Can a person be a Protestant and go to heaven when he dies? Can a person be a Catholic and go to heaven when he dies? Can a person be a non-Christian (either a person of no established faith, or a person of another religion like Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and go to heaven when he dies? Is there even a real place that corresponds to what people call heaven? If there is a heaven, is there a hell? How do we know?
These are not idle questions. That is, they are not idle if there is anything at all called life beyond the grave. If the materialists are correct, and when we die we are dead in every sense of the word, then the questions are irrelevant. If it is true that we really do only go around once, we do need to grab for all the gusto we can get. If death ends our existence, then we need not be concerned about heaven and hell. But, if death only ends the present existence of our present physical bodies, we need to be very concerned about the answers to these questions.
Now, where do we start? Obviously, in an article the length of this one--or even in a thousand articles this long--we cannot deal with all of the particulars implied in those questions. But, we can begin to deal with them, and the most logical place to start is with the question, "How do we know?" So, that is where we shall begin.
In raising the question, "How do we know?", we are asking several things. One such thing is, "what is the rational basis for our knowing?" Another is, "what is the emotional basis for our knowing?" -- because people often know with their minds, but because their emotions demand something else, they live in confusion and lack of confidence. There is a difference between being confident that I am right, and being right. In other words, there is a difference between objective reality, and subjective feelings of confidence. It is one thing to believe that I am going to heaven when I die. It is altogether another thing to die and discover I am actually in heaven. It is an inestimable tragedy for a person to believe he is going to go to heaven when he dies and, when he dies, discover he is in hell. It is a pleasant surprise for the person who believes he is hell-bound, to die and discover he is acceptable to God and that he has a place in heaven. So, we need to know how we know and whether what we know really corresponds to the way things will be when we get there. In a word, we need to be both confident and correct. We need to be right, and to know that we are right.
How does this happen? The next few articles will deal with this question. Suffice it to say at this point that we can know and be right at the same time. But, for this to happen, we have to get the issues of knowing in the right order. Facts must precede feelings. Everyone knows that feelings come and go according to a multitude of stimuli. Facts stick around because they are a part of an immutable reality. Interpretations of facts often change. Facts do not. We have to start with the facts. Then we can deal effectively with the feelings by either basking in them (or wallowing in them, as the case may be), or enduring them.