“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?
-- ETERNALLY CONFUSED IN MISSISIPPI [where else?]
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?