Who goes to Heaven? What is the bare minimum that God requires of any individual human person to receive eternal happiness in Heaven after death?
My answer in this article is limited to the case of adults. As I’ve already explained many times, I believe that all prenatals, infants, and children, who die at that young age, also receive eternal life in Heaven as a free gift from Christ, even if they die without formal baptism.
Based on my understanding of the Bible, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and my study of salvation theology, only three things are needed for salvation, as a bare minimum:
1. Love your neighbor
A true selfless love of other human persons, not only your friends and family members, is required of all who enter Heaven. For Heaven is a place of never-ending love.
Now we all have many sins and failings. Absolute perfection in love of neighbor is not required for salvation. But if you are a thoroughly selfish person, or if you are filled with hatred or malice toward any human person or group of persons, then you do not truly love your neighbor.
2. Regret your worst sins
True heartfelt regret of any choice you have made in your life — choices which you yourself understand, based on your own sincere conscience, to have been gravely immoral — is necessary for salvation. If you understand your own free choice of any act in your life to be gravely immoral, and you fail to repent from that immoral choice, then you do not truly love your neighbor.
3. Follow your own conscience
God judges each person by their own conscience. So if your neighbor thinks your choice is very wrong, but you sincerely believe that it is right, then you have not sinned gravely against God, nor against your own conscience. Some choices in life are objectively gravely immoral. But God does not charge anyone with guilt or punishment for an objectively immoral choice, unless that person realized the choice was very wrong at the time. Avoid grave sins, by following your conscience, and if you do happen to sin gravely, repent before you die.
I would go so far as to say that the second and third items above are necessarily implied by the love of neighbor. If you love your neighbor, then you will follow your own conscience and you will repent from anything you may have done in life that was gravely immoral. So I could easily say, correctly, that a true full sincere love of neighbor is the sole requirement for eternal life in Heaven. But I list the above three things so as to be clear concerning the meaning of the love of neighbor.
Why is the love and worship of God not on the above list?
First, the true selfless love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. If you love your neighbor, then you love God, even if you say that you don’t love Him or don’t believe in Him. The love of neighbor is always accompanied by the love of God.
Second, if you say you love God, and you spend all day praying to God and speaking about God, but you hate your neighbor, then you do not truly love God. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were like this, inwardly hating their neighbor, while outwardly appearing to be holy.
Third, a person can be saved, and have eternal life in Heaven, without converting to belief in God, or without converting from a non-Christian belief system to Christianity or Catholicism. If the person has a sincere but mistaken conscience about anything, including belief in God or belief in Christianity, God does not charge that person with a grave sin. So they can still be saved by their own religious beliefs and the love of neighbor, or at least by the love of neighbor and a sincere conscience.
The above list of three things is the minimum to have eternal life. But every person ought to try to do as much as possible, in this life, to follow the path of salvation. Though an atheist or agnostic can still be saved, despite not believing in God, the easiest and happiest path to Heaven is found in the Catholic Christian Faith. The further one goes away from Catholicism, the more difficult and dangerous the path of salvation becomes. So try to do the most that you can do, rather than the least.
For much more on this topic, see my book:
Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone
Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.