The concepts of Heaven and Hell have always been difficult to identify, as none of us has ever been to either place. So how can Heaven and Hell make philosophical sense if we have never been there? Nearly all of the world’s religions have some general concepts of Heaven and Hell. Even eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, who don’t recognise a single God, have an environment to aspiring to – nirvana. Their environment (nirvana) generally resembles what most of us think of as Heaven. There are so many different views on what Heaven is like, even within Christianity, but the usual consensus is that it’s a good place where God is present. In the Bible, Hell is referred to, generally, in indirect terms. It is indicated that Hell is a very unpleasant place to be. Many people seem to think that Hell is a place with many fires and where people get tortured. However, the bible is silent on the conditions of hell, although the reference ‘Hell fire’ appears 3 times.
In Matthew 13.42, the Bible says, “and shall cast them in a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” However, this can be taken as very poetic and may be a metaphor. Many Christians believe that a hell is just a place where God is not present. I think that the concepts of Heaven and Hell are so hard to get to grips with because you can’t apply empirical evidence to them. For Heaven and Hell to have and philosophical foundation, they must make some philosophical sense- the philosophical sense would be that Heaven and Hell could offer a solution to the problem of evil. Philosophy aims to understand things that science is unable to solve through reasoning and looking at the world. People want hard evidence nowadays, and seeing as science can’t give it, philosophy tries to fill the gap. However, philosophy doesn’t try and give us hard evidence, just a greater understanding.
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The concepts of Heaven and Hell can be taken as a myth or a symbol. If Heaven and Hell are taken as a myth, then that myth is deeply ingrained in religion, and if you prove that the myth is false, then the whole basis of religion is flawed. Many people ask the question, why bother with myth when you can use fact? This is simple when it comes to Heaven and Hell, as there are no facts. With myths, it is often said that you should look at the meaning of the myth rather than the myth itself. This is true when it comes to Heaven and Hell; if it is as questioned – just a myth then, so what! The message of doing good and avoiding evil has kept society running smoothly for centuries as people have been frightened into being good. Never has a myth had so much power over humanity?
A myth helps us relate Godly things to our world and understanding; this gives us a better idea of what Heaven and Hell could be like as we have no categorical evidence. A stereotypical myth usefully illustrates a point, is the point in this case that God exists? By using the ideas of Paul Tillich, we can take Heaven and Hell as religious symbols. According to Tillich religious symbols, open things up that weren’t usually open to us, giving us new levels of understanding. So, if we take Heaven and Hell, we can understand more about Heaven and Hell and even God. Does Tillich also say that symbolism unlocks the soul-does it gives a certain message more authority? In the context of Heaven and Hell, this can be understood as even if Heaven and Hell don’t exist, it still shows us that God cares.
Paul Edwards (N Lockyer et al., philosophy of religion, 1999, Nelson Thorne) disagreed with the ideas presented by Tillich and said that symbols didn’t convey any factual knowledge and were meaningless. Edwards says that we still can’t prove that Heaven and Hell categorically exist, so, therefore, are meaningless. It can be said that the symbol of Heaven and Hell is an inadequate symbol for God’s existence. It is not possible for symbols- Heaven and Hell to point towards something we cannot fully understand. In the Tractatus (L Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, Palgrave), Wittgenstein takes a callous empirical line about anything considered metaphysical. Heaven and Hell can be considered metaphysical concepts that have no scientifically verifiable facts.
To take the line of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein would agree with the fact that Heaven and Hell are concepts without philosophical foundations. Despite this in philosophical Investigations (a later work to the Tractatus), it could be argued that Heaven and Hell do actually have philosophical foundations. He talked about the rules of language games and the importance of having rules, if we don’t have rules, it can confuse us, and the game will not make sense. The rules of the science language game and that of the religious game are different, so, therefore, the rules of the games cannot be used together. In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein talks about subjects having a specific language game where it can be discussed that religion utilises religious language, which is a factor of the overall language game of religion.
In contrast, science uses scientific language, which is a major part of the science language game. Wittgenstein would argue that you cannot use the language of the science language game to criticise ideas and opinions within the religious language game. This consequently means that Heaven and Hell have a philosophical foundation within the religious language game. This is because it doesn’t have to meet the criteria science sets within its language game. Maybe Heaven and Hell are not physical. It would not be inconceivable to raise the point that Heaven and Hell may exist in another dimension. Scientists have recently been saying that it could be possible for another dimension to exist. However, if another dimension does, in fact, exist, then is it possible for Heaven and Hell to be in there? Maybe Heaven and Hell are just states of mind. But how are the states of mind created? Also, how do we know what state of mind we are in? And is it possible to flip between Heaven and Hell?
Dualists believe that bodies and souls are separate from one another, yet they are linked somehow. Dualism can be applied to this essay as it relates to if Heaven and Hell do really exist, then what it is that goes there. A dualist approach to the soul and our body argues that the mind determines our personality, whereas our body is the real self. Our body is contingent so it can die; the mind, on the other hand, which is associated with higher realities, is immortal. If you spend your life thinking about the higher realities, then your soul can go to heaven when your physical body dies. This belief that the soul continues after death and is known as the immortality of the soul. In Death and Eternal life (Palgrave 1990), John Hick raises some important questions about dualism. The points he raises are about what it would be like to be just a soul. If you don’t have a physical body the how will you recognise each other?
Also, how would you communicate, or is it even possible for them to communicate? Also, what would be conscious of? As we have nobody and may not be able to interact with others, how will we be aware of anything? Would it be like being in a vegetive state? Plato and Rene Descartes were both dualists, so they also believed in the immortality of the soul. In The Republic (Plato, The Republic, penguin books, 2003), Plato said that the soul belonged to a higher level of reality than the body. He came about his view from the ideas he created about the world of the forms. For Plato, the real identity of the person lies within the soul. The soul is the only thing that can grasp the realm of ideas. He said that the soul is a thing that is immaterial to the physical world and capable of knowing eternal truths beyond our world, which to our physical body world be implausible.
In The Republic, Plato evokes that the soul wants to travel into a world of heavenly ideas, possibly the concept of heaven, and the body wants to tag along. Rene Descartes was also a dualist. He agreed with the ideas raised by Plato; he accepted the fact that everything that is non-physical such as thinking and imagining, becomes a part of the mind and the mind only. Descartes put forward many ideas about the soul and how it exists separately from the body. Descartes ideas were soon grasped and placed into a theory of Cartesian dualism. Cartesian dualism states that the mind (soul) is where all feelings, sensations and thoughts of that personal experiences are known only to them. This goes back to the idea that Heaven and Hell could be a state of mind that only we are aware of, so nobody’s thoughts are the same.
This could be why it’s so hard to say Heaven is like X and Hell is just like Y. It’s all down to us and our own soul/mind, and we are the only ones that know about it. Cartesian dualism also says that the mind (soul) and body are capable of interaction and can cause different events in each. In other words, the mind can cause something to happen in the body and visa versa. Descartes said that when someone dies, their soul goes to Heaven and spends an eternal life with God. As we cannot see how the soul can be destroyed, it must live on, and the only place it can live in is Heaven. Dawkins rejects any ideas proposed by Plato and Descartes about the soul – he is against the idea that we have an immortal soul. In The River Out of Eden (Palgrave, 1995), Dawkins says that we are just bytes of information, with nothing supernatural about us.
Dawkins argues that scientific views can be supported by reliable evidence. In contrast, the ideas proposed by Plato and Descartes depend on myth and faith, for which there is no empirical evidence. However, it could be argued that the reason we use myth and faith is that there is no provable, reliable scientific evidence. Dawkins alleges that we believe in the soul because it results from the human incapacity to accept the fact that evil and suffering have no purpose. He says that we are nothing more than DNA. He says that each person is the product of evolution and not an immortal soul. As indicated by Dawkins, our soul purpose is DNA survival. Subsequently, he believes that the only way we can survive in any other form is through our DNA. Conversely, if we are no more than the selfish DNA robot that Dawkins describes, then how is our individuality to be explained?
Dawkins may prove the evolution theory, but he cannot prove that Heaven and Hell do not exist nor the fact that we don’t have a soul. Dawkins raises the point that if people rejected the idea of an afterlife and the concept of a God and learnt instead to reason like a scientist, then you would be a better person. This is because science can answer questions that religion cannot; religion depends on faith alone. But is there anything wrong with faith alone? You do not need facts for everything; religion can explain many things that science is unable to. If Dawkins believes that it is not for the rewards of heaven that people are good, then why do they feel that being good is so important? For Christians, Heaven and Hell can affect their personal philosophy. So, therefore, Heaven and Hell have philosophical foundations within their lives. Heaven and Hell affect the way that Christians live their lives.
This can be liked with Pascal’s Wager (M Palmer, The question of God, Routledge, 2001). Blaise Pascal said that the reasoned argument could not tell us whether or not to believe in God. Pascal said that there is a 50-50 wager that was for the existence of God. In his idea about the wager, Pascal said that Christians could not avoid choosing to believe in God. He said that you just had to make a bet on it (whether or not God actually exists), and the stake is our life. If God does exist and we bet against God’s existence, and it turns out that God (and Heaven and Hell) does actually exist, then he may judge us for our disbelief. When you apply this to Heaven and Hell, this means that the punishment for our disbelief in God could be eternal separation from Him in Hell. Pascal alleged that when you gamble on whether or not God exists, if you are correct, you will not just experience the feeling of happiness because you are at one with God in Heaven but also the satisfaction of being right.
According to Pascal, if God does not exist and we bet that he does, we will not actually lose anything as there is no life after death. Anyway, you wouldn’t even know that you had lost the bet! This is the same with Heaven and Hell; if you say that it exists and it turns out that it does not, in all fairness, you have not lost anything by saying that it exists. It is advantageous to know what Heaven and Hell could be like even if it turns out not to exist; it can give Christians something to live and strive for. Nevertheless, Pascal’s wager is making belief based on selfish considerations. It gives the impression that you are only betting for yourself, no one else. Also, it makes it seem that you do not want to do good for God but yourself, so you get the best of it if there is an afterlife.