Home > Eschatology > Wishful Dreaming About Life After Death

Wishful Dreaming About Life After Death

I remember losing an important business receipt years ago. I spent an entire night tossing and turning about where I would find the receipt. Several times throughout the night I actually dreamed I found it, only to wake up and realize it was just a wishful dream — in reality I was no closer to finding the receipt than I was before the dream. Thankfully I did find the receipt the next day in my office wastebasket and was thrilled that I could have a good night sleep again.

Sometimes it seems people exercise a similar kind of wishful dreaming about our personal salvation. In particular, I want to respond to a comment made by John Botscharow after Brian’s post on who will go to heaven. John wrote, “There is a… solution to this conundrum: each religion has its own heaven and its own hell. You go to the heaven or hell, as appropriate, for your particular religion, and that includes atheists.”

How is this line of reasoning any different than my wishful dream? We do not have the liberty to decide what happens after we die, but we do have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure that what we believe lines up with the evidence we have been given. As far as I am aware, the evidence only points in a few possible directions:

1. Materialism – there is no god, and there is nothing beyond this life.
2. Revelation – God has revealed Himself through one of the world religions, and He will one day judge the world according to that revelation.
3. Reincarnation – We will come back as another human, or perhaps as an animal.

The evidence to commend option 3 seems to be that some eastern thinkers arrived at this position after having an enlightenment experience. Option 1 has many intelligent defenders who would point to scientific data (or perhaps the lack of credible data for anything else). On the whole, I find option 2 most compelling because there are good reasons for believing that God has given us Revelation (or I would not be a Christian). But I can at least understand all three positions; I can dialog with them since we are on the common ground that we must base our views on some kind of the evidence.

John’s ‘solution’, by contrast, appears to be nothing more than pop-speculation. My question to John is, what evidence can you possibly provide for this strange belief? No major world religion teaches anything like this; no one claims the scientific data points in this direction. So far as I can tell, the only thing you have to support your position is the fact that you like it, which is nothing more than wishful dreaming.

Categories: Eschatology
  1. Anonymous
    November 5, 2007 at 12:41 am


    1.”pop reasoning.” huh? My professors in divinty school will be pretty disappointed in me then, I guess 😆

    2. As for evidencce:
    a. belief – the fact that people of different religions have different concepts of heaven and hell than we Christians.

    b. The same argument that Christian fundamentalists use for “proog” of their conception of heaven and hell: because [their]scriptures say it is this way.

    I don’t have Google account and I have no intention of signing up for one, especially since you did not sigh up for one om my blog, so I am posting this as “anonymous.”


    John Botscharow

  2. Ryan Jones
    November 5, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Hi John. Thanks for your response.

    By your own admission, your evidence is no greater than that of Christian fundamentalists, which presumably you dismiss as worthless. This is exactly the point I was critiquing.

    As for google, yes, sorry about that. I suppose they are turning into the antichrist. Friends are trying to get me to switch to wordpress, but, I don’t know. This is sort of home now.

  3. Brian LePort
    November 6, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    The problem I have with pluralism, and I have written on this once before, is that is essentially a slap in the face of all the established worldviews in favor of a remixed version to one’s own liking. This is not a philosophical point, but I assume that a major group of people, this far into human history, thinking together, are more likely to come close to a concept of truth rather than one or two Western “free-thinkers”. Whether that be Christians or Muslims or whoever.

    Even the most modern of movements have been birthed out of more ancient ones. Mormanism has come from Christianity and once Christianity came from Judaism. It is one thing to argue for progressive revelation or a God or gods, and a whole different thing to wipe the whole slate clean creating a cosmic, “Ah, what the heck!”

  4. Ryan Jones
    November 8, 2007 at 3:04 pm


    Thanks for the response. I think overall you have a good point in the way you approach pluralism. My only hesitancy is that lot of time the views of the majority are (demonstrably) not correct. That’s why I would rather ground the issue in terms of evidence (the reasons why the various groups hold the views they do) rather than demographics. I am not convinced that your position defends adequately against the accusation of just boiling down to mob rule.

  5. May 6, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    All discussions of heaven and hell are wishful. There is no evidence of them one way or the other. One’s position on heaven and hell can be called “wishful dreaming” but if you do that, then any discussion of existence of God or even Jesus Christ is wishful dreaming. After all, the only evidence we Christians have for the existence of God and Jesus Christ is the Bible, and those texts can be argued are wishful dreaming since there are no historically objective texts to confirm or deny that Kesus existed and did what the Gospels say he did.

    By your reasoning, all religions are wishful dreaming, more or less. But then, isn’t that what faith is all about?

    Any religion’s claim to exclusive access to the truth is based solely on the faith of its followers = more wishful dreaming. So, it seems to me the best solution, the least morally objectiobable one, and the one least likely to result in religious persecution, is for all religions to accept the fact that all religions have a limited access to the truth, and no religion is more right than any other – just as no one language is more right than any other.

    For more detalied discussions of this subject see my blog http://jbotscharow,com

  6. May 6, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    John, thanks for stopping back again. I hope you found my new blog alright (and that you didn’t mind me transfering your post over to this blog).

    After reviewing my original post, it seems I misread you. I originally thought you were saying that every religion’s view of the afterlife is equally true, so a Buddhist can enter Nirvana, a Christian can go to heaven, a Zoroastrian to paradise, etc. But I now take it that you are saying that heaven and hell exist as actual ‘places’ (though I suspect that you and I would agree that spatial categories are probably less than adequate to discuss such realities). You are saying that one will go to heaven or hell based on how well one follows the dictates of her own religion, or really her own conscience. Though I would ultimately disagree I can at least understand this position.

    So in essence: you’re not saying that all religions are equally right about what happens to the individual after death. You’re really saying they’re equally wrong (at least those that don’t hold a heaven/hell dichotomy).

    Nevertheless, you state that “no religion is more right than any other.” But this is itself a religious statement. But if you apply this statement to itself, it cannot be accepted as being any more correct than traditional religious exclusivism. It is ultimately self-refuting.

    My original point was that if we are going to believe something, we ought to have something external to ourselves to ground it in. We may appeal to logic, revelation, or an enlightenment experience (our’s or another’s), but it is absurd to simply “make up” a belief and hold to it simply because it appeals to us. Of course an appeal to one of these concepts leads us to question its own authority in turn, e.g. how do we know that the Bible or the Quran really are Revelation, or how do we know that our logic is not simply an extension of our own culture and context. Those are valid questions. But it seems strange to me to say, “We’re all just making it up anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what authority you appeal to.” That is dismissing the question before it even gets to the table. In fact, from the persective of a committed religious follower, whether orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu, this approach actually seems quite intollerant of differences between us.

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