Is Heaven More Like a Hilton – or a Motel 6?

“All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher.”



I sometimes think that prankish college students with nothing better to do are responsible for at least some of the more outrageous letters to advice columnists.  That may be one explanation for the following letter and response.  Another is that the writer and columnist are absolutely serious,  the latter buying into the former’s psychosis.  Anyway, here it is, verbatim and in its original absurd glory (Keene NH Sentinel, 11/18/11):


DEAR ABBY: I am a middle-class woman who is Baptist by faith.  I believe that when I die I will go to heaven.  My problem is, if going to heaven means being reunited with my parents and family members, then I don’t want to go!  The idea of spending eternity with them is more than I can stand, but I don’t want to go to hell either.  Any thoughts?


DEAR ETERNALLY CONFUSED: Yes. When you reach the Pearly Gates, talk this over with St. Peter.  Perhaps he would be willing to place you in a different wing than the one your parents and other family members are staying in.  And in the meantime, discuss this with your minister.

One hardly knows where to begin.  Let’s say the writer isn’t a couple of pranksters from Brown but a real person with a real problem.  She has over-literalized heaven into an Arizona resort.

The fault lies with the clergy who in general have steadfastly refused to provide a view of heaven, except that all the pains of this life are somehow gone and we spend eternity in an unending orgasm.  No, just kidding, ha ha.

Death is real.

But Christianity has rightly been criticized for the poverty of its vision of heaven.  Judaism is similarly vague.  The 72 virgins of Islam (which, I understand are more like geishas) renders their paradise a pain- and deprivation-free existence.  According to one, supposedly authoritative translation, they’re actually white raisins.  Too bad, you suicidal retards.  Death is real.

So good people like E.C. have to fill in the blanks.  She really is a middle-class woman to whom Heaven means, at least, “better digs than I have now.”  That’s as far as it goes.

At least she’s honest:  “I didn’t want to be on earth with these people, so I sure don’t want to be spending eternity with them.”  Great argument.  Of all the expositions of heaven I’ve heard, not one has dealt with this problem!

Passing the buck

By urging this poor mad lady to consult with her clergyperson, the columnist is passing the buck.  Certainly nobody’s going to disabuse her of her fantasies.  The best the preacher-man can do is get real gauzy and abstract about what really happens in Heaven, urge E.C. away from her hotel concept.

I note the touchstones “St. Peter” and “Pearly Gates.”  The writer mentions neither.  I conclude that the columnist doesn’t want to do anything but reinforce the writer’s fantasy, so she supplies a couple of familiar symbols.

There still remains the question:  If heaven’s so great, why shouldn’t we all, to follow Bill Maher’s reasoning, kill ourselves, right now?


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Comment by Loren Miller on July 3, 2012 at 11:46am

Nutz ... I can get a free breakfast at a Holiday Inn Express or a Hampton.  It's mostly carbohydrates, granted, but the price is right! [chuckle]

Comment by Alan Perlman on July 3, 2012 at 11:42am

Yeah, but the Marriott has free breakfasts!

Comment by Loren Miller on July 3, 2012 at 10:17am

If it's going to be a hotel, how about a DoubleTree.  I mean, they have COOKIES!

Comment by Alan Perlman on July 3, 2012 at 10:13am

Greg...whatever ancient Jews imagined Heaven would be, it's framed in terms of their primitive categories.  It would at least have to be a place free of earthly hardships, needs, and suffering.  But most modern people would be bored by an eternity in a garden.  No Internet?  No lap pool, sauna or tennis courts?

The white raisins/virgins mixup is one of the few things I find funny about Islam.  Pity the poor martyrs, dying for a dubious translation: "Grapes?  Are you shitting me?  Where are my virgins?" 

In the case of Judaism, what determines who goes where?  There are some 600 commandments. Are the millions of Jews who ignore almost all of them going to sheol?  Judaism is a high-input, low-reward enterprise, seems to me.

Comment by Alan Perlman on July 2, 2012 at 7:04pm

To Glen: Well-said.  But I don't really expect believers to think things through.  That's how they stay believers.

Comment by Alan Perlman on July 2, 2012 at 6:56pm

Thanks to all commentators.  To Pat: a culture's view of heaven tells a lot about the culture.  I think Valhalla was one long beer blast.  To Americans, it's a resort.  To Grinning Cat: this dead/alive bit raises all kinds of interesting possibilities.  Would I meet my ex-wives?  Would I be able to jam with past jazz greats, without instruments, as one New Age woman told me wouild be the case in the astral realm?  To Michael: Thanks for the video, much appreciated.

Comment by Pat on July 2, 2012 at 7:45am

"Go to heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." Mark Twain.

Assuming the various versions of the after-life theme park are correct,  the woman here does have several options. She can go to the stringed orchestra version with harps on clouds, the whore-house version with 72 nubile women, the family reunion version with fried chicken and potato salad, the weird topography version of streams with milk and honey (eternally sticky), or the early church version promulgated by Tertullian of having the sadistic joy of looking down on the damned writhing in torment - don't forget to bring the kiddies.

Hilton, Motel 6, or bad European hostel sharing a room with people listening to bad techno music. As for me, thanks but no thanks to all of it - including the belief therein.

Comment by Grinning Cat on July 1, 2012 at 11:39pm

Mark Twain and others have pointed out that even if heaven were real and you were reunited with your deceased parents and other family members, they'd be quite busy with their parents and other family members!

(And what happens with former spouses that "death did you part"? Would people automatically become polyamorous? And if so, maybe there's nothing wrong with free, empowered women and men who find that it suits them, having multiple loves in real life on earth.)

Comment by Michael R on July 1, 2012 at 10:45pm

"Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens" ...

Comment by Frankie Dapper on July 1, 2012 at 4:05pm

Alan, that were funee.

It must have been easier before science reared its truth-seeking head for man to conceptualize heaven's locale. There was up and down and none of the vastness and incomprehensible complexity.

If you dont know where it is, what its dimensions are, or have any way to describe it and you are worried about pragmatic concerns like your dreaded family you have skipped some important steps.

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