What is the fate of "nonbeleivers" in various religions?
May 19, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Is there a reference document or scholarship somewhere that describes the fate of "nonbelievers" in various religions?

I was raised (barely-practicing) Catholic and am marginally Christian. Someone yesterday asked me what Catholics believe about the fate of non-believers at death, and it struck me that I have no idea.

I vaguely recall that southern baptists adhere strictly to the idea that you are doomed to hell if you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your savior (even people who have never had exposure to Jesus Christ are doomed, I think), and I think that mormons believe that everyone can enjoy a comfortable afterlife but the highest of heaven is reserved only for mormons. But what do members of other Christian branches think? What about muslims, or buddhists, or hindus?

Google has lots of questions about specific "nonbeliever" issues, but I could not find any kind of comparative document or overview across religions. (I should note that I recognize that not all religions have a "good/bad" sorting at the end of life; in those religions, I am curious whether nonbelievers are treated the same as believers.)
posted by AgentRocket to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One reason you're not finding answers could be that many religions do not have any firm stance on the afterlife even for their own adherents - even Judaism could fall under this category (for the record, Judaism seems to teach that whatever happens after death to Jews also applies to non-Jews, but there are a plethora of opinions and no definitive answer as to what that 'whatever happens' is).

BeliefNet doesn't have a handy chart, but they do a pretty good job of summarizing the basic tenets of most major faiths and denominations - it might not give you all the answers you're looking for, but it's a good place to start.
posted by Mchelly at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: Religion Facts has a Big Religion Comparison Chart with a column for "Afterlife" that might help. Not all of the listings mention non-believers, but some do. For instance, the Mormon listing says "All return to spirit world for period of instruction before resurrection. Mormons to heaven with God and families; others rewarded but not with God; hell for those who reject God after death" which is pretty close to what you mentioned.
posted by amyms at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: I wrote something a while ago.
posted by shii at 4:58 PM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

For Catholics, you might look for "unbaptized" rather than "nonbelievers". If I recall correctly, good and/or innocent people who die without being baptized go to Limbo. Not sure if that idea is outdated, but that's what they taught us in Catholic school in the 70's.
posted by CathyG at 6:59 PM on May 19, 2011

This is a hard question to answer from a Buddhist perspective. Believer/nonbeliever isn't the way we generally think about people. I guess the easiest way to say it is that Buddhists believe that everyone, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, are subject to the same world with the same rules. If there is an afterlife, Buddhists and non-Buddhists will go through it the same way. There is no kind of "judgement" made that would give Buddhists a privileged position over non-Buddhists.
posted by Quonab at 2:49 PM on May 20, 2011

One of the big differences between Christianity (and not all Christianity) and other religions is that divide between believers or the "faithful" and non-believers. In most religions there is a way to behave, and behaving that way (whether it's being a good person or receiving sacraments or whatever) is going to give you some sort of leg up in the afterlife/rebirth/whatever. Being a member of the religion is mostly helpful in that as a member you have access to the rules and if appropriate the rituals.

Conversely, Christianity put the focus on internal processes--have you accepted Jesus, and later whether you were one of the elect or chosen--as the determining factor on what happened to you after death. Your behavior was a sign or symptom of your faith or elected-ness, and theoretically a person could look like a terrible Christian and still get into heaven, although that would be unlikely.

If you're interested in the debates on this within Christianity, "sacraments", "grace", "predetermination", and "predestination" are some of the key terms. For other religions, I believe BeliefNet has forums where you might be able to ask.
posted by sarahkeebs at 12:06 PM on May 21, 2011

OF JESUS CHRIST AND THE CHURCH" - i.e. why we all need Christ and the Church) is a must read for Catholics and the Catholic-curious. It's a fantastic document - totally traditional Christianity yet subtle and nuanced. Things have moved on since the 1970s.

It is fascinating to read this in the light of the teachings on conscience of Ratzinger and John Henry Newman. Conscience will play a big part in understanding this from a Catholic point of view.

I think other religions' POV on the afterlife can be related very much to our experience of this current life too, and there's much to learn from them.
posted by KMH at 5:42 AM on May 26, 2011

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