...is the staggeringly unoriginal title of an article by journalist Johan Hari in the Independent this week. Like most aggressive atheists, Hari does not trouble himself to do research into his subject which might contradict his overall aim. Indeed, in this article he even contradicts himself!
He expresses amazement that people should believe in life after death. Well, fair enough. If you don't believe it I suppose it is hard to understand why other people do. I suppose that it is understandable, in a dog-in-the-manger way, that if you do not have the comfort of any belief then you don't want other people to have it either. Why should they not be as unhappy as you are?
Strangely Hari begins his argument by saying that heaven is only a 'recent' invention anyway - dating it to the 2nd century BC. Later in his article he contradicts himself by saying that heaven is discussed in the ancient epic of Gil Gamesh. It would be strange if the poet had indeed being discussing an idea nobody took seriously anyway. Surely, it is more likely that even if the poet didn't believe it, he knew there were many people who did - rather like Hari himself.
Then (predictably) he starts on the tack that the idea of heaven was invented so as the Church would be able to control people's lives and exercise domination etc. etc. All the tired old calumnies. None of really deserves refuting.
Or course, most societies have had a belief in some sort of life after death. Such a belief was at least partly behind ancestor worship. An ancient Greek might have hoped to come to the Elysian Fields and a Nordic Warrior might have looked forward to the Halls of Asgard. Belief in life seems something that is part of our psyche - perhaps part of our instinct.
No, the thing that is new in many people's idea of heaven today is the one thing Hari doesn't mention. The thing that is really new is that so many people think they will get to heaven without making the slightest effort to do so. This has never happened before. If a society believed that heaven was for those favoured by the Gods, then they might seek to be favoured or become worthy of such favour themselves. In our egalitarian age heaven is seen more and more as a right, along with all the other benefits we might be eligible for, and one which will be offered to us irrespective of our conduct or morals.