Pie in the sky
A promise of heaven, while continuing to suffer in this life.
This is an American phrase and was coined by Joe Hill in 1911. Hill was a Swedish-born itinerant labourer who migrated to the USA in 1902. He was a leading light of the radical labour organisation The Industrial Workers of the World - known as the Wobblies, writing many radical songs for them. The phrase appeared first in Hill's The Preacher and the Slave, which parodied the Salvation Army hymn In the Sweet Bye and Bye. The song, which criticized the Army's theology and philosophy, specifically their concentration on the salvation of souls rather than the feeding of the hungry, was popular when first recorded and remained so for some years.
The phrase wasn't taken up until the Second World War, when it began to be used figuratively to refer to any prospect of future happiness which was unlikely ever to be realized; for example, this report from the California newspaper The Fresno Bee, November 1939:
"The business world is fearful that Roosevelt's obsession with war problems will mean a continued neglect of questions which still restrict trade and profits. They are highly skeptical of Washington's promise that they will 'eat pie in the sky' solely from war orders, which they decry publicly.
See also: jam tomorrow.
See other phrases that were coined in the USA.