I've written a piece at Life Without a Net about heaven
. For any of you folks who enjoy discussions with Christians, you might find this a helpful tool for re-framing and thinking critically about the concept of heaven and hell. Here's an excerpt:
Discarding the notion that a sentence of eternal life is punishment rather than reward, I think it’s important to consider how I’d feel waltzing around in heaven when the likes of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Anne Frank, Ghandi, Christopher Reeves, Carl Sagan, Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Asimov, the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplain, Rodney Dangerfield, Katherine Hepburn, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Carlin, Charles Shultz, John Lennon, Penn and Teller, and my Father would not be there. I find it very interesting that Hitler tried to burn Anne Frank and we call him evil. The Christian god is burning Anne Frank at this very moment, and will not cease to burn her for another trillion trillion years, and when that is done, he will burn her for another trillion trillion years. And for this, we call him Good.I am told that if I only say the magic words and believe that the god Jesus sacrificed himself to the god Father, that I will be happy with this arrangement and enjoy heaven. I think that I would be a very bad person indeed if I could enjoy knowing that people who had contributed more to humanity than I could ever hope to are suffering. I don’t think I want this magic.
Similarly, the threat of hell has no particular weight upon those who do not believe that it exists. Since it is supposedly designed specifically as punishment for the crime of not believing that it exists, we must admit we’re faced with a circular argument. The threat of hell is not sufficient evidence to pursuade someone to believe in it if they don’t believe in it. The threat of hell only has relevance to those who believe that Jesus exists, but since they believe that Jesus exists, they are presumably in no danger of hell! In effect, if hell exists, it is only a danger to those who do not find the threat of hell to be a deterrent to nonbelief!
Let me make sure that this point is completely clear. The threat of hell only bears any weight for those who believe the threat to be credible. It is not designed to convert the unbelievers. After all, unbelievers don’t believe, so the threat is empty to them. It is designed to scare believers into obedience. If nothing else, we ought to be able to discard the notion of hell based only on this observation, but let’s not be hasty. Let’s examine the actual punishment, not just the threat of it.