An evangelical friend of mine likes to say ‘See you in heaven’ and my reply is always ‘I hope so.’ I’m not trying to be funny when I sat that, I really mean it. Imagine a place of eternal joy, who wouldn’t want that? Saying that place can reached in the afterlife in exchange for good behaviour is pretty smart. Then all you have to do is define what good constitutes good behaviour and threaten eternal suffering for bad behaviour (which you also define) and you’re all set, you will control your followers.
Religious concepts of heaven and hell are based on at least three unproven ideas:
- We have a soul.
- Our soul leaves our body when we die.
- Our soul has the ability to find heaven and hell and experience them.
This use of heaven and hell is an abuse of useful concepts. Heaven and hell do exist but certainly not in an unproven afterlife. Even Pope Francis once admitted that heaven and hell aren’t literal places, they’re experiences. Telling people that heaven is achievable in the afterlife diminishes the motivation to appreciate heaven here on Earth. While what constitutes heaven on Earth is different for each person there are nearly countless ways to achieve a heavenly state right here and now. There are too many people, places and things that can bring about happiness and contentment to list but the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics studied this and made a list of 33 things that make people happy:
The 33 things that definitely make us happy (% increased happiness)
Intimacy, making love 14.20%
Theatre, dance, concert 9.29%
Exhibition, museum, library 8.77%
Sports, running, exercise 8.12%
Gardening, allotment 7.83%
Singing, performing 6.95%
Talking, chatting, socialising 6.38%
Birdwatching, nature watching 6.28%
Walking, hiking 6.18%
Hunting, fishing 5.82%
And 23 more Even though this is culturally biased, it’s a start. There is actually an entire branch of Psychology dedicated to ‘the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive’ (source). This is what we are all about too and so have added to our list of useful links.
Heaven is absolutely here on Earth:
Once we understand that we don’t need to wait until we die to have heaven we take away religion’s ability to control us with promises of it in the afterlife. More importantly we enjoy life more simply by taking it all in and appreciating all the great things it has to offer. Even the little things become more enjoyable and life becomes easier.