It’s raining and you should come inside, though to be blunt, I generally don’t invite your type in. Though I guess it’s okay. I can’t spend a lot of time with you… but since you are both walking in the rain doing work you really believe in…
I want to believe in your heaven, I really do. It sounds very high concept, very accommodating, and stress free; and also free, as in no admission fee. However—and I am not being intentionally disagreeable here--I’m stuck on that stress part. Because heaven, as you explain it, is causing me a fair amount of anxiety. It’s not that I’m anxious that I’m not going to make that cut. I haven’t done anything hell-worthy, unless God is aggregating all the small stuff—temper tantrums, untoward thoughts, small-time deceit—and the sum is actually much bigger than I thought (kind of like seeing the actual number of times you’ve logged onto a website that you can’t justify logging on to even once). But probably not. Probably I am in the minor leagues of sin compared to the Hitlers and Caligulas and Dick Cheneys of the species. God will never be able to accuse me of killing, raping, shooting a friend in the face. Smaller things.
It’s the company I’m concerned about. I agonize over the right dinner-party combination of people (and for good reason, let me tell you, because I know the difference between laughter that is genuine delight and that which is forced mirth); therefore, it concerns me that, according to your plan, pretty much anyone can get in to Heaven. Since I’m danger-averse here on Earth and sometimes worry that even Girl Scouts at my door are really casing the joint, your admissions policy is very hard for me to digest. You say, for example, that a death-row murderer (and not an innocent convict, who would definitely deserve eternal wonderfulness, but a hard-core, I-killed-them-but-now-I’m-sorry type fellow) can actually find the conduit to Heaven by way of repentance through accepting Jesus Christ as his personal lord and savior. I won’t argue the finer points (like how said murderer can get in and an otherwise gentle non-believer would not). But, presuming I do make the cut, how exactly will I feel safe up there knowing various people’s history? I mean, before I go out on a date with someone I do the standard Google investigation—and I have a strict rule about not going out with anyone who has murdered four children in a suburban back yard. Therefore I have to ask why I would want to spend eternity with any number of likewise-crazed people. A logical worry, no? Since it is paradise, am I correct in assuming there is nothing like a sex-offender registry where I can find out who is living in my neighborhood?That’s one of the tenets of heaven, right, that there are no records kept of previous-life criminal activity. So what is it exactly about the place that keeps anyone from being more powerful than another? I’m not being flippant here—I would like to know because I would like to be able to turn off my suspicion of people, which in this world is so extensive I have installed a lock on my shower door. If no one is violent in Heaven then Heaven sounds mighty nice that way, but I don’t quite understand how it could be that way.
The other concern I have is way more trivial, but it stirs the turds of anxiety nonetheless. What about running into people you didn’t like on Earth? No awkwardness? No pretending not to see them, like I do in the grocery store? Will I inherently like everyone, even the librarian from Rhode Island who gave my last book an ass-ripping review in a major publication that stopped it from being purchased by lots of other librarians? Will my resentment-bordering-on-obsession that led to too many hours of vengeance fantasies vaporize during my ascension, and if I see her in the flesh (or whatever form we take), will I actually like her? Love her? Be embarrassed for my [human] thought crimes? Will she still think my book sucked, but have to lie about it because we’re in Heaven and no negativism goes down up there? Will lying in Heaven cause her to be cast out into Hell, and will that please me, causing me in turn to be cast out as well? Or will she see the beauty of all things now that she’s in the afterlife, and if so, will I be able to restrain myself from asking why she wasn’t able to see that beauty when it could have promoted book sales?
But back to criminals, and not just because of my fear of them: What if criminals who make the conversion to Christ while they are on Earth run into their victims—How awkward is that! Lee Harvey Oswald comes to mind, a too-easy choice, I know. But what if, in that wee window between the assassination and his own murder, he repented and threw himself at the Lord’s feet; and, continuing with that narrative, what if, because of the backlog of work caused by November 22, 1963—CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley also died on November 22, 1963, as did countless other non-famous but likely heaven-worthy people, and probably some deserving pets—what if Jesus or the Holy Spirit or God the Father, whoever was working the Registration desk that day, didn’t adhere to strict protocol, wasn’t particularly discriminating, and let Lee H-O through? Imagine each newly perished Kennedy having to meet up with that heavenly body. From what I’ve read about Rose Kennedy, she didn’t have a lot of patience for non-celebrities in general, so I can’t imagine that after her admittance she was thrilled to see Oswald’s pasty, misshapen face floating around in that holy place. In fact, by my way of thinking, she ought to have gone straight to Human Services to file a complaint against the administration on the grounds that she had spent her whole life worshiping the Lord and preparing herself for her eternal reward while the only thing Oswald had to do was panic.
I know what you’re thinking. Probably Oswald is in Hell or Purgatory or Kansas, whatever planes exist for housing the eternally damned. But you make it sound to me like admission to Heaven is not like admission to Harvard, that the variables are absurdly subjective and that human logic doesn’t play any real part in the decision-making. So Heaven could indeed be teeming with people who did very bad things, and Hell with people who didn’t. (As far as that goes, I’m also a little worried: What if Rose Kennedy is not in Heaven because of some quirky formulary, andOswald is? While I would be very interested in talking to Oswald—about one incident in particular—I would have a hard time justifying either of us—him a killer, me a non-theist—being accepted into the club while Rose languished in the bad place.)
And back to my concerns about basic awkwardness. What happens if JFK himself runs into Oswald, and Jack Ruby floats by, then Aristotle Onassis? What words are there? And poor Jackie. How does she deal with that mash-up of a guest list: her first husband, her second husband, her first husband’s killer, her second husband’s daughter, Maria Callas. Or, again, what if Jackie, for reasons not comprehensible to the human mind, did not qualify for a Heaven visa? What if, say, in her later years she had secretly given up on her faith? (She wasn’t exactly one to reveal her inner thoughts, so how would anyone but God know?) Or—consider this—what if God is an environmentalist and therefore ruled that, with all her jet-setting and luxury estates, Jackie O. had used far more than her eco-share, and turned her away for crimes against the Earth? Or what if God is more like an eighth grade girl and felt that Jackie’s cutting Truman Capote disqualified her from salvation? Fair? You explain to me, please.
I could go on and on, and often do. But I can’t conceive of a world or a sphere of existence or a paradise where the Clutters don’t wince when Dick and Perry pass by. Where Sharon Tate and her houseguests don’t have some issues to work out with Susan Atkins. Where an application by Jesse Helms, Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, or anyone named Kardashian is even seriously considered.
I can’t reconcile myself to the idea that we all might get along in a future someday, a metaphysical somewhere, all grievances erased. Though, as I said, I would like to be able to.