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Heaven and Hell

Edited by K. Mitch Hodge (Amarillo College, Masaryk University)
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Summary

Although the English words “heaven” and “hell” are used to describe similar ideas in numerous religions and various philosophies, in philosophy of religion, they usually refer to eternal post-mortem spiritual realms in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological traditions.  Heaven is a permanent, eternal divine reward reserved for those who lived (in their Earthly life) morally upright, whereas Hell is a permanent, eternal divine punishment for those who have committed moral transgressions (commonly called “sins”) and have remained unrepentant.  In Catholic theology, a third spiritual realm is added called Purgatory in which the souls of those who have committed some (perhaps minor) moral transgressions can be purged of sins for some period of time and then allowed to join the blessed in Heaven.  It is often held that a soul with any amount of sin cannot be rewarded with a heavenly existence, since this existence is believed to be in the immediacy of God’s presence.  It is generally believed that any repentant soul can be completely forgiven by God; thus, no matter the moral transgression, if one were to repent prior to their death, she would be rewarded by being allowed to enter Heaven.  Heaven and Hell in these traditions are parts of philosophical/theological theodicies which aid in addressing the problem of evil.

Numerous philosophical problems arise from the doctrines of Heaven and Hell.  First, is it just for a divine being to punish infinitely (i.e., eternally) an individual for a finite sin?  Second, when coupled with the St. Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection of the body, how is the reward or punishment meted out to the actual individual rather than a replica (see the entry on resurrection concerning the replica problem)?  Third, would it really be just for someone who (most would believe) was an “evil” person (e.g., Hitler, Ted Bundy) to go to Heaven simply if they chose to repent immediately prior to their death? Fourth, is it just for a divine being to eternally punish an individual for a sin he was unaware he committed (for instance, a Buddhist who never believed in, or heard of, Jesus, which is required in Christianity)?  Along with these, many other problems concerning the Heaven and Hell have been discussed in theological and philosophical literature.

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  1. Marilyn McCord Adams (1975). Hell and the God of Justice. Religious Studies 11 (4):433 - 447.
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  2. Vijay Bhuvanbhanusuri (1989). The Essentials of Bhagavān Mahāvīr's Philosophy: Gaṇdharavāda: A Treatise on the Question and Answers Between Eleven Brahim Scholars and Mahāvīr Bhagavān Relating to the Soul, Karmas, Panch Bhuta, Heaven, Hell, and Salvation. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
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  3. James T. Bradley (2007). Odysseans of the Twenty-First Century. Zygon 42 (4):999-1008.
    In his book Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human (2005), author-journalist Joel Garreau identifies four technologies whose synergistic activity may transform humankind into a state transcending present human nature: genetic, robotic, information, and nano (GRIN) technologies. If the GRIN technologies follow Moore's Law, as information technology has done for the past four decades, Homo sapiens and human society may be unimaginably different before the middle of this century. But (...)
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  4. Andrei A. Buckareff & Allen Plug (2013). Hell and the Problem of Evil. In Justin McBrayer & Daniel Howard-Snyder (eds.), Companion to the Problem of Evil. Wiley-Blackwell. 128-143.
    The case is discussed for the doctrine of hell as posing a unique problem of evil for adherents to the Abrahamic religions who endorse traditional theism. The problem is particularly acute for those who accept retributivist formulations of the doctrine of hell according to which hell is everlasting punishment for failing to satisfy some requirement. Alternatives to retributivism are discussed, including the unique difficulties that each one faces.
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  5. Andrei A. Buckareff & Allen Plug (2005). Escaping Hell: Divine Motivation and the Problem of Hell. Religious Studies 41 (1):39-54.
    We argue that it is most rational for God, given God's character and policies, to adopt an open-door policy towards those in hell – making it possible for those in hell to escape. We argue that such a policy towards the residents of hell should issue from God's character and motivational states. In particular, God's parental love ought to motivate God to extend the provision for reconciliation with Him for an infinite amount of time.
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  6. Andrei Buckareff & Allen Plug (2009). Escapism, Religious Luck, and Divine Reasons for Action. Religious Studies 45 (1):63-72.
    In our paper, ‘Escaping hell: divine motivation and the problem of hell’, we defended a theory of hell that we called ‘escapism’. We argued that given God’s just and loving character it would be most rational for God to maintain an open door policy to those who are in hell, allowing them an unlimited number of chances to be reconciled with God and enjoy communion with God. In this paper we reply to two recent objections to our original paper. The (...)
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  7. James Cain (2002). On the Problem of Hell. Religious Studies 38 (3):355-362.
    There is a conception of hell that holds that God punishes some people in a way that brings about endless suffering and unhappiness. An objection to this view holds that such punishment could not be just since it punishes finite sins with infinite suffering. In answer to this objection, it is shown that endless suffering, even intense suffering, is consistent with the suffering being finite. Another objection holds that such punishment is contrary to God's love. A possible response to this (...)
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  8. Eyal Chowers (1998). Time in Zionism: The Life and Afterlife of a Temporal Revolution. Political Theory 26 (5):652-685.
  9. Kelly James Clark (2001). God is Great, God is Good: Medieval Conceptions of Divine Goodness and the Problem of Hell. Religious Studies 37 (1):15-31.
    Medieval views of both divine goodness and the doctrine of hell are examined and shown to be incompatible with our best understandings of goodness. The only manner in which God could be good to those in hell – by permitting their continued existence – is not sufficient to outweigh ‘the dreadful pains of eternal fire’. One might claim that God is good to them in the retributive sense; but I argue that retributive punishment is inadequate justification of eternal torment. The (...)
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  10. Oliver Crisp (2003). Augustinian Universalism. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 53 (3):127-145.
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  11. Oliver D. Crisp (2003). Divine Retribution: A Defence. Sophia 42 (2):35-52.
    The concept of divine justice has been the subject of considerable scrutiny in recent philosophical theology, as it bears upon the notion of punishment with respect to the doctrine of eternal damnation. In this essay, I set out a version of the traditional retributive view of divine punishment and defend it against one of the most important and influential contemporary detractors from this position, Thomas Talbott. I will show that, contrary to Talbott’s argument, punishment may satisfy divine justice, and that (...)
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  12. Stephen T. Davis (ed.) (1989). Death and Afterlife. St. Martin's Press.
  13. Ronald L. Hall (1989). Hell, is This Really Necessary? International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 25 (2):109 - 116.
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  14. Martin Henry (2014). Does Hell Still Have a Future? Heythrop Journal 55 (5).
    The vexed and ever-controversial question of hell and the possibility of its final realization is the subject matter of this article. The current fading of belief, or at least serious interest, in this traditional aspect of Christian teaching is the starting-point for a brief historical survey of the meaning of the term in general and its meaning within Christianity in particular. The article argues for a retention of the doctrine, albeit shorn of some of its more flamboyant, traditional attributes, as (...)
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  15. Daniel Howard-Snyder (2003). In Defense of Naïve Universalism. Faith and Philosophy 20 (3):345-363.
    Michael J. Murray defends the traditional doctrine of hell by arguing directly against its chief competitor, universalism. Universalism, says Murray, comes in “naïve” and “sophisticated” forms. Murray poses two arguments against naïve universalism before focusing on sophisticated universalism, which is his real target. He proceeds in this fashion because he thinks that his arguments against sophisticated universalism are more easily motivated against naïve universalism, and once their force is clearly seen in the naïve case they will be more clearly seen (...)
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  16. David Hume, Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul.
  17. Matthew Konieczka (2011). Hell Despite Vagueness: A Response to Sider. Sophia 50 (1):221-232.
    Ted Sider argues that a binary afterlife is inconsistent with a proportionally just God because no just criterion for placing persons in such an afterlife exists. I provide a possible account whereby God can remain proportionally just and allow a binary afterlife. On my account, there is some maximum amount of people God can allow into Heaven without sacrificing some greater good. God gives to all people at least their due but chooses to allow some who do not deserve Heaven (...)
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  18. Jonathan Kvanvig, Heaven and Hell.
    Philosophical reflection concerning heaven and hell has focused on the place of such doctrines in the great monotheistic religions emanating from the religion of the ancient people of Israel--Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The philosophical issues that arise concerning these doctrines is not limited to such traditions, however. Consider, for example, the doctrine of hell. Any religion promises certain benefits to its adherents, and these benefits require some contrast that befalls, or might befall, those who fail to adhere to the religion (...)
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  19. Jonathan Kvanvig, Jonathan Edwards on Hell.
    Every religion offers both hope and fear. They offer hope in virtue of the benefits promised to adherents, and fear in virtue of costs incurred by adversaries. In traditional Christianity, the costs incurred are expressed in terms of the doctrine of hell, according to which each person consigned to hell receives the same infinite punishment. This strong view of hell involves four distinct theses. First, it maintains that those in hell exist forever in that state (the Existence Thesis) and that (...)
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  20. Jonathan Kvanvig, Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell.
    Philosophical reflection concerning the afterlife has focused on the place of such doctrines in the great monotheistic religions of the Abrahamic tradition--Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The philosophical issues that arise concerning these doctrines is not limited to such traditions, however. Consider, for example, the doctrine of hell. Any religion promises certain benefits to its adherents, and these benefits require some contrast that befalls, or might befall, those who fail to adhere to the religion in question. This contrast to the benefits (...)
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  21. Jonathan L. Kvanvig (2003). ``Jonathan Edwards on Hell&Quot. In Paul Helm & Oliver Crisp (eds.), Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian. Burlington, Vt: Ashgate Publishing Co.. 1-12.
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  22. Jonathan L. Kvanvig (1997). ``Heaven and Hell&Quot. In Philip L. Quinn & Charles Taliaferro (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell. 562-568.
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  23. Jonathan L. Kvanvig (1993). The Problem of Hell. New York: Oxford University Press.
    This work develops an understanding of hell that is common to a broad variety of religious perspectives, and argues that the usual understandings of hell are ...
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  24. William Lauinger (2014). Eternity, Boredom, and One's Part-Whole-Reality Conception. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 88 (1):1-28.
    Bernard Williams famously argued that eternal life is undesirable for a human because it would inevitably grow intolerably boring. I will argue against Williams and those who share his view. To make my case, I will provide an account of what staves off boredom in our current, earthly-mortal lives, and then I will draw on this account while advancing reasons for thinking that eternal life is desirable, given certain conditions. Though my response to Williams will partly overlap with some prior (...)
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  25. William Lauinger (2014). Eternity, Boredom, and One's Part-Whole-Reality Conception. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 88 (1):1-28.
    Bernard Williams famously argued that eternal life is undesirable for a human because it would inevitably grow intolerably boring. I will argue against Williams and those who share his view. To make my case, I will provide an account of what staves off boredom in our current, earthly-mortal lives, and then I will draw on this account while advancing reasons for thinking that eternal life is desirable, given certain conditions. Though my response to Williams will partly overlap with some prior (...)
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  26. Gordon D. Marino (1984). Toward a Kierkegaardian Critique of Psychoanalysis: Can We Come to Psychoanalytic Terms with Death? Inquiry 27 (1-4):219 – 223.
    There are religious thinkers of Kierkegaard's ilk who concede that their belief in an afterlife is the expression of a wish and an offense to the understanding. Freud could not agree more. The collision that this essay plots comes when a Freud and a Kierkegaard try to decide what the individual is to do with such inherently human, unrealistic desires. Freud urges us to forsake all wish?fulfilling thoughts of everlasting life; however, this requires nothing less than the acceptance of imminent, (...)
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  27. Derek Michaud (2013). Personal Identity and Resurrection: How Do We Survive Our Death? Edited by Georg Gasser . Pp. Xvi, 277, Farnham, Ashgate, 2010, £55.00/$99.95. [REVIEW] Heythrop Journal 54 (2):330-331.
    Book review of Georg Gasser, ed. “Personal Identity: How do we Survive Our Death?” (Ashgate, 2010).
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  28. Edward Jeremy Miller (2006). Warranting Christian Belief in Afterlife. Newman Studies Journal 3 (1):12-22.
    Most people believe in an afterlife, but is such a belief warranted? While Newman did not specifically treat the doctrine of afterlife, his Grammar of Assent furnishes a trajectory that shows that Christians can believe in this doctrine with a warranted assent, precisely because the Church is a warranted belief.
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  29. Yujin Nagasawa (2004). Salvation in Heaven? Philosophical Papers 33 (1):97-119.
    The aim of this paper is to examine the difficulties that belief in a paradisiacal afterlife creates for orthodox theists. In particular, we consider the difficulties that arise when one asks whether there is freedom in Heaven, i.e. whether the denizens of Heaven have libertarian freedom in action. Our main contention is that this 'Problem of Heaven' makes serious difficulties for proponents of free will theodicies and for proponents of free will defences.
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  30. Timothy O'Connor (2009). Theodicies and Human Nature: Dostoevsky on the Saint as Witness. In Kevin Timpe (ed.), Metaphysics and God. Routledge.
  31. Gregory Paul (2007). Theodicy's Problem. Philosophy and Theology 19 (1/2):125-149.
    The full extent of the anguish and death suffered by immature humans is scientifically and statistically documented for the first time. Probably hundreds of billions of human conceptions and at least fifty billion children have died, the great majority from nonhuman causes, before reaching the age of mature consent. Adults who have heard the word of Christ number in the lower billions. If immature deceased humans are allowed into heaven, then the latter is inhabited predominantly by automatons. Because the Holocaust (...)
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  32. Timothy Pawl & Kevin Timpe (2013). Heavenly Freedom: A Response to Cowan. Faith and Philosophy 30 (2):188-197.
    In a recent issue of Faith and Philosophy, Steven Cowan calls into question our success in responding to what we called the “Problem of Heavenly Freedom” in our earlier “Incompatibilism, Sin, and Free Will in Heaven.” In this reply, we defend our view against Cowan’s criticisms.
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  33. Rik Peels (2006). Divine Foreknowledge and Eternal Damnation: The Theory of Middle Knowledge as Solution to the Soteriological Problem of Evil. Neue Zeitschrift Für Systematische Theologie Und Religionsphilosophie 48 (2):160-75.
    Traditionally, Christians have hold the two following beliefs: the belief that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good on the one hand and the belief that God has actualized a possible world in which some people freely reject Christ and are damned eternally, while others freely accept Him and are saved on the other. The combination of these two beliefs seems to result in a contradiction. This serious and well-known problem is called the soteriological problem of evil. In this article (...)
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  34. Michael Potts (1998). Aquinas, Hell, and the Resurrection of the Damned. Faith and Philosophy 15 (3):341-351.
    Based on themes in Aquinas, this paper adds to the defense of the doctrine of an eternal hell, focusing on the state of those in hell after the resurrection. I first summarize the Thomistic doctrine of the human person as a body-soul unity, showing why existence as a separated soul is truncated and unnatural. Next, I discuss the soul-body reunion at the resurrection, which restores an essential aspect of human nature, even for the damned. This reveals the love of God (...)
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  35. Brian Ribeiro (2011). The Problem of Heaven. Ratio 24 (1):46-64.
    An argument against the rationality of desiring to go to heaven might be put in the form of a trilemma: (1) any state of being that both lasts eternally and preserves me as the person I am would be hellish and therefore would not be a state of being that I could have any reason to desire; (2) any state of being that lasts eternally and yet fails to preserve my personhood by turning me into a non-person would not be (...)
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  36. Tadd Ruetenik (2006). Does a 'Cosmic Consciousness' Exist? Immortality and Ethics in James' Religious Pragmatism. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 42 (3):417-430.
    : William James' investigation of religious experience neglected consideration of immortality. This was likely because, as James saw it, belief in personal immortality often engenders what can be called spiritual provincialism. In Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine (1897/1979), James brings up the phenomenon of psychological overload that occurs when an individual considers the immense numbers of humans who would inhabit Heaven if spiritual merit were determined democratically. Consideration of James' example shows the beginnings of his pragmatic notion (...)
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  37. Theodore Sider (2002). ``Hell and Vagueness&Quot. Faith and Philosophy 19 (1):58--68.
    A certain conception of Hell is inconsistent with God’s traditional attributes, or so I will argue. My argument is novel in focusing on considerations involving vagueness. The target doctrine of Hell is part of a “binary” conception of the afterlife, by which I mean one with the properties of dichotomy, badness, non-universality, and divine control. Dichotomy: there are exactly two states in the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. After death each person will come to be, determinately, in exactly one of these (...)
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  38. Eleonore Stump (1985). The Problem of Evil. Faith and Philosophy 2 (4):392-423.
    This paper considers briefly the approach to the problem of evil by Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and John Hick and argues that none of these approaches is entirely satisfactory. The paper then develops a different strategy for dealing with the problem of evil by expounding and taking seriously three Christian claims relevant to the problem: Adam fell; natural evil entered the world as a result of Adam's fall; and after death human beings go either to heaven or hell. Properly interpreted, (...)
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  39. Kyle Swan (2009). Hell and Divine Reasons for Action. Religious Studies 45 (1):51-61.
    Escapism, a theory of hell proposed by Andrei Buckareff and Allen Plug, explicitly relies on claims about divine reasons for action. However, they say surprisingly little about the general account of reasons for action that would justify the inferences in the argument for escapism. I provide a couple of plausible interpretations of such an account and argue that they help revive the ‘Job objection’ to escapism that Buckareff and Plug had dismissed.
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  40. Richard Swinburne (1983). A Theodicy of Heaven and Hell. In A. J. Freddoso (ed.), The Existence and Nature of God. Univ Notre Dame Pr. 37-54.
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  41. Kevin R. Williams, B. Sc (2002). Nothing Better Than Death: Insights From Sixty-Two Profound Near-Death Experiences. Xlibris.
    "Nothing Better Than Death" is a comprehensive analysis of the near-death experiences profiled on my website at www.near-death.com. This book provides complete NDE testimonials, summaries of various NDEs, NDE research conclusions, a question and answer section, an analysis of NDEs and Christian doctrines, famous quotations about life and death, a NDE bibliography, book notes, a list of NDE resources on the Internet, and a list of NDE support groups associated with IANDS.org - the International Association for Near-Death Studies. -/- The (...)
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