Do Muslims go to heaven?
VFR reader Luke P. wrote that we must not go so far to say, as I had, that according to Lumen Gentium, Muslims will go to the same heaven as the Christians.
Okay, I’m open to the suggestion. But maybe please any one of your Catholic readers could help sorting this out for me then. As far as I understand Catholicism, when you die, you go to hell, to purgatory, or to heaven (there’s no fourth place is there?).
Luke P. seems to suggest that Muslims go to hell, given that they cling to Islam. But what would all the talk in Lumen Gentium be about then? What’s the “plan of salvation” worth to them, if they go to hell just as before?
Isn’t Lumen Gentium §16 a very explicit invitation for the Muslims to the Catholic heaven? [LA note: LG 16 is the passage that says Muslims are “first among those” who are included in the “plan of salvation.”] contains the Without guarantees of course, quite as for the Christians themselves. All depending on the grace of the Body of Christ. The point is instead that belonging to the Church and being baptized is no longer necessary, at least as long as you belong to any of the sub-categories listen in §16, e.g. by being a Muslim piously submitting to Allah. While I, who read and understood Lumen Gentium, but still don’t follow, am screwed. Quite as many ex-Muslims are too.
Maybe Luke P. imagines that the pious Muslims would go to purgatory? But that would just mean that they end up in heaven eventually. Are there any estimates made, considering current demographic trends, when the Catholic heaven will have a Muslim majority? I guess by the end of the century…
Is there anyone that could answer? Does logic apply at all here? Hell, purgatory or heaven?
It’s not until anyone knowledgeable in Catholicism clearly claims “Yes, they will go to hell” (backed up with some argument), that I could seriously start considering to withdraw my statement.
This is not an unfair position to take, is it?
Nulla in caelestis pax sincera,
Chris L. writes:
While I cannot answer for Catholic doctrine, my understanding of Biblical scripture on this subject is this. If you have heard the Gospel and never accepted it, you go to hell. If you hear the Gospel and accept it, heaven is your destination. Additionally, I believe a case can be made that your rewards in heaven, beyond eternal life, are based on your actions in this life. If you have never heard the Gospel, then God judges you based on the conscience that he gives to every person. In this situation, it is similar to being under law as the Israelites. So in answer to Conservative Swede, if a Muslim has never heard the Gospel, there is a possibility of going to heaven. However, if the Muslim has heard the Gospel and rejected it, the Muslim will go to hell just as anyone else who rejects God.
Considering the multiple personality disorder the Catholic Church suffers from today, I doubt any Catholic will give an answer that will not be contradicted by some other pronouncement of the Church.
Stewart W. writes:
If Mr. Swede is correct in his interpretations of the Catholic teachings, does that mean that suicide bombers go to Catholic heaven? Does one have to be a bad Moslem (i.e. live according to the ideals and standards of Christianity or liberalism), or a good Moslem (i.e. kill Jews and apostates, etc.) in order to be admitted to Catholic heaven? If my choice is between spending an eternity with either Salman Rushdie or Mohammed Atta, I may have to reconsider my plans for the afterlife. Neither a “good Muslim” nor a “liberal Muslim” belong in any well-ordered heaven according to traditional Christian teachings as I understand them.
Mark N. writes:
As a practicing Catholic, I think I can say without reservation that it is not true that all Muslims go to hell because they don’t accept Christ. However, if they do go to heaven, it will be solely through the merits of Christ. The Church cannot say who is in hell, because no human can fathom God’s eternal mercy. The Church, however, attempts at times to say who is in heaven, and we call them saints. These are people of heroic virtue, and even then it requires one hell of a lot of work to declare someone a saint. [LA notes: Then it seems that, apart from the minuscule number of saints, the Church has no idea of who is in hell and heaven. Then isn’t this whole discussion besides the point?]
I’m also convinced all Christians aren’t going to heaven. As for myself, I’m not pompous enough to take my salvation for granted, and I struggle daily to be the best Christian I can be. Unlike evangelicals, I don’t believe in eternal assurance; just because I accept Christ as my savior doesn’t mean I have a “free ride,” by a long shot. I have to attempt to be worthy of God’s grace, and cooperate with it on a daily basis.
Now back to the issue of the Muslims. There are 1.3 billion Muslims on earth. Am I to understand that God ipso facto condemns them all to hell because of their religious beliefs? That’s a stretch for me, somewhat like saying that all the Jewish children who died in the Holocaust ended up in hell, because they didn’t accept Christ. Puhleeeeze.
The problem with the modern secular West is that it no longer accepts the need for salvation, because it doesn’t accept the notion of sin. More the pity for many poor bastards on the day of judgment. Western secularism is going to cause a lot of people to end up in hell, though which ones I can’t say (though I can guess.) As for the Muslims who believe that violence in the service of a bloodthirsty and masogynistic deity [LA adds: that’s an interesting deity—half masochist, half misogynist] is going to get them to heaven—well, at the risk of sounding un-Christian—I say shoot the bastards and be done with it. As for the rest, keep them at a safe distance. Their presence does not bode well for the West.
I’m really not sure of what Mark’s overall point is.
Dimitri K. writes:
I have a different theory. I believe, being a Muslim IS the kind of a hell. The souls of sinners are transferred into Muslims.
Right on. This is correct thinking.
Though it’s not exactly what you were saying, here is how I interpret you. Hell and heaven are states of being, not physical places. Furthermore, men are not consigned to hell and heaven by an external judge. Men choose hell or heaven, by their own actions and conduct, by turning toward or turning away from God.
Brandon F. writes:
I must add that we shouldn’t forget this statement in the Catechism which quotes Lumen Gentium 16:
841The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. [Emphasis added.]According to this Muslims are first, after Christians, to be considered with respect to salvation. First before the Jews. That omission is neither accidental nor insignificant.
Secondly if God is the indivisible unity of Father, Son, and Holy spirit then the belief in only one ‘aspect’ of this Trinity is not a true belief in God. Since the God of Abraham was this Undivided Trinity, the Muslims can’t possibly worship the true God.
It’s good to be Orthodox.
Mark N. replies:
You make a good point. OK, I’ll attempt to be less obscure.
Scripture and Sacred Tradition are straight forward on the issue of salvation. Jesus Christ is the sole means of salvation. One does not enter into the beatific vision of God after death without the grace received through Christ. One must have “sanctifying grace” to enter heaven. One receives sanctifying grace through 1) baptism; 2) following God’s moral law; 3) receiving the sacraments, especially baptism and Eucharist. Sacraments are necessary to maintain the soul in a state of grace. Mortal sin kills sanctifying grace, and thus the individual is not in a state of friendship with God. Being separated from God, hell is the result.
All religions are not equally true, though many have elements of truth in them. To say all religions are equally true offends the simple rules of logic. Muslims deny the Incarnation, and thus the efficacy of Christ’s sacrificial death. By denying Christ, they are denying God’s plan for salvation, and thereby their participation in His plan.
The Church says that there are people, who for a myriad number of reasons, may not have the opportunity to enter into a relationship with Our Lord. For example, conversion to Christianity is a death sentence in the Muslim world. Most people, having a understandable desire to go on living, may never even bother to entertain the possibility of Christian truth. Moreover, there are people of good will who follow the Muslim religion, and by the dictates of their conscience continue practicing the Islamic faith. If I understand the Vatican II documents correctly, if these people are following a righteous life (which they can’t do without the help of the Holy Spirit) , we cannot preclude the possibility that God’s eternal mercy and his grace will permit them to eventually enter into His Presence after death. This is not the same as saying that it doesn’t make any difference whether or not one is a Christian or Muslim, when considering the issue of eternal life.
This is closer to the way I remember the doctrine being explained to me some years ago by knowledgeable traditionalist Catholics. (However, that is not necessarily that same interpretation as the Vatican’s. Perhaps the Vatican does see salvation of Muslims pretty assured if the requisite conditions are met.) It is really a fitting statement of human modesty concerning knowledge of the afterlife. However, by its very bifurcation between the fact of Muslims’ rejection of Christ in this life, and the indeterminate possibility of individual Muslims’ salvation in the next life, this doctrine with admirable logic does not lead the Church to any dogmatic friendliness toward Muslims. The whole point is that the ultimate destiny of an individual soul cannot be seen by us. “The spirit bloweth where it listeth.” Therefore, in this world, we must remain permanently on guard against people whose religion is in eternal war with Christians and Jews, and leave the question of individual Muslims’ ultimate salvation up to God. Thus the doctrine as explained here by Mark N. (which, again, I think is the more traditionalist interpretation and which I agree with) does not support the passage in the Catholic Catechism about the Muslims being first among those who are included in the plan of salvation (as discussed in the concurrent thread about the Catechism’s teaching on Christian-Muslim relations).
However, it is not clear that the “Muslims are first” passage can be so easily finessed. On one hand, there is the rather minimal idea that we cannot preclude the posssibility that individual Muslims can be saved. On the other hand, there is the description, in LG 16, of Muslims as first among those who are included in the plan of salvation. Traditionalists cannot be sanguine about this contradiction, since it may only be resolvable in a way that goes against them, that is, with the passage that favors Muslim salvation superceding the traditionalist interpretation which says that the salvation of Muslims is not a certainty, and is only possible in the sense that we cannot preclude it. And a defeat for traditionalism would put us back in the position laid out by Conservative Swede at the beginning of this discussion, in which certain passages of the Vatican II documents command an unacceptable openness to Islam and they cannot be interpreted otherwise; from which it follows that they must be amended or repealed if the Church is to escape its self-imposed dhimmitude.
Alan Roebuck writes:
In “Do Muslims go to Heaven?” there seem to be two themes. The main theme is “What exactly does the Catholic Church teach about Muslims?” This is understandably your main concern: Is the Catholic Church, even if only some elements of it, weakening our resolve against our Islamic enemies? But there is a second theme: “What does it take to go to Heaven?” and as a traditionalist protestant, I want to add something here.
The questions of what happens to a person after he dies and what the requirements are for going to Heaven are transcendental questions. That is, these issues transcend (earthly) human experience, and there is accordingly no way to know the answers unless God tells them to us.
The primary war God speaks to us is, of course, through the Bible. Being God’s Word, the Bible is the highest authority on any issue about which it speaks, and this is in fact the meaning of the protestant Reformers’ slogan sola scriptura. (Sola scriptura does not mean “we don’t need teachers, pastors, church officials, etc”, nor does it mean “the Bible contains all the truths we need.”)
Therefore any answers to these questions must square with Scripture, or else they are just human speculation. Speculation is sometimes right, but not often, so it is not a good bet.
The Biblical answer to the requirement for going to Heaven is clear: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Faith” means more than just an intellectual state; in the formulation of classical Protestantism, it means knowledge, assent, and active trust. And “in the Lord Jesus Christ” means that one needs to know, believe and trust in specific facts about Christ: first and foremost that He is God, not just man. Pious Muslims would obviously fail to meet this condition.
(It is obviously possible for God to extend mercy to some individuals who would for all outward apperances be unable to learn about and trust in Christ. Therefore we must acknowledge that we cannot be sure what is the fate of those who apparently cannot become believers in Christ.)
I am writing this at work, where a Bible is not readily at hand. Furthermore, individual verses can be quoted out of context, in which case individual verses, quoted by themselves, may not authoritatively settle the matter. Therefore I will refer to Protestant tradition:
See, for example, the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church XI “Of the Justification of Man”: “ We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine,..” And note that only those who are fully righteous get to go to Heaven.
To give any definite answers to these questions is necessarily to be contentious, because different religious traditions, even within Christendom, give different answers. For example, the Catholic Church has evidently added additional requirements of certain religious rituals or practices. These practices may be beneficial, but the Bible and the early church show no indication of the need for them in order to go to Heaven. Instead, they speak often of the need for faith alone, so I will go with the Protestant answer.
Swedish conservative writes:
First regarding about reasoning about social groups. If I claim that men are stronger than women (while making fully clear what is the nature of such a statement). Of course someone could answer “I think I can say without reservation that it is not true that all men are stronger than all women”, to paraphrase Mark N. Which only serves to deviate from intelligent discussion about social groups.
About Chris L’s answer: Yes, that’s correct. And back then the Jews were sent to hell (except for the exceptional exceptions, etc., etc.). This was what the Vatican II intended to change. In the initial drafts only the Jews were mentioned in an inclusive way. But in the final version the Muslims were lumped together with the Jews (keyword ‘Abrahamic’), getting a special VIP queue to Catholic heaven.
Mark N’s answer is very nice, and I wish he had written the Lumen Gentium. But his answer does not address my question at all. He answers as if he never read Lumen Gentium. Or if he read it, he never processed it. Quite as with the Eurabia documents of the E.U., Catholics do not read the Lumen Gentium or Nostra Aetate. This is my standard question whenever I meet a Catholic priest, and I still haven’t met one who read it (instead they talk about how Vatican II let them play hippie guitar in church.)
My question is all depending on the Lumen Gentium, and thereby the prevailing Catholic doctrine, so clearly it cannot be ignored when answering my question. And as stated initially, about reasoning about social groups and categories, the context of the question should be all clear when I ask “Will they go to hell/heaven?”. It’s a question at group level, not about individual exceptions. If questions cannot be dealt with at group level, even the question “Will Christians go to heaven or hell?”, would render an answer like “It’s a toss up!”. Of course the whole point of Christianity is that Christians generally will go to heaven.
When I write things like “without guarantees of course, quite as for the Christians themselves”, this sets the background for the question. I don’t need an answer ignoring the actual basis of the question, while intending to explain such basic things. But I have asked this question so many times now in different occasions, that I have to conclude that there doesn’t exist such a Catholic on the face of the Earth, that can readily answer such questions. Catholics of today are unable to speak meaningfully about their own doctrines. Has Catholicism lost all its meaning? Or is it supposed to be enclosed in a language that obstructs any kind of logic?
LG 16 first lists the Jews. Then comes “those who acknowledge the Creator”, which can be interpreted as the monotheists. First in this VIP queue to heaven are the Muslims. It is not clear if the Zoroastrians are lined up behind them. But Hindus and Buddhist are not allowed in this line. Their best chance is by not having been reached by the Gospel. The Muslims, however, are put by Vatican II in the special VIP queue to heaven, even if they heard the Gospel and rejected it. Given equal status as the Jews. So the destiny of the Jews and the Muslims are interlinked (Once again, in their quality of being Muslims/Jews! Without regarding other exceptional doors, at an individual level, to heaven, such as not having been reached by the Gospel.)
Regarding Stewart W’s question, the Nostra Aetate (§3) enlights us that it’s because the Muslims “take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His [the Creator’s, Allah’s] inscrutable decrees” that the Church regards them with such esteem. So yes, the suicide bombers will be first in line.
The whole issue resembles the immigration issue. The open border mentality of the Catholics does not only apply to the Western countries, but to heaven as well. The fact that the Muslims cannot breed in heaven seems extenuating, but on the other hand, once you’ve let them in they will stay there forever. I never imagined heaven as a place with suicide bombers.
There is more to say, e.g. how the Vatican II has acknowledged Mohammad as a messenger of God. But I have to end here for now.
Peter H. writes:
It seems to me that, by traditional Christian doctrine, Muslims go to hell (unless they are availed of God’s grace, i.e., become Christians, before they die). Period. To say otherwise is the very definition of an unprincipled exception. If we find the consequence of our belief, 1.3 billion people going to hell, unpalatable, we try to soften it.
If the basic tenets of Christian faith are no longer necessary for entry into heaven, I’ll leave my church tomorrow and no longer support missions, Christian schools, etc., because, in the end, the Church is a fraud and we’re all just judged based on our good works, good intentions and warm wishes, or lack thereof.
While I don’t have fully formed views on this subject, Peter H.’s comment strikes me as profound. Basically the modern Church’s expanded notion of salvation means that any sincere orientation that a person may bave toward “something spiritual” would be enough to win that person salvation in Christian terms. Now, maybe that’s true, I don’t know. No one does. Nevertheless, the inclusion of non-Christians in salvation (particularly the Muslims, who are “first”) would seem to suggest that the Catholic Church, or any Christian church or any Christian sacramental life, is no longer indispensable.
I have to modify what I just said. Let’s go back to Mark N.’s earlier comment that I had liked, and that I or someone else had said OUGHT to be the Church’s position, but is not:
“If I understand the Vatican II documents correctly, if these people are following a righteous life (which they can’t do without the help of the Holy Spirit) , we cannot preclude the possibility that God’s eternal mercy and his grace will permit them to eventually enter into His Presence after death.”
If salvation for non-Christians is a special dispensation which is only a possibility that cannot be known in any certain or formal way, then obviously Christian life has not been rendered unnecessary.
However, what I’ve just said is based on the assumption that Mark N. is correct and that the Vatican II documents are wrong (though Mark himself says, erroneously in my view, that his view is actually the correct interpretation of those documents).
Brandon F. writes:
I don’t want to steer this discussion off topic but Alan Roebuck should realize that sola scriptura is not a scriptural idea in itself. The argument for sola scriptura is self defeating since there is no argument for it in scripture. He uses the rationalism (not scriptural) of Protestantism to do away with Traditional authority. The tradition of the One Church (pre-modern Catholic) is a more reliable source of interpretation of scripture in light of the individualistic “free style” interpretive methods of the Protestants.
The Catholic Church is obviously in serious error. Much of that error can be attributed to the power of Protestantism which is the root of Liberalism in the West. The Church has struggled to survive in the chaos brought on by Liberal Protestantism (a redundant term to say the least). These liberal ideas the Church now expresses are simply more Protestant in nature.
Peter H. writes:
There are good reasons from Scripture (our only specific revelation of God’s mind according to traditional Christianity) to believe that there is no special dispensation for non-Christians, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. Acts 4:12, for example, says: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” referring to Christ (my emphasis). This is an explicit statement that Christ is the only name known to man that affords salvation. Other gods (e.g. Allah) are, therefore, deceptions and dangerous. Moreover, Scripture warns against belief in other gods and false prophets. The Old Testament is full of these lessons and the New Testament as well (see 1 John 5:20-21). The New Testament goes so far as to state that other gods are demons (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). As the commentary in my Bible […] regarding the last passage says: “…behind pagan rituals is the reality of Satan’s work, and Christians should have nothing to do with that.” So I think we can “preclude the possibility that God’s eternal mercy and his grace will permit them eventually to enter into His presence after death.” My understanding is that God displays not only perfect mercy, but perfect judgment in the absence of that name (Christ).
Also, you have said before, and I agree, that Bin Laden and his ilk are just being good Muslims. Surely these good Muslims, then, can be expected to receive a Christian inheritance without prior conversion, no? I don’t think this works.
When Mark N. says “As a practicing Catholic, I think I can say without reservation that it is not true that all Muslims go to hell because they don’t accept Christ. However, if they do go to heaven, it will be solely through the merits of Christ. The Church cannot say who is in hell, because no human can fathom God’s eternal mercy,” he contradicts himself. After all, how can we know without reservation that all Muslims won’t go to hell if, at the same time, the Church cannot say who’s in heaven or hell? What Christians do know without reservation is what Scripture says (as discussed above).
Sorry, just one more question: What is the difference between a Muslim living a righteous life and who is guided by the Holy Spirit (an impossibility, I would suggest, as the Holy Spirit draws one to Christ) and a Christian? Part of a righteous life, as Christians understand it, is professing the name of Christ. If one denies that, then is Bin Laden, as a good Muslim, being led by the Holy Spirit?
So, I would say that Nostra Aetate and Lumen Gentium should be drastically revised or discarded.
“Also, you have said before, and I agree, that Bin Laden and his ilk are just being good Muslims. Surely these good Muslims, then, can be expected to receive a Christian inheritance without prior conversion, no? I don’t think this works.”
This strikes me as an exceptionally powerful point. Muhammad Atta and his band of killers were utterly devoted Muslims. They prepared for their own death as for a sacrament, praying and purifying themselves beforehand. Surely they were devoted to their god. So by the logic of Lumen Gentium which tells us that religiously sincere non-Christians—and Muslims first of all—are included in God’s plan for salvation, we should expect that Atta’s gang did indeed go direct to heaven, just as they expected. The same would apply to every suicide bomber who sees his death as a spiritual sacrificial act of martyrdom.
Now, do we believe that what I just said is true? Of course not. What happens then to the notion of salvation for Muslims? If the most devoted, sincere, and self-sacrificing Muslims are not saved, what Muslims can be saved?
Alan Roebuck writes:
I want to clarify one of my comments. When I said
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 22, 2007 07:28 PM | Send
It is obviously possible for God to extend mercy to some individuals who would for all outward appearances be unable to learn about and trust in Christ. Therefore we must acknowledge that we cannot be sure what is the fate of those who apparently cannot become believers in Christ. I was not referring to God making an “unprincipled exception.” I was alluding to the possibility that God will make a saving knowledge of Jesus available to a heathen who apparently has no access to such. The Third World contains quite a large number of Christian missionaries, and radio and the Internet make the Gospel of Jesus Christ potentially available to almost everyone on Earth. I have heard rumors, for example, that Saudi Arabia contains many “Crypto-Christians,” i.e., people who have faith in Christ but keep quiet about it in order to remain alive. This is probably just speculation, and these Christians obviously would have little if any political effect, but such a situation is obviously possible.
If you are interested, I could provide you with a more detailed description of Protestant soteriology, i.e., a theological description of exactly how an individual person gets saved.
Brandon F. wrote:
Sola scriptura is not a scriptural idea in itself. The argument for sola scriptura is self defeating since there is no argument for it in scripture. It is not self-defeating. By definition, sola scriptura means “the Bible is the highest authority on every subject it speaks of.” Since sola scriptura does not mean “all truths are contained in the Bible,” it is not a self-refuting statement.
The proof that sola scriptura is true is straightforward: Since the Bible is God speaking to us, and since God is the highest authority, no authority can be higher than the Bible, and only God can be equal in authority to the Bible. That’s not “rationalism,” it is simply the acknowledging of reality.
Brandon F. also said:
The tradition of the One Church (pre-modern Catholic) is a more reliable source of interpretation of scripture in light of the individualistic “free style” interpretive methods of the Protestants. Many Protestants do in fact interpret scripture “free style,” because they are ignorant of traditional Protestant teaching, to say nothing of elementary principles of hermeneutics (the proper methods of interpreting a text.) But many Catholics violate Catholic teachings too, and this is not a proof that Catholic teachings are in error.
Also, how does Brandon F. know that the pre-modern Catholic traditions are more reliable for interpreting the Bible than Protestantism? It seems to me that there can be only two ways to know this: One way would be to begin by already knowing the true way to interpret the Bible, before coming to the Catholic Church, and then checking out what Catholicism and Protestantism say, in much the same way that a teacher grades a test. Whichever church gets the highest grade would then receive his allegiance. But this is obviously impossible: we have to begin with trust, and then learn more about what we have trusted.
The second way would be to begin by trusting that the Catholic Church has superior knowledge of God. But on what basis would he know that the Catholic Church is superior? Either by way #1 above, or by making a “leap of faith,” which might land in a good place, but also might not.
So the Catholic way involves making two commitments: one to Jesus Christ and the other to the Catholic Church. Protestantism eliminates the middleman by recognizing that earthly authorities cannot even be equal to the Bible, let alone superior, in their authority.
He also said:
The Catholic Church is obviously in serious error. Much of that error can be attributed to the power of Protestantism which is the root of Liberalism in the West. This idea that Protestantism is the cause of liberalism may seem plausible: both involve rebellion against an authority. But it would have to be established by careful scholarship, and to my knowledge, it has not been so established. One could just as plausibly assert that Catholicism is the cause of tyranny because of the one-man-rule of the Catholic Church. The prudent man will not make either position into more than intriguing speculation.