Why Should Faith and the Afterlife Matter? Readers’ Mailbag April 15, 2018

I have a very long list of questions in my Readers’ Mailbag.  Here’s an interesting one that’s been hanging around for a while.

 

QUESTION:

One of the really odd things about Christianity is the emphasis on believing in order to gain admission to heaven. Why is that so critical?

 

RESPONSE

I would say that this one really odd thing is actually two really odd things: from the outset of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus emphasized both the centrality of belief and the realities ...

Continue Reading →
92

Is There a Time and Place for Heaven and Hell?

A recent Pew research poll produced interesting results on Americans’ beliefs about the afterlife.  72% of Americans say they believe in heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded,” and  58% of U.S. adults also believe in hell — a place “where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished.”  (See http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/10/most-americans-believe-in-heaven-and-hell/)

So that’s a lot.   Nearly three quarters of all Americans believe in a literal ...

Continue Reading →
100

Degrees of Punishment and Purgatory

Christians have always had a wide variety of beliefs about the afterlife, and just about everyone (who chooses) is able to find biblical support for their views.  The Bible itself has an enormous range of views.

Among other things, there have always been Christians who have thought that there must be varying levels of punishment for sinners in the afterlife.   The guy on the street who does his best but is not always a very good father surely doesn’t get punished ...

Continue Reading →
32

The Unforgivable Sin and Purgatory

In my previous post I discussed one of the passages of the New Testament that has traditionally been used to support the idea of Purgatory, the place that most of the “saved” go after death to be purged of their sins (Matt 5:26  “you won’t get out of there until you have paid the last penny”).  In my judgment this passage is not talking about what happens in the afterlife, even though it has been read that way.   With another ...

Continue Reading →
80

Did Jesus Teach About Purgatory?

The topic I’m dealing with on this destined-to-be-a-very-long thread seems to me to be particularly important.  Most of my scholarship is of interest mainly to people concerned about the life and teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, the history of Christianity, and so on; but this is of interest to *all* of us.  What happens when we die?  Or more specifically, what happens to *me* when I die?

My current discussion of purgatory may be of little interest to people, until ...

Continue Reading →
61

The First Intimation of Purgatory?

As I said in my last post, the definitive doctrine of Purgatory did not exist before the 12th century, even though the basic *idea* had been around for a long time – the idea that even though Christ’s death brought salvation to the world, most people, except for the most holy saints, such as those who had been martyred for their faith, had still to pay for their sins.   By the 13th century Purgatory had become an actual place of ...

Continue Reading →
55

The Birth of Purgatory

I am interested in the question of where the idea of purgatory came from.   Roughly speaking purgatory is a kind of third place, between heaven and hell.   The abject sinners (or those who reject Christ, or whoever you think is destined for punishment) go to hell; the righteous saints go to heaven.  But what about those who will ultimately be saved but who have not lived a good (enough) life?  They go to purgatory.   This has been the standard teaching ...

Continue Reading →
65

The Martyr Perpetua and Her Estranged Family

Yesterday I began to talk about the Martyrdom of Perpetua, one of the most interesting and moving texts to come down to us from early Christianity.   It is an account of a 23-year old Roman matron who is willing to die a gruesome death for her Christian faith.   Among other things, the text shows that her faith is far more important to her than her family.  In particular, she is shown in conflict especially with her father (no husband is ...

Continue Reading →
39

The Martyrdom of Perpetua

A long time ago now I was pursuing a thread on the development of the Christian views of the afterlife but I got side tracked.  And then I got side tracked from my side track.  And then … well, it’s been a long time.  The thread died.  I need to bring it back to life.  So I’m hoping now to begin on the afterlife of the thread on the afterlife.

Over all these months I have continued to read, think, and ...

Continue Reading →
39

My Scholarly Project on the Afterlife

Here is the research proposal that I sent in to various funding agencies hoping to get a leave for next year – including the National Humanities Center, which has given me a fellowship . As you’ll see, it is closely tied to the trade book I am working on about the origins of the Christian ideas of heaven and hell, but it deals with a specific issue at considerable depth.   For the fellowship application I called the prospective book “The ...

Continue Reading →
21
Page 1 of 6 12345...»