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Proof of heaven popular, except with the church
They claim that they’ve glimpsed heaven but survivors of near-death experiences face a surprising skeptic: the church.
May 19th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Proof of heaven popular, except with the church

By John Blake, CNN

“God, help me!”

Eben Alexander shouted and flailed as hospital orderlies tried to hold him in place. But no one could stop his violent seizures, and the 54-year-old neurosurgeon went limp as his horrified wife looked on.

That moment could have been the end. But Alexander says it was just the beginning. He found himself soaring toward a brilliant white light tinged with gold into “the strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen.”

Alexander calls that world heaven, and he describes his journey in “Proof of Heaven,” which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 27 weeks. Alexander says he used to be an indifferent churchgoer who ignored stories about the afterlife. But now he knows there’s truth to those stories, and there’s no reason to fear death.

“Not one bit,” he said. “It’s a transition; it’s not the end of anything. We will be with our loved ones again.”

Heaven used to be a mystery, a place glimpsed only by mystics and prophets. But popular culture is filled with firsthand accounts from all sorts of people who claim that they, too, have proofs of heaven after undergoing near-death experiences.

Yet the popularity of these stories raises another question: Why doesn’t the church talk about heaven anymore?

Preachers used to rhapsodize about celestial streets of gold while congregations sang joyful hymns like “I’ll Fly Away” and “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” But the most passionate accounts of heaven now come from people outside the church or on its margins.

Most seminaries don’t teach courses on heaven; few big-name pastors devote much energy to preaching or writing about the subject; many ordinary pastors avoid the topic altogether out of embarrassment, indifference or fear, scholars and pastors say.

“People say that the only time they hear about heaven is when they go to a funeral,” said Gary Scott Smith, author of “Heaven in the American Imagination” and a history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

Talk of heaven shouldn’t wait, though, because it answers a universal question: what happens when we die, says the Rev. John Price, author of “Revealing Heaven,” which offers a Christian perspective of near-death experiences.

“Ever since people started dying, people have wondered, where did they go? Where are they now? Is this what happens to me?” said Price, a retired pastor and hospital chaplain.

A little girl’s revelation

Price didn’t always think heaven was so important. He scoffed at reports of near-death experiences because he thought they reduced religion to ghost stories. Besides, he was too busy helping grieving families to speculate about the afterlife.

His attitude changed, though, after a young woman visited his Episcopal church one Sunday with her 3-year-old daughter.

Price had last seen the mother three years earlier. She had brought her then-7-week-old daughter to the church for baptism. Price hadn't heard from her since. But when she reappeared, she told Price an amazing story.

She had been feeding her daughter a week after the baptism when milk dribbled out of the infant's mouth and her eyes rolled back into her head. The woman rushed her daughter to the emergency room, where she was resuscitated and treated for a severe upper respiratory infection.

Three years later, the mother was driving past the same hospital with her daughter when the girl said, “Look, Mom, that’s where Jesus brought me back to you.”

“The mother nearly wrecked her car,” Price said. “She never told her baby about God, Jesus, her near-death experience, nothing. All that happened when the girl was 8 weeks old. How could she remember that?”

When Price started hearing similar experiences from other parishioners, he felt like a fraud. He realized that he didn’t believe in heaven, even though it was part of traditional Christian doctrine.

He started sharing near-death stories he heard with grieving families and dejected hospital workers who had lost patients. He told them dying people had glimpsed a wonderful world beyond this life.

The stories helped people, Price said, and those who've had similar experiences of heaven should “shout them from the rooftops.”

“I’ve gone around to many churches to talk about this, and the venue they give me is just stuffed,” he said. “People are really hungry for it.”

Why pastors are afraid of heaven

Many pastors, though, don’t want to touch the subject because it’s too dangerous, says Lisa Miller, author of “Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife.”

Miller cites the experience of Rob Bell, one of the nation’s most popular evangelical pastors.

John Price ignored heaven until he met a woman with an amazing story.

Bell ignited a firestorm two years ago when he challenged the teaching that only Christians go to heaven in “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

The book angered many members of Bell’s church as well as many in the evangelical establishment. He subsequently resigned.

“Farewell, Rob Bell,” one prominent evangelical tweeted.

“It’s a tough topic for a pastor,” said Miller, a former religion columnist for the Washington Post. “If you get too literal, you can risk sounding too silly. If you don’t talk about it, you’re evading one of the most important questions about theology and why people come to church.”

If pastors do talk about stories of near-death experiences, they can also be seen as implying that conservative doctrine – only those who confess their faith in Jesus get to heaven, while others suffer eternal damnation – is wrong, scholars and pastors say.

Many of those who share near-death stories aren’t conservative Christians but claim that they, too, have been welcomed by God to heaven.

“Conservative Christians aren’t the only ones going to heaven," said Price, "and that makes them mad."

There was a time, though, when the church talked a lot more about the afterlife.

Puritan pastors in the 17th and 18th centuries often preached about heaven, depicting it as an austere, no fuss-place where people could commune with God.

African-American slaves sang spirituals about heaven like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” They often depicted it as a place of ultimate payback: Slaves would escape their humiliation and, in some cases, rule over their former masters.

America’s fixation with heaven may have peaked around the Civil War. The third most popular book in 18th century America – behind the Bible and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” – was "Gates Ajar," written in the wake of the war, Miller says.

The 1868 novel was “The Da Vinci Code” of its day, Miller says. It revolved around a grieving woman who lost her brother in the Civil War. A sympathetic aunt assures her that her brother is waiting in heaven, a bucolic paradise where people eat sumptuous meals, dogs sun themselves on porches and people laugh with their loved ones.

“This was a vision of heaven that was so appealing to hundreds of thousands of people who had lost people in the Civil War,” Miller said.

Americans needed heaven because life was so hard: People didn’t live long, infant mortality was high, and daily life was filled with hard labor.

“People were having 12 kids, and they would outlive 11 of them,” said Smith, author of "Heaven in the American Imagination." “Death was ever-present.”

The church eventually stopped talking about heaven, though, for a variety of reasons: the rise of science; the emergence of the Social Gospel, a theology that encouraged churches to create heaven on Earth by fighting for social justice; and the growing affluence of Americans. (After all, who needs heaven when you have a flat-screen TV, a smartphone and endless diversions?)

But then a voice outside the church rekindled Americans' interest in the afterlife. A curious 23-year-old medical student would help make heaven cool again.

The father of near-death experiences

Raymond Moody had been interested in the afterlife long before it was fashionable.

He was raised in a small Georgia town during World War II where death always seemed just around the corner. He constantly heard stories about soldiers who never returned from war. His father was a surgeon who told him stories of bringing back patients from the brink of death. In college, he was enthralled when he read one of the oldest accounts of a near-death experience, a soldier’s story told by Socrates in Plato’s “Republic.”

His fascination with the afterlife was sealed one day when he heard a speaker who would change his life.

The speaker was George Ritchie, a psychiatrist. Moody would say later of Ritchie, “He had that look of someone who had just finished a long session of meditation and didn’t have a care in the world.”

Moody sat in the back of a fraternity room as Ritchie told his story.

It was December 1943, and Ritchie was in basic training with the U.S. Army at Camp Barkeley, Texas. He contracted pneumonia and was placed in the hospital infirmary, where his temperature spiked to 107. The medical staff piled blankets on top of Ritchie’s shivering body, but he was eventually pronounced dead.

“I could hear the doctor give the order to prep me for the morgue, which was puzzling, because I had the sensation of still being alive,” Ritchie said.

He even remembers rising from a hospital gurney to talk to the hospital staff. But the doctors and nurses walked right through him when he approached them.

He then saw his lifeless body in a room and began weeping when he realized he was dead. Suddenly, the room brightened “until it seemed as though a million welding torches were going off around me.”

He says he was commanded to stand because he was being ushered into the presence of the Son of God. There, he saw every minute detail of his life flash by, including his C-section birth. He then heard a voice that asked, “What have you done with your life?"

After hearing Ritchie’s story, Moody decided what he was going to do with his life: investigate the afterlife.

Raymond Moody revived interest in heaven by studying near-death experiences.

He started collecting stories of people who had been pronounced clinically dead but were later revived. He noticed that the stories all shared certain details: traveling through a tunnel, greeting family and friends who had died, and meeting a luminous being that gave them a detailed review of their life and asked them whether they had spent their life loving others.

Moody called his stories “near-death experiences,” and in 1977 he published a study of them in a book, “Life after Life.” His book has sold an estimated 13 million copies.

Today, he is a psychiatrist who calls himself “an astronaut of inner space.” He is considered the father of the near-death-experience phenomenon.

He says science, not religion, resurrected the afterlife. Advances in cardiopulmonary resuscitation meant that patients who would have died were revived, and many had stories to share.

“Now that we have these means for snatching people back from the edge, these stories are becoming more amazing,” said Moody, who has written a new book, “Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife.”

“A lot of medical doctors know about this from their patients, but they’re just afraid to talk about it in public.”

Ritchie’s story was told through a Christian perspective. But Moody says stories about heaven transcend religion. He's collected them from Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists.

“A lot of people talk about encountering a being of light,” he said. “Christians call it Christ. Jewish people say it’s an angel. I’ve gone to different continents, and you can hear the same thing in China, India and Japan about meeting a being of complete love and compassion.”

It’s not just what people see in the afterlife that makes these stories so powerful, he says. It’s how they live their lives once they survive a near-death experience.

Many people are never the same, Moody says. They abandon careers that were focused on money or power for more altruistic pursuits.

“Whatever they had been chasing, whether it's power, money or fame, their experience teaches them that what this (life) is all about is teaching us to love,” Moody said.

Under 'the gaze of a God'

Alexander, the author of “Proof of Heaven,” seems to fit Moody's description. He’s a neurosurgeon, but he spends much of time now speaking about his experience instead of practicing medicine.

He'd heard strange stories over the years of revived heart attack patients traveling to wonderful landscapes, talking to dead relatives and even meeting God. But he never believed those stories. He was a man of science, an Episcopalian who attended church only on Easter and Christmas.

That changed one November morning in 2008 when he was awakened in his Lynchburg, Virginia, home by a bolt of pain shooting down his spine. He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a disease so rare, he says, it afflicts only one in 10 million adults.

After his violent seizures, he lapsed into a coma — and there was little hope for his survival. But he awakened a week later with restored health and a story to tell.

He says what he experienced was “too beautiful for words.” The heaven he describes is not some disembodied hereafter. It’s a physical place filled with achingly beautiful music, waterfalls, lush fields, laughing children and running dogs.

In his book, he describes encountering a transcendent being he alternately calls “the Creator” or “Om.” He says he never saw the being's face or heard its voice; its thoughts were somehow spoken to him.

“It understood humans, and it possessed the qualities we possess, only in infinitely greater measure. It knew me deeply and overflowed with qualities that all my life I’ve always associated with human beings and human beings alone: warmth, compassion, pathos … even irony and humor.”

Holly Alexander says her husband couldn’t forget the experience.

“He was driven to write 12 hours a day for three years,” she said. “It began as a diary. Then he thought he would write a medical paper; then he realized that medical science could not explain it all.”

“Proof of Heaven” debuted at the top of The New York Times bestseller list and has sold 1.6 million copies, according to its publisher.

Alexander says he didn’t know how to deal with his otherworldly journey at first.

“I was my own worst skeptic,” he said. “I spent an immense amount of time trying to come up with ways my brain might have done this.”

Conventional medical science says consciousness is rooted in the brain, Alexander says. His medical records indicated that his neocortex — the part of the brain that controls thought, emotion and language — had ceased functioning while he was in a coma.

Alexander says his neocortex was “offline” and his brain “wasn’t working at all” during his coma. Yet he says he reasoned, experienced emotions, embarked on a journey — and saw heaven.

“Those implications are tremendous beyond description,” Alexander wrote. “My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness; that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us.”

Skeptics say Alexander’s experience can be explained by science, not the supernatural.

They cite experiments where neurologists in Switzerland induced out-of-body experiences in a woman suffering from epilepsy through electrical stimulation of the right side of her brain.

Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of Skeptic magazine, says the U.S. Navy also conducted studies with pilots that reproduced near-death experiences. Pilots would often black out temporarily when their brains were deprived of oxygen during training, he says.

These pilots didn’t go to heaven, but they often reported seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel, a floating sensation and euphoria when they returned to consciousness, Shermer says.

“Whatever experiences these people have is actually in their brain. It’s not out there in heaven,” Shermer said.

Some people who claim to see heaven after dying didn’t really die, says Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things.”

“They’re called near-death experiences for a reason: They’re near death but not dead,” Shermer said. “In that fuzzy state, it’s not dissimilar to being asleep and awakened where people have all sorts of transitory experiences that seem very real.”

The boy who saw Jesus

Skeptics may scoff at a story like Alexander’s, but their popularity has made a believer out of another group: the evangelical publishing industry.

While the church may be reluctant to talk about heaven, publishers have become true believers. The sales figures for books on heaven are divine: Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” has sold 5 million copies. And “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” is the latest publishing juggernaut.

Colton Burpo says he saw heaven and describes the color of Jesus' eyes.

“Heaven is for Real” has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 126 consecutive weeks and sold 8 million copies, according to its publisher.

The story is told from the perspective of Colton Burpo, who was just 4 when he slipped into unconsciousness while undergoing emergency surgery for a burst appendix.

Colton says he floated above his body during the operation and soared to heaven, where he met Jesus. Todd Burpo, Colton’s father, says he was skeptical about his son’s story until his son described meeting a great-grandfather and a miscarried baby sister — something no one had ever told him about.

Todd Burpo is a pastor, but he says he avoided preaching about heaven because he didn’t know enough about the subject.

“It’s pretty awkward,” he said. “Here I am the pastor, but I’m not the teacher on the subject. My son is teaching me.”

Colton is now 13 and says he still remembers meeting Jesus in heaven.

“He had brown hair, a brown beard to match and a smile brighter than any smile I’ve ever seen,’’ he said. “His eyes were sea-blue, and they were just, wow.”

Colton says he’s surprised by the success of his book, which has been translated into 35 languages. There’s talk of a movie, too.

“It’s totally a God thing,” he said.

Alexander, author of “Proof of Heaven,” seems to have the same attitude: His new life is a gift. He’s already writing another book on his experience.

“Once I realized what my journey was telling me," he said, "I knew I had to tell the story.”

He now attends church but says his faith is not dogmatic.

“I realized very strongly that God loves all of God’s children,” he said. “Any religion that claims to be the true one and the rest of them are wrong is wrong.”

Central to his story is something he says he heard in heaven.

During his journey, he says he was accompanied by an angelic being who gave him a three-part message to share on his return.

When he heard the message, he says it went through him “like a wind” because he instantly knew it was true.

It’s the message he takes today to those who wonder who, or what, they will encounter after death.

The angel told him:

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”

“You have nothing to fear.”

“There is nothing you can do wrong."

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Culture & Science • Faith • God • Heaven • History

soundoff (4,945 Responses)
  1. Colin

    What blows me away is that otherwise respectable universities, like Yale and Harvard, still have divinity schools. It's a bit like Scientific America still having an astrology column on its back page. I guess they keep them around for funding reasons.

    May 20, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  2. are122

    So what are the theories of the universe? Random explosion of matter that just happened to exist? Does in cycle producing expansion and ultimately contraction to the same gob of random matter? Does it exist forever? If it exists forever why could God exist forever. If matter exploded to form the universe what gave it the mechanics/physics it uses? Do rocks and balls of gas create laws (mathematics) in a vacuum? If so, why can't we re-create our own? Science can explain? Science can never explain. As for the existence of heaven...like the old song said, "you'll never know by living only your dying will tell." Perhaps one simply gets what one believes.

    May 20, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Ronnie

      Please feel free to conduct that experiment.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • James PDX

      The problem with that type of argument is that you try to knock science as an explanation, but give no eviidence that a supreme deity is any more likely. There is a lot of information that man does not yet have or understand. Since we have no clear proof of either evolution or creation, why do people have such a problem simply saying, "I don't know, and that's OK?"

      May 20, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • cedar rapids

      You have the order wrong. It didnt create laws or mathematics. Mankind did in order to explain how things work.
      Its the same mistake people use when they say 'how is it this planet is just perfect for us to live on'. They claim the planet is how it is because of us, when actually we are how we are because of environment of the planet.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • evolvedDNA

      JamesPDX There is overwhelming evidence to show that evolution is a fact. What is still unknown is how life arose (abiogenesis), so in a way it still leaves the door open for a "god " of some description.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  3. Frank DB

    Heaven is not a place, but a place of consciousness or state of being. Of course, no one knows however heaven is where you are. You just have so much "dust" that is covering your realization of it. Not a form, but formless, the formless in you, the space, just like the space that makes everything possible, and be able to stand out as forms. That space, that silence, that stillness is the kingdom of heaven which are can not separate yourself from. Yes the form will dissolve like all forms but the consciousness, presence, awareness, silence, stillness, space of your essence is eternal. Deaht is the opposite of birth, not life. You are life, you don't have one.

    May 20, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • The real Tom

      Can I have some of what you're toking? You and LL are on the same page.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • psych ward staff

      I tried putting Lite dressing on this one's word salad, but up it comes. Yes, he suffers from the same condition as LL.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  4. @OD

    After creating the subatomic particle God thought "ah that's enough, humans won't figure it out this far anyway, I should stop right here..." And that is why those things don't make much sense to us, god's imagination as a programmer simply ran out.

    May 20, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  5. snowboarder

    heaven is the invention of supersti tious men afraid of death and the unknown.

    May 20, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  6. bitw

    why doesn't the church talk more about heaven? well because it doesn't exist, and if it does there's no proof

    May 20, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • are122

      AND WHEN I DIE
      Album : Greatest Hits
      Blood, Sweat, & Tears
      Swear there ain't no heaven and pray there ain't no hell.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • cristian

      Amazing to me how 'offended' all u'r atheists are everytime someone mentions heaven and god. But remember this: One day we will find out...ALL of Us. It's a fact. The only thing I can say to all non-belivers is: GOOD LUCK!

      May 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care!

      I, for one, am offended by the ignorance of the majority of the people here in the US. Beliefs in things like this are just silly.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Colin

      cristian – I assume you don't believe in any of the following gods:-Azura Mazda, Angus, Belenos, Brigid, Dana, Lugh, Dagda, Epona, Allah Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Atehna, Demeter, Dionysus, Eris, Eos, Gaia, God, Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Ganesh, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Shiva Thuno, Tir, Vishnu, Weyland, Woden, Yahweh, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, Saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Herne, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, Endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, Ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fukurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac and Zaramama.

      Good luck!!

      May 20, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • not upset

      Beliefs are silly. Even silly string is not that silly.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Zack

      The burch talk about a lot that cannot be proven. In fact, most of what is preached cannot be proven. Tell me again why Heaven is any different.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  7. Banjo Ferret

    Proof of heaven popular? There is no proof of heaven, only subjective experience and pseudoscience, which is never proof. Ferretianism is the one true religion. Repent and secure your purple energy bubble! (banjoferret d c)

    May 20, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care!

      BLASPHEMY!!!

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the only true god.

      You will all go to the heII of the FSM if you continue in your disbelief in his Noodley Goodness. But fear not unbelievers, for the heII of the FSM is much like heaven with its beer volcano and strip-per factory. But be not deceived, for in the heII of the FMS the beer is always flat and the strip-pers all have STDs.

      So repent now and believe and you will be brought into his lasagneous folds.

      R’amen!!

      May 20, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  8. Aurora

    Most churches I've gone to preach about Hell ad nauseum. In fact it is usually mentioned within 10 minutes of the sermon commencing. How else can you scare the congregation into regular attendance and paying you one-tenth of their income! I used to leave church feeling traumatized. It doesn't happen any more because I no longer believe in that megalomaniac god of Christianity.

    May 20, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Austin

      I felt the same way, and i vandalized the church . Then I experienced God's revealing Holy Spirit as a grown up, and I can't lie. I found God through my struggle with the name of Jesus.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • The real Tom

      Stuff it, Austintatia.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Yes Austin, you committed a crime and think you get a free pass for having been an idiot because it was a church you hit while driving a 3000 pound piece of metal while under the influence of a toxic substance-you're simply lucky no one was killed, and so by asking for forgiveness, you somehow believe you are special now and that your HUGE mistake gets you a guarantee entrance to some fairy tale place...How very convenient. Yet, myself, The Real Tom, Colin, my life partner-AtheistSteve and so many others who question your god and live good lives get to suffer eternally...where does this make sense to you???
      The fact that you quite apparently received brain damage at the time of your accident does not mean your imaginary friend exists.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • hopelessinseattle

      A very interesting comment, my experience has been different. As a matter of fact I've attended the same church for quite some time now, but I've sat under 5 pastors (and numerous guest pastors) during that period and I frequently complain the church doesn't speak of hell enough. The message seems to be an easy believism that doesn't reflect what Jesus says in the Bible. What some pastors could (and probably do) use hell as a hammer to get you to donate 10% of your income every week and extract money from you every chance they get, the fact (or I should say I believe it to be fact) is if you die outside of the grace of Jesus Christ, God will punish you. That punishment is Hell and it should scare the bejeebers out of you. If it doesn't then you probably don't believe. That is a matter between you and God.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • cedar rapids

      'is if you die outside of the grace of Jesus Christ, God will punish you.'

      why? why would any deity, especially one that is supposed to be all love and forgiveness, even bother to punish someone when they die? what would be the point? why would an all powerful supreme being get so upset over what a person did?

      May 20, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  9. Robert

    Most preachers are closet atheists. Often when they go to seminary, they learn things that really challenge their "faith" and are hard to ignore. Enough research into the history of religion and how the Bible was made, etc. will make any even mildly intelligent person into a doubter. But by then, they've already chosen their path and are sort of stuck, so they do the best they can.

    May 20, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Colin

      American Athiests, in combination with the Richard Dawkins foundation provide them with financial help to transition out of their chosen path.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      The Clergy Project provides help and support for hundreds of ACTIVE preachers who are faced with the dilemma of no longer believing but fearful of the consequences of coming out to their congregation and loved ones. Abandoning career, community and family are costly risks to bear when balanced against living honestly and true to yourself.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • a343

      You are absolutely correct about that. The only way to believe is to be ignorant or afraid to learn about the truths of religion.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • hopelessinseattle

      Another interesting comments, I am not sure if you have any data to support saying, "most preachers are closet atheists" but from preaching I've heard and actions I've seen there is at least some anecdotal evidence that supports it. A pastor friend of mine did say his experience in seminary was that they seemingly did everything possible to get you to question your faith. We never did talk about why he thought that was, next time I have the opportunity I will ask him his opinion on that topic. I've always taken it that you were being tested regarding how deeply you believed and how committed you were, but that may not be the reason.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Colorado777

      Excellent post Robert. A little research into anyone's chosen religion is true revelation!

      May 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  10. AtheistsMorons

    Here we go again, Same old no life atheists morons at their best again. Will you bunch of losers be spending the rest of your life on CNN Blogs annoying people forever? Or will you get a job and a life someday instead?

    May 20, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • sam stone

      eat your sidearm, pen-day-ho

      May 20, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • The real Tom

      If you don't like reading atheists' posts, then why do you bother to respond, dumbfvck? The answer is that you get your kicks from this site precisely BECAUSE of the posts you claim to hate. You're a hypocrite. If you had any balls at all you would take them and leave for a site that requires one to register by name and not post anonymously. If you had any cojones, you'd stop posting and reading here and pay for access to a site that doesn't permit any disagreement with your beliefs.

      Leave, or admit that you're a liar.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      We're here just to annoy you...suck it up buttercup, we're not leaving.
      I know reality bites but running from it won't do you any good in the end....you'll just fade away into dust.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • richunix

      Does your trailer park manager know your using his computer again?

      May 20, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • militarymom777

      Hey calm down. Let them go and have they say. I am a Christian and I have seen thing that most people will never see. I worked er and trauma unit and I have watch people die. What is strange to me they say there is no God but I have seen Atheist last words "God help me". Judgement is judgement it is inevitable. All will die. Then what? Atheist you have to answer that one for yourself. Its your decision. As it should be.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • cedar rapids

      Well we know you cant be a christian. How? Well because the bible specifically say that revilers, or haters, will be barred from heaven, so there is no way you can actually believe that and post the hate you posted right?
      not my rules you u8nderstand, its in that book.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • cedar rapids

      'What is strange to me they say there is no God but I have seen Atheist last words "God help me'

      Well we will skip over how you knew they were atheists or whatever, but I will say that that last part doesnt prove that first part.
      Not to mention that a common 'phrase' doesnt mean anything either. When I am surprised I am known to exclaim 'bugger me!', but that doesnt mean that therefore I really want to be buggered.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • militarymom777

      Cedar How did I know they where Atheists? It was on there charts. The part where it said religion it said Atheist.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • The real Tom

      militarymom, I don't know what you do in trauma and the er, but I can only hope it doesn't involve a need to be literate.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • militarymom777

      Cedar where in my statement did I say I hated you?

      May 20, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • militarymom777

      Tom and I thought I wouldn't hear from you. Glad to see your still here.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • The real Tom

      It's "YOU'RE", simpleton. I wouldn't trust you to be able to read a doctor's orders. I hope all you do is empty bedpans.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • cedar rapids

      'militarymom777 – Cedar where in my statement did I say I hated you?'

      that one was for the original poster, not you.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • militarymom777

      Cedar I am sorry for the mistake.

      May 20, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • militarymom777

      Tom , do I see a little hate there. Come on. Name calling really.Reading doctor order is like reading you post it is hard but we translate. Just kidding your doing ok.

      May 20, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • militarymom777

      Tom,"It's "YOU'RE", simpleton".
      See the you and the your.
      I hope the comment I made before this makes you happy. It seem the strangest things make you happy.

      May 20, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  11. Luiz Penalva

    Heaven is in our mind. Neuroscience explains all these behaviours. Live our life and stop brain washing your kids.

    May 20, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • are122

      How many have died and returned?

      May 20, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • The real Tom

      None. That's why they call them NEAR death experiences.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:19 am |
  12. AtheistSteve

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvyVYIyK41U&w=640&h=360]

    May 20, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      As this video reveals living forever has some seriious drawbacks and problems.

      May 20, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  13. Reality

    "The Two Universal Sects

    They all err—Moslems, Jews,
    Christians, and Zoroastrians:

    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
    One, man intelligent without religion,
    The second, religious without intellect. "

    Al-Ma'arri
    , born AD 973 /, died AD 1058 / .

    Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer.[1][2] He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth."

    May 20, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • are122

      One, man intelligent without religion, <~~LOL, he must have been forecasting the North Korean leader.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      "he must have been forecasting the North Korean leader"

      You think L'il Kim is intelligent? You have a pretty low bar.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  14. Reality

    Only for the new members-

    The Holy Roman "Empirers"/Popes/Kings/Queens/Evangelicals et al continue (d) the money grab selling access to JC and heaven resulting in some of today's richest organizations on the globe i.e. the Christian churches (including the Mormon Church) and related aristocracies. Obvious greed!!!

    May 20, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • richunix

      You need to add the worse of them all, POWER over your fellow man!

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      May 20, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  15. bruce t

    If people think they're going to Heaven, they'll forget to pay the Church.

    May 20, 2013 at 6:52 am |
    • are122

      You remind me of some of my in-laws. Their biggest concern in life is where I spend my money. Their second fear is working.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  16. HeavenSent

    +

    Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

    Psalms 137:9

    Amen.

    May 20, 2013 at 6:47 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      look ... we can all quote a story book:

      Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
      – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Alkaban

      I'm not sure what quoting a story book proves but hey, I thought I'd join in. 🙂

      May 20, 2013 at 6:50 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

      Douglas Adams

      May 20, 2013 at 6:51 am |
    • Science

      Way to fvcking funny HS................the link below...............the what HS ?

      http://www.voiceofelijah.org/freeoffer/google/antichrist.html?gclid=CKiNwvXIpLcCFUxp7Aod4g0AnQ

      666............................ the beast !

      May 20, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • Science

      The red HORN-Y DEVIL...................comes from where faith ..................HS and CHARD ?

      May 20, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Honey Hush

      HeavenSent
      Hank's going to kick the guts out of you for not obeying Timothy 2:11 (see Coiln's post below) Silent.

      May 20, 2013 at 7:58 am |
    • AnotherView

      Thank you Heaven Sent for that wonderful verse. I've posted it many times myself on websites known to be infested with christians.

      Strange how infuriated they become when they see words from their own handbook for criminals. (Folks, the bible is the handbook for criminals just so you know.)

      May 20, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  17. Colin

    Heaven and hell, hey? Perhaps an analogy might be helpful.

    Yesterday morning there was a knock at my door. A pleasant and enthusiastic young couple were there.

    John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

    Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"

    John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

    John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."

    Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

    Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"

    Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."

    John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"

    Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."

    Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"

    John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."

    Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"

    Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the guts out of you."

    Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"

    John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."

    Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"

    John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."

    Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"

    Mary: "Well, maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."

    Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"

    John: "In this town, Hank is the same as good luck. All good things are attributed to Hank'"

    Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."

    John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."

    Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."

    Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"

    John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."

    Me: "Who's Karl?"

    Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."

    Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"

    John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."

    From the Desk of Karl
    1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
    2. Use alcohol in moderation.
    3. Kick the guts out of people who aren't like you.
    4. Eat right.
    5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
    6. The moon is made of green cheese.
    7. Everything Hank says is right.
    8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
    9. Don't use alcohol.
    10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
    11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the guts out of you.

    Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."

    Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."

    Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."

    John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."

    Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"

    Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."

    Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they're different?"

    Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."

    Me: "How do you figure that?"

    Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"

    Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."

    John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."

    Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."

    John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."

    Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."

    Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."

    Me: "I'm not really an expert, but not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it plausible that it might be made of cheese."

    John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists don’t know everything, but we know Hank is always right!"

    Me: "We do?"

    Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."

    Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"

    John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."

    Me: "But...oh, never mind.

    from Jhuger.com

    May 20, 2013 at 6:13 am |
    • Beth

      Fantastic summary!. Yep, this is it exactly – hopefully other folks with the ability to see things rationally will read this. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      May 20, 2013 at 6:31 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      As always Colin, awesome. 🙂

      May 20, 2013 at 6:37 am |
    • Athy

      Unfortunately, Beth, religious people are not rational. That's the core of the problem.

      May 20, 2013 at 6:40 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      classic!

      May 20, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  18. Logic & Reason

    There is a reason they call you sheep.

    May 20, 2013 at 6:13 am |
  19. alan

    Okay think about this if there is no heaven ,or a facsimile of one ,when we die then life it's self is meaningless right? every moment we spend here does not mean a thing so in theory we can go out and do every bad thing there is and it does not mean anything. The job you have the family you have the kids and wife you have are all meaningless.In short your life is completely meaningless. There is no argument for this theory so don't even try. Oh and by the way I am an athiest...to a point.

    May 20, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      How can you claim to be an Atheist (disbelief in god/s) and yet still hold on to the silly fantasy that this life is worthless if there is nothing after? In fact not believing in the afterlife puts more value on this life because you place more value on this one-the only one known to exist.

      May 20, 2013 at 6:27 am |
    • Athy

      Itself...not it's self
      Atheist...not athiest
      You need some help to improve your writing skills.
      And you're either an atheist or you are not, there is no "in between".

      May 20, 2013 at 6:30 am |
    • Beth

      Ditto what TruthPrevails said. If you hold to a rational view of the universe and don't believe that there is an invisible man threatening you with future punishment or promise of future reward, that actually makes your actions here in life all that MORE meaningful. You only get one shot, make it count. Will all the little details of your life matter 5 billion years from now when our sun expands into a red giant? No, but what will matter is what contributions you've made to the whole of human society and growth (even if its in a small supporting role), and have given humanity a chance to escape this solar system and be a better species as it expands outward. Personally I find the reality of the "smallness" of life very liberating and inspiring.

      May 20, 2013 at 6:37 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      There is no argument for this theory so don't even try.

      Proves just how little you think about things. As humans we value things that are rare and limited. Abundant things are cheap. If life is infinite then the brief period we spend here is valueless.

      If you want meaning in your life then lead a meanigful one. Thinking that the we possess some universal importance beyond this mortal coil is only egomania.

      May 20, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Sam Harris said that the notion that a life without eternity was meaningless is akin to the mental equivalent of a software glitch.
      Since when does it require sometihng to continue forever for it to have meaning?
      A parent holding their child in their arms is experiencing a very meaningful emotional bond. At some point, and mostly without realizing when it happens, that parent will pick up and hold their child for the last time. Does that render all the previous bonding experiences meaningless?
      No...in fact the memories of those times become more meaningful in retrospect.

      May 20, 2013 at 7:08 am |
    • NeauxDoubt

      Spelling and grammar.

      Great argument Athy.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • cedar rapids

      'so in theory we can go out and do every bad thing there is and it does not mean anything. '

      It means everything NOW, right at this moment. It can mean the difference between living a good and happy life or living a life of misery. As I believe this is the only one we get then I know what I prefer.

      May 20, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  20. wilson

    O for the love of.... PLEASE MAKE THEM STOP!!!! So we are supposed to assume that if there is such a thing as heaven, it is only for Christians. How can we still have people in the 21st century who want to believe in this crap? Isn't the world full of enough mystery and amazing things to fulfill our need for imagination? Why do we need to create a god or a heaven? This belief is Soooooooooo 15th century.

    May 20, 2013 at 5:42 am |
    • saggyroy

      Heaven for atheists will be when the rapture comes.

      May 20, 2013 at 5:52 am |
    • are122

      Obviously you've read a lot of recent books on physics. Try Paul Davies "The Mind of God." It is a book based on logic and physics. There are many others in quantum physics that actually examine the theories of the universe...If the human mind transcends matter to some extent, could there not exist minds that transcend the physical universe altogether? It seems to me you are the one that dwells in the 15th century...but you have a lot of company.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care!

      are122,

      Simple answer is NO. There is no evidence that the mind transends anything and no evidence that there is anything that transends the "physical" as you put it.

      May 20, 2013 at 8:54 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.