Don’t Teach Kids about Heaven

Baby heavenLive every day as though it were your last. A short sentence spoken by many, forgotten in the rush of daily life by many more. Yet, a mindful awareness of the fragility of life is one of the best things you can pass along to your kids.

That is, unless you credit a book entitled Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn with Linda Washington (Tyndale House).

Though this book was published in 2006, it’s apparently still selling well. Intended for kids ages 8-12, I imagine enthusiastic parents would present it to their younger children, as well. And they’d be guilty of emotional child abuse.

First, who is this fellow whose back cover refers to him as “Dr. Randy Alcorn, a leading authority on Heaven”?? He’s a former pastor who operates a non-profit ministry, and his doctorate is honorary. His authority about heaven icomes from his own interpretation of the Bible.


Some have called prominent atheist Richard Dawkins overly strident when he stated that foisting religion on children without questioning its merits is a form of child abuse. Read Heaven for Kids and see if you don’t agree with  him (assuming you agree with the basic premise that believing in the supernatural is altogether irrational in the first place).

What’s abusive about telling children about the wonders of their next life in heaven? Alcorn based this book on his bestselling book for adults, which I haven’t read, so I won’t label that one “adult-abuse.” But anytime a group extols the extraordinary rewards of death and what comes after, you’re skimming the edges of being a death cult. That’s how terrorists happen, if the timing and culture align a certain way.

I know. Strong words. But Alcorn  makes heaven sound very cool to kids, and tries to answer all possible questions a child might ask (rather pathetically, in my opinion). He answers questions I myself have wondered about, in the sense of wondering how Christians conceive of the afterlife they’re counting on.


If you don’t know the basics, I understand them to be this, based on Alcorn’s book: you die, go to temporary heaven, then at some point Jesus comes (back) to earth, really nasty things happen to nonbelievers, then you go to real heaven, a.k.a. New Earth, where you live forever in the presence of Jesus and God and whoever you want to spend time with, maybe even a pet you once had, you will have a really good body, and you’ll keep learning new things, you can dance (but not in the way that causes impure thoughts), you can be with your wife or husband, but probably only as best friends, and you will never want to do bad things and you will be unbelievably happy doing only good things forever. There will even be businesses, though no money, because that means you’ll get to make and provide things that make you and other people happy. Plus you get to eat and sleep too.

Got it?

Here’s a brief excerpt so you can get the gist of Alcorn’s tone:

What other features will the New Earth have?

If you get a new version of a computer game, you hope that the new version will have better features, don’t you? You eagerly scan the package, hoping that you’ll see phrases like better graphics or a bigger adventure.

It’s only natural to wonder what new features “Earth version 2.0″ will have, especially considering how the original Earth 1.0, once an amazingly good program, was infected with the Sin Virus on every level. . . . Just as our new bodies will be better than our current ones, the New Earth’s natural wonders will be more spectacular than those we now see.

As to who we get to hang out with in heaven, other than Jesus, Alcorn writes, “Death isn’t the end of our relationships. It’s just an interruption. It’s like the people who have died have gone on a trip ahead of us, but later we’re going to join them. And then we’ll always be together.”

Personally, I’d be loathe to tell any child that. A deeply grieving one might be moved to join the beloved parent a lot sooner than God intended, so to speak.


Alcorn glides over the reasonable question children might have about whether they’d see their non-Christian parents in this exciting version of heaven. A tiny bit of hope was offered, in that it’s always possible (claims Alcorn) that a non-believer may recant on the point of death, and be accepted into God’s good graces. Of course, someone who waited that long won’t get the best jobs in heaven.

The way I see it, it’s irresponsible to teach a child to think so little of this amazing life on earth as to have them anxious to begin the “next” life on a “better” earth. In that way, you’re taking away the wondrousness of living in the present, downplaying the preciousness of what we do have in our short time here. If you believe, without any proof, that we get another chance (well, you, not me), it still seems brutish to deny a child an appreciation of what exists right now. Blink, and you miss it all.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry

  • JohnH2

    To a believer that is similar to saying “don’t teach kids about science”, it really doesn’t make any sense to not teach children something that one knows to be true.

    But great job at calling that abusive: way to play into the stereotypes about atheists and discourage rational discussion about the subject.

    • SusanKPerry

      Let’s talk about how getting kids to focus their lives toward the next life is helping them fulfill themselves and help others in THIS life. I don’t care if you believe in the next life, but this book I reviewed went into such ecstatic detail about it that it felt cult-like and almost suggesting that this life was no big deal. The headline, of course, is only a headline. I mentioned in the post that what was abusive was not sharing with kids that there are pros and cons to certain beliefs. And no, I don’t expect ardent believers to change due to reading what I or any non-believer writes. Once in a while, though, someone who had faith begins to see inconsistencies and eventually comes over to the other (rational) side.

      • JohnH2

        Well, based on his website then I am not able to tell what he wants kids to focus on, praying perhaps?, in order to focus on the next life.

        Generally though to get to heaven one is required to to be and do good here. Retaining ones moral integrity against the opposition of ones friends and family and in spite of suffering beyond degree in every manner really only occurs if one knows that ones witness is in heaven and record is on high and that though worms destroy ones body that yet in the flesh shall one see God,

        Loving ones enemies in life is senseless as one is loving those that are actively seeking to destroy everything one holds dear, however that is what is required within Christianity. Obviously, Christians generally and in every particular case save one fail to be good and do so on a fairly regular basis but the grace of Christ is sufficient and the important thing is to keep attempting to be better constantly.

        Now, how exactly is striving constantly to be better and do what one knows of oneself to be right a bad thing?

        Atheism is only rational if there is no God, if there is God then it is the fool that says in his heart there is no God. The claim that there is no evidence for God is nonsensical as it discounts the private experiences of billions of people and ignores the ongoing gathering of God’s people Israel from the lands where He had driven them. Given that we demonstrably don’t have a complete understanding of physics and that there appears to be irreducible randomness in physics it is really the physicalism of the atheist which has failed, not faith in what one has received; perhaps a complete description of physics which reduces out all randomness will be had, but that is much more an untestable position of faith then belief in an afterlife is.

        • Matt Davis

          Three things. Firstly, teaching kids about heaven is not something you know to be true. It’s wishful thinking, whereas the scientific method is known to work effectively; it’s been relied on for millennia.

          Secondly, scientists have no problem admitting they don’t know the answer to a particular problem yet if that’s the case – they don’t feel the need to say “Oh, god must have done it”. That’s the god of the gaps fallacy.

          Thirdly, the “atheists have more faith than a believer” fallacy. Allow me to explain some basic probability. Let’s say that no-one really knows for sure. What’s more probable? Out of all the possibilities, your particular belief system probably has less than 1% chance of being correct, and that’s being generous. Therefore, you have an over 99% chance of being wrong. Then, of course, if you use that fallacy, you must of course believe in unicorns and fairies, because it takes more faith to believe they don’t exist, right?

          • JohnH2

            You appear to not have understood a thing that I said.

            I wasn’t questioning the scientific method at all, that was a relation to those that do have a knowledge of God and you saying they shouldn’t teach kids about heaven.

            My comment on was on randomness. To have physicalism one needs to reduce everything to the point that there is no randomness; that one is able to take a box of radioactive particles and be able to say precisely when each atom will decay, otherwise there is inherent and irreducible randomness in the system which is a denial, not of the scientific method, but of physicalism,Right now observation suggest very little about an afterlife, but both observation and theory right now suggest that there is irreducible randomness in the world meaning that the atheist must deny both repeated observation and the theory that explains the observation in order to hold the dominate atheistic position. Meaning there really is no difference between that position and young earth creationism: both are positing things that are completely contrary to all observation and theory.

          • kraut2

            “but both observation and theory right now suggest that there is
            irreducible randomness in the world meaning that the atheist must deny
            both repeated observation and the theory that explains the observation
            in order to hold the dominate atheistic position”

            what a muddle of incoherent arguments.

          • JohnH2

            I am sorry you appear to not understand, let me try yet again.

            1. Physicalism posits that the world is reducible to what is measurable through observation.

            2. This implies the world acts deterministically

            3. Randomness is non-deterministic

            4. Randomness is observed and theorized to be inherent in the universe (such as the decay of radioactive atoms)..

            5. Therefore the world is non-deterministic.

            6. Therefore Physicalism is false.

            7. Therefore holding Physicalism is irrational, simliar to Young Earth Creationism.

            8. You are a Materialist, ergo a Physicalist (as I doubt you are irreductionist Materialist).

            9. Since Physicalism is irrational then you hold an irrational position.

          • kraut2

            You conflate what we can measure and what predictions we can make based on those measurements.

            You confuse the measurement of an event – which is clearly possible when you measure radioactive decay – with the possibility to predict which particle will decay.

            This is true for both micro and macro events.

            All we can say that based on prior observation and measurement the decay of any particle will happen. This is predicated on the physical properties of the element under observation.
            The element will decay – this is deterministic. Which particle will decay is random chance.

            The death of an individual is random in a given population – the death of everyone is determined and assured by the biology of the population.

            All we really know is that the world can be measured, that those measurement have a margin of error, that those measurements usually cannot be used to predict the behavior of any individual particle or biological entity.

            Only observation and measurement give us any hint or possibility to grasp the workings of this universe (and maybe a multitude more)

            Only measurements and observation give us a basis to start rational explanations. Without observation and measurement you are in the realm of speculation.

          • JohnH2

            Any random chance is fatal to physicicalism. Again, I am not seeking to overturn the scientific method and I regularly work with statistic.

          • Guest

            Do you really believe you made a point here, beck beard boy?

    • kraut2

      “it really doesn’t make any sense to not teach children something that one knows to be true.”

      how do you know the concept of heaven is true? Before the Babylonian exile the concept of a surviving soul did not exist, this idea was gaining traction during the exile.

      ” But clearly the immortal beings, or “gods,” belong in
      heaven–it is their proper sphere, while they only visit the earth below.
      Conversely, humans are mere mortals, placed on the good earth below,
      with no idea whatsoever of any “future” in heaven. Their only permanent
      movement is down, to the lower world of the dead.”

      First I will consider the notion of the future of the individual human
      person. The ancient Hebrews had no idea of an immortal soul living a
      full and vital life beyond death, nor of any resurrection or return from
      death. Human beings, like the beasts of the field, are made of “dust of
      the earth,” and at death they return to that dust (Gen. 2:7; 3:19)”

      Why so sure when inerrancy is simply not existing and evolution of concepts speak against a god that seems to promote evolving metaphysical concepts contrary to his unchanging nature and the nature of his revelation?

      Why are you so sure that your concept of heaven is accurate, and not that of several thousand other religions? Why should I teach children something that been falsified by the existence of competing concepts?
      Why should I teach the something that is likely to be wrong?

      Science results are always presented with a margin of error leaving space for doubt. This is a virtue in science and anathema to religion. A major difference.
      Teach your children to be skeptical of any claims to the absolute nature of something, teach them to doubt and question.
      Heaven is a concept without any basis but that found in an old book of questionable provenance

      • JohnH2

        I believe in continuing revelation so i have no problem at all with knowledge on such a subject increasing and changing. I don’t believe my knowledge on subject to be inerrant or complete.

        The existence of multiple views of the subject does not falsify the subject, there is broad agreement that there is an afterlife.

        • kraut2

          “there is broad agreement that there is an afterlife.”

          Afterlife by public consensus? Very convincing.
          After all: Christians (whatever that means, considering several thousand cults) make up 31% of the population, so definitely a minority. So Christianity by world wide consensus are a wrong religion.

          Think about the consequences if an afterlife actually existed.

          Heaven is eternal.Eternity means no beginning and no end. If there is a that has no beginning and no end, time does not exists, action cannot happen. If time does not exist, space does not exist. Even thinking is an action bound to time, so is interaction between proposed “souls”. Any interaction material or immaterial happens in time. And time does not exist in an eternal realm.
          That is why a god cannot exist and create.
          A timeless eternal god cannot create or even think. Think of eternity not as a loop, (a loop only means that time flows back on itself) think of it as a dot of no expanse in any direction. Nothing can happen there. No decision can be made when to create, the creation is either as eternal as the creator, or the creator does not exist.

          Read the short story by Stanislaw Lem to grasp the concept of eternity.

          • JohnH2

            I wasn’t referring to particularly Christianity, and a large portion of Christianity does not consider me to be Christian, though I consider myself a Christian.

            So I am well aware of the problems with the orthodox Christian conflation of existence with God. I don’t even believe that creation happens from nothing as is the orthodox, but from per-existing stuff which is co-eternal with god. While God’s experience of time is clearly vastly different from ours there is also very clearly time for God.

  • James Stevenson

    I’ve always found the concept of heaven to be pretty empathy destroying based on my discussions with other religious believers (mostly Christians). With heaven… the emphasis is always on the reward. Heaven is a reward for you. Its something that taps into peoples highly selfish centre of self-worth and elevates them above others. It’s not shared glory but estolled as something that is lavished on you personally.

    Confront people who believe in heaven with the supposed inevitable suffering of non-believers though and you’ll be lucky if you hear them get even slightly choked up. Most people who say to my face that I will go to hell just shrug their shoulders about it, and I generally count a few of these as good friends (my relationships go pretty deep with them but I understand how some people will view me as batty for my continued friendships with them considering how they think I’ll end up with minimal concern). You occasionally get people who scream about how you’ll end up in hell, but it’s not concern or empathy they feel, its generally barely contained glee which is sickening to behold. Heaven to these people is the exclusive club to end all exclusive clubs.

    If I sincerely believed hell to be real… I honestly believe it would destroy me. I would probably go bonkers trying to help other people avoid it (hopefully in a slightly non-psychotic way but if you believe in eternal torment even a little I can’t imagine how the sheer terror of that wouldn’t drive you a little loopy). In general I just have never ever seen any religious movement act in any way appropriately if they really believe that is the reality. Anyone with even a smidgen of empathy would have no choice but to devote their life to sincerely help other people avoid such a fate. That this is not something we see is a big testament to the empathy-destroying attributes of faith in an afterlife.

    • James Stevenson

      I usually define it as harm inflicted on another conscious entity beyond myself. Also you overrate ‘objective’ standard if you say its just god. That’s basically saying ‘that which has the most power sets the rules’… worshipping power is the worst standard as I see it.

      For instance, if the Bible is God’s word, do we just follow that because god says so? Do we follow something if it flows from a fundamentally corrupt source?

      If you found out that there is a god, but its basically a god that mandates murder, cannibalism, torture and all the things we generally shy from. Because that entity could condemn you to eternal torture if you don’t follow it… would you call its commands just and good?

      Put another way. If the Christian god existed, and it lost its power, still existing as an entity but without the ability to affect the world at large including judgement. Would that entity still be worthy of worship and following its commands? In the case of ‘because it created us’… if the alternate god posited above slipped into the absent throne and took over creation. Would all future beings owe allegiance to that god and would be no less just than we are?

    • James Stevenson

      Also… how does my use of the world evil (which seems to be the only thing you object to) undermine my entire world view? Just because I am an atheist… I am not allowed to consider something evil? Because evil isn’t an act that inflicts great harm, but in your eyes just something bad someone who can slap you into line tells you to do?

      For instance… murder is wrong… but if god tells you to strangle babies it becomes good. The act is pure either way but its just based on whatever something which has greater power wants you to do at any given moment.

      Meer obedience doesn’t equal morality.

      • James Stevenson

        If I hit the nail on the head that can only mean you worship power? Is that all your ‘good’ is?