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Question 49: How do we get to heaven?

April 9, 2013

One of the great rewards of religious belief is the opportunity to go to heaven. Whether it is an opportunity to live in your own mansion near God’s, some sort of sexual smorgasbord or simply a place of perfection and contentment, it creates an incentive to act in a manner consistent with God’s wishes. Among the big hitters of religion, the primary qualification for entry into heaven seems to be… being a card-carrying member.

If heaven does exist, the rules of entry may be a little more flexible than some believers might have us think. If the qualifications for entry into heaven are based on “membership,” this implies my God of integrity and goodwill values a little ego boost over a merit-based system. Based on the various high profile admissions by religious leaders and institutions in recent times, there’ll be numerous adulterers, pedophiles, drug addicts and embezzlers getting through the pearly gates while good people who picked no religion or the wrong religion wait outside, head downstairs or simply fade to nothing.  In addition, any other beings as intelligent, or God forbid, more intelligent than us, would be excluded simply due to their location in the universe and genetic make-up – this seems a little hard to swallow – particularly if you’re a Gorgon on planet Nebula with an IQ of 378.

If I’m against a “membership”-driven entry to heaven, I’m left with an afterlife where entry is based on merit, or simply open to all life forms with the capacity to access it.

It’s possible our own lack of self-esteem drives belief in the “membership” strategy for entering heaven – we knew a merit based system would kick most of us to the curb and settled for a less taxing process. It also allows forgiveness of our ancestors for small indiscretions like:

a)     Slavery
b)    Suppression of women
c)     The occasional war or genocide
d)    Racism and segregation

A meritocracy would probably see a few less felons make it into heaven but how would God separate the “wheat from the chaff”:

1.      Would there be a certain number of sins before you were excluded?
2.      Would there be a ranking system of sins where starting a war is a regarded as slightly worse than picking your nose in public?
3.      If you didn’t know about heaven, would your good deeds be worth more than those of people just trying to get on God’s good side?

It’s definitely tempting to believe there is a system for weeding out the ingrates who scratched your car, cut you off in traffic or teased you in school, but the reality may be significantly less selective. In addition, instead of being a utopian boondoggle, it’s not out of the question the afterlife could be imperfect, and merely a continuation of our lives in a completely different realm.

Not to belabor the point, but the other issue with a merit based approach to the hereafter is the uneven playing field. What happens if you:

1.     Die before you get to prove you’re genuinely good or evil?
2.     Don’t have the mental capacity to connect with God?[1]

The volume of variables putting large portions of the planet’s population at a fundamental disadvantage seems at odds with a caring deity. Similarly, the oft-presented view of hell if you don’t make the grade seems a little inconsistent as well – you get it wrong for less than a hundred years and are banished to eternal misery? Even the concept of a good performance over a few decades getting you into nirvana seems overly generous on God’s part – shouldn’t there be a few more hoops to jump through?

Conclusion:

If there is a heaven, the rules of entry may be significantly different to our expectations and it may not be as described. The afterlife may just be a continuation of our lives in a different form. It’s probably not the end of our education punctuated with a diploma and a cushy seat in the fluffiest clouds. It’s an opportunity to better understand ourselves and continue to connect with God. One thing is certain, if we live our lives only pursuing a glorious time in the afterworld, we might be missing out on the glory before us.


[1] Some may argue this is my problem!

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