It's Only Life and Death
I am 99.999% sure that heaven and hell are only personifications of a living person's psyche. My reasoning goes like this: We are imperfect beings and (naturally) would be unable to comprehend absolute perfection or its opposite. To ask us to do so by gods or angels would be merely a torment.
Good Christians can agree that they do not need "proof" because they possess "faith," and I think that is as close as one can honestly profess toward explaining why some adhere to religious dogma and others do not. Referring to "faith" as dogma is not exactly accurate but I am at a lack of words.
When speaking of heaven and hell, it really leads to silence (much like the sound of "one hand clapping") because vocabulary falls down when attempting to express the inexpressible.
In my youth I fretted about my skepticism but have happily grown out of the habit (for the most part). MY resolution in contemplating these realms and subsequent states of being came about slowly, over a period of many years. But, this is why I think heaven and hell are fabrications or inventions of a nervous apostate-sinner fellowship.
Let's start with hell. What we are told about it is that it's a place of fire and brimstone (or unimaginably cold if you prefer Dante's version). The usual preference in sermons is the fiery lake version. Now, try to imagine being thrown into a fiery lake. Try it as a mind exercise.
You get thrown into a fiery lake, okay. You are in immediate, unrelenting agony as your flesh is burned or boiled away. So then what? If you have a corporal form -- it would last about 30 seconds give or take. After you've been reduced to goo, you can't continue to suffer because your brain would be like a potato in a frying pan.
But, according to the prophecies, the damned will burn for all of eternity. Eternity is a very long time. So, how do we make sense of this idea of suffering eternally if our simple physical forms can only last 30 seconds in such an environment?
One solution would be to say that the process, the 30-second process, repeats itself over and over. This is where the description is either incomplete or utter nonsense. If a human being were subjected to a repeating 30-second death by fire experience, how many episodes would it take before that being would become completely insane? Two maybe three times?
Such excruciating agony cannot be tolerated by our psyche without complete dissolution of the rational mind. I know this because I experienced a single night of mind-dissolving pain following a cancer surgery of my upper jaw.
Without being on a morphine drip (I stupidly decided to leave the hospital), once the pain killer wore off, my head swelled and I was forced to endure the unendurable for over 12 hours. The level of pain was so intense that I ceased to have orderly thoughts. In fact all thought itself became eclipsed by unadulterated pain.
The best way I can describe it is to say that my individuality, my coherence were sucked up by the pain -- as might a leaf inside a tornado. I became nothing but pain. This occurred very swiftly after the hospital morphine wore off, and, as I stated, it lasted for at least 12 hours -- at which time the pain level dropped and I could think about my subjugation by nature.
In a very real sense, I never got over that experience. The funny, ha-ha part is that the cancer has recurred in the same zone and I'm facing an even more radical surgical procedure. (The good news is that I know in advance now not to leave that morphine drip in my arm. Practice makes perfect?)
My roundabout point here is that unrelenting, unendurable pain shatters one's ability to do any kind of self-reflection. If you are in a burning lake, you aren't going to be thinking about your sins, that's for damn sure. My completely earthly snippet (compared to eternity) into mind-altering pain reduced me to an instinctive, suffering animal -- incapable of any measure of analysis.
The concept of eternal agony is absurd because we simply are not built to endure this form of punishment. Within my 12 hours of hell on earth I learned that the mind cannot hold up under such an attack. I believe I went into shock that evening, and I'm still trying to get "over it." But, like with post-traumatic stress, the after-glow left a big zap, and I no longer feel 1/100th as secure an individual as I did pre-operatively. Continuous torture only leads to one thing and that is death, but how can you die if you are already dead?
The Penthouse Suite
The flip side of the coin (where we all supposedly wish to be) is a one-way ticket to heaven. Here on earth the best high that we can attain naturally is via an orgasm, which lasts maybe 30 seconds?
Eternal bliss is as impossible to conceive as eternal damnation. No one can quite describe what heaven is or what it feels like to be there, but it's given high accolades (from people who have never actually been there). I don't quite buy into those tunnel of warm, white light, near-death experience stories. I do not doubt that the near-dead had this imagery and felt a kind of high. I just happen to be in the camp with those surgeons who suspect that the patient is experiencing a rush of endorphins, which in an unconscious state becomes represented as a tunnel through which one travels in the direction of something of extreme brilliance.
But, these near-death experiences are neither here nor there because no one who has died has ever come back to tell us anything -- not counting Lazarus or Jesus. But, let's imagine we get to board some kind of Disney ride up through the pearly gates. I'll pass on all the obvious questions and paradoxes such as what age will we be when we get to heaven or how old will our parents be or will we get to meet Elvis, Sinatra, or Beethoven.
My best way of destroying this artifact of experience is by drawing your attention to what it would be like to be non-corporal (that means having no physical form). Do you think you could get used to being something with no body -- an amalgamation of pure energy, spirit or whatever you wish to call it? I don't think so.
You and I are really attached to our bodies. Scientists (those pesky realists) have recently discovered that most people think that we "live" somewhere just behind our eyes -- not in our hearts or inside our brains -- but just behind the eyes. Interesting, no?
Anyway, let's say we spend 75 years inside our bodies, looking out at earth, feeling more or less comfy (just behind our eyes), and then that is suddenly taken away. Our transformation into angels is just as unimaginable as eternal suffering. I don't know about you, but I'd freak out fairly quickly realizing I was still "alive" but without my body (pot belly and all).
Single-Celled Organisms to Human Beings
As a bonus, I'll reassure those that are afraid of dying and ending up nowhere -- you'd end up with the same result as above. No body = no mind. If you find yourself in a complete void but still have a perfectly intact intellect ... I give you around six to eight hours before going completely insane and (thereby) escaping such a horrible fate.