Tonite is the first night of Chanukah and here in our half-Jewish descent, half-Christian descent and all-Atheist household we are getting ready to have a daughter and grandsons over for first night dinner. It’s interesting how we align ourselves with the holidays in order to maintain gift-giving and food celebration traditions.
It started me thinking about belief in general and, watching CBS News Sunday Morning as they did a piece on Angels, I heard that 65% of Americans believe that angels exist as messengers from heaven. Many believe they have spoken with angels. And, of course, they substantiate the basic belief in Heaven (and Hell) that an ABC poll of a couple of years ago said 85% of Americans share.
Searching the web for background on the belief in Heaven, I found a list at ReligiousTolerance.org that pulled some quotes from a variety of sources:
•”If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will go to heaven; If you’re following another religion, then by default you will go to Hell.” Radio program “Life on the Edge,” sponsored by Focus on the Family, and directed to teens, 2001-MAY-5.
•”If YOU believe in Evolution instead of Jesus, you’ll end up in hell.” Chick Publications’ gospel tract “Apes, lies and Ms. Henn.” (Emphasis in the original)
•”For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:5 (KJV)
•”…we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound.” C.H. Pinnock
•”That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.” Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE), Summa Theologica
There are more quotes on the list, but you get the drift.
In a 2004 Gallop poll we learn that 81% of Americans believe in heaven and 70% believe in hell. A previous Poll said 77% of Americans felt they would make it to heaven – very few saw themselves as going to hell.
The belief in life after death, Heaven and Hell, is common to more than Christianity (and, of course, Judaism, where Heaven is a place where souls live before coming down to earth, and the place they go back to after finishing their mission in this world) – Muslims have a similar belief. According to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth:
The question of whether there is life after death does not fall under the jurisdiction of science, as science is concerned only with classification and analysis of sense data. Moreover, man has been busy with scientific inquiries and research, in the modern sense of the term, only for the last few centuries, while he has been familiar with the concept of life after death since time immemorial.
All the Prophets of God called their people to worship God and to believe in life after death. They laid so much emphasis on the belief in life after death that even a slight doubt in it meant denying God and made all other beliefs meaningless.
The very fact that all the Prophets of God have dealt with this metaphysical question of life after death so confidently and so uniformly – the gap between their ages in some cases, being thousands of years – goes to prove that the source of their knowledge of life after death as proclaimed by them all, was the same, i.e. Divine revelation.
So here I am on Sunday morning on the eve of a religious holiday, pondering how beliefs like Heaven, Hell, the existence of Angels and the acceptance of these beliefs by Americans in the 21st century can even exist and I am astounded. The many centuries of varied but god-based beliefs are not shaken off… not by logic, or science, or the advancement of knowledge of the real world. That people NEED these beliefs in order to function in the world is what I find most amazing. And I also wonder how many centuries will go by until they can be shaken off and replaced with reality.
Happy Winter Solstice… enjoy the longest night of the year.