This question isn’t really thought about much, unless you choose a deeply religious and/or spiritual way of life or when one is actually facing death with a serious track record behind them. Before the New Age movement and re-incarnation coming into mainstream through books about dying and “coming back”, telling us what heaven and/or hell looked like, it was a vague notion of who ever you were listening to. Then, of course the “channeled” books of receiving messages from other dimensions or the other side through a medium that absolutely ‘saw it’!!!!
What got me thinking if heaven and hell really was a concept a person could make sense of was a movie with Robin Williams from 1998, called “What Dreams May Come.” It held the theory of after death, you made your own definition of what you expected to find in heaven or hell based on the beliefs you held in life. Even as a private Catholic Convent girls school student, (yep! any woman who ever attended a Convent school, will tell you it ruins you for life, lol!) I believed that if God was all forgiving, then how did one end up in hell? I especially had an issue about purgatory, (nun’s rulers across the knuckles a lot for that one!). If you were not raised Catholic, purgatory was a place where babies who died before being baptized in the church, were never allowed in heaven with God because a priest didn’t pour water on their heads. The Catholic religion has since dropped that silly abstraction.
Heaven and hell are a personal religious, mystical, intellectual and spiritual viewpoint, just pick one. It is also used as a fear tactic to supposedly keep you doing good. It obviously has not worked very well, as we look at our world today and see so many injustices. I don’t think the perpetrators of those injustices are the least bit concerned about spending an eternity in hell, only that their ‘in the moment’ life happening gives them the satisfaction of a temporary heaven on earth of their own definition. The feeling of heaven on earth is nebulous at best. Ask any addict, serial killer, religious fanatic or those in the mental facilities believing they are picked by God to sit by his throne and the rest of you will burn in hell!
Then there is the question of eternity? So many religions now believe in re-incarnation, which obviously shows that you get a second, third, fourth or maybe thousands of chances to make right whatever put you in the hell line. I think the question of what heaven or hell is, depends on where you are on the scale of unconditional acceptance of self and others. Moving right on through the judgment and guilt. It also definitely depends on how you were heart raised, what tribe your heritage is and whether you buy the whole God thing in the first place.
58% of all U.S. adults believe in hell, a place “where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry, are eternally punished.” Surveys also show that in the US, heaven is not as clear. If someone has lived a hard life without any loving support, enough food or kindness, the general consensus is they are in hell now, so heaven wouldn’t be much different.
Doing a little research on the overall definitions of what you can expect when buying a ticket to heaven or hell in general is broken down religious doctrine, tribal beliefs and sometimes just believing in nothing, turned out to be very interesting. If you have never been exposed to and adhering to the strict religious rules of what it takes to go to heaven or how bad you have to be to go to hell, punishment will be just a mute-point and not much thought is given to it.
Catholics: Definitely a heaven for good people and a hell where there is no chance of getting out…..ever!!!!…..unless you repent. Kind of hard when you are in a shit situation to find the goodness in yourself and the life you just screwed up. But then again, they also have a “Home Free” card called purgatory. Somewhat like hell, but if you do figure it out, repent all your sins and realize the errors of your bad life and the living hell you inflicted on others when you were alive, you then get to go to heaven! It has never been clearly defined if there is a probationary period or it is a done deal? It seems as though, NO ONE is really sure what to expect. Regardless of how many experiences are shared by those that return from the pronounce dead thing and then coming back.
Buddhists: Everything flows from one existence to another. Nothing is considered punishment nor reward but only living out the karma that you have in front of you at the moment. And then you move on to the next lesson in another life. Although Nirvana (the knowing and understanding that all is love)is possible if you have an ‘aha’ moment in one of those lives and then you don’t have to come back at all! You have already figured out there is nothing to figure out! Yep! I didn’t say it would be easy to understand.
Conservative Religions: You are going to hell if you deviate in any way but what is considered “normal”. (the kind of religious fanatic that believes Greenpeace, being liberal or God help us….gay, is a sin directly against God and humanity!) The definition of normal is you have done nothing that anybody can talk about you in a negative way because of A., you have lived a pious good life and offended no one or B., no one has yet to find out the darker side of your life. Which is kind of difficult in these times since gossip is considered a good sport and a fine art with religious perfectionists. Not all extremely religious fall into this category but their beliefs are pretty much set in stone. You get to go to heaven because you embrace their doctrine, period. If you don’t, a definite one way ticket to burning in hell for eternity with Satan. Whoever that guy is?
Jewish: Non-committal about heaven or hell. There is a punishment of some sort of hell for those that do not abide by the rules of living a good life but does not promise anything about a heaven for being good. But totally believes in Karma taking care of what they can’t.
Atheists: Since this group does not believe in any divine higher power of creation, their basic belief is; you live, you die, get buried or cremated and that’s it. Done deal. Since I have never spoken to an atheist that can give a reasonable answer to what they think happens after death for a non-believer, I think I will go with the idea of “on to the next phase!!!!”
Metaphysical: Almost all metaphysical converts believe in re-incarnation, so you always get another chance to make right what you fucked up in the life you just left. You get a better reincarnation or a karmic one make right life after a few adjustments in the white room(healing, remembering and releasing what the soul brings with it after a fresh death). But definitely hold the belief that Heaven and Hell are what you make while living your life through your beliefs, actions and words.
Since I know no one who has been to either place and came back with proof of anything, our beliefs are the only beliefs that sustain us, either in loving acceptance and forgiveness or fear of punishment. Personally, I’m all for the forgiveness.