Do all people go to heaven? Are all religions basically equal? Is it true that religion no longer matters? Is everyone on a path to the divine, regardless of what they believe or what religion they ascribe to?
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
18 May 2019
“Is heaven my lot?” It should be the most pressing question. It’s a question everyone should ask daily—several times. It should weigh on everyone’s mind and heart. But something strange—better yet, sinister—has happened of late. Call it sloppiness. Call it indifference. Call it unconcern. Call it diabolical. Whatever you name it, many people think heaven is automatic. It’s a given. When people die—when anybody dies—they’re whisked off to “a better place.” Everyone gets there, regardless of what religion was dear to their heart or whether they strove to live a truly good moral life in conformity to the commandments and the love of God. Doctrine doesn’t matter—especially moral doctrines concerning human sexuality. It’s for stern, antiquated rigorists. God is not like that. He’s a kind, loving “pushover.” Dogma is not worth one’s time: it’s only for scholars with thick glasses, bent over theological manuals inside book-laden rooms. So long as you’re nice to others and get along well with people, you’ve got a free pass through the “pearly gates.”
Is it true that religion is unimportant? Do all people go to heaven? Is everyone on their own comfy path to God? Lots of people answer “yes” to each of those questions. They answer “yes” by their behavior or the lack of it. They say “yes” by what they hold dear in their hearts. They give the nod by their attitudes about worship, the bible, religion, theology, philosophy, evangelization, Church, and God and Jesus Christ. People say “yes” by their indifference toward what really matters and what is really true.
According to the teaching of Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, the new-age philosophy of “everything is cool and comfy” is way, way, way off base.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the strange attitudes and beliefs about religion and God that people have today.
All religions distill down into one basic truth: each is an equal path to God!
Well … no. The incarnate Son of God—Jesus Christ—who, when he spoke, spoke the words of God himself, never ever taught anything like that. The gospel says nothing of the sort. God is not a religious pluralist. Nor is Jesus a religious indifferentist. Contrary to popular opinion, religion really does matter. What one believes shapes one’s attitudes, actions, and life—it factors into eternity. And, no, God did not and does not positively will a plurality of religions and religious beliefs in the world. If that were the case, it would make God indifferent toward what is true. It would make God a relativist. People are relativists. God is not. God is absolute and perfect Truth.
God in the flesh said:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (Jn 14:6)
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you … (Mt 28:18-19)
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mk 16:16)
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (Jn 6:53-56)
In those four brief statements from Jesus Christ we learn that 1) he is the only path to eternal communion with God the Father; 2) we should seek out his teaching and observe all that he has commanded; 3) we must believe (or have faith) in him and be baptized to be saved (while there can be exceptions, which I cannot go into here, these are the norms); 4) it is normally necessary to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ to have eternal life. None of these statements from God himself even hint at the notion that all religions are equal paths to heaven.
The Letter to the Hebrews teaches that Jesus is the unique source of eternal salvation:
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:8-10)
Or is it gods?
Mormonism thinks so. Hinduism thinks so. Both are polytheistic, both are opposed to Monotheism and reject (or are ignorant of) the Holy Trinity. Mormonism is a man-made religion founded by Joseph Smith in the 19th century that proposes there are hundreds or millions or billions of gods, all in charge of their own worlds. When a good Mormon dies, he gets to be a god of his own world—somewhere. Those beliefs stand in stark contradiction to what God himself has revealed:
To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him…. know therefore this day, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (Deut 4:35, 39)
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Mk 12:29-30)
But what if you don’t believe in sacred scripture as a God-breathed text written by human authors that communicates divine revelation? Suppose you want proof from reason (a logical proof) showing it is impossible for there to be more than one God. Fine. That’s been done. Watch for a future post.
Or is it a virgin filled, sexual paradise?
Islam thinks so. Personally, that doesn’t sound like paradise to me. A heaven were the highest pleasure is sexual gratification is rather a let down.
When Jesus was questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead (the Sadducees denied it), he made it clear that marriage and sexual union are earthly realities, not post-resurrection heavenly ones:
You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Mt 22:29-30)
Or is it nirvana, a transcendent state in which one is released from the endless cycle of death and rebirth?
Buddhism thinks so. Again, nirvana doesn’t sound all that exciting to me. Nor does reincarnation. Besides, if reincarnation were true, people would have a memory of their past life. But they don’t. Which means it’s not true. I prefer the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the Spirit-breathed promise that his faithful followers (Christians) will one day be like him:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn 3:1-2)
For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jn 6:40)
It is the teaching of the divinely revealed Christian religion, transmitted in its fullness by the Church, that on Christ’s return the general resurrection of the dead will occur. Those righteous who have died loving Christ will receive a glorified body and be raised to the resurrection of life:
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice. (Jn 5:28)
Or is it that all “nice” people get to go to heaven?
American Deism thinks so. A large part of the American populace thinks so. The new deists believe that God is a Cosmic Candy Machine. He’s a Divine Teddy Bear. He makes no moral demands on anyone. He’s permissive. He’s loving yet unjust. He’s not merciful, because there’s not need for it. He doesn’t forgive sin because as long as you get along well with others, there’s no sin to be forgiven. Having sex your way, when you want and how you want? No problem! You’re blessed. Not interested in making sacrifices or dying to self? Fine. You’re still blessed! Don’t want to go to church? Not a big deal. God just loves and loves and loves …
However, God-in-the-flesh said something very, very different:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Mt 7:13-14)
By the way, what does it mean to be “nice”? Does being “nice” include or exclude choosing what is truly good? Can one be bad and still pretend to be “nice”? Is “nice” connected with morality at all? Is “not nice” a sin and “nice” not a sin? The Spirit-breathed word written by St. Paul goes beyond “nice.” It strips away the “new-nice-veneer” of the new deism. It warns against rejecting what is truly good and living an immoral life:
Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Eph 5:5-6)
Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
St. John also warns against sin and immorality:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)
Maybe the new nice isn’t all that nice. Maybe the new nice has diabolical origins. The new nice is a recipe for disaster.
Or is it the “spiritual but not religious” folks who say, “There’s no need for ANY religion AT ALL!”
That’s what the non-affiliated folks think. Religion is too complicated, they say. It’s filled with ridiculous demands, worship requirements, obligations, confusion, conflict, ceremonials, rituals … Who needs it! We like it simple. We’re spiritual but not religious!
Sorry, but, again, no. In simple terms, religion is a system by which men relate to God. In other words, people get to know who God really is through following the correct—true—religion and its teachings. The true religion (The Christian religion transmitted by the Catholic Church) connects man with what God himself has revealed to man. That’s a big deal. It’s about coming into contact not only with what God himself has said, but with God himself! It’s crucial. A man who shuns the true religion is a man adrift in a storm at sea. He has no anchor point, no safe island on the horizon. No security and no certainty. Claiming to know God while rejecting religion is like claiming to be a ship’s captain while rejecting any form of navigation.
And worship does matter. Justice demands giving due worship to God, which is the virtue of religion with its associated public worship. Refusing to give public worship to God (think the sacrifice of Holy Mass here) is like thumbing one’s nose at the sovereign Creator of the universe. Not a good idea. It’s like saying that the saving death of Jesus Christ was a non-event. Again, bad idea.
This is what Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, said and did at the Last Supper:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19)
“Do this in remembrance of me.” That is the command of Jesus. It’s the command of God. It seems clear that God is commanding not just “a” but “the” religious ceremony, ritual and sacrifice of all time. He didn’t say, “Do this if you want.” Sunday participation in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass is not optional.
There’s no need for the Church!
According to Jesus Christ, the Church is necessary and has authority:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:17-19)
Notice that Jesus founded his Church (in the singular, not plural) on Peter, the leader of the apostles who became the First Bishop of Rome. The Church has bishops today. The head bishop is called the pope. It’s clear that a structured Church with leaders was divinely constituted by Jesus Christ himself. It’s a matter of history. Sure, in the early days the Church was smaller, which meant its structure was simpler. Today there are 1.3 billion Catholics. That means a bigger Church. But the basic, essential structure remains the same as that of the early Church. The pope is the earthly leader of the Church. The bishops (successors of the apostles) in communion with him govern the Church and their respective dioceses. Priests and deacons serve in their distinct capacities as members of the hierarchy.
The fact is, heaven is not automatic and religion does matter.
We don’t get to make God into whomever we want. Thinking you can do that doesn’t work. He’s not a Divine Teddy Bear. We don’t get to decide for ourselves what is required to attain Beatitude in heaven—God does. God himself taught that the majority of people will not attain eternal life. Not everybody gets to go to heaven. And thinking that religion is irrelevant and there’s no need to seek the truth and adhere to it once found is dangerously presumptive. It assumes that God is indifferent to the truth—another terrible notion. Hoping for glory without merit, thinking sexual sin is no big deal, deciding one can believe whatever and there are no consequences for such a choice—all these are in fact the grave sin of presumption, which is itself a grave sin against the First Commandment.
What’s the solution? Get serious about the truth. God deigned the human intellect so as to seek and know the highest truth: God. Leave indifference and relativism and the “anti-church” mindset and the new deism behind. Stop ascribing to man-made religions and pagan ideas, put your faith in Christ, and be baptized in the Church. Live the Catholic life of divine faith and worship by virtue of following the true Christian religion transmitted by the Church Christ himself founded in A.D. 33.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.