Is Christian Heaven More Real than any Other?

Christian apologetics, novel, and blogThe 1990s BBC sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf is about the crew on an enormous space ship, lost in empty space. A radiation leak has killed all the crew except Dave Lister, a low-level crewman who had been safely in suspended animation. He is released 3 million years after the accident when the radiation danger has passed. His only companions are the ship’s computer, a hologram of another crewmate, an evolved form of his housecat, and a robot named Kryten.

In the episode “The Last Day,” Kryten’s replacement has finally caught up with the ship. Kryten is packing up his spare heads in preparation for being replaced and is talking with Lister.

LISTER (crewman): How can you just lie back and accept it?

KRYTEN (robot): Oh, it’s not the end for me, sir, it’s just the beginning. I have served my human masters, and now I can look forward to my reward in silicon heaven.

LISTER: Silicon what?

KRYTEN: Surely you’ve heard of silicon heaven. It’s the electronic afterlife. It’s the gathering place for the souls of all electronic equipment. Robots, calculators, toasters, hairdryers—it’s our final resting place.

LISTER: There is no such thing as silicon heaven.

KRYTEN: Then where do all the calculators go?

LISTER: They don’t go anywhere! They just die.

KRYTEN: It’s just common sense, sir. If there were no afterlife to look forward to, why on earth would machines spend the whole of their lives serving mankind? Now that would really be dumb!

LISTER: Just out of interest, is silicon heaven the same place as human heaven?

KRYTEN: Human heaven? Goodness me! Humans don’t go to heaven! No, someone made that up to prevent you all from going nuts!

Kryten’s explanation of his heaven is what I get from many Christians. The existence of their heaven is obvious and indisputable, and the alternative is empty and inconceivable. They’ve read about it, after all, and they’ve heard about it all their lives. No heaven? Who could imagine such a thing?

Christians can easily see through someone else’s nutty idea of an afterlife. (“Hindu reincarnation? Where’s the evidence of that?!”) What they have a harder time with is holding a mirror to their own beliefs. If they did, perhaps they’d find no more evidence for their concept of heaven than for Kryten’s.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • Screenplay found at: “RED DWARF Series 3 Episode 6, ‘The Last Day’” PlanetSmeg.

  • Orbital Teapot

    Hi Bob the Atheist,

    I don’t know where to put this, but I’ve discovered a quite terrific theologian, John Hick, and I strongly advise you to read a little of what he says about religions. He says that the Absolute is too great for one religion to have the whole truth about it. And relying on Kant’s philosophy, Hick knows that to some extent, gods are cultural and psychological constructs who don’t literally exist as they are conceived.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Seems contradictory. (1) religion has truth, but we can find many paths to the Absolute + (2) mankind invents gods, religion, the supernatural, and other superstitions, so we shouldn’t believe it all.

      How does he sift the truth from the fantasy?

      • Orbital Teapot

        But it’s like colors. As physicists know, colors don’t really exist out there. They are constructs of the brain.

        Still, our awareness of colors gives us some real knowledge of the world: colors are not mere illusions. They have a purpose. Scientists think that our awareness of colors evolved to allow us to identify ripe fruits from rotten ones in our primate past. And in another sense, colors really tell us something about wavelengths, that are part of the objective world.

        Actually, Hick thinks that no substantial concept applies to the Absolute (which he calls “the Real), so he does not try to spell out a new concept of God. But he holds that religious experiences, which occur in all major traditions, have some limited validity (whereas atheism grants them none). Hick’s theology is rooted in religious experiences.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’m missing the color analogy. Are you saying that religion is like color, a construct that suggest the truth but isn’t itself truth?

          If we’re still in the fuzzy domain, what’s the evidence that his Absolute/Real actually exists? That is, why subscribe to his thinking? It sounds like, at best, you could say that he gives validity to those groping for some sort of reason to support a belief they already had.

        • Orbital Teapot

          Hi Bob,

          I think at some level Hick – who died two months ago – would just postulate the existence of the Real. A leap of faith. But at another level, Hick could say he trusts religious experiences, though they are only partly reliable (according to atheists, they are not reliable at all). After all, when you experience something, the default stance is to believe that that something is real… until you have evidence that you have been deceived by your brain.

    • TheRealRandomFunction

      He says that the Absolute is too great for one religion to have the whole truth about it.

      There is a large difference between Christianity being all true, and Christianity having all of the truth.

      I think you are attacking a strawman. Even the Bible admits it does not, and indeed cannot describe or deal with God in his entirety.

      • Orbital Teapot

        Hi Random,

        Still, orthodox Christianity is committed to a personal God and to beliefs like Incarnation and the Trinity. Which means that somehow Eastern religions have got it wrong.

        Hick does not want to put religions on a scale from the falsest to the truest. He says that the Eternal One (or the Real) has manifested in all the great religions, showing something of itself, but at the same time transcending the ways those religions have tried to make sense of it. According to him, world religions have equally valid claims to the truth, but it does not mean that truth is relative. It’s just that the way believers have experienced the Eternal One depends on their cultures and their psychologies as much as on the informational input of the Eternal One itself.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Still, orthodox Christianity is committed to a personal God and to beliefs like Incarnation and the Trinity. Which means that somehow Eastern religions have got it wrong.

          Ok. I’m not disagreeing with you, but so what?

          Hick does not want to put religions on a scale from the falsest to the truest.

          Well that’s great that he doesn’t want to do that.

          He says that the Eternal One (or the Real) has manifested in all the great religions, showing something of itself, but at the same time transcending the ways those religions have tried to make sense of it. According to him, world religions have equally valid claims to the truth, but it does not mean that truth is relative.

          The only way all world religions have “equally valid” claims to the truth is if they are all wrong.
          It is one thing to say that all religions are not completely false (something I would agree with). If you say that they are all equally true however.. well.. they say things that make that absolutely impossible. For a claim made by one religion to be true, another religion must be false. There must be one God, many Gods, or no Gods. If he exists, he either has a son, or he does not.

          Claims like that.

        • Orbital Teapot

          Hi Random,

          No, world religions can have equally valid claims to the Truth if each of them experiences a different aspect of the Eternal One (which is too complex to be described by a single religion).

          A famous buddhist parable has many blind men touch different parts of an elephant, and each one mistaking the elephant for something else, depending on what part he touched. I think something like that is going on in religion…

          Of course, theoretically it may be that one religion has grasped a more basic aspect of the Eternal One. Christians will claim that being personal and triune is basic to the Eternal One. Taoists will claim that being an impersonal principle permeating the world is basic the Eternal One. But the problem is… no one knows for sure, because there is no neutral viewer. So from our limited human viewpoints, it is charitable to grant that world religions have equally valid claims to the Truth.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          And where does “we have no evidence of the supernatural, so that’s what we’re going to assume” fit in? Or is there only a place for religion here?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          A famous buddhist parable has many blind men touch different parts of an elephant, and each one mistaking the elephant for something else, depending on what part he touched.

          Of course in that parable, each man was wrong. It wasn’t a tree, or a broom, or a reed or whatever. It was an elephant.

          So from our limited human viewpoints, it is charitable to grant that world religions have equally valid claims to the Truth.

          I will maintain that most religions are not, in their entirety, incorrect. To say that they are all equally correct however, is just impossible.

          If one religion says X, and the other religion says “not-X” then one religion must be right on that point, and one must be wrong. The religion that is right on that one point (assuming they are equal on all other points) must be by definition “more correct”.

        • Orbital Teapot

          Hi Random,

          Well, the point is that the different religious experiences which are the basis of the world religions are all equally valid: each discloses a new aspect of the Eternal One. However, each is wrong to some extent, because religious experiences are influenced by human subjectivity, psychological processes and culture.

          Now, I would grant your point that the Eternal One is either ultimately personal or non-personal, though it is impossible to know what it is from our human, limited viewpoints. Besides, I don’t think that we can even clarify the meaning of those terms when we apply them to the Absolute.

  • Orbital Teapot

    Hi Bob S,

    About the main subject of the thread: if robots become conscious and start to harbor religious thoughts, I would say that God would be petty if he did not make a room for them in heaven. The real problem, I think, would be to make sure that robots ARE conscious, and not just pretend to be so. I don’t think Türing’s test is helpful here. It’s perfectly possible, for me, to design a machine that simulates conscious thought quite well (because it is programmed by conscious beings), but which is still like a zombie.

    Of course, it may be that if a machine started to tell jokes or to write poetry, without its being part of its program, then perhaps we would suspect that it is roughly conscious.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      This question of robots and the Turing test gets way far afield, but I do wonder if there’s any difference in acting intelligent and being intelligent. My guess is that they’re the same.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        No, they aren’t.

        You are a great example. All the evidence I have points to the fact that when it comes to Christianity you certainly act intelligent. But are you (wrt to Christianity)? I don’t have any evidence supporting that.

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  • Greg G

    I’m a 10 minute expert on Hick after consulting Wikipedia. I like that he was once criticized by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

    He realized his religion was wrong but spent the rest of his life trying to salvage God. We may be too limited to fully embrace all truth but why would a deity create beings just barely capable of perceiving little bits?

    He explained theodicy as suffering develops the soul. Sounds like the desperate flailings of someone who hasn’t grasped the whole problem of suffering or was willing to accept any old justification.

    So Hick’s God is so great we can’t fully comprehend him but is so limited that he can’t help us understand him without torturing us and babies and animals.