The concept of rewards is an interesting one when speaking of different faith systems. Many if not all faiths promise some sort of afterlife that includes various rewards for the deeds done in mortality and a deeper look at these various promises reveals vast, even contradictory concepts.
For instance, when we look at the concept of Nirvana as taught in Buddhism, we see an enlightened and unembodied state where the person is literally one with the rest of the universe. The person does not do anything in this state, in fact the person essentially ceases to exist in any significant way. Just like a drop of water that a glass of water that is poured into the ocean, the person loses anything distinct about him or herself and is completely absorbed into the energy of the universe. The word "nirvana" itself indicates a sense of being "quenched" or "snuffed out". This is in stark contrast to the rewards promised by the faiths of the Judeo-Christian strain wherein the person continues to exist consciously and bodily in a place of unending pleasure. These two concepts are simply incompatible. One cannot be embodied and unembodied.
However, even within the Judeo-Christian concepts of paradise or heaven, we see disparate qualities. As a single point of comparison - though there are many more - I would like to look at the concept of sexual relationships in heaven.
In traditional Christian theology, it is well understood that there will be no sex or procreation in heaven. This is based largely on two particular verses in the New Testament. The first comes from the lips of Jesus himself in the midst of an argument with the Sadducees. This conversation is paralleled in Mark 12 and Luke 20, but the passage in Matthew is the most well-known. In this conversation, the Sadducees were attempting to poke a theological hole in what their contemporaries – Jesus included – believed in the resurrection or, as we would refer to it today, the afterlife:
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. - Matthew 22:23-33
Jesus’s opponents are attempting to show that the resurrection is an incoherent concept because it would result in odd situations with people who had multiple wives or husbands in mortality. Jesus answers this by showing that their premises are false. They are assuming that the marriage is still a functional institution in the afterlife and Jesus tells them that they are mistaken about that. Marriage is no longer a thing in the afterlife so the absurdities they believe will emerge are not an issue. Since the biblical position has always been that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, we can conclude that there will be no sex in heaven, either.
The second passage is in Ephesians where Paul teaches that the marital union is a symbol:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. - Ephesians 5:25-33
Here, Paul is teaching that the marital union – with a direct reference to the Genesis narrative and language that infers sex – is intended to be a symbol of the church being joined to Christ. If sex is intended to be a symbol of something to come, then it follows that the symbol can be discarded once the real thing is actualized. In Heaven, the church will be eternally and completely united with Christ and so the symbol of that unification will no longer have a purpose.
In contrast, both Mormonism and Islam teach that sex will continue in the life to come.
Mormonism teaches what is referred to as Eternal Increase, which is the belief that a faithful Mormon couple, married for time and eternity in the temple, will not only continue to be married in the next life but will also continue to procreate. The children that they have in their next existence will become the people who will inhabit the world over which they rule and reign as a new heavenly father and mother.
“Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this [life], by the power and authority of the holy priesthood, they shall cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection.” – Joseph Smith
“The Mormons believe that all men were born in the spirit world of the union of the sexes, having a literal father and a literal mother before coming into this world… The Latter-day Saints believe that God is an exalted Man, and that we are offspring of Him and His wife.” – Councilor of the First Presidency, George Q. Cannon
“Sex among the Gods… In accordance with the Gospel philosophy there are males and females in heaven. Since we have a Father, who is our God, we must also have a mother, who possesses the attributes of Godhood.” – Apostle John A. Widtsoe
“Sex is something we all have in common. Our sexual genders, our sexual power, our sexual identities are all gifts from loving heavenly parents who are themselves sexual beings. That our Heavenly Father and Mother are sexual beings is one of the most significant yet clearly radical ideas of the Restoration and one that sets us apart from… Christianity. A related and equally radical idea is that we may become like God in this way, that is, eternally sexual.” – Robert A. Rees
This is obviously incompatible with the traditional Christian view for multiple reasons, many of which I will not go into now.
The Mormon view is more compatible with the Islamic view than the biblical one, as multiple texts in both the Quran and the hadith describe the rewards that faithful Muslims will receive in paradise. The most relevant of these rewards is a harem of women that are beautiful, “voluptuous”, and childless without any of the bodily functions that might be considered “unclean”.
“[Muslim men in paradise will be] on thrones encrusted (with gold and precious stones), reclining on them, facing each other. Round about them will (serve) youths of perpetual (freshness), With goblets, (shining) beakers, and cups (filled) out of clear-flowing fountains; no after-ache will they receive therefrom, nor will they suffer intoxication; and with fruits, any that they may select; and the flesh of fowls, any that they may desire. And (there will be) Companions with beautiful, big, and lustrous eyes, like unto Pearls well-guarded. A Reward for the deeds of their past (life). Not frivolity will they hear therein, nor any taint of ill - only the saying, "Peace! Peace". The Companions of the Right Hand - what will be the Companions of the Right Hand? … We have created (their Companions) of special creation. And made them virgin - pure (and undefiled), beloved (by nature), equal in age, for the Companions of the Right Hand.” - Surah 56:15-40, Emphasis mine
There are other quotes from Muslim teachers that expound on this idea but, frankly, I’m not going to repeat them here. I want this to be a family-friendly environment. The Quran itself does not specify the number “seventy” which is often claimed, rather this comes from hadith which are taken almost as seriously. Suffice to say, though, that the Quran does teach that women being given as a reward for the intent of the man’s sexual gratification is a part of the Muslim concept of heaven as shown in the passage above.
It is worth noting that neither Mormonism nor Islam allow for the possibility of women possessing multiple men in the afterlife though both teach that a man may have multiple wives. It is also worth noting that, even though both systems promise an eternity of sexual pleasure, the average Muslim (and the average Christian, for that matter) would find the Mormon view to be offensive and blasphemous. When each of these systems finds the rewards promised by the others to be incorrect or even blasphemous, can we really conclude that they are all somehow true?
The sex and marriage issue is just one of many ways in which the rewards of the afterlife as held by different faiths are incompatible, but even that is small when compared to drastic ontological differences held by eastern faiths.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.