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Published on: April 30, 2014
Popular Religion
Heaven For Everyone?

The film Heaven Is For Real has done very well at the box office, in part by tapping into lax modern attitudes about salvation. Some critics are troubled by its message.

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  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Calvinism was a rejection of the works righteousness of Catholicism – caring for the poor, paying indulgences, withdrawing from the world into monasteries to save their souls. Calvinists replaced works with a form of predestination that relieved the anxiety of never being sure one has done enough to be saved. If I understand sociologist Max Weber correctly, this led to the accumulation of capital and worldly goods as a
    manifestation of being saved. Monasticism and Catholic anti-usury laws had to be abolished or replaced
    for Capitalism to emerge.

    Joseph Bottum’s new book “An Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America,” borrows from Weber to advance a “Post Protestant” thesis:

    “Freed from the stultifying churches, freed from any theological requirement for faith in Jesus, freed even from the need for any particular action, they (the New Class of Post Protestants from the New Class) found that salvation demands only the sense that….all that is necessary for self-esteem, for the certainty of individual salvation, is possession of class markers of social suspicion that indicate one belongs to the fellowship
    of the redeemed….It matters not what one does but how one perceives oneself to have rejected the metaphysical evil of bigotry, power, militarism, the group think of the vulgar mob….morality is entirely a social construction, powered solely by the need to maintain a reputation of virtue in society.”

    Bottum goes on to describes the outward manifestations of the New Class that has infiltrated and largely replaced Protestantism: “ In their moral and spiritual certainty, the Post Protestants captured the
    credentialing machinery of American culture as a class fiefdom – and formed a new class that rent seeks, hoard privilege, self-righteously congratulates itself, and arrogantly despises other classes as thoroughly as any group in American history has.”

    Who needs Christianity with its concepts of heaven and hell if one can be a Christian without Christianity, if one is a member of The Elect who are certain of their own redemption?

    Modern neo-Calvinism promises a sort of certainty about one’s salvation unconnected to outward works righteousness or material success or the social status of the New Knowledge Class. Those who are part of the New Elect Class that can show off one’s class markers of salvation: men who wear pony tails and earings,
    women who are activists, drive used Volvos or hybrid cars, have the right credentials, support the right causes, are certain that their relativism is absolute, and read Mother Jones as a new gospel. And gay identities and same sex marriages would also constitute a class marker of the New Class.

    Here we have the social divide discussed in Peter Berger’s book “Between Relativism and Fundamentalism.”

    Between these two, I echo Berger’s refrain: “give me the Vanilla Evangelicals.” Or at least the the OK world of Julian of Norwich.

    • Corlyss

      I’m a Theosophist. We don’t believe in literal hells or literal heavens, only stages of evolution for which neither death nor life is the final station.

    • Diws

      I actually purchased “An Anxious Age..” as a direct result of this post. The understanding of the new leftist secular religion that proposes to replace the mainline Protestant churches as the source of civil legitimacy is one of the most important tasks for anyone who seeks to understand our age.

      • Wayne Lusvardi

        Reply to CitizenWhy and Diws

        You both might take a peak at sociologist Christian Smith’s 2003 book “The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests and Conflict in American Life.” Unlike most sociologists such as Max Weber who nearly 100 years ago viewed secularization as a by-product of modernization, Smith sees contemporary secularization as the intentional achievement of often militant and arrogant cultural and intellectual elites such as scientists, academics and literary intellectuals, who seek to gain control of social institutions and increase their own cultural authority and legitimacy for government funding. Katharine Jefforts Schori and the takeover of the Episcopal Church has been a New Class social movement that Peter Berger has been reporting on in these pages.

    • CitizenWhy

      To be fair to Calvinism, its emphasis, once the issue of working for your own salvation, was on the obligation of all, even those destined for hell, to glorify God through their agency as responsible stewards of God’s creation. Presumably responsible stewards would prosper and thus deserve admiration and status in the church. Prosperity was not a sign of god’s favor but a sign that the prosperous were diligently glorifying God through their responsible agency.

      You are right on post-Protestantism. The new church among the ex-Puritans is the cult of Alma Mater, the worship of the prestigious university you went to as a mark of special status and prestige making you not only smarter but also more valuable as a human being than other human beings. A diminished version of this, reaching into every town in America, for thsoe who went to less prestigious universities, is what fraternity you joined and pldeged to be devoted to for the rest of your life.

  • Johannes Oecolampadius

    It’s disappointing to see the man I’ve read and respected for decades trash talking about Jonathan Edwards, an intellect vastly superior to both of us. Even if he was wrong, a man of his stature deserves a little more effort on Berger’s part of at least attempting to understand him and his reasons for his teaching about predestination and election and hell. Augustine and Luther were very close to Calvin on this topic as well. The source is normally theologians’ inability to hold God’s sovereignty together with man’s created freedom. I expected better from a man of Berger’s stature and temperament.

    • RedWell

      Seems to me that Berger is judging Edwards’ intellect and theology on where it ends up: the saved and even Jesus himself rejoicing at others’ condemnation. Even if Edwards is using some rhetorical tool of exaggeration, this is a hideous presentation of God’s righteousness and justice.

      Antebellum “states’ rights” or Soviet ideology might deserve a bit more engagement on the part of serious thinkers, but I think most of us would be forgiven for skipping the logic and drawing conclusions from their perverse consequences.

  • Boritz

    This is the important part, though I’m not sure why it is expressed in the past tense.

    …both Testaments proposed a day of judgment…

    • Breif2

      I am puzzled (not to say disappointed) by those believers who seek anything more. That there are those for whom carrying out the wishes of God is not sufficient, but who need to be provided with a bribe, is bad enough. But if God has informed you that all will be judged and receive their just desserts, then what need have you for anything more? Why should it matter to you as a matter of faith whether Hitler or the Devil himself will spend 10,000 years, 6,000,000 years, or an eternity in Hell? Live your life on Earth, and leave Heaven to the Lord.

    • Jim__L

      … and ignoring this judgment is dangerous for the soul of anyone you meet.

      Mainline Protestantism is dying of “civility”. Civility saps all the urgency and energy out of evangelism. Without evangelism — spreading the gift of the Gospel — any Christian Church would die.

      • CitizenWhy

        Extreme Evangelical Christianity is dying in the US because its belligerent preachers are looked upon as nasty cranks who worship their own image and call it God.

  • laverl09

    Paul spends the entire chapter 15 of Corinthians teaching us about the resurrection. In verse 22 he tells us that EVERYONE will be resurrected (“As in Adam, ALL die, even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive.”)

    In verse 35 he asks the question, “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” In verses 40-42 he answers his own question. He explains that there are three major divisions of glory in the resurrection–the celestial that he compares to the glory of the sun, the terrestrial that he compares to the glory of the moon, and an unnamed division he compares to the glory of the stars.

    Paul’s stunning summary–“So also is the resurrection of the dead.”!

    According to Paul, ALL will be resurrected, albeit with differing glory.

    In this milieu, EVERYONE will be given a resurrection of glory and so Paul summarizes the “good news” in verses 57-58: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, [in view of the fact that] ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

  • amoose1959

    Wake up readers,Johannes finally has. Berger is not a scholar but a Frankfurt School disciple. He is a social marxist to the bone. He is intent on squashing all religions especially Christianity. His style as l have pointed out many times is predictable and he does not fail us in this piece. Also beware of his fellow disciples commentators like Wayne( pen name?) who always quotes his hero Weber a god of The Frankfurt School.
    Can you imagine parents paying well over $60,000 per year to have their kids expose to this crap. Bloom was clairvoyant in his “The Closing of The American Mind”.

    • Loader2000

      Can you articulate what exactly you disagree with in the article and why. Your comment is an accumulation of ad hominem attacks. I suppose if you were an actual Calvinist of the Edwards persuasion, you might be offended. However, the vast majority of Christians aren’t and I didn’t read anything that made me feel defensive of my faith.

      • amoose1959

        Remember a Calvnist is your Christian brother/sister, just like a pre-trib or post triber. So he is attacking Christianity. Always read Berger’s words carefully. I have pointed out on previous posts the perjorative words he uses in context of describing Christians or Christian behavior. Just as an example from this post ” the sermons of Jonathan Edwards are the most repulsive texts in Christian history”. Here’s another
        “Evangelical Jonathan Edwards (who positively relished the horrors of hell”.This is a predictable pattern in his posts- he is a Christian basher . So go back and do that exercise on his older posts and you will become enlightened.
        On a lighter note my cousin and I were discussing Calvinism vs Arminianism and i asked him which was he. He said i am a Calvinist looking back and an Arminian looking forward!

    • Breif2

      “Wake up readers”

      You’ll have to forgive us, as Berger cleverly camouflages his nefarious agenda with feints such as repeated critical references to Western “Kemalists”.

      (By the way, who is “amoose1959″ a pen name for?)

      • amoose1959

        Mine is just a user name ( a big fat kid) and is chosen just like anyone else would choose a user name. I guess i should have been clearer when i asked if Wayne Lusvari is a pen name.What i meant was I suspect the he is really Berger using an alias name.

        • Wayne Lusvardi

          Unlike amoose 1959, Wayne Lusvardi is my real name. Google my name and you will find it at many other websites where I also write on California water and energy issues as I live in California. Berger lives in Boston.

          Take your inaccurate slur that Peter Berger is a Marxist of the Frankfurt School. If you read any of Berger’s books, such as his defense of capitalism (The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions About Personality, Equality and Liberty 1986) you would realize he is a critic of Marxism.

          You also mischaracterize sociologist Max Weber as of the Frankfurt School when actually Weber wrote many of his books in opposition to Marxism.

          You also allege that I am of the Frankfurt School. Go to Amazon.com and read my review of Amy Chua’s book World On Fire entitled “Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone” wherein I critique her book as a rehashed version of Marxism.

          I write for two free market think tanks on energy policy, one in California and the other in Houston. Free markets are antithetical to Marxism.

          Your comments are not productive to the larger conversation and are not
          in the spirit of your Evangelical Christian beliefs which you profess on other websites.

          There should be a rule: if you are going to inaccurately characterize
          and libel others on the Internet you have to use your real name.

          • amoose1959

            Not so fast young man. As to real names, l said I suspect (words are important) that
            yours was Berger’s pen name. That was because of the writing style (your
            writing style above is a change- unbergeresque) and the general lock-step
            agreement with Berger’s thoughts. I withdraw my suspicion but you sure seem
            like his double.

            As to Marxism and the Frankfurt school, go read about the Frankfurt
            School’s Weberian early influenced. Secondly catch Bill Whittle on YouTube
            regarding Marxism and the Frankfurt School. We are not talking Marxist economics but Marxist
            culture. Then read Bloom’s book and you will be enlightened. Which leads into
            post modernism -> secularism -> social progressivism ->moral
            relativity -> deconstruction of the enlightenment -> Christian bashing (
            or at best Christians without convictions). Do you associate with any of the
            above schools? Are you a Christian?

            I have read some of your reviews and I am unswayed .Your
            tirade into capitalism is a phony straw man, a diversion at best. In fact I believe
            more strongly after reading your reviews that you are indeed a Berger disciple.

  • Corlyss

    It’s all speculation anyway. Everyone who is not Colton is taking his vision on faith, just as everyone not Jesus and the other prophets is taking His vision on faith. Until one has Colton’s type of transformative experience, we’re all seekers after that which comforts the heart.

    • Scott M

      Do we “pick” truth from “all the variety out there”? Or isn’t something true, just true? Does a proposition require our assent to make it fact? I’m pretty sure that Truth stand independent of my judgement. . . but I’ll let you pick.

  • wigwag

    I’m not sure why, but Professor Berger’s post put me in mind of this;

  • InjunTrouble77

    Actually heaven is for everyone with very few exceptions (maybe a diehard Nazi), the rest of us will without a doubt allowed into heaven. However this stay is heaven is just temporary – see http://www.sentforlife.com/death.html for more info

  • Breif2

    I highly recommend David Eagleman’s book “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives”. I am thinking particularly of the laugh-out-loud funny ending of the tale in which God decides to admit everyone to Heaven.

    [This is the third time I am typing and submitting this, as someone at TAI or Disqus sent my two previous attempts to Limbo. I am close to suggesting said person join them there.]

    • Anthony

      I had similar trouble on health article you commented on (writing going off into Limbo).

  • Anthony

    Peter Berger remains a TAI respite as he counterbalances geopolitico-economic columnists while contravening tragic vision of human nature via his essays. “Questions about heaven and hell raise serious issues for religious faith.”

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Excerpts from:

    Heaven, A World of Love

    By Jonathan Edwards

    Link: www dot jonathan dash Edwards dot org forward slash Worldoflove dot html

    V. The excellent circumstances in which love shall be exercised and blessed, and enjoyed in heaven. And,

    4. In heaven love will be expressed with perfect decency and wisdom. – Many in this world that are sincere in their hearts, and have indeed a principle of true love to God and their neighbor, yet have not discretion to guide them in the manner and circumstances of expressing it. Their intentions, and so their speeches, are good, but often not suitably timed, nor discreetly ordered as to circumstances, but are attended with an indiscreetness that greatly obscures the loveliness of grace in the eyes of others. But in heaven the amiableness and excellence of their love shall not be obscured by any such means. There shall be no indecent or unwise or dissonant speeches or actions – no foolish and sentimental fondness – no needless officiousness – no low or sinful propensities of passion – and no such thing as affections clouding or deluding reason, or going before or against it. But wisdom and discretion shall be as perfect in the saints as love is, and every expression of their love shall be attended with the most amiable and perfect decency and discretion and wisdom.

    9. In heaven all things shall conspire to promote their love, and give advantage for mutual enjoyment. -There shall be none there to tempt any to dislike or hatred; no busybodies, or malicious adversaries, to make
    misrepresentations, or create misunderstandings,or spread abroad any evil reports, but every being and everything shall conspire to promote love, and the full enjoyment of love. Heaven itself, the place of habitation, is a garden of pleasures, a heavenly paradise, fitted in all respects for an abode of heavenly love; a place where they may have sweet society and perfect enjoyment of each other’s love. None are unsocial or distant from each other. The petty distinctions of this world do not draw lines in the society of heaven, but all meet in the equality of holiness and of holy love.

    VI. Of the blessed effects of the fruit of this love, as exercised and enjoyed in these circumstances. – And of the many blessed fruits of it, I would at this time mention but two.

    In the application of this subject, I remark,

    3. What has been said on this subject may well awaken and alarm the impenitent. – And, First, by putting them in mind of their misery, in that they have no portion or right in this world of love. You have heard what has been said of heaven, what kind of glory and blessedness is there, and how happy the saints and angels are in that world of perfect love. But consider that none of this belongs to you. When you hear of such things, you hear of that in which you have no interest. No such person as you, a wicked hater of God and Christ, and one that is under the power of a spirit of enmity against all that is good, shall ever enter there. Such as you are, never belong to the faithful Israel of God, and shall never enter their heavenly rest. It may be said to you, as Peter said to Simon (Acts 8:21), “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God;” and as Nehemiah said to Sanballat and his associates (Neh. 2:20), “You have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.” If such a soul as yours should be admitted into heaven, that world of love, how nauseous would it be to those blest spirits whose souls are as a flame of love! and how would it discompose that loving and blessed society, and put everything in confusion! It would make heaven no longer heaven, if such souls should be admitted there. It would change it from a world of love to a world of hatred, and pride, and envy, and malice, and revenge, as this world is! But this shall never be; and the only alternative is, that such as you shall be shut out with “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie,” (Rev. 22:15); that is, with all that is vile, and unclean, and unholy. And this subject may well awaken and alarm the impenitent,

  • diderot à la campagne

    Christianity, as you suggest, has unfortunately also been the house of deeply perverted and sadistic minds. We have here a demonstration of the very dark opposite to the loving mildness of Saint Francis of Assisi, the incarnation of the deep essence of the teachings of Jesus.
    Thanks for this great article

  • Jim__L

    More from CS Lewis…

    “[Some say] ‘Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn’t matter what you do. Sin away, my lad, and have a good time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end.’ The answers to that nonsense is that, if what you call your ‘faith’ in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what he says, then it is not Faith at all — not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory of Him.”

  • Jim

    I’m waiting for the day when someone who has had an after death experience writes a book entitled “Hell Is for Real.” Apparently, they are all presume they are going to heaven. I like Mark Twains’ comment: “Who has had the common humanity to pray for Satan, the one sinner who needs it most?” When it comes to the question of eternal life, otherwise reasonable people become so superstitious.

  • CitizenWhy

    I’m not a Calvinist, but you missed a very important aspect of that tradition that would indeed induce Jonathan Edwards to hold revivals and encourage conversions. Calvinism, having dismissed “getting to heaven” as the purpose of religion, strongly emphasized that all, even the damned, were created to “glorify God” through the practice of religion and God works. In other words the emphasis was on God, not the individual, and on agency, being good stewards of God’s creation.

  • CitizenWhy

    Nothing new among Christians about no one going to hell forever. St. Maximus taught that “no one is saved until all are saved.” Repentence was availbale after death. His teaching was endorsed by the pope at that time. The emperor, however, was infuriated and had the pope beheaded and Maximus put on trail for heresy. Eventually Maximus was cleared by the bishops and his teaching allowed. it remained an important religious force in eastern Europe even though the teachings of Maximus were largely lost to the western Catholic church, the parent of Protestantism.

  • Stefanos

    All will be ressurected and spend eternity in the presence of the uncreated light of the eternal triune God. Our actions in this life will decide whether that uncreated light will warm and sustain us or agonize and burn us.

  • Aaron M. Renn

    The recent situation was Donald Sterling is quite illuminating in this regard. He committed a mortal sin – racism – and was sent directly to hell for the rest of his life – no opportunity for repentance or forgiveness. And it seems the vast majority of Americans are taking great delight in his punishment.

    It’s very clear that we have no problem whatsoever with the concept of hell described in the Bible. Our real problem is that we don’t like that it’s God who decides who goes there and for what reasons, not us.

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