Christians Wrong About Heaven

Click on picture for Stairway to Heaven

Who’da thunk? If I didn’t read this in Time, I would have thought it was from The Onion.

Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham England says that Christians have it all wrong. The idea of heaven as this wonderful place resting in the clouds where everyone will go when they die (if they’re good) is a crock of shit. He didn’t actually put it that way. That’s how I interpreted his words, and I doubt he’d have a problem with my interpretation, because that is, after all, the way most Christians absorb their theology – by interpreting words. But that is essentially what he said.

He sat down with Time magazine for a phone interview recently to explain what he means. Apparently, going to heaven is a two stage process.

In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

And what will this intermediate state be like?

We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep.

So even though Jesus said that we would see him before the first generation of Christians had died, and 2000 years has gone by, apparently everybody is in some state of suspended animation, awaiting their reunion with Jesus. We wait in this state until everybody has lived and died, then in the second stage, we all get back together for a big party. Do I interpret that correctly?

One thing I’m having a problem with is what the people who died and are waiting for Jesus’ return are doing while they wait, like Thelonius (not the monk) who died in 223 BCE after being thrown from a horse, or baby girl Smith, who died being born to her mother Mary, in 15th century England. (Note: I made them up as representative examples of real people.) Are they all playing Parcheesi in limbo? Why is god making them wait?

I want to know how Bishop Wright came to these conclusions. Where does he get his knowledge? What makes him interpret the bible this way? What makes him so sure that he knows exactly what’s going to happen after I die? Here are some clues.

In the Bible we are told…

St. Paul is very clear….

The New Testament says…

Paul writes…

What the New Testament really says…

Here’s my favorite:

John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.”

(God’s going to swap out our software and put it in his hardware? I’ve read a lot of oddly creative metaphors interpreting the language of the bible, but that one is truly stupid insipid. And Wright quotes it with pleasure. WTF?)

Their source for all this incredibly precise and exacting prognostication is a book, a single book. OK. He did cite an ancient Jewish text called The Wisdom of Solomon for the revelatory explanation that “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”, which, to me, says it all, i.e. nothing. But aside from that, this book has been around for 2000 years, yet he’s got a new spin on it. What makes his interpretation any better, any closer to the truth about what happens on the supernatural plane of existence, than any one else’s?

These people, including Bishop Wright, haven’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about. They interpret and re-interpret the language of the bible until it says what they want it to say. They keep coming up with new spins, with modern allusions to keep the masses interested so that they can claim this 2000 year old book is still relevant. In effect, they make it up as they go along. We have a word for that process. It’s called “fiction”.

To wind up, the “old view” of heaven is passé, antiquated and unrealistic. We are not going to join up with our loved ones, we will not be floating on clouds, and there really is no hell that is the antithesis of heaven. However, this “new heaven” is

more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.

So, life after death is comparable to a middle level manager position in a big corporation? Sounds like fun.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve finally realized where the term “apologetics ” comes from. It comes from the sense that after Christians interpret the bible to support their preconceived conclusions, they should apologize.

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27 thoughts on “Christians Wrong About Heaven

  1. . . . apparently everybody is in some state of suspended animation, awaiting their reunion with Jesus.

    Um . . . . I think many of them are already in suspended animation. I’ve had enough encounters with radical theists (and I really don’t want any more, but they do make good fodder) over the years (and yes, its been quite a few years) I have met many who seemed, well, not all there. People who, though their bodies are going through the motions, the brain seems to be set on theist and the clutch is burned out.

    As far as sitting around for umpty-ump thousand years waiting for god to get around to reanimating us, is sounds like a freaking dentist office waiting room. No thank you.

    God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.

    I think that that is what has gotten the Catholic Church into so much trouble, recently. I don’t want anyone dealing with my hardware and/or software (unless its my wife, a urologist or a proctologist).

    This is (to me, at least) one of the fun things about the bible. It contradicts itself in so many places and goes through so many circumlocutions that anyone can make the bible say anything they want. It obviously was NOT written by a lawyer (for you lawyers out there, take that as a complement. For you non-lawyers, think about it. The reason lawyers use such complicated language is that, over the years, lawyers have developed one definition for each word or phrase that they all (except members of Bush’s DOJ) agree upon (which limits confusion)).

    However, this “new heaven” is . . . . more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.

    Okay, I was wrong. It will be more exciting than waiting in a dentist office waiting room. It’ll be more like sitting in the chair waiting for a root canal. In other words, in this new continuum, we will be powerless peons subject to the whim of a god who has already proved himself sadistic, bloodthirsty, anti-yeast, and really fond of burned meat.

    Weird post, SI. Where do you find this shit?

  2. To spend this time compiling your blog must indicate a curiosity!

    Intersting post and one i find worth commenting on. As a Christian in the 21st Century i certainly hope that when i get to the pearly gates that they are a million miles away from this imploding planet. I think this is where spiritual churches can get mixed up and believe that there is a communication channel between us humans and the next level and think that we float just above the clouds Surely that is just the devil playing tricks on us!

    Your right as well, if you don’t belive in faith and the holy spirit, then the bible will just pass you by. If i thought my purpose in life was to struggle by and be mercy to my boss at work then i might as well stop right here. Believe it if you wish but life is a journey and not a destination. Life is for living as is of God’s choice. Given a chouce i would rather sit up there rather than stand on coals of fire for a year!

    All the best

    Kevin (newbie christian)

  3. God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.

    Man, that Bill Gates is a master at expanding his market. I’m still trying to work myself under Microsoft Human ver. 1949, and he’s all the way up to Godbot 08.

  4. The thought occurred to me after reading the original post, that what is too prevalent in too many religions is

    verbosity

    and what is too lacking is

    sympathy, tolerance and quietude.

    That said, I quit quietly.

    pax

    AK

  5. “more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf.”

    Ummm, you mean like the good Christians who served as Nazi concentration camp guards?

  6. Spanqui said: These people, including Bishop Wright, haven’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about.

    You nailed it. Some people paint prettier word pictures than others do, but the bottom line is that all of them are making it up. It’s funny to stand on the sidelines and watch them argue about which fantasy is more biblically and theologically accurate than another. How can they tell the difference?

  7. a communication channel between us humans and the next level

    What is this, a video game? Dude, what level are you on?

    If i thought my purpose in life was to struggle by and be mercy to my boss at work then i might as well stop right here.

    Yeah, because what the fuck would be worth it to be a decent person if there was no prize in it at the end.

    As for Bishop Wright, he’s out of his fucking mind as are all of these people who claim they have any idea about an afterlife. We can go ’round and ’round over arguments over is there a god, is there not, is it possible, you can’t prove this, you can’t disprove that, yada yada but an afterlife? Are you kidding me? Oh wait, no, not just that there might be, but there’s going to be a debate over what it’s like? Fucking insanity, plain and simple.

  8. “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.”

    A better version of this analogy is the following:

    As our hardware becomes obsolete, God backs up our hard drives on His Heavenly Archive until such time as He can afford a backwards-compatible upgrade.

  9. Old men should not be allowed to sing rock and roll. That was painful, and I am a bigtime Led Zeppelin fan.

    Interesting post and interesting to know what the “latest” thinking on the afterlife is for believers – at least one sect. I’m not sure the majority of Xians are aware this is the plan, however, since my local paper daily has obits exulting in the fact that gramma is now singing in the heavenly choir.

  10. I read the interview three times, and I’m still not sure what the hell he’s talking about.

    1. We die
    2. We suspend
    3. We work

    But then he throws in that souls are in god’s right hand. Is that during the suspension state? And just what is god doing with his left hand? The hardware/software analogy is just too much for me.

    My head hurts, now.

  11. I have never been able to figure out why some of the twice born would think that anyone would have any desire, even if an after life were true, to spend an eternity with THEM? A couple have recently cropped up at the Atheocracy site.

    I don’t think an eternity of eternal fire would be more painful than being with them.

  12. I don’t know about you, but I’ve finally realized where the term “apologetics ” comes from. It comes from the sense that after Christians interpret the bible to support their preconceived conclusions, they should apologize.

    That made me laugh.

  13. Heaven is a human earth bound idea. It has walls, gates and golden roads, fruit trees and crystal clear water to drink.

    I can’t think of anything I like to enjoy so much that I would want to do it forever. Even if I did all the things I like best for a million years each, then what.. No, heaven was thought up by someone smoking something real good..

  14. I tell you what : if you don’t see air, you will never believe that you are breathing. if you don’t see your brain, it doesn’t mean you are not thinking. He created everything including you, REAL HEAVENS. HE SAID HE IS CREATING SOMETHING NEW EVERYDAY FOR PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE. AND YOU ARE SAYING:” I WILL BELIEVE IN GOD ONLY IF I SEE HIM BUT GOD SAYS IF YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE IN ME YOU WILL NEVER SEE ME OR REAL HEAVENS”

  15. Hi yuliya

    C’mon. Do you think I’ve never heard that argument before? Why don’t you try one that is really hard to stump.

    By implication, you’re willing to believe in something that you don’t see, and no one else has, based on something you read in a book? Tell your good friends Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh I said hello.

  16. You are very interesting to read. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps if this limbo thing you are discussing did exist, why would it have to be bound by time? The God of whom you speak is outside of time He was before time and in fact He created it. Thus is it not feasible that those who have “fallen asleep” are similarly not bound by time. perhaps this limbo idea has some merit or perhaps not but whatever the case you are not thinking very far outside the sphere of your own existence, you have limited God to something that fits the parameters of your experience. Are you familiar with astrophysics or the idea that there are more than 7 dimensions (we can experience only 3 and a half; height, width, depth and time) simply put I can not really comprehend what you would do with another dimension can you ? compare this small impossibility in our understanding that with trying to unravel the mysteries of the great IAM of the Old Testament whose very name is an infinitive.
    perhaps you dislike the fact that I believe in a God that exists larger than the mere human frailty but I beg you to note that your reasoning lacks perspective

  17. Thank you, Hayley Jean, for your comment. And welcome to my blog. Did you get here by googling “heaven”? (see my last post) 8) I appreciate the compliment. I think “interesting’ is a compliment, despite the fact that you disagree with me.

    Did it ever occur to you that perhaps if this limbo thing you are discussing did exist, why would it have to be bound by time?

    This is a common argument that theists bring to the table, that god is outside the laws of nature. OK, I can accept that argument. But my question is, exactly how do you know that? On what evidence to you base your belief that he is outside time? Time, by definition, is simply a way of understanding the the forward passage of events. If he’s outside time, then isn’t it possible for him to go ahead to the future, and make sure bad things don’t happen to us, or go back in the past and do away with those things we know we would have been better off without, like the Holocaust for instance? Doesn’t he have an obligation to do that as an omni-benevolent god? See, positing a god that’s outside time really explains nothing, and raises further questions, all of which leave more things unanswered.

    My personal belief about what you say is that you have a strong belief, or faith that god exists, but cannot reconcile reality with your belief without rationalizing those contradictions inherent therein. Saying god exists outside of time is a mere rationalization of an already held belief, one you worked backwards from, rather than finding evidence of entities that exist outside time, and working forward, logically, to a belief in the one you presently believe in.

    Are you familiar with astrophysics or the idea that there are more than 7 dimensions (we can experience only 3 and a half; height, width, depth and time) simply put I can not really comprehend what you would do with another dimension can you ?

    I cannot comprehend quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, relativity, and a whole host of things. I have a hard time setting the clock on my DVD player. Why is that an argument for the existence of god? That’s a logical fallacy with a formal designation. argumentum ad ignorantiam

    perhaps you dislike the fact that I believe in a God that exists larger than the mere human frailty but I beg you to note that your reasoning lacks perspective

    No offense, but I could say the same thing about you. In fact, I could say that your reasoning lacks…reasoning.

  18. Are you familiar with astrophysics or the idea that there are more than 7 dimensions (we can experience only 3 and a half; height, width, depth and time) simply put I can not really comprehend what you would do with another dimension can you?

    Ah, the old argument from personal incredulity – I can’t comprehend this, so…

    Multidimensional thinking beyond space and time, like String Theory, is simply theoretical answers to unsolved questions and isn’t too much different than religious speculation in that it’s essentially unfalsifiable. How can you test this? It’s woo to an extent draped in mathematics. So citing one work of the imagination to somehow give credibility to another working of the imagination, god, is about as effective as accepting such nonsense simply because you can’t comprehend it or can’t comprehend an alternative.

    I beg you to note that your reasoning lacks perspective

    And just how many dimensions are you using to measure that perspective, or when you say “perspective” did you really mean “imagination”?

  19. [/quote]If he’s outside time, then isn’t it possible for him to go ahead to the future, and make sure bad things don’t happen to us, or go back in the past and do away with those things we know we would have been better off without, like the Holocaust for instance? Doesn’t he have an obligation to do that as an omni-benevolent god?[quote]

    Free will.

  20. why would god want to reverse something that has already happened? the things that already happen are the things that he had planned. it’s to teach people a lesson and to make them realise that god is so real. Example : a person is in danger and when he call the name of jesus , he is safe. have you ever heard of that? And if you are doubting so much , then you are what Jesus call “men of little faith”. If christianity is so fake that it were a mere tread that would snap , it would have disappear a long time ago , but the fact is , that jesus is all too real. Logic doesnt apply to god . if it does , how would you explain people coming back to life after being prayed for??

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