Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

Do atheists go to heaven?

For most atheists, the obvious answer is, “No.”

Ironically, atheists agree with traditional Christians on this point. It’s just that atheists don’t think anyone else goes to heaven, either. And traditional Christians think that atheists go to hell—an idea that atheists reject.

Then again, Christians and atheists can’t even agree on how to define “atheism.”

  • Christians tend to define atheism as a belief that there is no God.
  • Atheists tend to define atheism as a lack of belief in gods.

What strikes me about both of these definitions is that they’re all about belief or lack thereof. And these days belief is seen as something we do with our head, meaning with our intellect.

But Psalm 14 and its variation in Psalm 53 start out:

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

Not “in their heads,” but “in their hearts.” Saying in your head that there is no God, as your average present-day atheist does, is very different from saying in your heart that there is no God.

So before we get to whether atheists go to heaven, let’s look more closely at what the Bible means when it talks about believing or not believing in God.

Does the Bible contradict itself about who goes to heaven?

The problem with traditional Christian ideas about believing in Jesus, and believing in God, is that they cause the Bible to contradict itself about who goes to heaven.

Christians often point to John 3:18 to support their view that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ goes to hell. Here it is:

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

According to traditional Christian doctrine, God condemns anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. But if you read on, the Bible makes it clear that it is not God who condemns, but nonbelievers who condemn themselves by their actions:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. (John 3:19–20)

John 3:18 is not talking about those who merely don’t believe in Jesus with their heads. It’s talking about “people who love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”

Those myriad Christian preachers who say that even though nonbelievers do good deeds, they will still go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus are causing the Gospel of John to contradict itself.

They are also causing John 3:18 to contradict what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31–46 about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell:

  • Those who feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite in strangers, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, and visit those in prison will go to eternal life.
  • Those who do not feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite in strangers, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, and visit those in prison will go to eternal punishment.

This is precisely what traditional Christians deny—especially the evangelicals and fundamentalists in the Protestant wing of Christianity. They say that if you believe in Jesus you go to heaven, and if you don’t believe in Jesus you go to hell. They say that although you should do good deeds, this has nothing to do with your salvation. In other words, they reject Christ’s own teaching about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

What does the Bible mean by “belief”?

That’s because they don’t understand what the Bible means by “belief.”

The Biblical concept of belief is very different from our present-day concept of belief.

In this age of science, reason, and intellect, we think of belief as a mental or intellectual acceptance of some idea—as thinking in our head that something is true.

But in the Bible, belief is something we do with our whole self, including our heart and our hands. From a Biblical perspective, believing without living by that belief is not belief at all. Here’s how the Apostle James put it:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? . . . But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. (James 2:14, 18–19, emphasis added)

For James, what we do shows what our faith is.

When the Bible talks about faith and belief, it is not talking about something we do with our head. It is talking about the beliefs and principles that we live by.

What does it mean to believe in God?

What, then, does it mean to believe in God?

The Bible says that those who believe in Jesus are not condemned, but those who don’t believe are condemned already.

It also says that those who love their neighbor by doing good deeds for them will go to eternal life, while those who do not will go to eternal punishment.

Is the Bible contradicting itself?

No, it is not.

Instead, it is saying that believing in Jesus, and believing in God, means loving our neighbor and doing good things for our neighbor. That’s why Jesus says:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:20)

To put it in more abstract terms, when we believe in and live by what is good and true, we are believing in God, whether or not we call it God. And when we believe in and live by the things Jesus taught, we are believing in Jesus whether or not we say we believe in Jesus.

For more on belief from the Bible’s perspective, see the article, “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

When is an atheist not an atheist?

With that under our belt, let’s look again at the question of whether atheists go to heaven.

The question is, atheists by whose definition?

Today, atheists roundly reject the old definition of atheism as “godless, wicked, and sinful.” And yet, that is precisely what the Bible means when it talks about people who do not believe in God.

In Psalms 14 and 53, after saying “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God,’” it goes on to say:

They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

These Psalms, and the Bible as a whole, are not talking about people who do not intellectually accept the concept of God. No, the Bible is talking about people who reject everything good and true that God stands for by living corrupt, evil, and destructive lives.

Does that really describe your average philosophical atheist in the world today?

Of course, there are some atheists who are terrible, evil, and destructive people. But there are also some religious folks who are terrible, evil, and destructive people. Both of these groups—the religious evildoers and the non-religious evildoers—are atheists as the Bible defines atheism. They both reject in their lives the good and true things that come from God.

But atheists who care about their fellow human beings and the good of humanity, and who honestly believe that a lack of belief in God leads to a better, more enlightened, and more just world, are not even atheists by the Biblical definition. That’s because even though they do not say “Lord, Lord,” they actually do the will of our Father in heaven by working to make the world a better place for everyone in it.

In short, to fully accept the Bible’s teachings about who goes to heaven, and specifically about whether atheists go to heaven, we must broaden our definition of God, and of belief in God.

Traditional definitions of “belief” require a person to believe in a specific being (or beings) that we call God.

But in a broader definition suggested by the Bible passages quoted above, and many others, believing in God means believing in a higher good than merely benefit for oneself, and believing that there is a truth we are meant to seek beyond our own particular knowledge and the ideas we gravitate toward because we think of them as benefiting ourselves in some way. In Christian terms, we must include in our definition believing by our actions in the Holy Spirit—which is God’s love, wisdom, and power flowing out into the whole universe, and into human society.

Conscientious atheists commonly strive for a higher truth and a greater good than themselves and their own benefit. And whenever they do so, they are believing in what comes from God even if they do not accept the concept of God. And as long as they believe in some higher good and some higher truth, and live by it, they find their place in heaven, not in hell, when their life on this earth is over. In this way, they are held to exactly the same standard as those who believe in God.

Why are atheists atheists?

Traditional Christians—especially fundamentalist and evangelical ones—can be very harsh in their condemnation of atheists and their insistence that atheists will go to hell.

And yet, their own faulty, non-Biblical doctrines have a lot to do with the growth of atheism in recent centuries. (For some examples of those non-Biblical doctrines, see “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach.”)

It is no accident that some of the most diehard atheists grew up in conservative Christian families and communities. They had harsh, irrational, unloving doctrines shoved down their throats—doctrines about God condemning to hell billions of good, honest, loving, conscientious people just because they didn’t believe in Jesus.

I’ll put it bluntly. These teachings about God are false. And when atheists reject these terrible, false beliefs about God, they are not rejecting God as God really is. They are rejecting false gods. Unfortunately, the false gods they were raised on so tainted the very idea of God in their mind that many will never be able to believe intellectually in God as long as they live.

And yet, the very fact that they have rejected a harsh, angry, arbitrary, unloving, and unjust God means that they value the qualities opposite to those falsely attributed to God. They value kindness, good will, reasonableness, justice, and yes, even love.

Do atheists go to heaven?

Will people who believe in these things, and live by them, really go to hell? Will people who live by the good qualities that God really is not find themselves in heaven?

Heaven is the eternal home of those who love what is good and true simply because it is good and true. And that is a very good description of many sincere atheists who only want the world to be a better, more rational, and more just place for everyone.

As Jesus says in Matthew 25:31–46, when we figuratively stand before the throne of God after we die, God will not ask us what we believed. Instead, God will ask us what we did. And all those who loved and served God’s brothers and sisters here on earth are loving and serving God, no matter what their intellect thought or their lips said about God.

Do atheists go to heaven?

If they love their neighbor as themselves, the answer is yes.

In doing so, they are loving God and showing by their actions their belief in the true character and reality of God.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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104 comments on “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?
  1. Richard Neer says:

    Excellent expansion and interpretation on this controversial topic, Lee!

    I hope it gives others the same benefit as it does me.

    Rich

  2. SeunAlaba says:

    This article as usual is an enlightening read. Thank you sir. As much as I absolutely understand & even see it the way you put it,i cannot help but point out the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 which has been shoved in my face so much by people who believe that only those who believe in Jesus Christ get saved. Truth is that point cannot be outrightly written off seeing as Cornelius was one who was recorded to be righteous,yet the angel of the Lord insisted that he sends for Peter who shall tell him what he ought to do. Please,i would very much like to hear your thoughts on that. Thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi SeunAlaba,

      Thanks for your comment and question.

      The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 is the story of a non-Jewish, non-Christian man who accepted Christian baptism along with his household. There is nothing in the story saying that non-Christians can’t be saved. Rather, it is the story of a good and godly man accepting Christianity.

      • Caden Holts says:

        Thank you so much lee I am an atheist but every now and then I find myself asking if there’s a God then I realized the question above so now I have more to be greatful about in life and more to be wishful for after.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Caden,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. You’re very welcome! I’m glad the article has given you some extra peace of mind.

  3. mzzhang says:

    Fascinating article! I recently wrote a blog post addressing John’s views on eternal life vs. the synoptics’ view:

    https://religioustexts.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/john_vs_synoptic_gospels/ (under “Eternal life”)

    I agree that the synoptics don’t portray belief in Jesus as necessary for eternal life, as evidenced by Matthew 25 and other passages (although see Luke 10:13-15). However, John closely associates the two. Your idea that belief in God means loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry, etc. is interesting, but what’s your opinion of John 20:30? It reads:

    “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

    20:30 is the first ending of John, where John tells us why he wrote his gospel–to convince us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. By believing–and here, belief seems to mean intellectual acceptance of an idea–we may have life in his name. Do you agree with this interpretation?

    By the way, I’m an atheist, and the last thing I want is to actually convince people that I deserve to be tortured for eternity in hell. It’s extremely disturbing when people think I deserve something much worse than the Holocaust for not sharing their beliefs. But I was very curious about your opinion, having just finished reading all the gospels.

    • Lee says:

      Hi mzzhang,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment. I enjoyed reading the linked article. I do have a few quibbles with some of the statements in it, but no need to get into that here.

      I take it as a general principle that although the Bible may, and even does, contradict itself here and there in its plain, or literal, meaning, a deeper and more spiritual understanding of its message reconciles those contradictions and shows them to be two different perspectives on the same deeper reality.

      In the case of John vs. the Synoptics, you make an excellent point in your article that the Synoptics emphasize a life according to God’s commandments, while John emphasizes belief in Jesus. However, instead of seeing that as a contradiction, I see it as two different perspectives on the same underlying reality.

      The bridge between the two is what I said in this article about the Biblical meaning of “belief” and “faith.” It wasn’t until 1,500 years after Christ that Martin Luther came up with the idea of salvation by faith alone. Present-day Western Christians–especially Protestant Christians–seem especially adept at separating belief from life and from motives. This, I think, is rather bewildering to people of other cultures, who seem to assume that if you believe something you also live by it. And I think it would have been entirely bewildering to the people and cultures that existed in Biblical times.

      When John talks about belief in Jesus, such as in John 20:30, he’s not talking about some intellectual or conceptual acceptance of the idea that Jesus saves us from our sins. Rather, he’s talking about a life-transforming change of mind and direction in life that pulls us out of evil and destructive (“sinful,” in Bible language) ways of living, and transforms us into people who live from love for God and love for the neighbor.

      If we think of “belief” and “faith” in this way, then John and the Synoptics are giving the same message, only from a different perspective. John emphasizes our relationship with Jesus Christ, whereas the Synoptics emphasize the change brought about in our lives by that relationship.

      I would also point out that John 20:30 is not exclusive. It says that we can have life (meaning spiritual life) by believing in his name. That particular passage doesn’t say anything about others having no spiritual life. However, for more on this whole topic please see the article:
      Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      • Breanna J. says:

        I just wanted to say thank you for writing this article. I am a Seventh Day Adventist, and this answered a lot of questions and I think it will aid me in becoming closer to Christ. I really like how this was put simply. Thank you,again and God bless.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Breanna,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your good words. You are very welcome! I’m glad the article was helpful to you.

  4. Rob says:

    As far as going to heaven and all that, I just accept myself the way I am now. I will never love my neighbor, he/she is likely deserving of scorn at best (just like me!). Its liberating to drop the facade of goodness and just let one’s hate run free. I do believe in God (to get back to the topic), but I don’t love him.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      It is good to honestly assess and recognize where we are now spiritually. Many people deceive themselves all their lives about their own goodness and rightness, and therefore never take even the first step toward real, spiritual goodness. It’s better to recognize that we are not good when that is, in fact, the reality of the situation.

      And yet, that is only a first step. If we stop there, we have frozen our own growth in its tracks. Now that we see clearly where we are, the question is, where do we want to be? Then the real work of spiritual growth begins. It won’t be easy. But it will lead to better things.

      If we recognize that we are stuck in a high-walled subterranean cavern with no obvious way out, that recognition is a good thing. Now we’re no longer hallucinating some pleasant and sunny existence when in fact we are trapped in the darkness deep underground. But if we stop there, we’ll always be a prisoner. The next step is to make a decision to get out of the cave. Acting on this decision will be much more work than resigning ourselves to living and dying in the darkness. But we can, through sustained effort and ingenuity, climb out of the cave if we are determined to free ourselves from it.

      Then our real life begins.

  5. “It is no accident that some of the most diehard atheists grew up in conservative Christian families and communities. They had harsh, irrational, unloving doctrines shoved down their throats—doctrines about God condemning to hell billions of good, honest, loving, conscientious people just because they didn’t believe in Jesus.

    I’ll put it bluntly. These teachings about God are false. And when atheists reject these terrible, false beliefs about God, they are not rejecting God as God really is. They are rejecting false gods. Unfortunately, the false gods they were raised on so tainted the very idea of God in their mind that many will never be able to believe intellectually in God as long as they live.

    And yet, the very fact that they have rejected a harsh, angry, arbitrary, unloving, and unjust God means that they value the qualities opposite to those falsely attributed to God. They value kindness, good will, reasonableness, justice, and yes, even love.”

    Correct. It is no accident! Any person who cares at all about people does not want the 99% who don’t believe certain doctrines to burn forever. I am in agreement with you that those teachings are false.

    As far as all the good things you mention: “kindness, good will, reasonableness, justice, and yes, even love”, I would say that none of them require a magic man in the sky(which is pretty much the concept the atheists I know have rejected). If there is another concept of God that is different, I would like to hear it. Why has there not been a promotion of something better than what christianity has traditionally offered?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chandler,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Where do I start? This whole website is all about “a promotion of something better than what Christianity has traditionally offered.” The reason I have largely struck out on my own in this endeavor, with the full support of my wife, is that I do not think the church that I grew up in is doing enough to promote this better view of Christianity, and I no longer think that traditional church forms and formats work in today’s society.

      There are many articles here that offer a better view. The one I just published today is sort of a “lite” version:
      God is Love . . . And That Makes All the Difference in the World

      Here is one with a little more substance:
      Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

      And of course, there’s the post that is far and away the most popular on my blog:
      If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

      I could keep on giving more links to articles here promoting a better view of Christianity, but these are enough for now. If you’re interested, feel free to look around some more. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      • Alright. Thanks for the links. I very much want to see something out there that is better than the christianity I grew up in. I may never be a part of if myself but it will still be a benefit to others who are looking for something to help them heal from bad church experiences similar to what I had.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Chandler,

          You’re welcome. Though the denomination I grew up in is very small, its churches do often provide a home for “church-wounded” people who want a more loving and reasonable church than the one they grew up in. Annette and I plan to reach out to many more people who want to be Christian and spiritual but cannot accept the harsh and often irrational doctrines and attitudes of traditional Christianity.

        • Breanna J says:

          Hey Lee, I just wanted ask you about the “harsh and often irrational doctrines”, are you referring to the Bible as a whole, or certain denominations, such as Catholicism?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Breanna,

          I am referring to what many of the traditional Christian churches have done to the Bible, and the ways they have departed from the Bible—especially the spirit of the Bible—in their beliefs and teachings.

          In particular, the idea that only Christians can be saved, which is common in traditional Christianity, is a direct contradiction of many teachings in the Bible. And it is a smear on God’s name to say that God will condemn to eternal torture hell the bulk of the world’s population just because they were born into the “wrong” religion.

          For more specifics, please see this article, and the articles linked from it: “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach

  6. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    I have attended an evangelical church for the last 12 years or so. I like your comments above what it means to “believe in Jesus.” This is something I have worked through recently as well. I can see where your perception of our theology is basically, “Say the sinner’s prayer and then do whatever you want.” We do not believe (at least I don’t) anyone is saved purely by intellectual assent, but as you said, by a change in the core of their being. Our works do not MERIT our salvation, but they are the evidence of a changed heart that comes from salvation.

    My question is, what do Swedenborgians make of the various passages where Jesus declares to someone “Your sins are forgiven.”? His statement implies that prior to that point, the person’s sins were not forgiven (Note, also, that he did not say this to everyone present). To me this means that the the forgiveness of sins happens in an instant. From what I know of your theology, you seem to reject the idea of us being under God’s judgement for sin, so where does this “instant forgiveness” fit into your theology?

    Thank you!

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      About your first paragraph:

      I do understand that the theology of Protestant churches is more complex than, “Say the sinner’s prayer and then do whatever you want.” However, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone as formulated in the various Protestant churches contradicts itself.

      And as a practical matter, most “faith alone” Christians don’t even live by that doctrine. They actually live a life of faith together with good works, as James, the Gospels, and Paul himself taught. So despite their holding intellectually to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone–which does not save if actually practiced–they are saved because in reality they live a life of faith together with good works.

      As for the good works being the fruits of faith, that may be so. But it is purely a semantic distinction, made for the sake of adherence to doctrine. If you have faith in Jesus and as a result of that faith live according to the commandments of Jesus, then in fact you are both having faith and doing good works as Jesus commanded. And by virtue of that faith expressed in works, you are saved.

      Turn it around and ask yourself: If a person had faith, but lived an evil life–i.e., did not do good works–would that person be saved? No. Because if faith does not lead to good works, then it is not real faith.

      Given that real faith cannot exist without good works, it’s splitting hairs to say that we’re saved by the faith and not by the good works. It may make some theologians feel superior in their superior intellectual acumen. But it makes not a particle of difference in reality. In real life, faith must lead to, and be accompanied by, good works or it does not save, nor is it even faith.

      Further, although faith is the first visible sign of a changed person, it is not actually the first event in our salvation. God working in our heart is the first event of salvation. When our heart begins to respond to the presence of the Lord, then our mind follows by expressing faith in Jesus. We think of faith as being first, but in fact it is secondary to love, just as Paul says (1 Corinthians 13:13).

      So even though the first thing we see is faith, the real order of salvation is:

      love -> faith -> good works.

      Only when this cycle is complete are we saved.

      • David Gray says:

        Hi Lee!

        Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful responses to my questions. I think my thinking is mostly in agreement with you when it comes to works/faith. To say that we are saved by faith and not by works is like saying “Nobody is saved by wearing a red shirt but everyone who is saved wears a red shirt.” The part I can’t sort out in my head is what to make of our concept of sins being forgiven in an instant, which Jesus appears to do several times in the gospels. As you know, we evangelicals believe that our sins are forgiven the instant we “trust in Christ.” Granted, what “trusting in Christ” means is very ambiguous even for us, but is there some place for this thinking about forgiveness in your theology? Do we need to be forgiven by God? Does this take place in an instant or only at the end of our lives consisting of good works? I think you probably see what I’m getting at.

        Thanks again! Have a great day!

        David

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Looks like we crossed messages. I think the comment below addresses your questions. If it doesn’t cover it, feel free to ask again!

        • David Gray says:

          Hi Lee,

          Thanks for the detailed explanation. Just to make sure I understand, the New Church position is that God has already forgiven every human for every sin — it is just a matter of recognizing that you are not going to be punished for your sins — there is nothing that one has to do to have this forgiveness applied to you (e..g say the sinners’ prayer)?

          Does the New Church believe that God ever actively punishes anyone? (By actively, I mean that he takes specific action to ensure that the person receives some kind of temporal punishment that he/she would not have received otherwise — more than just the natural consequences of sin). For example, let’s say Bob is good at robbing banks and he spends his whole life robbing them but never gets caught. If I understand your theology correctly, when Bob dies he will end up with other people like him, which in a way is punishment, but will God do anything else to him?

          David

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Almost, but not exactly.

          Yes, God has already forgiven every human sin. Despite the outward appearance, and various statements in the Bible spoken to fallen humans, there is no condemnation in God. Only a desire to bring us out of hell (spiritually) and into heaven.

          However, as I mentioned in my comment below, there is something we have to do to have that forgiveness applied to us. That is to repent of our sins. As long as we continue sinning, we reject God’s forgiveness, so it cannot become active in our lives.

          At the same time, we must believe in God (or something that stands in for God, such as a goodness, truth, and love higher than ourselves). If we repent just for our own benefit, such as to get out of trouble and save our own skin, that is not real repentance. We must repent because we recognize that our wrong thoughts, desires, and actions are contrary to God’s will, and therefore wrong in themselves.

          So it’s not just a matter of recognizing that we’re not going to be punished for our sins. It’s a matter of not sinning anymore. Or at least, making a commitment not to sin anymore. As humans, we’re going to slip up and sin from time to time. But as often as we do, we must repent and commit ourselves to not engaging in such sins in the future. We’ll never be perfect at it. But God sees our intent and our follow-through, and accepts us, imperfect as we are, if we are making a real effort to cease to do evil and learn to do well. And God then helps and strengthens us from within.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Does God ever actively punish us? Despite the appearance, no. God doesn’t need to, because as Psalm 34:21 says, “Evil shall slay the wicked.” Our sins bring their own punishment upon themselves, in the form of death, disaster, retribution, prison, and so on. This doesn’t work perfectly in the material world, but in the spiritual world it is an immutable law.

          What actually happens is that when we commit evil in the spiritual world, we withdraw ourselves from God’s protection, and reject it. Then other evil spirits see our weakness and vulnerability, and swoop in to wreak vengeance on us–which they love to do. So the evil spirits punish one another.

          It is not God’s will that anyone should be punished. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:32), and “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). God shows us a stern face when we are engaged in evil. But like a good parent, behind that stern face is only love, and no desire to punish.

          So no, God doesn’t punish us when we do evil. Rather, we punish one another. Evil brings its own punishment upon itself. God would love to protect us even from that, but cannot because when we are engaged in evil we reject both God and God’s protection. And God will not violate our free will and force God’s own will on us if we are firmly opposed to it.

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Now about your question as expressed in your second paragraph:

      From a Swedenborgian perspective (which I think is simply a genuine Christian perspective), our sins are always forgiven by God. God is pure forgiveness, and has forgiven us before we ever sinned.

      The problem isn’t whether God forgives us. The problem is whether we accept God’s forgiveness. When Jesus said, “your sins are forgiven,” he was speaking to his listeners from their own human perspective, while still with divine meaning.

      He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” That is a simple statement of fact. God had already forgiven them for their sins, so that they are forgiven.

      However, it is also a statement of the real experience of the person receiving the forgiveness.

      At the moment that the person accepted God’s forgiveness, as pronounced by Jesus, who is “God with us,” that forgiveness becomes effective in the person’s life. Now not only has God forgiven, but the person has accepted God’s forgiveness. So from the human perspective of the one forgiven, his or her sins are now forgiven, even though before they seemed not to be, and in practical terms weren’t forgiven because the person had rejected God’s forgiveness.

      God will not force forgiveness on us. Even though God has forgiven, does forgive, and always will forgive every sin we humans ever have committed, are committing, or will commit, it is only when we accept God’s forgiveness that it becomes effective in our lives.

      And for us to accept God’s forgiveness, we must repent from our evil lives. For more on this, see my article, Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness

  7. Richard Neer says:

    Hi Lee,

    You reference, “It is not God’s will that anyone should be punished. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:32), and “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11).”

    Does this refer to the death of the physical being as human form in this plane of existence, or the “death” of the spiritual being choosing hell over heaven in eternity?

    If one has free will, even as spirit in eternity, and there is no “purgatory” wherein punishment is doled out by God, and if the chosen spiritual path is hell-bent rather than heaven-bound, wouldn’t God care most for the happiness of the spirit regardless of it’s end destination, and therefore find pleasure and solace in that?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Good questions!

      About the first, in their original context the verses from Ezekiel were talking about physical death, which was the penalty for most severe offenses against God.

      However, the Bible also has deeper meanings throughout. And you’ve put your finger on the deeper meaning of “death” in the Bible: the spiritual death of choosing hell over heaven.

      In other words, it means either or both. But for us today, it means especially spiritual death.

      About your second question, though the whole idea is repugnant to conservative Christians, one way to think of hell is that it is where God gives as much pleasure as possible to people who have chosen evil over good. There, at least they can engage in some of the evil and gross activities that give them pleasure, whereas in heaven they would not be able to engage in those activities at all–which would be torture to them.

      Unfortunately, evil actions bring their own punishment and pain upon themselves. So although God does provide a place (hell) where evil people can have some pleasure, that pleasure is inevitably followed by pain.

      Much of that pain comes from revenge taken against them by the other evil spirits whom their actions have harmed. A band of thieves in hell may pull off a successful heist, experience a rush of pleasure from it, and glory in their loot. But soon their victims will band together against them, steal back all their ill-gotten gain, and rough them up in the process. This is very painful and humiliating to them. And so they experience the pain that inevitably follows their pleasure. This is just one simple example of how things work in hell. There is as much variety as there are varieties of evil actions that the people (evil spirits) there love to engage in.

      Another example: Swedenborg describes some hells as being like continual armed revolutions and coups as everyone seeks to rise up to absolute power over everyone else. Those who are in power now will later be reduced to abject slaves under the boot of those whom they had previously ground under their own boot.

      So while God does provide a venue for some happiness, or more accurately, pleasure, for people who choose evil over good, there is only so much God can do when our pleasure is to give one another pain. (For more on hell, see, “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”)

      This is in stark contrast to heaven. There, our joy and pleasure comes from doing good things for one another. That results in greater joy and happiness for everyone involved. When everyone’s joy is to give joy to others, instead of taking away from one another’s joy, everyone adds to one another’s joy and happiness, which continues to grow to eternity.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Perhaps bearing more directly on your final question, it is difficult to discern just how God feels about the lives of those in hell. After all, God’s mind and heart is infinite, while ours is finite.

      The clear teaching is that God loves and seeks to bless everyone, including the worst devils in hell.

      But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

      In other words, God loves and seeks to bless all people, even those who have made themselves enemies to him.

      And I do believe that God does what is possible to give pleasure even to the devils in hell. However, I can’t help but think that God also looks upon them with sorrow, knowing that if they had made a different choice, they could have had far greater happiness and joy than they will ever have.

      Yet God also fully respects our human sovereignty over our own lives. God will not negate the choices we make–including the choice to live evil lives eternally. Theoretically God would have the power to lift all the devils out of hell, and transport them into heaven. But doing so would destroy their very humanity, and destroy them as eternal beings in the process.

      So my best guess is that God looks upon the evil spirits in hell with a mixture of love and sorrow. Love for them as created beings, and sorrow at the pain they inflict upon themselves and one another compared to the joy that they could have had if they had chosen good instead of evil. And yes, some solace in that at least they can experience some pleasure in life, even if it is a sick pleasure.

  8. Donna Newby says:

    21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

    Atheists are NOT going to go to heaven if they don’t change that atheism before the day the Lord comes to take the Christians to heaven.

    They don’t acknowledge God, never mind has faith in the only one who we must be save through, Jesus.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Donna,

      Notice that in the passage you quote from Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says that those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven, but evildoers will not. If it were only faith in Jesus that mattered, he would not have said that.

      Please also read Matthew 25:31-46. There Jesus says who will go to eternal life, and who will go to eternal punishment. And he says nothing at all about faith in Jesus. Instead, he says those who love their neighbor by doing good for them will go to eternal life, but those who do not will go to eternal punishment.

      Jesus said that the most important commandments in the Bible are to love the Lord above all, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That is what determines whether we go to heaven or to hell. Faith does not just mean belief. It means doing God’s will. And God’s will is that we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

      If you claim that only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven, you are very much mistaken because you are denying Jesus’ own clear teaching in the Gospels.

      For the real meaning of Jesus being the only way to heaven, please see this article: Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      • Mark says:

        Very good points there. Not to be rude, but Donna kind of got destroyed there. But any ways, I’m glad you feel the same way I do about this topic, Lee.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mark,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          To be fair, my purpose is not to “destroy” Donna. I believe she is a good and sincere person who, unfortunately, has been deceived by false teachings invented by human beings such as Luther and Calvin. My purpose and hope is that she may see the Bible, and God, in a new light, and adopt a more thoughtful and loving approach to Christianity and to her fellow human beings.

          Having said that, I’m glad you (Mark) enjoyed the article. There’s too much narrow-mindedness masquerading as “Christianity” out there. This website aims to be an antidote to that narrow (and false) form of “Christianity.”

  9. Mark says:

    You’re 100% correct. Also, I apologize for sounding extremely rude.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks. All’s well that ends well. Unsolicited advice: If a sentence you’re thinking of saying starts with, “Not to be rude, but . . .” think carefully before saying it! 😛

      • David Gray says:

        Ha ha 🙂 That reminds me of a coworker I had on my first job. He started saying something to me with, “I’m trying to think how to say this tactfully…” Too late, buddy. Too late 🙂

  10. Ice Cube says:

    Quick question, what about Relevation 21? “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ice Cube,

      What is your question?

      • Ice Cube says:

        In that verse it says unbelievers go to hell, right? Or am I just reading it wrong?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ice Cube,

          Did you read the article? It all hinges on your definition of “belief.” The idea that it is some intellectual affirmation of Jesus Christ as our Savior, as the Son of God, as dying for our sins, and so on, really has no Biblical basis at all. Belief is not about what we think in our head. It’s about the principles that we live by. If, after reading (or re-reading) the article, you still don’t get it, please feel free to ask again. Thanks.

  11. Ice Cube says:

    Yes, sorry. I apologize.

  12. Jeff Davies says:

    Thanks for this. I lost a long time friend to cancer last year. He was an atheist but throughout our friendship I saw him constantly demonstrate kindness and concern for others. Indeed he knew his cancer was terminal but hoped that he could undergo some of the new types of treatment so that the results would provide information that could help others.
    I am a follower of Christ but I found the attitude of some of my fellow Christians decidedly unbending when I discussed my friend’s likely prospects in eternity.
    Your interpretation of the relevant Biblical verses certainly demonstrates the real love of God for all his children and not for a select few who would seem to practice Christianity one day in seven.
    I have saved your article and do intend to discuss further both with friends and family.
    In any case it certainly has renewed my faith and given me some peace.
    Thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jeff,

      So sorry to hear about your friend’s death. I think he is now learning some unexpected things about the afterlife—one of which is that it’s real, and another of which is that the religious beliefs he had rejected were wrong about it. 😉

      I’m glad this article has been helpful to you. I do hope it will make an impact on your friends and family as well. Unfortunately, some people are very stuck on their beliefs, and with them it will fall on deaf ears. But maybe others will be a little more open.

      At any rate, I assure you that your friend is not headed to hell!

  13. Emma says:

    Hello! Lovely article as usual, I thank you for taking the time to write it as it gave me some peace of mind. I come from a Catholic family, and am so incredibly grateful I am. Unfortunately though, my grandmother does not believe in a God. She is Unitarian and goes to her church often, but has openly stated she doesn’t believe in one, but focuses on mindfulness instead. This gives my mother much anxiety, and though we’ve tried to reach out to her it seems she won’t budge. Can you think of any way to gently nudge her in the right direction?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad the article gave you some peace and comfort, especially about your grandmother.

      My suggestion is to let her follow her own beliefs, and don’t try to convince her of something she’s not open to. Presumably, since she’s your grandmother, she’s lived long enough to have had time to consider her own beliefs, and come to an understanding of life and the universe that makes sense to her and gives meaning to her life. If she’s active in a Unitarian church, she’s likely a thoughtful and caring person. And as I said in the article, I believe God will accept her into heaven on that basis. The best thing you can do for her is to give her your love and affection, without pressuring her to believe something that may not ring true for her. Trying to change her beliefs would only create tension and distance in your relationship with her.

      Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Giving her your love will speak far more eloquently about your faith that trying to convince her of your beliefs about God.

      For another angle on the same idea, please see the article, If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

  14. Neil says:

    Thanks so much for writing this.
    After years of searching my heart I realized that I could not honestly say that I believed in a god. Despite this, I do believe in and strive to practice love, forgiveness, justice, compassion, integrity and generosity. What you have written here gives me new hope in people of faith like you. Please keep it up – you’re doing good 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad this article was helpful to you!

      I hope you’ll stick around and read some of the other articles here. Perhaps you’ll pick up a new concept of God that may make more sense to you than ideas of God that you’ve encountered in the past.

      Regardless of that, though, as I said in the article, if you believe in and practice those god-like qualities, I believe you’ll be in heaven, not hell, when your time on this earth is over.

  15. Emma says:

    Hi! Wonderful article as usual. I was born into a Christian family and am so grateful I was, but I have relatives who were not as lucky. Is there any way to nudge them in the way of Christianity? Also, how would you respond if somebody said that God wasn’t real because there was no proof? Even Albert Einstein said it wasn’t plausible.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I would say that the best way to nudge people in the way of Christianity is to treat them with true Christian love, respect, and kindness. Proselytizing is just as likely to chase them away as attract them. But as Jesus said:

      I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

      Many people are turned off from Christianity because they see Christians acting in harsh and hypocritical ways. If Christians were known for their love, kindness, and selfless service to others, that would be the greatest possible “advertisement” for Christianity.

      About proof for the existence of God, please see my article, “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

  16. etienne says:

    Not a question, but more a general comment. I’ve only come across this tonight, but I’ve been obsessing over it for the past hour and studying every claim you make. This is an extremely revolutionary view, and, it seems, a very researched one. I honestly am amazed and mindblown by this perspective and this whole analysis of what our language defines as ‘belief’ v.s what the Bible defines as belief. Thank you so much for putting this out there.

    • Lee says:

      Hi etienne,

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I am glad this article is opening up your mind to new and deeper spiritual possibilities.

      For more on “faith” as commonly defined in our language today and faith as understood in the Biblical languages, see the article: Faith Alone Is Not Faith. And of course, if you have any questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  17. Valdi says:

    Hi Lee.
    Just googling around about sola fide and found your blog. I’m from Indonesia and raised protestant, but have much question about the solas, especially sola fide. Getting through the articles on your blog gives me invaluable perspective about the term of belief.

    Thanks & keep up the good work, man.

    Regards from Indonesia

    • Lee says:

      Hi Valdi,

      Welcome! Thanks for your kind words. It’s always good to hear from far-flung readers. I’m glad the articles here are helping you gain perspective on the real meaning of faith and belief. Godspeed on your spiritual journey.

  18. George says:

    Lee, I absolutely loved this article. I tend to not call myself Atheist anymore due to the fact of how it makes me look in public. I call myself a non-theist with an open philosophy. Believing that humanity still needs a faith in a God in order for there to be good. Even though I may not believe in it myself. I support faith and religion. For years, growing up, I struggled to understand why my friends believed I was going to hell. I was disheartened by the fact that they believed that. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t going to heaven or hell because I didn’t believe in it. But what mattered to me is what my friends thought of me. This hurt the most. After all these years, I just now ran into this article helping me understand the subject better. I just wanted to contact you because this article has made me feel so much better. Knowing that there are people who believe in God that do not necessarily believe I will be eternally punished. This article is life changing for me. I always felt bad that people of the Christian faith would judge me harshly. This gives me hope that faith can be positive and not negative. Thank you so much for this. If I may ask what is your denomination? I know that this may not matter but I now find it interesting to study different religions/faiths.

    • Lee says:

      Hi George,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad this article means so much to you! I believe that if more Christians and other religious people thought the way I do as expressed in this article, there would be far less conflict in this world. Along the same lines, you might enjoy the article, “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

      In answer to your question, I am an ordained minister of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. I should add that this is one of the more liberal Swedenborgian denominations. Though all Swedenborgians believe that people of all religions can go to heaven, some of the more conservative ones might not agree with me about atheists going to heaven. But I believe that what I have written in this article is sound based on the Bible as understood in the theology with which I grew up. (I am a cradle Swedenborgian, from a family of Swedenborgian ministers.)

      If you want to know more about Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who wrote the theology that our church looks to in understanding Christianity and the Bible, please see: “Who was Swedenborg? What Should I Read?” For more about the basics of what we believe, please see: “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” and the articles linked from it.

      And of course, if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  19. Mia says:

    Hi Lee, just wanted to let you know that I love reading your articles and I am a muslim. Thank you and God bless you.

  20. stjrlewis says:

    John 14:6New International Version (NIV)

    “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
    The only way to heaven is by believing Jesus Christ is the son of God

    • Lee says:

      Hi stjrlewis,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      However, you’ve mis-read the passage you quoted. It doesn’t say, “No one comes to the Father except through believing in me.” It says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” For more on the difference, please see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      • stjrlewis says:

        You can’t go through Jesus if you don’t believe in him.
        Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved

        • Lee says:

          Hi stjrlewis,

          Once again, you are misreading the passage you are quoting. Romans 20:9 makes a positive statement about something that will happen if you profess your belief in Jesus Christ and believe in your heart in his resurrection. It says nothing about what will happen if you don’t do these things.

        • stjrlewis says:

          I’m not misreading the Bible verses. Good works alone will not get you into heaven. Salvation has everything to do with believing in the one true God, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus Christ can save you. That is the truth. God gives us a choice to make. People who do not believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord and Savior will go to hell. It may not be what you like or what you think is fair, but you didn’t create the world, God did. I pray for the eyes of the hearts of the unbelievers to be enlightened to the truth in Christ Jesus.

        • Lee says:

          Hi stjrlewis,

          I understand that that’s your opinion. It’s the opinion of many traditional Christians—especially evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. However, this is mere human tradition and formulation, not anything the Bible itself actually says.

          While I agree that good works alone will not get you into heaven, the Bible doesn’t actually say that. Neither does it say that faith alone will get you to heaven. But it does say:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          And while it is true that only Jesus Christ can save you, the Bible tells us how Jesus Christ how saves people who don’t believe in him (as “belief” is commonly understood today), such as Jews, “Greeks” (pagan polytheists), and Gentiles:

          But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

          All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:5–16, itaics added)

          And Jesus says that he will judge all the nations (not just Christian nations) according to whether they have or haven’t done good deeds for their fellow human beings in need:

          “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

          “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

          “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

          “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

          “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

          “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

          “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

          “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 24:31–46)

          The plain fact of the matter is that Jesus never says that people who do not believe in him will go to hell. See: “Did Jesus ever actually say, ‘If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell’?

          I know that you are sincere in your beliefs. But your beliefs are based on human formulations and traditions, not on anything the Bible actually says. See also: “‘Christian’ Beliefs that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the various articles linked from it.

          And once again, please see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

          You are believing in and spreading falsities because you have been misled by human theologians and teachers who have based their doctrine on things that the Bible never says.

  21. I think you are the first minister I’ve come across that I actually have time for. 🙏

    • Lee says:

      Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. That sounds like a compliment! 😛 Thank you. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  22. Nathanael says:

    Thanks Lee. Great Discourse. I’ve learnt a lot! I do, however, have some questions: how is anyone able to do good if that person doesn’t acknowledge God? Isn’t such good from himself?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Nathanael,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article!

      In response to your question, for those people who believe in God, it is certainly necessary to acknowledge God’s presence in their life, and that the good he or she does is ultimately from God and not from themselves. Otherwise we humans get all prideful and full of ourselves about our good deeds, and that corrupts both us and our good deeds.

      However, as discussed in the article, for people who don’t believe in God what’s necessary is to believe in some truth and good higher than themselves and their own benefit. For example, many conscientious atheists believe in the value of benefiting humankind as a whole, and benefiting individual human beings as they encounter them. This, for them, functions as “God.” And in reality, such a belief is just a secularized version of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Atheists who follow that sort of principle are acknowledging God’s commandments in action, even if they don’t intellectually believe in God.

      Atheists who believe in and live by a principle of truth and goodness higher than themselves and their own benefit are not acting from themselves, nor thinking that what they do is from themselves. They think of it as something greater than themselves. And that is why they, too, can be a part of God’s kingdom. Their life is not merely wrapped up in their own wealth, power, and pleasure, but is devoted to benefiting their fellow human beings, as Jesus commanded.

  23. Hi Lee~ Persedeplume here. [MyDoorIsAjar] I’m building a post rather than reblogging for better flexibility of comment. May I have your permission to reproduce portions of this article? I’ll be sure and attribute and link to the post.

    Per se.

  24. Noêl says:

    Hi Lee! Thank you so much for posting this amazing article and answering many of my spiritual dilemmas that have been eating me up inside! You are truly an awesome and insightful person! One thing that could back up this post is that people of all religions have had near death experiences and ended up in heaven- including atheists! Thank you so much and god bless you!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Noêl,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind comment. I’m glad the article was helpful to you! And yes, as you say, atheists, too, have near-death experiences. God does not discriminate, even if we do.

  25. Hello, Lee! I write you from Spain. My english is not perfect, so I may commit some mistakes in my writing. Sorry for that.

    I have always considered myself an agnostic. I also love art, which, like Andrei Tarkovsky said, it’s one of the few paths that leads us to Trascendence. Recently, I experienced an existencial crisis in which I wanted to find an explanation to the mysteries of life. The amount of scientific information, the diversity of opinions about religion and the “unclear” teachings of some parts of the Bible make me feel really unconfortable. That saturation of information made me fall in a place in which I really don’t know what I can (or want to) believe.

    I have been raised an agnostic. I wasn’t baptised because my parents wanted me to choose when I was old. Now, I have tried to find faith, but I just simply can’t accept christianity and the doctrines of the Catholic Church because I’m a rationalist and, mainly, of the theology of Heaven and Hell. I mean… it’s okay with Heaven, but I can’t just accept that hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of pepole are suffering in eternal torment because they were “not good”. For me that idea is disgusting and maked me feel profoundly sad. Not because I don’t believe in justice (it’s because I do believe in justice that I can’t accept eternal torment)… but because I cannot assume that a God that calls himself Love can permit something as terrible as eternal suffering. I mean… Has anyone really thought about the concept of eternity? Do they really understand it? I can accept that bad people (murderers, rapists, bad people who enjoys tomenting other people) who doesn’t deserve eternal life are threw into the lake of fire in that second death and vanished forever. Like a quick, eternal and irreversible death. I don’t think any person is black or white to make that choice… but at least is not immoral. But what is the purpose of suffering for eternity? Ain’t that immoral? Ain’t that the triumph of evil? I’ve red several arguments but none of them can convince me.

    Thinking about Hell separates me from God. If we have the laws of love written in our hearts, my heart says that torturing a human being for eternity is immoral. I mean, I suffer when my mother cries, or my girlfriend feels sad, of even when my dogs are sick. Imagining that my mother and father (whom I love with all my heart and who I really know are great persons) are going to suffer for eternity because they don’t believe in God… that makes me feel sick. Maybe I am misunderstanding something, but if imagine that I’m going to be happy in Heaven and they are going to suffer in Hell, I just want to cry. That can’t be God. That can’t be good. The Bible says that in Heaven there’s no suffering. Well, then I would be an hypocrite who won’t be caring about the rest of the human beings that are suffering. Do we want that? Where’s the compassion? Where’s the love to our neighbours? Look, I do no harm to anyone and I try to understand the point of view of every single human being, accepting them and believing in love. As everyone, I commit mistakes, but I don’t consider myself a bad person (even that’s not up to me tu judge or decide).

    But how can I accept religion if it’s contrary to my moral beliefs? Am I against God and Jesus because I say that Hell is not just, not even for the wickest person you can imagine? Am I going to Hell because I don’t believe in Jesus? The doctrine of the Catholic Church says that the only way of salvation is accepting Jesus as our savior. The Bible says. Jesus says. But I think that accepting Jesus means accepting something that my heart says it’s bad (meaning Hell, torture, torment, eternal fire and suffering for decent human beings). I also think it’s hypocrite accepting something knowing that most of the people surrounding you may not be with you. I can’t know how christians who truly believe in Hell can sleep well. I would be an hypocrite if I say that I accept Heaven just for myself and “go to hell” with the rest. Some believers say that religion has another good things. Great. I believe it has great moral beliefs. But in the end everything is accepting something in order to have eternal life. For me that’s superficial. Like I said… it can’t be only black or white. You believe or you don’t.

    The priest of my town, Father Jesus, who is one of the most humble persons I’ve ever met, said to me that he’s completely sure that there are some other ways of reaching eternal life that doesn’t mean accepting Jesus as your personal saviour or getting baptized. I think he means love, knowledge, art and the desire of discovering the Truth, four things which I can (and truly want to) accept. But the more I read on the Internet about these things (Heaven, Hell, judgements, torment, sins)… the more anxious, disturbed and separated from reality and Trascendence feel. Whan can I do, Lee? I found some relief in your words, but I don’t know how much long that would last.

    Sorry for the length of the paragraph. Thank you for reading me. Hope you can answer me some day.

    Yours faithfully,

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

      These are all excellent questions.

      And I assure you that there are good and satisfying answers.

      However, to get your head around those answers, it will require your spending some time reading, studying, learning, and contemplating what you’re learning. It will also require you to unlearn things you’ve heard from traditional Christian sources, including from the Catholic Church, and to gain a new understanding of God, spirit, the Bible, and the purpose of our life here on earth.

      This means, of course, I won’t be able to give you full and satisfactory answers to your huge questions in a single comment in response to yours. But I can give you the basics, and link you to various articles where your questions are answered in more depth.

      To start out, here are some basics:

      1. God does not send anyone to hell. Rather, people who go to hell send themselves there.
      2. People who send themselves to hell do so because they have chosen to live only for themselves, for power,
        and for personal pleasure even if that means hurting other people in order to get it.
      3. People like this could not stand to live in heaven; but in hell at least they can engage in some
        of the evil and destructive things they enjoy.
      4. The fires of hell are not literal fires. No one is literally roasting on a spit to eternity. Rather, hellfire is the metaphorical fire of mutual hatred, distrust, and jealousy that reigns among the people living in hell.
      5. God allows people who have chosen evil to go to hell because that’s their idea of heaven.
      6. And yet, they must also suffer punishment for the evil things they continue to do in hell.
      7. The Bible gives us the basics we need to know to live a good life here on earth: that those who love God and the neighbor and do good will go to eternal life, whereas those who hate God and live only for themselves will go to eternal punishment.
      8. The choice is between heaven and hell is 100% ours, based on the way we choose to live our lives. Nobody goes to hell by mistake, or just for believing the wrong thing.

      To start off, since you’re very concerned about hell, please read this article:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
      It explains what hell is really like for those who live there, compared to the horrific pictures of eternal conscious torment painted by many traditional Christians. Basically, hell is the sort of human community that results when everyone is out for themselves and doesn’t care about the wellbeing of anyone else. Yes, there are punishments in hell. But they’re not meted out by God. Rather, they’re inflicted upon one another by the evil spirits themselves—who love nothing more than attacking each other and giving one another pain.

      Next, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus ever say that anyone who doesn’t believe in him will go to hell. See:
      Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?
      Traditional Christians, including the Catholic Church, have added to the Bible many things it doesn’t actually say, and have claimed that Jesus said things he never did say.

      In fact, the Bible, including Jesus Christ himself, is very clear and explicit that good people of all religions will go to heaven if they live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings according to their own conscience. See:
      If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
      and:
      Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

      And of course, as the above article says, atheists, too, can go to heaven if they believe in some higher principle of truth and goodness than merely their own benefit. This higher principle by which they live serves as “God” for them. In fact, the principles that good atheists live by are God in their lives, because everything good and true comes from God.

      About the Bible, and why it’s written the way it is, please see these articles:
      Can We Really Believe the Bible?
      and:
      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

      And one final article for now:
      Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth

      I realize I haven’t addressed or answered every single one of your questions here. But I hope these brief answers, and the longer articles I’ve linked for you, will get you off to a good start. Once again, if you’re going to find satisfying and humane answers to your deep and searching questions, it is going to take some time, effort, and study on your part.

      Meanwhile, if you have further questions as you read these articles, please leave more comments as needed. I will be happy to stick with you and answer your questions until you have become satisfied that God is indeed a God of pure love, pure justice, and pure mercy, who does everything possible to bring us to heaven and keep us out of hell. If some of us stubbornly and willfully choose to live in hell instead, that’s not God’s fault, but ours. And even then, God and the angels do everything possible to lighten the torment and allow the people in hell to have as much of their (sick) pleasures as they can given the bad and self-defeating choices they have insisted upon making.

      • Thank you very much for the answer, Lee. I didn’t expect it so quick. It’s difficult to find people that are interested in listening to others.

        I’ve read all the documents you gave me and the questions are growing. I don’t want to be annoying, and I truly need to think, contemplate and absorbe all the things you wrote me. But, still, I’d like to make you some more questions (if possible). When you want me to stop, just say so.

        1) In Matthew 10:37-38 Jesus said that we had to love God more than our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wifes, husbands, friends, etc. How could we love Jesus-God more than our relatives, the ones who listen to us, that warm us, love us and that gave us all the good things we have? How could we despise it in order to follow a Messiah that we don’t know? Someone would claim that God truly exists and that He is absolutely real. But, honestly, like I said, I’m an agnostic that has been raised in a scientific society and I have a rational, analytic behaviour. I have read some apologetic books (some of then annoying) and the five ways of Saint Thomas Aquinas… and I admit there are an amount of philosophical (not scientific) arguments that can makes us infer that there’s a Firt Engine. (Well… science, through quantum physics, also say that, but that’s another subject). Now, maybe it’s materialistic saying it, but I usually believe in the things that I can see and the evidence accepted by the great scientists, which are as humble as some christians.

        Look, in this stressful existencial crisis, mi mother asked me, while I was writing you this, if I was angry with her because she felt I was a little bit distant. You can’t imagine how sad that made me feel! Thinking about the existence of God made me, just in a week, being separated for the things I love the most. Is that what Jesus wants us to do? I simply can’t accept it as something good. I mean… when he was talking to the people in Matthew, Jesus was real, they could touch him, look at him, see his miracles. I can’t do it. I just simply have to accept it because an ancient book and tradition says so. But why He doesn’t give ourselves anything that we can touch or see? Some would claim that the existence is enough proof. But… is it? If that was real, there would be no doubts in the hearts of the people.

        So… if I love God more than my relatives… ain’t I despising my true nature as human? That virtues that supposedly God gave me?

        2) It is also said that in the afterlife we won’t recognize our relatives. Ain’t that terrible and awful? I mean, I know that there would be joy and eternal happiness… but I don’t conceive being happy forever without sharing that privilege with the ones I love. It makes me feel kinda lonely.

        3) Another question. If God wrote in our hearts, in our spirit, the concepts of moral (meaning good and evil and justice)… When I think that something related to God is not fair, am I contradicting God? If I think that even for the wickest person Hell is unfair and that annihilation would be more mercyful… Am I a sinner just for saying that? Am I bad for saying that I love more mi mother, whom I know and feel her love, than God, who doesn’t appear to listen to me?

        4) All the texts you sent made me believe that there is still hope in believing a mercyful God that is Love. But… why the catholic doctrine accepts the horrible depiction of Hell? Why the protestants say that the only truth can be found in the Bible, and accept Hell as eternal torment even for the good people? Why they say that a good person that does good things, if he doesn’t believe in Jesus at all and accept him as their savior, is still going to Hell? Ain’t that hypocrite? How can a person accept that and be a good person? Do you think they’re good persons? If we should love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves… Why Jesus wanted us to “despise” them in order to believe in Him? Ain’t that a contradiction? If we reject believing in God and accepting the sacraments, but we still are good people… is there hope for us? I know you answered me, but is a thing that still torments me.

        5) When you see the different doctrines about Hell, Heaven, Justice, God, Jesus, Religions… are you never afraid of being mistaken? What if Hell is like is depicted in, for example, protestantism and the medieval catholic church? What if God is Love… but also Hate? What if Jesus was simply just a story invented by people that lived a long time ago? What would have happened if Constantino hadn’t make it an official religion? What if there’s no God and we’re all conditioned by our very human limitations and, after we die, there’s nothing but… nothingness? Because we can’t prove that all that things are real. Philosophy, as human brain, has got it’s limitations.

        6) Sometimes is said that because Jesus died for our sins, he deserves our absolute submission and acceptance. But… if God sent Jesus to Earth, He perfecly knew that whether he survived the human barbarism or not, he would be in Heaven for eternity. So… is it fair that a human person suffers a punishment for his/her sins if Jesus only lived a few years and suffered (a lot, okay) but temporarily, knowing that after his death He would go to Heaven for eternity? I mean… most of us would sacrifice ourselves (and someone even commit suicide) if they knew 100% that tomorrow they will be in Heaven. So… why is the sacrifice considered such an heroic and emblematic thing?

        7) Why isn’t anything related to scientific knowledge mentioned in the Bible? Won’t that be a proof that God was absolutely real? I mean, if Jesus said… “Combining these two chemical elements you can make that new one” or “This is the formula for the theory of relativity” everyone, still today, would believe in God.

        8) Ain’t it possible that God made all religions for the human beings for them to find their own spiritual path to Trascendence?

        9) Is God angry because of postmodernism? I mean… now we have human rights, we accept every single human being, doesn’t matter his/her sexuality, condition, color, religion, etc. Everyone has got rights (and we still need to improve). We love. I know that there’s still poorness and tragedy in some areas of the world and that we’re sort of “idiotized” by mobile phones, videogames and computers, but we are better than a hundred years ago. And definitely better than one thousand years ago, when we didn’t even have vaccines, electricity or any sort of advanced technology. Ain’t God proud of what we achieved? Ain’t that the true meaning of existence: evolution? If you think about the physics and biology, everything has got a progressive evolution: Big Bang, Universe, Biology, Bacteria, Monkeys, Humans, Thoughts, Technology, Rights… Ain’t in the plan of God that we, as society, leave behind us religions in order to be moral, real, sophisticated and self-sufficient creatures? Ain’t that our Heaven? If we didn’t have rational thinking separated from the Church we, as society, wouldn’t have evolved. And now, with all the evidence showed by science, it’s even more difficult to believe. But… if God exists, He would have also created all the things that the science is discovering. So, in a certain way, he wanted us to discover them. Didn’t He know that all those things would make us be “less” believers? Maybe that’s His plan? What does God have to say about that? Wants us to be irrational and believe after all the things we know now? Ain’t that a contradiction to our free will?

        Thank you for, again, reading my words. Hope you find some interesting aspects to talk about.

        Regards from Madrid.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Thanks for reading the articles, and for thinking about them and the ideas they present. I enjoy answering questions as long as the people asking the are sincerely seeking understanding. So feel free to ask as many questions as you feel the need to ask. I can’t always promise to answer this quickly, but I will respond.

          1) About Jesus saying we must love God more than we love our family members:

          It’s good to keep two things in mind when reading the Gospels:

          Jesus commonly spoke metaphorically rather than literally.
          Jesus commonly spoke provocatively to break people out of established thought and habit patterns.

          Jesus was not writing a theological treatise. He was pushing and prodding people to think more deeply about their lives, and leave behind anything that would hold them back from living a new and better life spiritually.

          When Jesus said that we cannot love our family members more than we love him, and in one place (Luke 14:25–27) that we must hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even our own life, he was addressing people who were ready and willing to make excuses as to why they could not follow him. He was also speaking of the full commitment required to follow him.

          He did not literally mean that we must hate our relatives. Rather, he meant that we must hate anything that stands in the way of our following the Lord.

          Unfortunately, family members often hold us back from throwing ourselves 100% into the course of life that God is putting in front of us. They commonly think of us as just the boy (or girl) they raised, or as the ordinary person they know. They commonly don’t believe that we can really go on to do great things. Jesus’ own family tried to stop him from engaging in his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing because they thought he was the ordinary person they knew. They believed that he was out of his mind to be putting on all these airs and saying and doing all these big things.

          So when Jesus says that we can’t love our close family members more than we love him, what he means is that we can’t put the views and opinions and strings of family and friends ahead of following God and doing the right thing. If God is showing us a path we know we must take for the greater good, but our father or mother or brother or sister or wife or husband is telling us it’s wrong or too much for us and that we shouldn’t do it, then God, not our family members, must take precedence in our decision of what to do.

          However, this doesn’t mean that we must literally hate our family members. To the extent that God is present in our family members, we are to love them as our neighbor and as vessels for God. When our family members support us in doing good and great things, that is God’s presence in them, and we can love them fully because in loving them we are loving God’s presence in them.

          This is a huge subject, and I can’t do full justice to it here. But the core message is that of the two Great Commandments Jesus gave us, the commandment to love God with our entire being must take precedence over the commandment to love our neighbor (including our family) as ourselves.

          If there is any conflict between the two, then we must put God first.

          But assuming our friends and family members don’t oppose and hold us back from doing God’s work, then loving them is part of loving God with our whole heart. After all, God is the one who created all of our fellow human beings, so loving them is also loving God.

          For more on this, please see:
          How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?

          And about Jesus speaking metaphorically rather than literally in many of the things he said, and prodding people in provocative ways to think more deeply and more spiritually, please see:
          Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

          About Jesus not being physically present with us, that is true. We can’t chat with God the way Jesus’ followers did. But there is still plenty of material out there, including the Gospels themselves, that tell us about God, and about what God is like and what God requires of us. It’s up to us to decide whether to pay any attention to it. But lack of physical, scientific evidence is not a good reason to reject God. For more on this, please see:
          Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

        • Sorry if I didn’t write earlier. I didn’t find the time to sit down in front of the computer.

          First of all, Lee… I need to sincerely thank you. Your comments made me think with a different perspective about spiritual matters. I confess you that I suffer from GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and due to certain circumstances in my life an ordinary crisis have been mixed with spiritual beliefs and religion. You know, an explosive cocktail. Your words gave me peace, something that I thank you with all my heart, even if that sounds ‘corny’.

          I was raised, like I said, in an agnostic family, but the tradition of my parents was profoundly catholic. So… we are like “agnostic catholics”, if that term exists. I just can’t simply accept some doctrines of catholicism or accept some Trascendental revelation if I have in mind that severe, unfair and parcial God of the Old Testament and the interpretations re-made by men from the God (and Jesus) of the New Testament.

          I think I told you, but my priest, who is catholic, told me something similar to you: “Even if you don’t believe in God, he still loves you. Not believing in Jesus doesn’t condemn you: there are another ways of reaching Trascendence”. I feel that if I’m being a good loving person I’m also in the side of God. I don’t know if my heart, having my brain a rational education, can accept a personal God, but I can accept His precepts. Rationally I doubt and emotionally I also doubt. I accept that there is a God. That’s not a problem, because I’ve always believed there is a sort of Cosmic Mind that is in every single thing we see. I don’t think I’m blaspheming if I consider that Cosmic Mind the God that revealed in Jesus or in any other religious doctrine. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but if I still believe in that “strange force” or Mind that moves the world, I may be also believing in God. And if that God is materialized in Jesus, then I do believe in Him, even if I don’t share (because of the obvious sociocultural differences) some of the things that he said to his followers and that later de Apostles wrote in their books, probably reinterpreting them (because it’s a fact that those were written more than 50 years after Jesus’s crucifixion and there could be distortions of the original message).

          So, I’ll follow this extremely wise sentence you gave me: “Real faith is not believing something because someone else told you so. Real faith, and real belief, is seeing for yourself that something is true, and believing it simply because it is true”.

          I still have some doubts, but I first want to process everything you wrote me. So, now, I’m letting you rest from all these spiritual doubts that you have answered me with extreme patience. I couldn’t believe you were investing so much time in a stranger. If God is really out there, I know you are one of the best examples of His kindness. If some day I come to America and visit your state, I’ll be proud to have some chat with you. I invite to the coffee!

          Thank you again for all you wrote me, Lee. Like we say in Spain even if we talk to strangers (which, translated to english, also sounds very ‘corny’): a big hug!

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Thank you for your kind words. It really is my pleasure and my joy to answer your questions, especially knowing that they come from an unsettled heart and mind that is seeking peace and understanding.

          We are each on our own spiritual path. And I believe God tailors that path for each one of us. Not everyone is suited to be a member of a traditional Christian institution or congregation. Yes, traditional Christianity serves many people who believe simply in what they are taught, and who live good lives on that basis.

          And yet, for those whose minds race ahead, and need deeper and more satisfying answers, those traditional Christian institutions often are not satisfactory.

          As far as your belief in God as a Cosmic Mind, as long as you consider that Cosmic Mind to have particular moral and spiritual content, and not to be just a blind force, then it can serve as a guide to your life even if you can’t at this time in your life accept the more personal, human version of God that is taught in Christianity.

          Once again, we’re all on our spiritual path, and God comes to us in the form we need in our current spiritual life.

          If you’re ever traveling through the U.S. and happen to pass through the wilds of Wyoming, it would be a great pleasure to sit down and have a chat.

          Meanwhile, I’m glad my words have helped to ease some of your spiritual anxiety and to move you forward on your spiritual quest.

          And of course, if at some point you’ve had a chance to digest our conversation so far, and you have further thoughts or questions, I would be happy to continue the conversation with you here on the blog.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Continuing on to your other questions:

          2) It’s not true that we don’t recognize our relatives in the afterlife. The reality is that we do recognize our family members and friends on the other side. In fact, they are commonly the ones who first greet us when we arrive there.

          What does happen over time is that if we don’t have all that much in common with the people who were our family members and friends here, we will drift away from them in the spiritual world.

          In the spiritual world, we are close to the people who are spiritually close to us—meaning people who share our values, the things we love, and the things we enjoy doing. As the old saying goes, in the spiritual world, “birds of a feather flock together.”

          This means that any family members or friends whom we are truly close to in spirit, we will remain close to in the spiritual world. They will be our “family” there. Meanwhile, any blood relatives or earthly friends whom we really don’t have much in common with will settle elsewhere in the spiritual world, and most likely we will lose contact with them, just as we lose contact with former friends who have gone in a completely different direction than we did.

          Also, over time we will no longer think of the people who were our blood relatives here on earth as parents or children. Instead, we will come to think of everyone around us as our brothers and sisters, and will look to God as our common parent. For one thing, no one is physically older or younger than anyone else in heaven. Everyone there has the body of a young adult in the prime of life.

          That is the short answer to your question. For the long answer, please see:
          Can we Keep our Friends in the Afterlife?

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          3) Life can be complicated. We are all in process, walking along a spiritual path. God is not concerned with things we might think in the moment, or issues we may have with God’s ways in the moment. Rather, God is concerned that we continue to think, struggle, learn, and grow. Over time we will find answers and resolutions to the questions and conundrums we face in life—including the ways that we currently disagree with God.

          Sometimes we learn over time that God was right after all, and our previous objections don’t hold any water.

          Other times we learn that what we thought God was saying is not what God is actually saying. In other words, we realize we were mistaken about God and about God’s teachings, and we must revise our view of God and God’s commandments.

          This is why God doesn’t hold it against us if at times we get angry with God and rail against God and disagree with God. We must learn for ourselves what is right and wrong, so that we can make it our own.

          If we’ve been taught that God says we must hate all foreigners, and that makes us angry, that’s part of our learning that that’s not what God really teaches.

          Or, on the other hand, if we’ve been taught that God says we must love foreigners just as much as we love our own people, but our own prejudice stands in the way of our doing that, then our struggle with this issue is part of our learning that God loves all people equally, regardless of their religion or nationality or race, and that we must learn to do so as well.

          In other words, struggling with these issues, and struggling with God and with what we’ve been taught about God, is part of the spiritual path that we all must walk.

          About annihilation vs. eternal hell, if I were a betting man I’d be willing to bet that if you took a poll of criminals in prison, and asked whether they’d rather just be snuffed out altogether or whether they’d rather be allowed to continue their life and sometimes engage in their favorite criminal activities, even if they then get into trouble for it, that the overwhelming majority would say they don’t want to be snuffed out; they want to be able to keep living.

          It’s not wrong to think about annihilation. There are some churches that believe in it, and reject the idea of an eternal hell. However, for my part, I don’t think it’s fair or merciful for God to just snuff out the life of everyone who doesn’t live the way God wants them to live. Would we respect the leader of a country who says, “These are the rules you must live by, and if you don’t, I’m gonna kill you?” God is not a tyrant or madman. God puts the choice in our hands of how we wish to live our life. And God doesn’t snuff us out just because we choose to live in a way that is opposed to what God wants for us. That, at least, is my belief.

          But once again, God doesn’t get angry with us or reject us because we argue with God, or because we think different things than God might want us to think. God simply asks that we think and act from integrity and according to conscience, and that we keep our mind open to the possibility that we might be mistaken, and also that what we’ve been taught about God might be mistaken.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          4) There are two basic reasons Catholics and Protestants teach these false doctrines about a literal fiery hell and about all non-Christians being saved:

          1. They have read the Bible too literally because they think materialistically rather than spiritually.
          2. They have just plain ignored what the Bible says and substituted human-invented doctrines for the Bible’s teachings.

          Yes, Jesus does talk in the Gospels about the fires of hell. But he never goes on to say, “And I mean literal fire, which is going to last forever and is going to burn, burn, burn people’s flesh!”

          Traditional Christians have taken Jesus’ words about hellfire, read them very literally and materialistically, and fantasized lurid scenes of evil sinners eternally roasting on spits while being poked and prodded by devils with pitchforks.

          But all of that is more Hollywood than Bible.

          Jesus continually speaks in “parables,” or metaphorical language, to the people. He provides vivid imagery from people’s ordinary lives to illustrate deeper, spiritual realities. And the spiritual realities go beyond the physical imagery used to convey and express them.

          There is no literal hellfire literally burning people’s flesh for eternity. Instead, there is figurative hellfire, which is the “fire” of continually burning anger and hatred among evil spirits against everyone who stands in their way, and especially against God. It is not a fire of rapid oxydization, but a fire of anger and evil passion. That is the sort of (negative) spiritual fire that exists in hell, which is a spiritual place, not a physical one.

          And as for only Christians going to hell, the Bible itself flatly contradicts this in many places. The two clearest and most obvious ones are Matthew 24:31–46 and Romans 2:1–16, which I would encourage you to read carefully and pay attention to exactly what Jesus, and Paul, say in these passages.

          So those “Christians” who say that only people who believe in Jesus Christ (i.e., Christians) are saved are contradicting the plain teachings of the Bible itself.

          The teachings in the New Testament are aimed primarily at Christians. And any Christian who rejects Jesus Christ is rejecting God as they’ve been taught about God. So of course those Christians who don’t believe in Christ can’t be saved because they are rejecting their own religion and their own beliefs and their own God.

          But when the New Testament talks about non-Christians, it makes it clear that non-Christians can be saved if they live good lives of love and kindness to their fellow human beings in need, and follow their conscience according to their own beliefs inscribed upon their hearts.

          So yes, non-Christians who are good people, and who actively love and care about their fellow human beings, can be saved just as easily as Christians. In fact, Christians who profess to believe in Jesus but don’t live a good life of loving their neighbor as they love themselves cannot be saved because they are disobeying the teachings of Jesus Christ.

        • stjrlewis says:

          Believing in and accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the only way to be saved. John 14:6, which declares, “I [Christ] am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me,” and Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

        • Okay, if we accept that… does an evil person that rejects God with hate deserve to go to the same place that a good man that didn’t believe because he, for example, didn’t care about religion? Hitler next to Maharma Gandhi? You think that’s fair?

        • stjrlewis says:

          It’s not up to you or me to decide what is fair. God made everyone and if a person chooses to not believe if God, then they are choosing to go to hell. Hell is complete separation from God, which shouldn’t worry those who don’t believe anyway.

        • Mahatma*, sorry.

          I mean… I can understand that a person who doesn’t want to believe in God because he or she is absolutely wicked can go to Hell. For me it’s hard to accept an eternal punishment, but in the way that Lee is trying to explain it… it’s acceptable and even mercyful. But a good person that has always acted good but didn’t believe in Jesus… deserves that punishment? I’m not talking of a person that is truly wicked (which actually can happen), but a person that didn’t have the sociocultural stimulations to believe, or just the biological and psychological composition (we tend to forget that the brain of the people is not always the same; rejecting that is rejecting empirical evidence) that made him/her thought that religion wasn’t the only path of being a good person. Do you think that’s fair? A loving mother who heard of Jesus but was never too much into religion (probably because the priests in her childhood were not what we could call good and loving people) next to a wicked, perverse and sadistic murderer that voluntarily rejects every kind of love? Really? Are you telling me that is justice?

          PD: Lee, I’m not answering your responses because I prefer having all the answers together in order to continue with some questions (by the moment less than before). Thanks again for answering all this stuff. It’s really helping me to construct a moral, loving, intelectually and spiritually plausible point of view. God bless you for your patience.

        • Lee says:

          Hi stjrlewis,

          Neither of those passages says anything about “belief.” They both say that Jesus is the only means of salvation. But they don’t say that people who don’t believe in him can’t be saved. And even the passages that do talk about belief in Jesus make it clear that “believing” isn’t just a matter of “faith,” but a matter of living according to what Jesus taught. See:
          Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?

          Jesus himself said that living by his commandments is the way to be saved. In particular, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Read Matthew 25:31–46. There Jesus tells us who will be saved and who will not on the day of judgment. And he says not a word about “faith” or “belief.” It’s all about how we live.

        • stjrlewis says:

          Why would anyone follow the commandments of someone they don’t believe in? Jesus is our Lord and Savior and the only way to the Father is through him.

        • Lee says:

          Hi stjrlewis,

          The fact of the matter is that many people of all religions do follow the commandments of Jesus, as summed up in the two Great Commandments on which, he says, all of Scripture depends.

          Besides, the “Jesus” that people of many other religions don’t believe in is the false, intolerant Jesus, preached by so-called “Christians” who have completely mangled the teachings of Jesus Christ into something that neither he nor any of his apostles would have recognized.

        • stjrlewis says:

          Why would atheists want to go to heaven and spend eternity with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, of which they don’t believe in? (Matthew 10:33 But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in Heaven.) Please ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior today.

        • Lee says:

          Hi stjrlewis,

          As explained in the article above (did you read it?), most atheists today are not atheists as the Bible defines it. They are not evil, wicked people who do evil, wicked things. Such people are the true atheists, who have rejected from their lives everything that God is and represents.

          Rather, most atheists today are good, thoughtful, moral people who simply can’t accept the false picture of God that traditional Christianity (not to mention various other religions) teaches. It is the fault of false, intolerant, unchristian doctrines such as yours that so many good people are turning away from God today. And you will have to answer for that when it comes your time to stand before God’s heavenly throne.

        • stjrlewis says:

          I never said atheists are wicked, evil people. They do not believe in God. So why would they want to go to heaven and be with God for eternity? Romans 14:11 the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.” God is good all the time and loves all of us, even those who choose to deny him. I hope you are not trying to persuade people to deny our Heavenly Father.

        • Lee says:

          Hi stjrlewis,

          No, it is the Bible itself that defines atheists as people who reject God because they are wicked and do evil deeds:

          Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
          They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
          there is no one who does good. (Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1)

          Biblically, that’s what an atheist is. Not just someone who intellectually doesn’t believe in God, but someone who says there is no God because they are corrupt and do abominable deeds, and do not do good.

          And of course I’m not trying to persuade people to deny our Heavenly Father. I’m simply pointing out that people who are intellectual atheists but who in fact love their fellow human beings and devote their lives to doing good deeds for others believe in God in action even if they don’t believe in God in their heads. They are not atheists as the Bible speaks of atheists.

          Good-hearted atheists will, I believe, come to believe in God in the afterlife when they discover that God is not the intolerant and irrational being that they have heard about from the so-called Christians, but is in fact a being of pure love, pure truth, and pure mercy.

        • I have a few questions, but the first one is this. In Romans is said that the pagans, greeks, etc. would be forgiven if they acted well according to the law. But, immediatly after that (and you say the context is important) it’s said again that the law doesn’t matter if you believe in God. Meaning… that the only way of saving ourselves is believing in Jesus (and ignoring the law?). I don’t quite understand the contradictions in the book of Romans. It’s said that The Law of Faith is better than the Law of Acts. Couldn’t this point of view carry us to some dangerous thought? Like… I believe in Jesus so I can kill you because you don’t and I’ll be judged and saved because, like I said, I believed in Jesus?

        • stjrlewis says:

          When people accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior then they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are kindness, love, peace, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If someone is truly serious about following Jesus Christ and being a Christian then they will live by the fruits of the spirit.

        • I know few people that are all that things and the don’t believe in Jesus. They happen to don’t care.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          The issue you bring up is one that has dogged Protestantism ever since Luther first invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The technical name for it is “antinomianism.”

          In its starkest form (there are milder forms), antinomianism is the idea that since we are saved by faith alone, apart from all works, and since Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, it doesn’t matter how we live, or even whether we sin. It only matters whether we have faith that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. This has given many Protestants a sense of license to sin, believing that it doesn’t affect their “salvation status.”

          Of course, Protestant preachers and theologians roundly condemn this view. Unfortunately, their false doctrine of justification by faith alone makes it inevitable that many people who accept that doctrine are going to come to this conclusion. Falsity has damaging effects, and antinomianism is one of the inevitable damaging effects of the falsities of justification by faith alone and penal substitution.

          However, of course, Paul was not talking about justification by faith alone or about penal substitution in Romans or in any of his other letters. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s argument and Paul’s point.

          It is true that Paul’s letters can be confusing. Even during Paul’s own lifetime Peter commented on this:

          So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 2:15–16, italics added)

          (Incidentally “scriptures” here is a mistranslation. It should just be “writings.” The New Testament canon had not yet been determined at that time. The only scriptures in existence were the books of the Old Testament.)

          However, once we clear our minds of later false interpretations such as faith alone and penal substitution, Paul’s meaning becomes clear enough despite the fancy language that he seems to enjoy using.

          At the most basic level, Paul was arguing that it is no longer necessary to be a circumcised, observant Jew in order to be saved. He was arguing that the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses, including all the laws of sacrifice, diet, ritual cleansing, and so on, was no longer in effect, because Jesus’ life and his death on the cross fulfilled and superseded all those ritual and ceremonial laws, doing away with them.

          Usually Paul refers to being an observant Jew as “circumcision” and “the works of the Law.” But sometimes he shortens the latter term to simply “works.” This can lead to some confusion among readers who don’t realize that he is using a short form of “the works of the Law,” meaning the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses. But in these instances, the context makes it clear what he’s talking about. What he does not mean in these instances is “good works,” which he everywhere says we must do in order to be saved.

          Meanwhile, at a broader level, Paul was arguing that salvation was no longer about strict obedience to a harsh and exacting set of laws. Rather, it was about an internal faith, or faithfulness, that causes us to live a good and lawful life based, not on mere blind obedience, but on an understanding and acceptance of the principles behind the law, the greatest of which has to do with love—specifically, love for God in Christ, and love for the neighbor.

          The point, then, is not that we no longer have to follow any laws. Rather, it is that we now follow the laws of faith and love from an inner motivation rather than from external obedience and fear of punishment, as people had done previously under the Law of Moses. So when Paul says that that we are saved by faith apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:28), he is saying that we no longer have to be observant Jews. But when he goes on to say that he establishes the law through faith (Romans 3:31), he is saying that we still have to be law-abiding, but now we do it from an internal motivation—that of “faith,” or of faithfulness to God.

          When he’s pursuing this line of argument, he will say that even the Jews under the old covenant of the Law of Moses were actually saved, not by their adherence to the Law, but by their faithfulness to God as expressed in their commitment to obeying the Law of Moses.

          This is why he could say that both Jews and followers of Christ are saved by the same law of faith, or as it really should be translated, faithfulness.

          And it’s why he could say that even Gentiles, who don’t have the Law (of Moses—that’s what makes them Gentiles), become “a law unto themselves,” meaning, not that they become rampaging criminals, as that phrase is sometimes used today, but that, as he says, they have the law written on their heart and on their conscience, and that if they keep that inner law, then they, too, are saved by the law of faithfulness to God.

          Does this help clear up some of the confusion about Paul’s letters?

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          5) No, I’m not really afraid of being mistaken. Not on the big issues. I’ve been living with this faith my entire life—and that’s getting to be a fair number of decades by now. I’ve learned something about the other religions of humanity. And though some of them are quite beautiful at their core, none of them can hold a candle to what I have learned from my own religion.

          Further, many of the things that traditional Christians claim simply aren’t stated anywhere in the Bible. We can trace their doctrines to particular human beings at particular times in history. Constantine. Anselm. Aquinas. Luther. Calvin. These people all originated new doctrines (or in the case of Constantine, presided over the originating of new doctrines) that are stated nowhere in the Bible. And the various Christian churches today get their doctrine primarily from these human beings, and only secondarily, if at all, from the Bible.

          Beyond that, my religion tells me that in order to be saved I must love my neighbor as myself, and devote my life to doing good deeds of love for my fellow human beings. Even if everything I believe turns out to be utterly wrong, it has still caused me to live a life that will make this world a better place for everyone. And anyone else who follows these beliefs will also be making the world a better place.

          Being “correct” is less important than being good. And even if everyone who listens to my teaching, and to the actual teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, ends out just dying and passing into oblivion (no afterlife), they will still have left a better world for the people who come after them.

          So no, I don’t get worried about whether I’m all wrong. I see the good effects in people’s lives when they accept these teachings and put them into practice in their lives. And with teachings as well as with human beings, as Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruits.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          6) Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is, of course, a huge subject.

          Suffice it to say that pretty much everything you’ve been taught about the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death from Catholic and Protestant sources is wrong, and is taught nowhere in the Bible.

          • Jesus did not “make satisfaction” for our sins. The Bible simply doesn’t say that.
          • Jesus did not “substitute” for our sins. The Bible doesn’t say that either.
          • Jesus’ death did not satisfy God’s honor, or justice, or wrath. The Bible never says that.
          • Jesus’ death did not pay the penalty for our sins. The Bible simply never says that.

          I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea. Catholic and Protestant doctrines about Jesus’ death, and how it brings about our salvation, are simply wrong, because it they are based on the teachings of human beings and not on the teaching of the Bible.

          The truth is that Jesus’ passion and death on the cross was his final battle against “the Devil,” or the combined force of all human evil. Jesus had been fighting these battles against the Devil all his life. We get a couple brief glimpses in the story of his temptation by the Devil after his forty day fast in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, and also in the story of his temptation in the garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion.

          Jesus’ death did not by itself save us. Rather, it was his final act of defeating the evil powers that were holding humanity hostage and dragging us down to hell. By his resurrection he demonstrated his complete victory over evil, hell, and death.

          So no, some temporary suffering that Jesus knew would be over soon did not bring about our eternal salvation. Rather, Jesus’ work of defeating evil, the Devil, and hell (which are really just different words for the same thing) brings about our salvation if we are willing to accept from God the power to overcome these things in our own lives.

          This is, of course, a very brief answer to a very big question. Here are a few more articles to read for a little more depth and detail:

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          7) The Bible was written in a pre-scientific age. It wasn’t until a few centuries ago that science really began to come to the fore, and become a major force in human understanding of the world. The Bible doesn’t address scientific subjects simply because science as we know it today didn’t exist in Bible times.

          Beyond that, science really can’t tell us anything about God and spirit. Science is the study of material reality. And for that purpose it is an excellent tool. But God and spirit are non-material entities. So science simply isn’t the right tool for the job of teaching us about God and spirit. That’s what religion is for.

          Meanwhile, my own belief that there is no contradiction or conflict at all between good science and true religion. But that’s an entire vast subject all its own.

          8) I do believe that God is behind all of the religions in the world, and that the different religions exist precisely to give people of different regions and cultures a pathway to God that works for them. See:
          If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          9) I think God is very pleased with all the progress we humans have made in many different areas in the past few hundred years especially.

          And I believe that the reason we’ve made that progress is that God has brought to an end the era in which the West was dominated by a corrupted and destroyed version of Christianity whose teachings and practices had strayed so far away from the teachings of Jesus Christ that that church was Christian in name only, and not in reality.

          To put it plainly, I believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already happened. It was not a physical coming like the last one. He’s already done that, and doesn’t need to do it again. It was, rather, a coming “in spirit and in truth” (see John 4:23–24).

          If we look at recent history, we find that there was a decisive turning point in human society at the time that secular historians call the Age of Enlightenment. In 18th century Europe the Christian Church’s intellectual hold on the people of Europe (and its colonies) began to be broken. Science and reason came to the fore as the reigning principles by which philosophers, and many of the common people, judged whether something was true or false.

          Ever since then, traditional Christianity has steadily gotten thrown down from its position as the spiritual, moral, and intellectual arbiter of Western intellectual and social life. It is no longer the reigning institution in the Western world.

          At the same time, I believe God delivered to the world a revitalized Christian doctrine that not only returns to the Bible’s own teachings, but gives them a depth and power they had been missing ever since Jesus himself, and his Apostles, walked the earth and taught Christianity as the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught it. That revitalized and truly Bible-based Christian doctrine can be found in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Swedenborg’s writings don’t replace or even add to the Bible. Rather, they restore a true understanding of the Bible, and also give us a deeper understanding of its meaning than the world has ever had before.

          I don’t make these statement lightly. But you, of course, will have to investigate and decide for yourself whether Swedenborg’s teachings are worthy of notice and belief. I can tell you, though, that after the Bible itself, Swedenborg’s teachings are the greatest source of the teachings and ideas that I present here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. If you get to the point where you want to learn about God and spirit “straight from the horse’s mouth,” I would be happy to make some reading suggestions. I believe most of Swedenborg’s writings have been translated into Spanish, though I do not know how good the translations are.

          Oh, and before Swedenborg turned his mind to God and spirit, as called to do by the Lord, he spent his life engaged in science and philosophy. So Swedenborg himself was a scientist turned theologian.

          Meanwhile, here are some articles that go into these things in more detail:

          Back to your question for another moment: I believe that in our era God is purposely destroying the old so-called “Christian” church that has claimed to be Christian for so many centuries, but in fact is nothing like the Christianity that Jesus taught in the Gospels.

          But this, in my mind, does not mean that God is getting rid of religion. Rather, God is getting rid of an old, corrupt, and false religion so that a new and true religion can take its place.

          But first, the old one has to be rejected. And that is happening more and more, as people become atheists, or become “spiritual but not religious,” and so on. Yes, traditional Christianity is still very strong in some areas of the world. Ironically, Europe, where Christianity used to reign supreme, has rejected Christianity more than any other part of the Christianized world. Europe is now largely secular. And as the rest of the world develops and becomes more educated, I believe those parts of the world will also reject the false dying version of “Christianity” that used to reign in the West.

          What will replace it will probably not be a church institution as we have known the Church so far. I don’t know exactly what it will be. But I believe it will be far more personal, direct, humane, thoughtful, and loving than anything that has posed as “Christianity” for many centuries.

          And I have devoted my own life to smashing to bits that old, false Christianity, and helping the Lord to usher in a new (but really, old), revitalized, and true Christianity that, I believe, will eventually become the primary religion of the entire world.

          That brings me to the end of this round of your questions. I hope these answers are helpful and thought-provoking. I also encourage you not to believe anything just because I say so, but to think about and investigate these things for yourself, and come to your own conclusions. Real faith is not believing something because someone else told you so. Real faith, and real belief, is seeing for yourself that something is true, and believing it simply because it is true.

          So I encourage you to seek the truth wherever you can find it, and to believe the truth when you can see it clearly in your own mind.

  26. Lee says:

    To a reader named Rachel,

    Thank you for your comment. However, I have deleted it because it violates our comments policy, which I ask you to read before commenting here further.

    I am sure you are very sincere in your beliefs. Unfortunately, you have been misled by misguided teachers into believing that the Bible teaches things it simply does not teach. Please see these articles for more on what the Bible does and does not teach about faith, good works, and salvation:

    1. Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does
    2. Faith Alone Is Not Faith
    3. Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?

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