Christian Beliefs in the Afterlife
The majority of western religions, Christianity in particular, teach that after death one will either reap the fruits of Heaven, or suffer the damnation of Hell, based on a number of factors which may include, but are not limited to: whether or not one sought salvation through Jesus Christ, one’s actions, one’s beliefs at the instant of
death, unforgiving sins at the time of death, and whether certain rituals and sacraments were performed during life and even after death. With the many different offshoots of Christianity and their different interpretations of the passages in both the Old and New Testament, it becomes clear that differences between (and even within) denominational groups teach different paths to eternal salvation.
There are some themes that hold true regardless of the flavor of Christianity that one follows. The most central is to ask for Jesus Christ to enter into one’s life and
accept him as one’s own personal savior. Although there are many different
interpretations to what being saved is, and perhaps even more implications to personal responsibility of one’s actions if being saved is the only prerequisite for acceptance into Heaven, it is clear that the central belief in Christianity is the belief that Jesus is God incarnate and through him resides the only true path to Heaven. Secondly, most Christian faiths hold central the belief that Hell is the absence of God, although there are many disagreements as to whether Hell is a concept, or a place of endless suffering. Lastly, the majority of Christian Faith’s believe that the soul has one
physical life, and will not re-incarnate into another physical form after death.
Aside from these fundamental beliefs, different sects of Christianity teach considerably different views on attaining salvation, Heaven, Hell, and Judgment. For example: Some conservative Christians feel that the Hell is simply a place of isolation from God while others conservatives feel that those sent to Hell will only be punished based on the severity of their sins and could also be sent to oblivion or a state of non-existence known as annihilationism. Fundamentalist Christians would label Hell as a place of eternal suffering and torture without any chance of relief.
The concept of Heaven and the road to Salvation are just as diverse. Most conservative Christians feel that doing good deeds alone does not warrant entrance into Heaven. It follows that being saved in and of itself will cause one to naturally think and act in a right and just manner. With this paradigm, Hell is punishment for a thought crime: Turning away from Christ, or believing falsely in the nature of Christ. Some conservatives also feel that those who make it into Heaven will not be treated equally and the general rule of thumb is that the one who is saved and leads a noble and just life will reap more rewards in Heaven than that of a wicked man who found salvation prior to death.
Liberal Christian viewpoints on Heaven and Salvation differ greatly as well because this wing of Christianity feels that different writers of the Bible held different
belief systems. So, naturally there is a large area of interpretation. Most Liberals feel that Hell is neither a place of eternal punishment or annihilation, as much as a concept: the separation from God. In addition, many Liberal Christians feel that God would not punish someone for petty sins, oversights, or errors — to do so would be unjust and is
not the true nature of God. Further, Liberals generally feel that one would not be held accountable for not having the opportunity to hear the Gospel or the Christian viewpoint. This applies to both children who are too young to understand it and third world countries where the Christian faith has yet to penetrate. This belief differs greatly from the fundamentalist viewpoint where, in effect, 2 out of 3 people in the world would suffer damnation even if they were not afforded exposure to the Christian faith.
It is clear that the Christian belief system holds many different interpretations based both on denomination and propinquity. However, it is clear across the board that at least the concept of Heaven and Hell, Christ being the true and only Lord, and Judgment of one’s actions and beliefs all are part of the equation for most groups. Further, Christianity shares many similarities with other world religions in teaching that selfless acts are central to leading both a fruitful life and a rewarding afterlife.