I recently watched the movie “Left Behind” starring Kirk Cameron, based on the series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. For those unfamiliar with this film, it begins when the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4: 15-17 and Matthew 24) instantly takes all believers in Christ to heaven. I was struck by how ludicrous the whole concept was, and imagined discussing the Rapture with a Christian (let’s call him Chris for short):
Chris: Jesus transcends death and promises eternal life to all who believe in him! Lift up your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ and he will give you eternal life!
Myself: How will he do that?
Chris: Have you ever read the book called "Left Behind?"
Myself: No, but I have seen the movie.
Chris: You should read the books! They have sold over 20 million copies of the books, because it is the truth! It describes exactly what will happen. One day the Lord Jesus calls his children home, and they are carried straight to heaven! Airplanes crash because their pilots have vanished. Cars run into phone poles. This is exactly what is described in the Bible.
Myself: The people completely vanish?
Chris: Yes. All that is left behind are their clothes, their jewelry and their hearing aids! The believers are transported directly to heaven!
Myself: Their naked bodies are transported to heaven?
Myself: There are seven billion people on the planet of which 2 billion claim to be Christians. They each weigh about 62kg on average taking men and women into account. Are you telling me that God lifts 124 billion kg’s of human flesh off the planet in an instant?
Myself: And where does this 124 billion kg’s of flesh go?
Chris: To heaven!
Myself: To heaven... where is that?
Chris: It is in another dimension, of course! God lives in heaven!
Myself: How do all the bodies get to this "other dimension" called "heaven"? Do they float up into the sky and then travel through the vacuum of space?
Chris: No, silly! They are dematerialized and then rematerialize in heaven!
Myself: So you are saying that 124 billion kg’s of naked human flesh are somehow "dematerialized" out of our universe, and then they "rematerialize" in "another dimension" called "heaven?" And the "dematerializing" process somehow distinguishes between natural human flesh and unnatural things like clothing and hearing aids?
Myself: So... what if the person has artificial heart valves, a couple of stents and two titanium hip joints? Are those ripped out of his body and left behind with his jewelry?
Myself: And what happens to that poor person, whose heart collapses and whose legs are now flopping around detached from his pelvis?
Chris: The book doesn't really talk about that... I imagine God would fix them up!
Myself: And what about all the people whose bodies are wracked with cancer and AIDS and emphysema?
Chris: God fixes them all up too!
Myself: And what about all the decrepit 80-year-old bodies?
Chris: God gives them new, young, beautiful bodies!
Myself: And what about all the people whose bodies have died and decomposed?
Chris: God gives them young, new, beautiful bodies too!
Myself: So why bother transporting the bodies of the believers to heaven? Why not just give everyone a new, young, beautiful body and leave their old bodies on earth?
Chris: The Bible says that your body is transported to heaven! It is right there in black and white in the "Left Behind" books! That is God's will!
Myself: OK, so heaven is full of people whose bodies or corpses or whatever have been "dematerialized" from earth, and then "rematerialized" in "heaven." And then the dematerialized/rematerialized bodies are discarded, and they are replaced with new, young, beautiful bodies?
Chris: Yes! Now you understand the power of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Myself: Ummm…what happens next?
Chris: The believers all live in heaven in peace, harmony and joy for eternity!
Myself: What is heaven like?
Chris: We get to reunite with all of our dead friends and family members! We get to meet our ancestors for the first time!
Myself: What about people like Nelson Mandela and Queen Victoria?
Chris: Everyone is there! You can talk to anyone all through history! Plus you get to meet God and Jesus. I can't wait to meet Jesus!
Myself: That sounds like “fun”. What else?
Chris: Well, the streets are paved in gold! It says so in the Bible! And everyone has a big house! And you can eat whatever you want and not get fat! And really, you just do anything that makes you happy! Everyone is always happy!
And so on.
After listening to a conversation like this, it should be obvious to all of us: Heaven is imaginary. It is all completely imaginary.
Heaven is a fairy tale invented by human imagination. And each person's fairy tale is different. We imagine that we have "souls," fabricate the concept of "eternal life" and then fantasize a place called "heaven," complete with streets of gold, calorie-free foods, frolicking virgins and whatever else we can come up with. Christians imagine it so vividly and repeat the fantasy so often that they actually believe it to be reality.
How bizarre can the fantasies get? Go to Cairo and take a look at the Great Pyramid. There is the pyramid itself -- still one of the largest man-made objects on earth. In addition there is the whole mummification process, the disassembled boats, the sacred artwork and so on. All of this was designed to help the pharaoh reach the afterlife. We look at it now and we all know, with absolute certainty, that it was a complete and total waste of time. The Egyptian notion of the afterlife was a fantasy.
The Christian notion of the afterlife is a fantasy in exactly the same way. Heaven is completely imaginary, just like God.