Paradise Understood

New Philosophical Essays About Heaven

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
T. Ryan Byerly, Eric J. Silverman
  • Oxford, U.K.: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     352 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Based on the assumption that being alive is intrinsically more valuable than not being alive, it is a constitutive article of faith of Christianity that there is life after biological death and that at least some human persons will be resurrected to enjoy an everlasting life in a loving community with God. However, from a philosophical point of view, both the assumption that being alive is intrinsically more valuable than not being alive, and the assumption that life after death, understood as life in a loving community with God, is possible or desirable are controversial.

On the one hand, it seems at least to be plausible to argue for the thesis that it would have been better never to have been. For many people, for a variety of prima facie good reasons, being alive is not perceived to be intrinsically worthwhile and the thought to live a life everlasting rather a frightening than a jolly idea. On the other, apart from the fairly intuitive grasp of the idea to live a life everlasting, it is a challenging philosophical and theological task to spell out this idea in a consistent and coherent way. There are several philosophical challenges regarding both the very possibility and the desirability of life in Heaven.

Just to mention a few: The possibility of life after death seems to presuppose either that we exist in Heaven as immaterial souls devoid of a body or as embodied persons. Each option, though, is confronted with severe difficulties. On the assumption that our life in Heaven is a life without a body, we seem unable to account for what is a necessary condition any account of life after death has to satisfy: that from a phenomenological point of view those in Heaven must be able to understand their life as a continuation of their embodied existence this side of Paradise. Since at least prima facie this is not possible without a body, it follows that it is not possible that life in Heaven can be understood as a continuation of one’s earthly life. However, on the assumption that life in Heaven is indeed an embodied existence, we either seem to be committed to the assumption that life in Paradise is quite like life in this universe, and therefore is a life in which hunger, pain, and death are possible (this is what embodied existence entails), or else are committed to argue that the resurrected body, although it is a body, is nevertheless unlike any body we are familiar with. Neither option is attractive. In the first case it is doubtful whether we can account for the eschatological hopes related to life in Paradise; in the second case it is unclear what we mean by “resurrected body” if that body is unlike any body we are familiar with. But even if one can circumvent these difficulties and show that life after death is possible, there is a further objection on which life in Paradise is not even desirable: An everlasting life, it is often argued, of necessity is a boring and tedious life. For either Heaven is a static place and nothing changes, or Heaven is a dynamic place. If Heaven is a static place, then those in Heaven will never change, which according to some is boring. But even if Heaven is a dynamic place, then given that life in Heaven is everlasting, there will be a point of Heavenly time at which one has seen and experienced everything for thousands and thousands of times, which prima facie is tedious.

T. Ryan Byerly and Eric J. Silverman have edited an impressive collection of 17 new essays dealing with these and other problems related to the possibility and desirability of Heavenly existence, its presuppositions, and its implications. “Paradise Understood” is divided into eight different sections: (I) The Basic Nature of Paradise, (II) The Epistemology of Paradise, (III) Virtue in Paradise, (IV) Paradise and Responding to Evil, (V) The Social and Political Philosophy of Paradise, (VI) Resurrection in Paradise, (VII) Freedom in Paradise, and (VIII) The Desirability of Paradise. All of the essays are of the highest standard of analytic theology and I can only recommend the book to anyone interested in one of the most important themes of theological reflection concerning the Christian hope for the world to come.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Benedikt Paul Göcke is on the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at the University of Oxford.

Date of Review: 
February 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

T. Ryan Byerly is a Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Sheffield. His primary research interests are in Philosophy of Religion, Epistemology, and Virtue Ethics. He is the author of The Mechanics of Divine Foreknowledge and Providence: A Time-Ordering Account (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Eric J. Silverman is an Associate Professor at Christopher Newport University. His research interests include Medieval philosophy, ethics, philosophy of religion, history of philosophy, and popular culture and philosophy.



Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.