words, you cannot have it both ways: if you think that the multiverse is a possibility, then you must also accept that the existence of heaven and hell is also a possibility.
Now let’s turn to the Christians.
It is not the existence, or otherwise, of heaven and hell that is the main issue for many non-Christians; it is the dogmatic stance that insists on the literal interpretation of The Bible. If such Christians were to understand that this is an error, they would simultaneously liberate themselves from many of the difficulties they face in taking the more important part of their message to the world.
In the past, I have pointed out why the literal interpretation of The Bible is an error. But, for the sake of fluidity in this article, I will allow myself to repeat my main argument here. Essentially, when Jesus tell his disciples to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand, for example, is he expecting people to take his words literally?
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. – Matthew 5:27-30
You know, just like the atheists, you cannot have it both ways. Either The Bible is meant to be taken literally or it is not. Perhaps, one day, when I meet a Christian with one hand and a patch over his eye, I will have found someone who genuinely does take what The Bible says completely literally. Until then, I will console myself with the knowledge that, despite what many people say, they don’t really believe that every single word in The Bible is meant to be taken literally.
Having made that point – and I do hope some Christians will open their minds to the importance of it – it makes all the difference when you read The Bible because, now you have to deal with not just what it says, but also, what it means. Getting back to the subject of hell, and taking our rational minds with us, we now have to think about what phrases such as ‘eternal destruction’ might actually mean and such deliberation is nothing but good for the soul.
Just in case anyone who reads this article feels I have been unfair to those who believe in taking The Bible literally, I will just add one more thing. In the past, I have found that many people (yes even Christians) who are of this persuasion have not actually read The Bible in its entirely. So, before you are tempted to cast the first stone, I would simply ask you to do that i.e. embark on a little project of reading The Bible from cover to cover and don’t just read it, think about what you are reading.
It is a promise that if you do read the entire Bible in this way, you will be changed because you will gain a perspective on The Bible that you don’t have and, I would argue, cannot have until you have read it all, in a comparatively short space of time. What will happen is that you will become liberated from the detail and engaged in the central themes. You will be far less likely to want to take verses out of context and you will see how ludicrous it is to attempt to do so.
To return to our opening question, ‘is there a heaven and a hell?’ we have to acknowledge that there is no hard evidence. Both science and The Bible (Luke 16:25) tell us that there cannot be. But we must also accept that dimensions of reality, outside of our own ability to perceive, may indeed exist and both heaven and hell may actually turn out to be a part of the multiverse.