Enlarge picture
Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven; from Gustave Doré's illustrations to the Divine Comedy.
Heaven may refer to the physical heavens, the sky or the seemingly endless expanse of the universe beyond. However, the term is often used to refer to a plane of existence (sometimes held to exist in our own universe) in religions and spiritual philosophies, typically described as the holiest possible place, accessible by people according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, etc. In rare circumstances, humans have claimed, according to many testimonies and traditions, personal knowledge of Heaven.

General origins

Originally the term "heaven" referred to the sky or the area above the earth where the "heavenly bodies" are placed. This is the main meaning of the word in the Bible. It was considered the dwelling place of God and his angels. However, with time, the term came to be used also in the sense of the abode of the righteous at some point after death. This is supported by a few verses in the Bible, but the Bible tends to use other terms, such as Paradise, for this. (See below for other terms.)

While there are abundant and varied sources for conceptions of Heaven, the typical believer's view appears to depend largely on his religious tradition and particular sect. Generally religions agree on the concept of Heaven as pertaining to some type of peaceful life after death related to the immortality of the soul. Heaven is generally construed as a place of happiness, sometimes eternal happiness. A psychological reading of sacred religious texts across cultures and throughout history would describe it as a term signifying a state of "full aliveness" or wholeness.

In ancient Judaism, the belief in Heaven and afterlife was connected with that of Sheol (mentioned in Isaiah 38:18, Psalms 6:5 and Job 7:7-10). Some scholars asserted that Sheol was an earlier concept, but this theory is not universally held. One later Jewish sect that maintained belief in a Resurrection of the dead was known as the Pharisees. Opposed to them were the Sadducees who denied the doctrine of Resurrection (Matt. 22:23). In Christianity, heaven is either an eternally blessed life after death or a return to the pre-fallen state of humanity, a second and new Garden of Eden, in which humanity is reunited with God in a perfect and natural state of eternal existence and generally they believe this afterdeath reunion is accomplished through faith that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity on the cross, was resurrected and "bodily" ascended into heaven. Examples of the highly divergent terminology referencing the concept of "heaven", in the Christian Bible are:

the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3), the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:43), life (Matthew 7:14), life everlasting (Matthew 19:16), the joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:21), great reward (Matthew 5:12), the kingdom of God (Mark 9:46), the kingdom of Christ (Luke 22:30), the house of the Father (John 14:2), city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebr., xii), the holy place (Hebrews 9:12; D. V. holies), paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4), incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), crown of life (James 1:12), crown of justice (II Timothy iv, 8), crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4)
The diversity of references make it probable that the term refers to a direct experience of full spiritual aliveness or unity with God. In Eastern religions (and some Western traditions), with their emphasis on reincarnation and moksha (liberation), the concept of Heaven is not as prominent, but it still is present. In Buddhism, for example, there are several heavens, all of which are still part of Samsara (illusionary reality). Those who accumulate good karma will be reborn[1] in one of them. However, their stay in the heaven is not eternal—eventually they will use up their good karma and will undergo a different rebirth into another realm, as humans, animals, or other beings. Because Heaven is temporary and part of Samsara, Buddhists focus more on escaping the cycle of rebirth and reaching enlightenment (Bodhi). In the native Chinese Confucian traditions Heaven (Tian) is an important concept, where the ancestors reside and from which emperors drew their mandate to rule in their dynastic propaganda, for example. In Hindu belief, likewise, heaven—called Swarga loka—is seen as a transitory place for souls who did good deeds but whose actions are not enough for moksha or merging (union) with Brahman.

The popular belief of most faiths is that one enters heaven at the moment of death. This, however, is not part of the doctrine of all of Christianity (see Swedenborgianism for a Christian related religion that does have this doctrine). Some of Christianity along with other major religions maintain that entry into Heaven awaits such time as, "When the form of this world has passed away."

Two related and often confused concepts of heaven in Christianity are better described as the "resurrection of the body", which is exclusively of Biblical origin, as contrasted with "the immortality of the soul", which is also evident in the Greek tradition. In the first concept, the soul does not enter heaven until the last judgement or the "end of time" when it (along with the body) is resurrected and judged. In the second concept, the soul goes to a heaven on another plane immediately after death. These two concepts are generally combined in the doctrine of the double judgement where the soul is judged once at death and goes to a temporary heaven, while awaiting a second and final physical judgement at the end of the world.(*JPII, also see eschatology, afterlife)

The idea of Heaven as a physical place has existed since the dawn of religion and human civilization. In some early religions (such as the Ancient Egyptian faith), Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a "dark area" of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe. Departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven.

One popular medieval view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over man. With the dawn of the Age of Reason, science began to challenge this notion; however Heaven as a physical place survived in the concept that it was located far out into space, and that the stars were "lights shining through from heaven".

Several works of written and filmed science fiction have plots in which Heaven can be reached by the living through technological means. An example is Disney film The Black Hole, in which a manned spacecraft found both Heaven and Hell located at the bottom of a black hole.

In the modern age of science and space flight the idea that Heaven is a physical place in the observable universe has largely been abandoned. Religious views, however, still hold Heaven as having a dual status as a concept of mind or heart, but also possibly still physically existing in some way on another "plane of existence", dimension, or perhaps at a future time. According to science there are unobservable areas of the universe (everywhere beyond earth's Particle horizon), although by their very nature it is not possible to observe them. In Christianity it is believed that Heaven is a spiritual place, unreachable by humans and only to be entered after death. As a spiritual location it could be located somewhere within the known universe and as humans we would be unaware of its presence and unable to see it, or it could be located in another dimension or plane of existence.

Many of today's Biblical scholars, such as N.T. Wright, in tracing the concept of Heaven back to its Jewish roots, see Earth and Heaven as overlapping or interlocking. Heaven is known as God's space, his dimension, and is not a place that can be reached by human technology. This belief states that Heaven is where God lives and reigns whilst being active and working alongside people on Earth. One day when God restores all things, Heaven and Earth will be forever combined into the 'New Heavens' and 'New Earth'.

Getting into Heaven

Religions that teach about heaven differ on how (and if) one gets into it. In most, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a "good life" (within the terms of the spiritual system).

A notable exception to this is the 'sola fide' belief of mainstream Protestantism, which takes emphasis off having lived a "good life" and teaches instead that entrance to heaven is conditional on belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ assuming the guilt of the sinner, rather than responsibility for ones own actions regardless of any good or bad 'works' one has participated in. Dual-covenant theology is a variant of this belief that exempts Jews from having to adopt Jesus as savior as a condition for entry to Heaven.

Many religions state that those who do not go to heaven will go to a place of punishment, Hell, which is eternal (see Annihilationism). Some religions believe that other afterlives exist in addition to Heaven and Hell, such as Purgatory. One religion, universalism, believes that everyone will go to Heaven eventually, no matter what they have done or believed on earth. Some sects of Christianity, including Jehovah's Witnesses, believe Hell to be the termination of the soul.

In the Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith regards the conventional description of heaven (and hell) as a specific place as symbolic. Instead the Bahá'í writings describe heaven as a "spiritual condition" where closeness to God is defined as heaven; conversely hell is seen as a state of remoteness from God. Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane, but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them.[2]

For Bahá'ís, entry into the next life has the potential to bring great joy.<ref name="lafd" /> Bahá'u'lláh likened death to the process of birth. He explains: "The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother."[3] The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá'í view of earthly existence: just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá'ís view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life.<ref name="lafd" /> The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the current Manifestations of God, which Bahá'ís believe is currently Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved."[4]

The Bahá'í teachings state that there exists a hierarchy of souls in the afterlife, where the merits of each soul determines their place in the hierarchy, and that souls lower in the hierarchy cannot completely understand the station of those above. Each soul can continue to progress in the afterlife, but the soul's development is not entirely dependent on its own conscious efforts, the nature of which we are not aware of, but also augmented by the grace of God, the prayers of others, and good deeds performed by others on Earth in the name of that person.<ref name="lafd" />

In Christianity

This article is about a person, place, or concept whose name is originally rendered in the Syriac script; however the article does not have that version of its name in the article's lead paragraph. Anyone who is knowledgeable enough with the original language is invited to assist in adding the Syriac script.

Historically, Christianity has taught "Heaven" as a generalized concept, a place of eternal life, in that it is a shared plane to be attained by all the pious and elect (rather than an abstract experience related to individual concepts of the ideal). The Christian Church has been divided over how people gain this eternal life. From the 16th to the late 19th century, Christendom was divided between the Roman Catholic view, the Orthodox view, the Coptic view, the Jacobite view, the Abyssinian view and Protestant views.

Roman Catholics believe that entering Purgatory after death (physical rather than ego death) cleanses one of sin (period of suffering until one's nature is perfected), which makes one acceptable to enter heaven. This is valid for venial sin only, as mortal sins can be forgiven only through the act of reconciliation and repentance while on earth. Some within the Anglican Church also hold to this belief, despite their separate history. However, in Oriental Orthodox Churches, it is only God who has the final say on who enters heaven. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, heaven is understood as union and communion with the Triune God (reunion of Father and Son through love). Thus, Heaven is experienced by the Orthodox both as a reality inaugurated, anticipated and present here and now in the divine-human organism of the Christ's Body, the Church, and also as something to be perfected in the future.

In some Protestant Christian sects, eternal life depends upon the sinner receiving God's grace (unearned and undeserved blessing stemming from God's love) through faith in Jesus' death for their sins, his resurrection as the Christ, and accepting his Lordship (authority and guidance) over their lives. In other sects the process may or may not include a physical baptism, or obligatory process of transformation or experience of spiritual rebirth.

According to the controversial website "Religioustolerance.org", "Conservative and mainline Protestant denominations tend to base their belief in heaven on the literal interpretation of certain passages of the Bible, and symbolic interpretations of others. They arrive at very different beliefs because they select different passages to read literally."[5]

Early Christian writing

In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) wrote that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself. In Against Heresies, he wrote that only those deemed worthy would inherit a home in heaven, while others would enjoy paradise, and the rest live in the restored Jerusalem.

In Orthodox Christianity

The teachings of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox communions regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, is basically taken from scripture, and thus many elements of this belief are held in common with other scriptural faiths and denominations. Some specific descriptions of this Kingdom as given in the canon of scripture include—(this list is by no means comprehensive):
  • Peaceful Conditions on a New Earth—Is. 2:2–4, 9:7, 11:6–9, 27:13, 32:17–18, 33:20–21, 60:17–18, Ez. 34:25–28, 37:26, Zech 9:10, Matt. 5:3–5, Rev. 21
  • Eternal Rule by a Messiah–King—Ps. 72, Jer 31:33–34, Zech 2:10–11, 8:3, 14:9, Matt 16:27, Rev 21:3–4
  • an heir of David, Is. 9:6–7, 11:1–5
  • Bodily perfection—No hunger, thirst, death, or sickness; a pure language, etc. – Is. 1:25, 4:4, 33:24, 35:5–6, 49:10, 65:20–24, Jer. 31:12–13, Ez. 34:29, 36:29–30, Micah 4:6–7, Zeph. 3:9–19, Matt 13:43
  • Ruined cities inhabited by people and flocks of sheep—Is. 32:14, 61:4–5, Ez. 36:10,33–38, Amos 9:14

In Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church bases its belief in Heaven on some main biblical passages in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) and also the books of the apocrypha and collected church wisdom. Heaven is the Realm of the Blessed Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels and the Saints. According to the dogma of Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory", which implies that heaven must have some facility to support human bodies as well as souls or that the experience of heaven is to be understood as a spiritual (soul) experience while still on earth.

The essential joy of heaven is called the beatific vision, which is derived from the vision of God's essence. The soul rests perfectly in God, and does not, or cannot desire anything else than God. After the Last Judgement, when the soul is reunited with its body, the body participates in the happiness of the soul. It becomes incorruptible, glorious and perfect. Any physical defects the body may have laboured under are erased.

The Roman Catholic teaching regarding Heaven is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Those who die (generally understood as physical death as opposed to "body level," ego identity) in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified, live forever (defined as immortality of the body as opposed to eternal aliveness in the psychological sense). This perfect (divine) life with [God] (Father Deity rather than concept of "perfect goodness") is called heaven. [It] is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness, full aliveness. The Catholic Church teaches that only those baptized by water (symbol of purification/internal cleansing), blood (symbol of martyrdom), or desire (explicit or implicit desire for purification) may enter heaven and those who have died in a state of grace may enter heaven.
1. ^ (but no soul actually goes through rebirth; see anatta)
2. ^ Masumian, Farnaz (1995). Life After Death: A study of the afterlife in world religions. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-074-8. 
3. ^ Bahá'u'lláh (1976). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, pp. 157. ISBN 0-87743-187-6. 
4. ^ Bahá'u'lláh (1976). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, pp. 162. ISBN 0-87743-187-6. 
5. ^ What Christian groups say about the afterlife: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Reincarnation... at Religioustolerance.org.
6. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 4: The Son, 2006
7. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 26: Death and Resurrection, 2006
8. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 27: Millennium and the End of Sin, 2006
9. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 28: New Earth, 2006
10. ^ (1989) Reasoning From The Scriptures. Watchtower. 
11. ^ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Doctrine and Covenants 128:18
12. ^ The Legends of the Jews I, 131, and II, 306.
13. ^ The Legends of the Jews V, 374.
14. ^ Animal Farm Character Profiles at Charles' George Orwell Links.
15. ^ Goldman, Emma. "The Philosophy of Atheism". Mother Earth, February 1916.
16. ^ Opinions : Essays : Orwell's Political Messages by Rhodri Williams.
17. ^ Background information for George Orwell's Animal Farm at Charles' George Orwell Links.
18. ^ The Atheist Philosophy
19. ^ Quote by Albert Einstein at Quote DB.
20. ^ Sam Harris at the 2006 conference (watch here).
21. ^ Dawkins, Richard. "Religion's Misguided Missiles". The Guardian, September 15, 2001.
22. ^ REPLY TO RICHARD DAWKINS STATEMENT IN THE ROOT OF EVIL at the site Philippine Atheists. This view is echoed by Sam Harris in his book The End of Faith.

Upon dying, each soul goes to what is called "the particular judgement" where its own afterlife is decided (i.e. Heaven after Purgatory, straight to Heaven, or Hell.) This is different from "the general judgement" also known as "the Last judgement" which will occur when Christ returns to judge all the living and the dead.

It is a common Roman Catholic belief that St. Michael the Archangel carries the soul to Heaven. The belief that Saint Peter meets the soul at the "Pearly Gates" is an artistic application of the belief that Christ gave Peter, believed by Catholics to be the first Pope, the keys to Heaven.

As Heaven is a place where only the pure are permitted, no person who dies in a state of sin can enter Heaven. "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see Him as he is," face to face." (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1023) "Those who die in God's grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God." (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1054)

If one were baptized validly and then died, one would go directly to heaven (in the Roman Catholic belief, the sacrament of baptism dissolves the eternal and temporal punishment of all sins). If one never committed a mortal sin and were absolved of all his venial sins just before death, one would go directly to Heaven.

Most people who enter Heaven do so through Purgatory (or "place of purification"). In Purgatory, a soul pays off all temporal punishment one deserved for the sins he committed in life. This does not always happen though. If one receives the Sacrament of Penance validly, as well as gains a plenary indulgence, and dies, one would directly go to heaven. There are many ways to get an indulgence, in various Papal decrees or publications [1][2]. To receive a plenary indulgence, one must receive the sacrament of Confession validly, do one's penance, validly receive Communion, say some specified number of Lord's Prayers, Angelic Salutations and Minor Doxologies for the intentions of the Pope, and then perform some act of gaining the indulgence. Of course, one must remain free from all sin, mortal and venial, while doing all these things.

In Protestant Christianity

The intermediate state (between death and the resurrection) is unclear in Protestant Christian thought (see the article on soul sleep), but the following is generally concluded about the eternal life which Jesus promised those who believed in Him:

The term Heaven (which differs from "The Kingdom of Heaven" see note below) is applied by the Biblical authors to the realm in which God currently resides. Eternal life, however, occurs in a renewed, unspoilt and perfect creation (presumably full of plants, animals and stunning landscapes), which can be termed Heaven since God will choose to dwell there permanently with his people Revelation 21:3. There will no longer be any separation between God and man. The believers themselves will exist in incorruptible, resurrected and new bodies; there will be no sickness, no death and no tears. The person was never meant to be disembodied. Death is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God (see original sin) so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God. Not only will the believers spend eternity with God, they will also spend it with each other. John's vision recorded in Revelation describes a New Jerusalem which comes from Heaven to the new earth, which is a seen to be a symbolic reference to the people of God living in community with one another. 'Heaven' will be the place where life will be lived to the full, in the way that the designer planned, each believer 'loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind' and 'loving their neighbour as themselves'(adapted from Matthew 22:37-38)—a place of great joy, without the negative aspects of earthly life.

(The Greek "hê basileia tou ouranou", usually translated as "the Kingdom of Heaven", is indeed more literally "the rule of the skies", with "the skies" a codeword for God.)

In contrast with the Catholic position (affirmed and described at the Council of Trent in the 16th century), most Protestants hold that salvation is obtained "sola gratia, sola fide"—by the grace (unearned favour) of God alone, through faith in Christ alone—not through living a good life or through belonging to a particular church organization (See Ephesians 2:8–9). Therefore, any person who sincerely has faith in Jesus and asks for God's forgiveness will automatically be granted forgiveness for their sins and has the assurance of eternal life. The question which may be asked, "How much faith is enough faith?" can be answered, enough to be able to make the decision to put your trust in Jesus' death and resurrection and choose to follow him.

The Protestant tradition is divided into many different strands of thought, though most positions today can be categorised broadly as either Calvinist or Arminianist. Calvinism argues that entry into Heaven has already been predetermined by God—that all those who are Christians have in fact been chosen from the beginning of time to be saved. Faith in Christ is still essential, but the reason why a Christian has faith is because God has chosen them beforehand. Arminians hold a modified form of this doctrine. In this case, a person can choose to have faith in Christ out of their free will and is not compelled to by divine power. A detailed examination of the differences between these two Protestant strands of thought are examined in their respective articles.

It is easy to conclude that there is a contradiction between the idea that a person obtains salvation through choosing to put his/her faith in Christ, and the idea that God predestined those who would enter heaven. However, neither the Apostle Paul nor Polycarp seemed to see a paradox between the true God's sovereignty and mankind's ability to perceive and choose. Many Protestants hold that both ideas are taught clearly in the Bible; they teach that eternal salvation by which a believer gains eternal life with God is a supreme free gift divine grace made available to "whosoever will" trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for His full payment. While these divisions still exists within the Protestant church, since the early 20th century few Protestant churches have adopted a Universalist approach (the idea that all will enter Heaven).

Seventh-day Adventist

The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of heaven is based on Biblical writings which set out the following:
  • That heaven is a material place where God resides.
  • That earth and all the animate and inanimate things therein and within its celestial space are products of God's creative work.
  • That God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to earth to live as a human being, but who "perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God's power and was attested as God's promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf." [6].
  • That Christ promises to return as a Saviour at which time He will resurrect the righteous dead and gather them along with the righteous living to heaven. The unrighteous will die at Christ's second coming. [7].
  • That after Christ's second coming there will exist a period of time known as the Millennium during which Christ and His righteous saints will reign and the unrighteous will be judged. At the close of the Millennium, Christ and His angels return to earth to resurrect the dead that remain, to issue the judgements and to forever rid the universe of sin and sinners. [8].
  • "On the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy, and learning in His presence. For here God Himself will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things, animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love; and He shall reign forever." [9]. It is at this point that heaven is established on the new earth.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses hold the belief that Heaven is the dwelling place of Jehovah God and all of His spirit creatures, the seat of His power as Sovereign of the Universe, and the place where 144,000 chosen faithful followers of Christ will reside ruling over the resurrected Earth alongside the anointed King, Jehovah's son Jesus Christ.[10]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The view of heaven according to the Latter-Day Saint movement is based on Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The afterlife is divided first into two levels until the Last Judgement; afterwards it is divided into four levels, the upper three of which are referred to as "degrees of glory" that, for illustrative purposes, are compared to heavenly bodies.

Before the Last Judgement, spirits separated from their bodies at death go either to Paradise or to Spirit Prison based on their merits earned in life. Paradise is a place of rest while its inhabitants continue learning in preparation for the Last Judgement. Spirit Prison is a place of anguish and suffering for the wicked and unrepentant; however, missionary efforts done by spirits from Paradise enable those in Spirit Prison to repent, accept the Gospel and the atonement and receive baptism through the practice of baptism for the dead.[11]

After the resurrection and Last Judgement, people are sent to one of four levels:
  • The Celestial Kingdom is the highest level, with its power and glory comparable to the sun. Here, faithful and valiant disciples of Christ who accepted the fullness of His Gospel and kept their covenants with Him through following the prophets of their dispensation are reunited with their families and with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. Those who would have accepted the Gospel with all their hearts had they been given the opportunity in life (as judged by Christ and God the Father) are also saved in the Celestial Kingdom. Latter-Day Saint movements do not believe in the concept of original sin, but believe children to be innocent through the atonement. Therefore, all children who die before the age of accountability inherit this glory. Men and women who have entered into celestial marriage are eligible, under the tutelage of God the Father, to eventually become gods and goddesses as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.
  • The Terrestrial Kingdom's power and glory is comparable to that of the moon, and is reserved for those who understood and rejected the full Gospel in life but lived good lives; those who did accept the Gospel but failed to keep their covenants through continuing the process of faith, repentance, and service to others; those who "died without law" (D & C 76:72) but accepted the full Gospel and repented after death due to the missionary efforts undertaken in Spirit Prison. God the Father does not come into the Terrestrial Kingdom, but Jesus Christ visits them and the Holy Spirit is given to them.
  • The Telestial Kingdom is comparable to the glory of the stars. Those placed in the Telestial Kingdom suffered the pains of Hell after death because they were liars, murderers, adulterers, whoremongers, etc. They are eventually rescued from Hell by being redeemed through the power of the atonement at the end of the Millennium. Despite its far lesser condition in eternity, the Telestial Kingdom is described as being more comfortable than Earth in its current state. Suffering is a result of a full knowledge of the sins and choices which have permanently separated a person from the utter joy that comes from being in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, though they have the Holy Spirit to be with them.
  • Perdition, or outer darkness, is the lowest level and has no glory whatsoever. It is reserved for Satan, his angels, and those who have committed the unpardonable sin. This is the lowest state possible in the eternities, and one that very few people born in this world attain, since the unpardonable sin requires that a person know with a perfect knowledge that the Gospel is true and then reject it and fight defiantly against God. The only known son of Perdition is Cain, but it is generally acknowledged that there are probably more scattered through the ages.

In Hinduism

In Hinduism, with its emphasis on reincarnation, the concept of Heaven is not as prominent. While heaven is temporary (until the next birth), the permanent state that Hindus aspire to is Moksha. Moksha is seen as the soul's liberation from the cycle of life and death, a re-establishment in one's own fundamental divine nature and may include union with or joining God.

Entry into heaven (swarga loka) or hell (Naraka) is decided by the Lord of death Yama and his karmic accountant, Chitragupta, who records the good and bad deeds of a person during his lifetime. It must be noted that Yama and Chitragupta are subordinate to the supreme Lord Ishwara (God) and work under his direction. Entry into heaven is only dependent on ones actions in the previous life and is not restricted by faith or religion. The ruler of heaven, where one enjoys the fruits of ones good deeds, is known as Indra and life in that realm is said to include interaction with many celestial beings (gandharvas).

In Buddhism

According to Buddhist Cosmology the universe is undergoing cycles and beings are spread over a number of existential "planes" in which this human world is only one (though important) "realm" of life.

The Buddha confirmed the existence of other worlds, of heavens and hells populated by celestial beings. In the early Buddhist literature, the Buddha himself was described as having gone to the heavens and meeting with the gods. The scriptures also quoted instances of gods descending down to the earth to witness some momentous events in the life of the Buddha.

Prominent among the Buddhist gods are Sakka and Brahma. Sakka is like the Indra/Zeus of the Buddhist pantheon. He is the ruler of gods and stays in the world of desires. Sometimes he interferes with humans. Brahma is the overlord of the highest heavens, the Brahma world. He is mentioned frequently in the Buddhist scriptures and comes closest to the monotheistic concept of "God". In Buddhism he becomes a follower of the Buddha and converted to the Buddhist path in the presence of Buddha himself.

In Buddhism the gods are not immortal, though they may live much longer than the earthly beings. They also are subject to decay and change, and the process of becoming. The intensity and the manner in which these processes take place however may be different and involve longer periods of time. But like any other beings, they are with a beginning and an end.

However, all heavenly beings are regarded as inferior in status to the Arhats who have attained Nirvana. The gods were also from the lower worlds originally, but slowly and gradually graduated themselves into higher worlds by virtue of their past deeds and cultivation of virtuous qualities. Since there are many heavens and higher worlds of Brahma, these gods may evolve progressively from one heaven to another through their merit or descend into lower worlds due to some misfortune or right intention.

The gods of Buddhism are therefore not immortal. Neither their position in the heavens is permanent. They may however live for longer durations of time. One of the Buddhist Sutras states that a hundred years of our existence is equal to one day and one night in the world of the thirty three gods. Thirty such days add up to their one month. Twelve such months become their one year, while they live for a thousand such years.

In Islam

Main article: Jannah

The concept of heaven in Islam is similar to that found in Judaism and Christianity. The Qur'an contains many references to an afterlife in Eden for those who do good deeds. Heaven itself is commonly described in the Qu'ran in verse 35 of Surah Al-Ra’d: "The parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised! Beneath it flow rivers. Perpetual is the fruits thereof and the shade therein. Such is the End of the Righteous; and the end of the unbelievers is the Fire, wherein a person dwells forever." Since Islam rejects the concept of original sin, Muslims believe that all human beings are born pure and will naturally turn to God, but it is their environment and lack of will power which influences them to choose ungodly ways of life. In Islam, therefore, a child who dies automatically goes to heaven, regardless of the religion of his or her parents. The highest level of heaven is Firdaws (فردوس)- Pardis (پردیس), which is where the prophets, the martyrs and the most truthful and pious people will dwell.

In Judaism

While the concept of heaven (malkuth hashamaim מלכות השמים—The Kingdom of Heaven) is well-defined within the Christian and Islamic religions, the Jewish concept of the afterlife, sometimes known as "olam haba", the world to come, seems to have been disputed between various early sects such as the Sadducees, and thus never set forth in a systematic or official fashion as was done in Christianity and Islam. Jewish writings refer to a "new earth" as the abode of mankind following the resurrection of the dead. Judaism does, however, have a belief in Heaven, not as a future abode for "good souls", but as the "place" where God "resides".

In Kabbalah Jewish mysticism

Jewish mysticism recognizes seven heavens.

In order from lowest to highest, the seven Heavens are listed alongside the angels who govern them and any further information:
  1. Shamayim: The first Heaven, governed by Archangel Gabriel, is the closest of heavenly realms to the Earth; it is also considered the abode of Adam and Eve.
  2. Raquia: The second Heaven is dually controlled by Zachariel and Raphael. It was in this Heaven that Moses, during his visit to Paradise, encountered the angel Nuriel who stood "300 parasangs high, with a retinue of 50 myriads of angels all fashioned out of water and fire." Also, Raquia is considered the realm where the fallen angels are imprisoned and the planets fastened.[12]
  3. Shehaqim: The third Heaven, under the leadership of Anahel, serves as the home of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life; it is also the realm where manna, the holy food of angels, is produced.[13] The Second Book of Enoch, meanwhile, states that both Paradise and Hell are accommodated in Shehaqim with Hell being located simply " on the northern side."
  4. Machonon: The fourth Heaven is ruled by the Archangel Michael , and according to Talmud Hagiga 12, it contains the heavenly Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Altar.
  5. Machon: The fifth Heaven is under the administration of Samael, an angel referred to as evil by some, but who is to others merely a dark servant of God.
  6. Zebul: The sixth Heaven falls under the jurisdiction of Zachiel.
  7. Araboth: The seventh Heaven, under the leadership of Cassiel, is the holiest of the seven Heavens provided the fact that it houses the Throne of Glory attended by the Seven Archangels and serves as the realm in which God dwells; underneath the throne itself lies the abode of all unborn human souls. It is also considered the home of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Hayyoth.

In Polynesia

In the creation stories of Polynesian mythology are found various concepts of the heavens and the underworld. These differ from one island to another. What they share is the view of the universe as an egg or coconut that is divided between the world of humans (earth), the upper world of heavenly gods, and the underworld. Each of these is subdivided in a manner reminiscent of Dante's Divine Comedy, but the number of divisions and their names differs from one Polynesian culture to another.


Among the Māori, the heavens are divided into a number of realms. Different tribes number the heaven differently, with as few as two and as many as fourteen levels. One of the more common versions divides heaven thus:
  1. Kiko-rangi, presided over by the god Toumau
  2. Waka-maru, the heaven of sunshine and rain
  3. Nga-roto, the heaven of lakes where the god Maru rules
  4. Hau-ora, where the spirits of new-born children originate
  5. Nga-Tauira, home of the servant gods
  6. Nga-atua, which is ruled over by the hero Tawhaki
  7. Autoia, where human souls are created
  8. Aukumea, where spirits live
  9. Wairua, where spirit gods live while waiting on those in
  10. Naherangi or Tuwarea, where the great gods live presided over by Rehua

The Māori believe these heavens are supported by pillars. Other Polynesian peoples see them being supported by gods (as in Hawai'i). In one Tahitan legend, heaven is supported by an octopus.


The Polynesian conception of the universe and its division is nicely illustrated by a famous drawing made by a Tuomotuan chief in 1869.

Here, the nine heavens are further divided into left and right, and each stage is associated with a stage in the evolution of the earth that is portrayed below.

The lowest division represents a period when the heavens hung low over the earth, which was inhabited by animals that were not known to the islanders. In the third division is shown the first murder, the first burials, and the first canoes, built by Rata. In the fourth division, the first coconut tree and other significant plants are born.

Atheist criticism of the belief in Heaven

Atheists usually reject the existence of heaven and are therefore more generally concerned with the effect that such a belief has on society.

Some atheists (and non-theists such as Buddhists alike) have viewed the notion of heaven as a sort of "opiate of the masses"—a tool employed by humans to cope with their lives' misery—or "opiate for the masses"—a tool employed by authorities to bribe their subjects into a certain way of life by promising a reward after death. [14] The anarchist Emma Goldman expressed this view when she wrote, "Consciously or unconsciously, most theists see in gods and devils, heaven and hell; reward and punishment, a whip to lash the people into obedience, meekness and contentment."[15]

Many people consider George Orwell's use of Sugarcandy Mountain in his novel Animal Farm to be a literary expression of this view. In the book, the animals were told that after their miserable lives were over they would go to a place in which "it was Sunday seven days a week, clover was in season all the year round, and lump sugar and linseed cake grew on the hedges". [16][17] Fantasy author Phillip Pullman echoes this idea in the fantasy series His Dark Materials, in which the characters finally come to the conclusion that people should make life better on Earth rather than wait for heaven (this idea is known as the Republic of Heaven).

Some atheists have argued that a belief in a reward after death is poor motivation for moral behavior while alive [18][19], arguing that "It is rather more noble to help people purely out of concern for their suffering than it is to help them because you think the Creator of the Universe wants you to do it, or will reward you for doing it, or will punish you for not doing it. [The] problem with this linkage between religion and morality is that it gives people bad reasons to help other human beings when good reasons are available."[20]

Others have further argued that an irrational belief in heavenly rewards may actually motivate believers to do horrible things while on Earth. Richard Dawkins summed up this view by stating "Promise a young man that death is not the end and he will willingly cause disaster." [21] In his television programme The Root of All Evil? Dawkins states,
...there would be murderers all around the world who want to kill you and me and themselves because they are motivated by what they think is the highest ideal [...] the suicide bomber believes that in killing for his god he will be fast tracked to special martyrs’ heaven. [22]

See also


<references />



  • Craig, Robert D. Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology. Greenwood Press: New York, 1989. ISBN 0313258902. Page 57.
  • Bunyan, John. The Strait Gate: Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1846856716.
  • Bunyan, John. No Way to Heaven but By Jesus Christ Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1846857805.
  • Ginzberg, Louis. Henrietta Szold (trans.). The Legends of the Jews. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909–38. ISBN 0801858909.
  • Hahn, Scott. The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. New York: Doubleday, 1999. ISBN 978-0385496599.
  • Moody, D.L. Heaven. Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1846858123.
  • Young, J.L. "The Paumotu Conception of the Heavens and of Creation", Journal of the Polynesian Society, 28 (1919), 209–211.


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