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This article is about the religious concept of Heaven. For other uses, see Heaven (disambiguation).
Michelangelo's interpretation of Heaven
Michelangelo's interpretation of Heaven

Heaven is an afterlife concept found in many religions or spiritual philosophies.

Those who believe in heaven generally hold that it (or Hell) is the final afterlife destination of many or all humans. In unusual instances, humans have had, according to many testimonies and traditions, personal knowledge of Heaven. They presume this is for the purpose of teaching the rest of humanity about life, Heaven, and God.



Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven; from Gustave Doré's illustrations to the Divine Comedy.
Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven; from Gustave Doré's illustrations to the Divine Comedy.

While there are abundant and varied sources for conceptions of Heaven, the typical believer's view appears to depend largely on his particular religious tradition. Various religions have described Heaven as being populated by angels, demons, gods and goddesses, and/or heroes. Heaven is generally construed as a place of eternal happiness. The relationship between this concept and the celestial sphere is generally believed to have been first proposed by the ancient astronomer-priests (see also: astrologer).

The concept of heaven was imported into Judaism from Zoroastrianism, perhaps by the prophet Daniel through his exposure to the Zoroastrian Magi of the court of Darius I. The belief in heaven appears to have supplanted the earlier concept of Sheol (mentioned in Isaiah 38:18, Psalms 6:5 and Job 7:7-10).

Jewish converts to this concept of heaven and hell included the group known as the Pharisees. The larger, dogmatically conservative Sadducees maintained their belief in Sheol. While it was the Sadducees that represented the Jewish religious majority it was the Pharisees who best weathered Roman occupation, and their belief in Zoroaster's heaven and hell was passed on to both Christianity and Islam (in which heaven is referred to as Jannah).

In Christianity, heaven is a return to the pre-fallen state of humanity, a second and new Garden of Eden, in which humanity is reunited with God in a perfect and natural state of eternal existence. Christians believe this renunion is accomplished through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in having died for the sins of humanity on the cross.

In Eastern religions (and some Western traditions), with their emphasis on reincarnation, the concept of Heaven is not as prominent, but it still is present. In Hinduism or Buddhism, for example, there are several heavens, and those who accumulate good karma will be reborn in a heaven; however their stay in the heaven is not eternal — eventually they will use up their good karma and be reincarnated in another realm, for example as demi-god, human, animal, hungry ghost or even hell-being. In the native Chinese Taoist traditions Heaven is an important concept, where the ancestors reside and from which emperors drew their mandate to rule in their dynastic propaganda, for example. In Hindu belief, likewise, heaven—called Swarga loka—is seen as transitory place for souls who did good deeds but whose actions are not enough for moksha or absolute bliss with God.

It is important to remember that the popular notion by believers of most faiths (especially in the West) is that one enters heaven at the moment of death; this is not part of the doctrine of most all of Christianity (see Swedenborgianism for a Christian religion that does have this doctrine), however, or of any other major religion, that still maintain that entry into Heaven awaits such time as, "When the form of this world has passed away." (*JPII, also see eschatology, afterlife)


The idea of Heaven as a physical place has been in existence since the dawn of religion and human civilization. In the early religions (such as the Egyptian faith), Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a "dark area" of space where there were no stars. Departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven.

The medieval Christian view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over Man. With the dawn of the Age of Reason, science began to challenge this notion, however Heaven as a physical place survived in the concept that it was located far out into space, and that the stars were "lights shining through from heaven". The work of Dante clearly identifies that Heaven was a physical place, existing in a sphere around the Earth, the Sun, and the Stars.

In science fiction, several films and literature sources have suggested that, through advanced technology, Heaven can be reached by the living through conventional means. Such was the case in the Disney film The Black Hole, in which a manned spacecraft found both Heaven and Hell located at the bottom of a Black Hole.

In today’s modern society of science and space flight, most people assume that Heaven is not a physical place in the universe. Religious views, however, still hold Heaven as having a dual status as a concept of mind but also possibly still a physical place existing on another "plane of existence". To date, however, there is no scientific evidence for the existence of such a dimension, an area of the universe, or alternate reality where Heaven physically exists.

Getting into Heaven

Religions which have a heaven differ on how (and if) one gets into it. Some (the followers of universalism) believe that everyone will go to Heaven eventually, no matter what they have done or believed on earth. In others, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a "good life" (within the terms of the spiritual system). Some religions state that those who do not go to heaven go to a place of punishment, Hell.

Heaven in Roman Catholicism

In Roman Catholic Christianity In Roman Catholicism Heaven is the Physical Realm of God, the Mother of God, the Angles, and the Saints. In this belief most people who enter Heaven go through Purgatory. In Purgatory a soul pays off all temprol punishment one deserved for the sins he commited in life. This does not always happen though. If one recieves the sacrament of confession, gains a plenary indulgance, and dies he would directly go to heaven. If one was baptized validly and then died one would go directly to heaven (in the Roman Catholic belief, the sacrament of baptism dissovles the eternal and temporal punishment of all sins). If one never commited a mortal sin and was dissovled of all his venial sins just before death, he would go directly to Heaven. It is a common Roman Catholic belief that Saint Michael the Archangel carries the soul to Heaven and Saint Peter meets the soul at the "Pearly Gates."

Heaven in Christianity

Historically, Christianity has been divided over how people gain entry into Heaven. From the 16th to the late 19th century, Christendom was divided between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox views on the one hand, and the Protestant views on the other.

In the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, entry into Heaven depends upon the Christian receiving God's grace through the activities of the church. This would include sacraments such as Baptism, the Eucharist and Confession. Roman Catholics believe that entering Purgatory after death cleanses one of one's sins and makes one acceptable to enter Heaven. Many within the Anglican Church also hold to this belief, despite their Protestant history.

In the Protestant faith, entry into Heaven depends upon the Christian placing their faith in Jesus. Protestant theology holds strongly that when Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment for the world's sins. Therefore, any person who has faith in Christ and asks for his forgiveness will automatically be granted forgiveness for their sins and has the promise of going to Heaven.

Within the Protestant faith there are two further strands of thought. Calvinism argues that entry into Heaven has already been predetermined by God - that all those who are Christians have in fact been chosen from the beginning of time to be saved. Faith in Christ is still essential, but the reason why a Christian has faith is because God has chosen them beforehand. Arminians hold a modified form of this doctrine. In this case, a person can choose to have faith in Christ out of their free will and is not compelled to by divine power. A detailed examination of the differences between these two protestant strands of thought are examined in their respective articles.

While this division still exists within the Protestant church, since the early 20th century few Protestant churches have adopted a Universalist approach.

Even within religions, such as Catholism and Protestantism, which dictate faith in Christ and receipt of the sacraments as a prerequiste for Heaven, there still exists in some opinions a "human factor" which prevents the blatantly evil from entering Heaven even if they are a practicing member of a faith. An example of this would be the case of the American Mafia, in which known mobsters and killers may be seen attending church on a daily basis and professing a belief in Christ. However, since such people choose to ignore the majority of the Church's teachings and engage in evil acts, there are those who believe that such persons will be denied entry into Heaven based on these acts. It is widely believed that it is insufficient to simply belong to a faith and verbally express a belief in Christ, but one must also live by His teachings and live a good and decent life. See also Salvation.

Heaven is an especially interesting doctrine in Christian thought, which has the resurrection of the body dominating the concept of afterlife. The intermediate state (between death and the resurrection) is unclear in Christian thought (see the article on psychopannychism). However the final state of believers is in an incorruptible, resurrected, and new body, living in the New Jerusalem, which descends from Heaven to the Creation. The person was never meant to be disembodied. Death is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God (see original sin) so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God. The Greek "hê basileia tous ouranous", usually translated as "the Kingdom of Heaven", is indeed more literally "the rule of the skies", with "the skies" a codeword for God. Thus most Christians interpret it as a state, rather than a place.

The present Roman Catholic teaching regarding Heaven is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever... This perfect life with [God]....is called heaven. [It] is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness." Pope John Paul II has said (see link below), "[Heaven] is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with [God]...This final state, however, can be anticipated...in the gift of self through fraternal charity."

The Eastern Orthodox teaching is that Heaven and Hell are the same "place": the "New Jerusalem" and "New Earth", but the individual's perception of the place will determine whether or not one experiences it as Paradise or agony. This perception will be determined by one's relationship to God.

Jehovah's Witnesses reject the idea of heaven as the final hope and home for humanity; in their view only a few people including the Apostles (John 14:1-3; Rev. 5:9,10; 14:1-5) will go to Heaven to rule the remainder of good people (including David and John the Baptist), who will inherit the Earth to live forever (Matt. 5:5; Acts 2:34; Rev. 21:3-5). Christadelphians believe that all who are saved will live on Earth for eternity after the resurrection.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "Mormons", have a more complicated view of heaven. They view the traditional paradisical heaven and firey hell as lasting only until the final Judgment Day, at which point the righteous (and not so righteous) will be separated into three "Degrees of Glory", or Kingdoms: the Celestial Kingdom, where God dwells, the Terrestrial Kingdom, which will be visited by Christ, and the Telestial Kingdom, which will be ministered to by the angels. The truly evil (the "Sons of Perdition", Satan, and his fallen angels), will be cast into Outer Darkness. For more detail, see The Plan of Salvation.

Many Christians believe that the "wealth" of heaven is nonmaterial; its blessings are forever, and cannot be tarnished, destroyed or taken away. Some of these will be enjoyed by redeemed people after death such as enjoying the actual presence of God (Rev 22.3-4) and the absence of pain and sorrow (Rev 21.4), while some are enjoyed in the present life, such as peace (Ph 4.7) and joy (Jn 16.22).

Heaven in the Bahá'í Faith

For Bahá'ís, entry into the next life has the potential to bring great joy. Bahá'u'lláh likened death to the process of birth. He explains: "The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother." The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá'í view of earthly existence. Just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides the matrix for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá'ís view life as a sort of workshop, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life.

"Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved," Bahá'u'lláh wrote. "By the righteousness of God! It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue can describe."

In the Bahá'í Faith, heaven can be seen partly as a state of nearness to God; hell being a state of remoteness from God. Each state follows as a natural consequence of individual efforts, or the lack thereof, to develop spiritually. The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the Manifestations of God.

Heaven in Judaism

While the concept of heaven (malkuth shamaim - Kingdom of Heaven) is well-defined within the Christian and Islamic religions, the Jewish concept of the afterlife, sometimes known as "olam haba", the world to come, was never set forth in a systematic or official fashion as was done in Christianity and Islam. There is, however, a belief in the Heavens, above earth, where the angels and god resides. Jewish mysticism recognizes seven heavens.

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