Several religions of the world have a concept of afterlife in heaven or hell. This comparison examines the beliefs of various religious faiths and their ideas of heaven and hell.
|Access to||Some humans after their death, Angels (excluding The Devil) and God.||Other humans after their death, the Devil and Demons.|
|Ruled by||God||The Devil|
|Original reference to||The sky or the area above the earth where the "heavenly bodies" are placed||The area below the Earth's surface or Underground|
|Place of||Happiness & Peace||Pain & Punishment|
|Climate||Warm & Pleasant||Hot and dark|
|Eternally||In the Presence Of God||Banished from the Presence Of God.|
Originally the term "heaven" referred to the sky or the area above the earth where the "heavenly bodies" are placed. This is the main meaning of the word in the Bible. It was considered the dwelling place of God and his angels. However, with time, the term came to be used also in the sense of the abode of the righteous at some point after death. This is supported by a few verses in the Bible, but the Bible tends to use other terms, such as Paradise, for this. (See below for other terms.)
Hell, according to many religious beliefs, is an afterlife of suffering where the wicked or unrighteous dead are punished. Hell is almost always depicted as underground. Within Islam hell is traditionally depicted as fiery. Some other traditions, however, portray Hell as cold and gloomy. Punishment in Hell typically corresponds to sins committed in life.
While there are abundant and varied sources for conceptions of Heaven, the typical believer's view appears to depend largely on his religious tradition and particular sect. Generally religions agree on the concept of Heaven as pertaining to some type of peaceful life after death related to the immortality of the soul. Heaven is generally construed as a place of happiness, sometimes eternal happiness. Hell is often portrayed populated with demons, who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god, such as Nergal, the Hindu Yama, or some other dreadful supernatural figure (e.g. Satan).
Historically, Christianity has taught "Heaven" as a generalized concept, a place of eternal life, in that it is a shared plane to be attained by all the pious and elect (rather than an abstract experience related to individual concepts of the ideal). The Christian Church has been divided over how people gain this eternal life. From the 16th to the late 19th century, Christendom was divided between the Roman Catholic view, the Orthodox view, the Coptic view, the Jacobite view, the Abyssinian view and Protestant views. Roman Catholics believe that entering Purgatory after death (physical rather than ego death) cleanses one of sin (period of suffering until one's nature is perfected), which makes one acceptable to enter heaven. This is valid for venial sin only, as mortal sins can be forgiven only through the act of reconciliation and repentance while on earth. Some within the Anglican Church also hold to this belief, despite their separate history. However, in Oriental Orthodox Churches, it is only God who has the final say on who enters heaven. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, heaven is understood as union and communion with the Triune God (reunion of Father and Son through love). Thus, Heaven is experienced by the Orthodox both as a reality inaugurated, anticipated and present here and now in the divine-human organism of the Christ's Body, the Church, and also as something to be perfected in the future. In some Protestant Christian sects, eternal life depends upon the sinner receiving God's grace (unearned and undeserved blessing stemming from God's love) through faith in Jesus' death for their sins, his resurrection as the Christ, and accepting his Lordship (authority and guidance) over their lives. In other sects the process may or may not include a physical baptism, or obligatory process of transformation or experience of spiritual rebirth. According to the controversial website "Religioustolerance.org", "Conservative and mainline Protestant denominations tend to base their belief in heaven on the literal interpretation of certain passages of the Bible, and symbolic interpretations of others. They arrive at very different beliefs because they select different passages to read literally."
In Christianity, the popularly used word Hell, however, is a translation of three Greek words: hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. Hades, literally meaning unseen, usually refers to the state of death, which is defined by some as a conscious waiting place for resurrection, and by others as a state of unconsciousness synonymous with death itself. Gehenna, on the other hand, more ambiguous than hades, seems to refer to judgment and fits more closely with the modern conceptions of Hell. Tartarus is used in reference to the judgment of sinning angels and seems to be an allusion to Greek mythology (see Tartarus). While the majority of Christianity views Hell as a place of eternal torment, some Christians, such as Universalist Christians (see Universalism) contend that after resurrection, unrepentant sinners are judged and purified in the lake of fire and then later accepted into Heaven, while others believe that after resurrection, the unrepentant sinners are permanently destroyed in the lake of fire (see annihilationism). Various interpretations of the torments of Hell exist, ranging from fiery pits of wailing sinners to lonely isolation from God's presence. However, the descriptions of Hell found in the Bible are quite vague. The books of Matthew, Mark, and Jude tell of a place of fire, while the books of Luke and Revelation report it as an abyss. Our modern, more graphic, images of Hell have developed from writings that are not found in the Bible. Dante's The Divine Comedy is a classic inspiration for modern images of Hell. Other early Christian writings also illustrate the anguish of Hell. Most Christians believe that damnation occurs immediately upon death (particular judgment), and others that it occurs after Judgment Day, which is written about in the book of Revelation.
In Hinduism, with its emphasis on reincarnation, the concept of Heaven is not as prominent. While heaven is temporary (until the next birth), the permanent state that Hindus aspire to is Moksha. Moksha is seen as the soul's liberation from the cycle of life and death, a re-establishment in one's own fundamental divine nature and may include union with or joining God. Entry into heaven (swarga loka) or hell (Naraka) is decided by the Lord of death Yama and his karmic accountant, Chitragupta, who records the good and bad deeds of a person during his lifetime. It must be noted that Yama and Chitragupta are subordinate to the supreme Lord Ishwara (God) and work under his direction. Entry into heaven is only dependent on ones actions in the previous life and is not restricted by faith or religion. The ruler of heaven, where one enjoys the fruits of ones good deeds, is known as Indra and life in that realm is said to include interaction with many celestial beings (gandharvas).
In Hinduism, there are contradictions as to whether or not there is a Hell (referred to as 'Narak' in Hindi). For some it is a metaphor for a conscience. But in Mahabharata there is a mention of the Pandavas and the Kauravas going to Hell. Hells are also described in various Puranas and other scriptures. Garuda Purana gives a detailed account on Hell, its features and enlists amount of punishment for most of the crimes like modern day penal code. It is believed that people who commit 'paap' (sin) go to Hell and have to go through the punishments in accordance to the sins they committed. The god Yama, who is also the god of death, is the king of Hell. The detailed accounts of all the sins committed by an individual are supposed to be kept by Chitragupta who is the record keeper in Yama's court. Chitragupta reads out the sins committed and Yama orders the appropriate punishments to be given to the individuals. These punishments include dipping in boiling oil, burning in fire, torture using various weapons etc. in various Hells. Individuals who finish their quota of the punishments are reborn according to their karma. All of the created are imperfect and thus have at least one sin to their record, but if one has led a generally pious life, one ascends to Heaven, or Swarga after a brief period of expiation in Hell.
The Buddha confirmed the existence of other worlds, of heavens and hells populated by celestial beings. In the early Buddhist literature, the Buddha himself was described as having gone to the heavens and meeting with the gods. The scriptures also quoted instances of gods descending down to the earth to witness some momentous events in the life of the Buddha In Buddhism the gods are not immortal, though they may live much longer than the earthly beings. They also are subject to decay and change, and the process of becoming. The intensity and the manner in which these processes take place however may be different and involve longer periods of time. But like any other beings, they are with a beginning and an end. However, all heavenly beings are regarded as inferior in status to the Arhats who have attained Nirvana. The gods were also from the lower worlds originally, but slowly and gradually graduated themselves into higher worlds by virtue of their past deeds and cultivation of virtuous qualities. Since there are many heavens and higher worlds of Brahma, these gods may evolve progressively from one heaven to another through their merit or descend into lower worlds due to some misfortune or right intention. The gods of Buddhism are therefore not immortal. Neither their position in the heavens is permanent. They may however live for longer durations of time. One of the Buddhist Sutras states that a hundred years of our existence is equal to one day and one night in the world of the thirty three gods. Thirty such days add up to their one month. Twelve such months become their one year, while they live for a thousand such years.
As diverse as other religions, there are many beliefs about Hell in Buddhism. Most of the schools of thought, Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna would acknowledge several Hells, which are places of great suffering for those who commit evil actions, such as cold Hells and hot Hells. Like all the different realms within cyclic existence, an existence in Hell is temporary for its inhabitants. Those with sufficiently negative karma are reborn there, where they stay until their specific negative karma has been used up, at which point they are reborn in another realm, such as that of humans, of hungry ghosts, of animals, of asuras, of devas, or of Naraka (Hell) all according to the individual's karma. There are a number of modern Buddhists, especially among Western schools, who believe that Hell is but a state of mind. In a sense, a bad day at work could be Hell, and a great day at work could be heaven. This has been supported by some modern scholars who advocate the interpretation of such metaphysical portions of the Scriptures symbolically rather than literally.
While the concept of heaven (malkuth hashamaim מלכות השמים—The Kingdom of Heaven) is well-defined within the Christian and Islamic religions, the Jewish concept of the afterlife, sometimes known as "olam haba", the world to come, seems to have been disputed between various early sects such as the Sadducees, and thus never set forth in a systematic or official fashion as was done in Christianity and Islam. Jewish writings refer to a "new earth" as the abode of mankind following the resurrection of the dead. Judaism does, however, have a belief in Heaven, not as a future abode for "good souls", but as the "place" where God "resides". Jewish mysticism recognizes seven heavens. In order from lowest to highest, the seven Heavens are listed alongside the angels who govern them and any further information:
- Shamayim: The first Heaven, governed by Archangel Gabriel, is the closest of heavenly realms to the Earth; it is also considered the abode of Adam and Eve.
- Raquia: The second Heaven is dually controlled by Zachariel and Raphael. It was in this Heaven that Moses, during his visit to Paradise, encountered the angel Nuriel who stood "300 parasangs high, with a retinue of 50 myriads of angels all fashioned out of water and fire." Also, Raquia is considered the realm where the fallen angels are imprisoned and the planets fastened.
- Shehaqim: The third Heaven, under the leadership of Anahel, serves as the home of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life; it is also the realm where manna, the holy food of angels, is produced. The Second Book of Enoch, meanwhile, states that both Paradise and Hell are accommodated in Shehaqim with Hell being located simply " on the northern side."
- Machonon: The fourth Heaven is ruled by the Archangel Michael, and according to Talmud Hagiga, it contains the heavenly Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Altar.
- Machon: The fifth Heaven is under the administration of Samael, an angel referred to as evil by some, but who is to others merely a dark servant of God.
- Zebul: The sixth Heaven falls under the jurisdiction of Zachiel.
- Araboth: The seventh Heaven, under the leadership of Cassiel, is the holiest of the seven Heavens provided the fact that it houses the Throne of Glory attended by the Seven Archangels and serves as the realm in which God dwells; underneath the throne itself lies the abode of all unborn human souls. It is also considered the home of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Hayyoth.
Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but it does have a tradition of describing Gehenna. Gehenna is not Hell, but rather a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on his or her life's deeds. The Kabbalah describes it as a "waiting room" (commonly translated as an "entry way") for all souls (not just the wicked). The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not in Gehenna forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be 11 months, however there has been the occasional noted exception. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Olam Habah (heb. עולם הבא; lit. "The world to come", often viewed as analogous to Heaven). This is also mentioned in the Kabbalah, where the soul is described as breaking, like the flame of a candle lighting another: the part of the soul that ascends being pure and the "unfinished" piece being reborn. When one has so deviated from the will of God, one is said to be in gehinom. This is not meant to refer to some point in the future, but to the very present moment. The gates of teshuva (return) are said to be always open, and so one can align his will with that of God at any moment. Being out of alignment with God's will is itself a punishment according to the Torah. Also, Subbotniks and Messianic Judaism believe in Gehenna, but Samaritans probably believe in a separation of the wicked in a shadowy existence, Sheol, and the righteous in heaven.
The concept of heaven in Islam is similar to that found in Judaism and Christianity. The Qur'an contains many references to an afterlife in Eden for those who do good deeds. Heaven itself is commonly described in the Qu'ran in verse 35 of Surah Al-Ra’d: "The parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised! Beneath it flow rivers. Perpetual is the fruits thereof and the shade therein. Such is the End of the Righteous; and the end of the unbelievers is the Fire, wherein a person dwells forever." Since Islam rejects the concept of original sin, Muslims believe that all human beings are born pure and will naturally turn to God, but it is their environment and lack of will power which influences them to choose ungodly ways of life. In Islam, therefore, a child who dies automatically goes to heaven, regardless of the religion of his or her parents. The highest level of heaven is Firdaws (فردوس)- Pardis (پردیس), which is where the prophets, the martyrs and the most truthful and pious people will dwell.
Muslims believe in jahannam (in Arabic: جهنم) (which comes from the Hebrew word gehennim and resembles the versions of Hell in Christianity). In the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, there are literal descriptions of the condemned in a fiery Hell, as contrasted to the garden-like Paradise (jannah) enjoyed by righteous believers. In addition, Heaven and Hell are split into many different levels depending on the actions perpetrated in life, where punishment is given depending on the level of evil done in life, and good is separated into other levels depending on how well one followed God while alive. There is an equal number of mentions of both Hell and paradise in the Qur'an, which is considered by believers to be among the numeric miracles in the Qur'an. The Islamic concept of Hell is similar to the medieval Christian view of Dante.  However, Satan is not viewed as Hell's ruler, merely one of its sufferers. The gate of Hell is guarded by Maalik also known as Zabaaniyah. The Quran states that the fuel of Hellfire is rocks/stones (idols) and human beings. Names of Hell according to Islamic Tradition based on the Quranic ayah and Hadith:
Although generally Hell is often portrayed as a hot steaming and tormenting place for sinners there is one Hell pit which is characterized differently from the other Hell in Islamic tradition. Zamhareer is seen as the coldest and the most freezing Hell of all, yet its coldness is not seen as a pleasure or a relief to the sinners who committed crimes against God. The state of the Hell of Zamhareer is a suffering of extreme coldness of blizzards ice and snow which no one on this earth can bear. The lowest pit of all existing Hells is the Hawiyah which is meant for the Hypocrites and two-faced people who claimed to believe in Allah and His messenger by the tongue but denounced both in their hearts. Hypocrisy is considered to be the most dangerous sin of all despite the fact that Shirk (setting partners with God) is the greatest sin viewed by Allah. The Qur'an also says that some of those who are damned to Hell are not damned forever, but instead for an indefinite period of time. In any case, there is good reason to believe that punishment in Hell is not meant to actually last eternally, but instead serves as a basis for spiritual rectification. Even though in Islam, the devil, or shaytan, is created from fire, he suffers in Hell because Hellfire is 70 times hotter than the fire of this world. It was also said that Shaytan is derived from shata, (literally `burned'), because it was created from a smokeless fire.