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The "Abominable Fancy" or, A Heaven that only "Snuff Film" Afficionados Could Love

For centuries, Christians believed that the heavenly few would see and even rejoice at the sight of hell's multitude being eternally tortured. As Paul Johnson pointed out in A History of Christianity, "This displeasing notion was advanced and defended with great tenacity over several centuries, and was one of the points Catholics and orthodox Calvinists had in common."


AUGUSTINE
They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness.The saints'. knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted.with the eternal sufferings of the lost. [The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 22, "What is Meant by the Good Going Out to See the Punishment of the Wicked" & Book 22, Chapter 30, "Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and of the Perpetual Sabbath"]


TERTULLIAN
What a spectacle.when the world.and its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy?... as I see... illustrious monarchs... groaning in the lowest darkness, Philosophers.as fire consumes them! Poets trembling before the judgment-seat of.Christ! I shall hear the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; view play-actors.in the dissolving flame; behold wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows... What inquisitor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favor of seeing and exulting in such things as these? Yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination. [De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX]


THOMAS AQUINAS
In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.So that they may be urged the more to praise God.The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens.to the damned. [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, "Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned," First Article, "Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned?"]


ST. ANTHONY MARY CLARET
Once [a soul] is condemned by God, then God's friends agree in God's judgment and condemnation. For all eternity they will not have a kind thought for this wretch. Rather they will be satisfied to see him in the flames as a victim of God's justice. ("The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge . . ." Psalm 57:11) They will abhor him. A mother will look from paradise upon her own condemned son without being moved, as though she had never known him.
"The Pains of Hell," Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, consisting of thirty-five meditations from The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius as explained by St. Anthony Mary Claret. St. Claret's "explanations" were written in Spanish in the late 1800's.
http://fatima.org/


CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY
What will it be like for a mother in heaven who sees her son burning in hell? She will glorify the justice of God.
- Catholic Truth Society pamphlet from the late 1960s, part of a catechismal teaching [cited in an essay by the English poet, Stevie Smith, "Some Impediments to Christian Commitment"]


JONATHAN EDWARDS
The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.
["The Eternity of Hell Torments" (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]


THOMAS BOSTON [Scottish preacher]
"God shall not pity them but laugh at their calamity. The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God's judgment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up for ever."


WILLIAM KING
"The goodness as well as the happiness of the blessed will be confirmed and advanced by reflections naturally arising from this view of the misery which some shall undergo, which seems to be a good reason for the creation of those beings who shall be finally miserable, and for the continuation of them in their miserable existence." [De Origine Mali, 1702]


During America's "Great Awakening" the popular hymn writer, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), even set Christians' feet to tapping with this crisp little verse:


What bliss will fill the ransomed souls,
When they in glory dwell,
To see the sinner as he rolls,
In quenchless flames of hell.


This "abominable fancy" (as it came to be named) was based on various Bible verses:


The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance.
- Psalm 58:10


Let the wicked perish at the presence of God.But let the righteous.rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.
- Psalm 68:2-3,22-23


In Isaiah 30:31-33 a human sacrifice takes place (the "man" who is killed represents the nation of Assyria), and the act is accompanied by festival songs, gladness of heart, the sound of the flute, tambourines and lyres. Moreover, "the Lord" performs the sacrifice.


And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me.
- Isaiah 66:24


A man suffering in "Hades" sees another man luxuriating in "Abraham's bosom," and vice versa.
- Luke, chapter 16


Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
- Luke 13:28


They shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment shall ascend up forever and ever.Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.
- Revelation 14:9-11; 18:20, 19:3


Having such "inspired" verses behind it, this teaching did not grow out of favor with orthodox Christian theologians until the age of the Enlightenment when, for instance, Thomas Burnet punctured it with a prick of irony, "What a theater of providence this is: by far the greatest part of the human race burning in flames forever and ever. Oh what a spectacle on the stage, worthy of an audience of God and angels! And then to delight the ear, while this unhappy crowd fills heaven and earth with wailing and howling, you have a truly divine harmony." [De Statu Mortuorum & Resurgentium Tractatus, 1720]
- E.T.B.


HELL'S FINAL ENIGMA
CHRISTIANITY TODAY CRACKS "HELL'S FINAL ENIGMA?"
I read in Christianity Today ("Hell's Final Enigma," April 22, 2002) that the Reverend J. I. Packer (professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Christian author, and executive director of the aforementioned magazine) was asked, "How might those in heaven feel about those in hell?" To put it another way, how might Christians feel when they are in heaven, knowing that multitudes of people they once loved (fellow human beings with similar feelings, joys and fears, and whom they were taught they ought to love with an "unconditional love" and "forgive seventy-times-seven times"), would be suffering eternally?


Reverend Packer replied (if I may paraphrase) that heaven's occupants would be busy loving each other and praising God. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as "winning teammates patting each other on the back for eternity?") So their attention would be focused on heavenly glories. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as children so immersed in playing a video game that they cannot be distracted by anything outside of the game?) Then, only after describing how heaven's occupants would feel about God, heaven, and each other, Reverend Packer replied to the original question of "How might heaven's occupants feel about those in hell?" The Reverend's reply consisted of ten words: "Love and pity for hell's occupants will not enter our hearts."


But doesn't such a reply beg the question: "What kind of 'heart' could find neither 'love nor pity' entering it, knowing that the greater portion of mankind, including former wives, children, and friends, were all suffering in hell?"


Perhaps Rev. Packer 's next column should be about how to reconcile the following two statements, the first one being his own:


"Love and pity for hell's occupants will not enter our hearts"


"Love is patient. it keeps no record of wrongs.. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.. These three remain: faith, hope and love." (1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8,13 -- NIV translation)
- E.T.B.




HELL'S FINAL ENIGMA. A SECOND OPINION
A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be burning in what he believed to be eternal hell. But if we are to "love our neighbors as ourselves," how can this be true? God has said that He will have "all" come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Does not emptiness abhor a vacuum, and what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be?


Something written by the 19th-century univeralist Christian, George MacDonald, recently encouraged my own heart. Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell.


"And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother? -- who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?"


Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven? MacDonald's words were a blessing for me to read. - Shana (First-Grade Teacher, Therapist for Autistic Children, and creator of a universalist Christian website) [Three sentences were edited by E.T.B.]
http://www.webspawner.com/users/nicky0/index.html


George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons and other works are available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
http://www.ccel.org/m/macdonald/


UNIVERSALISTS
(THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT ONE DAY EVERYONE MAY BE "SAVED")
Love is patient. it keeps no record of wrongs.. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.. These three remain: faith, hope and love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8,13 (NIV translation)




I am a universalist because I believe that God and time are the best teachers, and there is plenty of time in eternity for everyone to learn their lessons, including Ghengiz Khan, Adolf Hitler, and the makers of Jolt Cola (a cola with twice the sugar and caffeine).
- E.T.B.




Nowadays the "universalistic" Buddhists and "universalistic" Christians and "universalistic" Moslems feel closer to one another than they feel to the fundamentalists within their own religious traditions. And the fundamentalists of each tradition can't even get along with the other fundamentalists of that same tradition.
- Brother Steindal-Rast, "The Monk is a Radical," The Laughing Man, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1981




THE CHURCH FATHERS TESTIFY TO THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPH OF JESUS CHRIST
In a book bearing the same title as the subject heading above, Dr. Jack Jacobsen collected quotations from the Church Fathers, to demonstrate that not all Christians at all times agreed with the doctrine of "eternal damnation."


The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1908) by Schaff-Herzog says in volume 12, on page 96, "In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked. Other theological schools are mentioned as founded by Universalists, but their actual doctrine on this subject is not known."


Augustine (354-430 A.D.), one of the four great Latin Church Fathers (Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome and Gregory the Great), admitted: "There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments."


Origen, a pupil and successor of Clement of Alexandria, lived from 185 to 254 A.D. He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church. In his book, De Principiis, he wrote: "We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued.... for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet." Howard F. Vos in his book Highlights of Church History states that Origen believed the souls of all that God created would some day return to rest in the bosom of the Father. Those who rejected the gospel now would go to hell to experience a purifying fire that would cleanse even the wicked; all would ultimately reach the state of bliss.


The great church historian Geisler writes: "The belief in the inalienable capability of improvement in all rational beings, and the limited duration of future punishment was so general, even in the West, and among the opponents of Origen, that it seems entirely independent of his system." (Eccles. Hist., 1-212)


Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church, says in his Catechetical Orations: "Our Lord is the One who delivers man [all men], and who heals the inventor of evil himself."


Neander says that Gregory of Nyssa taught that all punishments are means of purification, ordained by divine love to purge rational beings from moral evil, and to restore them back to that communion with God.... so that they may attain the same blessed fellowship with God Himself.


Eusebius of Caesarea lived from 265 to 340 A.D. He was the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and a friend of Constantine, great Emperor of Rome. His commentary of Psalm 2 says: "The Son 'breaking in pieces' His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state."


Gregory of Nazianzeu lived from 330 to 390 A.D. He was the Bishop of Constantinople. In his Oracles 39:19 we read: "These, if they will, may go Christ's way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice."


Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.), writes on Psalm 1: "Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. 'Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,' for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection."


Jerome, who revised the old Latin Translations and translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, lived from 340 to 420 A.D. In his comments on Zephaniah 3:8-10 he says: "The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out an the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal. in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus' Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God's enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies."


The collection of the previous testimonies are only a representative portion of the great leaders of the Church in the first four hundred years. A well known German theologian named Ethelbert Stauffer writes in his book, New Testament Theology, these words in his chapter entitled "Universal Homecoming": "The primitive church never gave up the hope that in His will to save, the All-Merciful and All-Powerful God would overcome even the final 'no' of the self-sufficient world." Again, he says, "Paul is quite confident that there will be possibilities of salvation for men after death. It is possible.... that even in the world to come, hope for the future will not cease." And he concludes: "In I Corinthians 15:24, 26, Paul speaks of destruction of hostile demonic powers, which by their fall disturbed the original course of universal history. But after this great clearance, all other creatures find their way back to themselves and to their Creator in their subjection to the Son, who finally subjects Himself to the Father 'that God may be all in all.'"


The Reformer Martin Luther had hope for all. In his letter to Hanseu Von Rechenberg in 1522, Luther wrote: "God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future." Bengel's book, Gnomon, quotes Luther's exposition of Hosea as accepting the idea that Christ appeared to souls of some who in the time of Noah had been unbelieving, that they might recognize that their sins were forgiven through His sacrifice.


Let us then take seriously the testimony of our Ancient Fathers, beginning with the Apostle Paul. He and those who followed after desired to deliver to us today that faith and truth which was given them by God Himself. As one pastor remarked recently concerning the subject of God bringing all back to Himself, "We are beginning to see what the Apostle Paul saw in 1st Corinthians 15:22 and following," "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all."




A REVELATION RECORDED BY "JULIAN OF NORWICH" (A 13TH CENTURY CHRISTIAN MYSTIC)
Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that I needed to know, answered with this assurance: "Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."


It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done. -- This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.


And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows: our faith is grounded in God's word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that God's word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned, -- And given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time.~ And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: "What is impossible to you is not impossible to me.~I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well."
- Julian of Norwich [Both quotations are from the so-called "Long Text," and they occur in Julian's account of her 13th revelation.~The first quotation is from Chapter 27 of the Long Text, and the second is from Chapter 32. The modern English is from Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text and Long Text), trans.~ Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin, 1998). The first quotation is from page 79, and the second quotation is from pages 85-86.~The original Middle English versions of these passages can be found in A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, Part Two, ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978).~That edition is the one usually cited in scholarly works on Julian.~The first quotation is from page 405, and the~second is from pages 423-26.]


C. S. Lewis, the beloved 20th-century Christian author, cited the words that Julian reportedly heard Jesus say, "All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," in his novel about heaven and hell, The Great Divorce.
- E.T.B.




EXCERPT FROM "I BELIEVE" BY GEORGE MACDONALD (C. S. LEWIS' "SPIRITUAL MENTOR")
I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing. [I believe] such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn. I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children.
- George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from "I Believe," Unspoken Sermons




THE UNSELFISHNESS OF GOD AND HOW I DISCOVERED IT
[Hannah Whitall Smith's book, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, has sold millions. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association even handed out copies at one of their crusades. But how many evangelicals have ever read about Smith's beliefs regarding the salvation of all mankind? When evangelical publishers recently reprinted another of her books, The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It, they deliberately left out three whole chapters that featured universalistic passages, like the one below. -- E.T.B.]


I began to feel that the salvation in which I had been rejoicing was, after all a very limited and a very selfish salvation, and, as such, unworthy of the Creator who had declared so emphatically that His "tender mercies are over all His works," and above all unworthy of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world for the sole and single purpose of saving the world. I could not believe that His life and death for us could be meant to fall so far short of remedying the evil that He came on purpose to remedy, and I felt that it must be impossible that there could be any short-coming in the salvation He had provided. The Bible says, "As in Adam all die -- even so in Christ should all be made alive." As was the first, even so was the second. The "all" in one case could not in fairness mean less than the "all" in the other. I saw therefore that the remedy must necessarily be equal to the disease, the salvation must be as universal as the fall.God is the Creator of every human being, therefore He is the Father of each one, and they are all His children; and Christ died for every one, and is declared to be "the propitiation not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). However great the ignorance therefore, or however grievous the sin, the promise of salvation is positive and without limitations. If it is true that "by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation," it is equally true that "by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." To limit the last "all men" is also to limit the first. The salvation is absolutely equal to the fall. There is to be a final "restitution of all things," when "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." Every knee, every tongue-words could not be more embracing. The how and the when I could not see; but the one essential fact was all I needed -- somewhere and somehow God was going to make every thing right for all the creatures He had created. I began at last to understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that he had been made the minister of the New Testament, not of the letter but of the spirit, for "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life." Things I had read in the letter, and had shuddered at, now, read in the spirit, filled me with joy.
- Hannah Whitall Smith, "The Third Epoch In My Religious Life," Chapter XXII, The Unselfishness Of God And How I Discovered It




FORGOTTEN UNIVERALIST EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS
20th-century evangelical Christian, Tom Talbott had his manuscript, The Inescapable Love of God, rejected by evangelical publishers, who admitted it was well written and raised good questions, but who concluded that it was "politically beyond the bounds" for their press to "publish an explicit defense of universalism." Talbott agrees that publishers are under no obligation to publish anyone's work, but even the editor of a newsletter that features reviews of unpublished manuscripts, refused to write even a brief review of Tom's, because the newsletter's subscribers (mainly Christian publishers) might be displeased and drop their subscriptions.


Talbott is also dismayed that the greatest works by evangelical Christian universalists of the 18th and 19th centuries are no longer being republished, so they remain outside the collective memory of today's evangelicals who seem to have grown more damnation-cocksure and less willing to buck conservative religious politics or the evangelical book market. Some of Tom's favorite Christian works from those centuries include Elhanan Winchester's The Universal Restoration (1787) and his profoundly moving sermon, "The Outcasts Comforted" (1782), Andrew Jukes' Restitution of all Things (1867), Thomas B. Thayer's Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1855), J. W. Hanson's Universalism the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years (1899), and George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons. With the exception of MacDonald's sermons, much of this material has slipped into near oblivion. Luckily, some of the older titles are currently being revived on the internet, and you can download several of them from Gary Amirault's "Tentmaker" web site
http://www.tentmaker.org/


Tom Talbott's website
http://tomtalbott.freeyellow.com/


George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons and other works are available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
http://www.ccel.org/m/macdonald/


- E.T.B.




A CHRISTIAN CONVERT FROM THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY WHOSE TESTIMONY WAS OFTEN CITED, BUT WHOSE UNIVERSALISM WAS COVERED UP
Sundar Singh was lauded by 20th century evangelical Christians for converting to Christianity in the early 1920s. Even in the 1970s Sundar was highly thought of by evangelical Christians. At that time I heard a Christian radio dramatization of the story of Sundar's miraculous conversion and his dangerous preaching journeys to India and Tibet, and I bought two books that told his story at evangelical Christian bookstores. The evangelical Christian apologist, Josh McDowell of Josh McDowell ministries, cited Sundar's conversion in the first and second editions of McDowell's book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. While reading the evangelical versions of Sundar's life and teachings, I never once ran across Sundar's universalistic statements, not until I read Sundar's own works, along with some of the in-depth biographies that had been written about him nearer his own day.


Sundar was raised a member of the Sikh religion. (Sikhism is a sect within Hinduism that was founded about 1500 A.D. that teaches belief in one God and rejects the caste system and idolatry.) Prior to his conversion to evangelical Christianity Sundar attended a primary school run by the American Presbyterian Mission where the New Testament was read daily as a "textbook." Sundar "refused to read the Bible at the daily lessons...To some extent the teaching of the Gospel on the love of God attracted me, but I still thought it was false." Though according to another testimony, Sundar confessed, "Even then, I felt the Divine attractiveness and wonderful power of the Bible."


The New Testament was a foreign holy book teaching a religion that was similar to, yet different from, his own. This confused his young mind and heart. Sundar even burned a copy of one of the Gospels in public. In the midst of such confusion and while only fourteen years old, his mother died, and Sundar underwent a crisis of faith. His mother was a loving saintly woman and they were very close. He wanted to assuage his fears about God and the afterlife so badly that he woke one night at 3 A.M. took a bath and prayed "expecting" to receive a visionary answer; he swore he would kill himself that morning if he did not receive one. That morning Sundar says he "met Jesus" who spoke the same words that were spoken to Paul on the Road to Damascus, "Why do you persecute me?" Friedrich Heiler, in his sympathetic biography, The Gospel of Sadhu Sundar Singh (Oxford University Press, 1927), did not dispute Sundar's recollections, nor the sincerity of his faith, but cautiously added some "Critical Considerations": "In contradistinction to the... religious explanation of the miracle of Sundar's conversion, modern religious science suggests one that is natural and psychological. The psychological process which those who have studied conversion experiences have discovered is easily discernable in the Sadhu's experience: the utmost tension of effort, followed by a state of despair and complete cessation from struggle, culminating in a sudden inflow of assurance. The 'local color' on the fantasy side of the experience is easily explained by the influence of the story of Paul's conversion, which is obviously very similar. Although the Sadhu does not remember having heard of Paul's vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, this still seems probable, as the New Testament was read daily in the mission school. It seems quite likely that Sundar Singh's inward struggles and their solution were inevitably colored by the Pauline experience. Finally, we have to remember that such experiences of conversion are not all that rare in India. A leading figure in the Indian Methodist Church, Theophilus Subrahmanyam, was also led to Christ, and to work for Him among the outcasts, by a wonderful vision. The famous Mahratta evangelist and poet, Narayan Vaman Tilak, had a vision of Christ in August 1917, a few months before his death...The Indian mind is much more prone to visionary experience than the European... To point out that this conversion resembles the conversion of St. Paul, to say that the whole experience conforms to a certain type and that similar experiences often occur among Indian Christians, does not offer any clear and complete explanation; it only makes it somewhat easier to understand."


Sundar also told many miraculous stories (besides his conversion account) which included Sundar's meeting with a "365-year-old Maharishi of Kailash," Sundar's fasting for "forty days," being thrown into and plucked out of a Tibetan well, and stories of miraculous rescues and martyrdoms of others. Even his sympathetic biographer, Heiler, pointed out that "The critical historian... draws special attention to the curious sameness of the miracle motif [in Sundar's stories]. There are really only two types of miracles that appear in slightly varied form again and again in his stories. In the larger number of incidents supernatural figures appear and disappear with startling suddenness. The martyr-stories too, which the Sadhu tells, are almost all of the same type; in the midst of terrible suffering the martyrs are filled with supernatural joy which convinces the spectators of the truth of their Faith...We cannot, however, help noticing one curious fact: the converts and martyrs of whom Sundar Singh speaks reveal exactly the same kind of experience as the Sadhu; they think, feel, and talk just as he does...Finally, various parallels from the New Testament, and from the legendary literature of Christianity and Buddhism, show that many of the leading ideas in the Sadhu's miracle-stories are in no way either new or original...In addition, in all these tales of the miraculous the whole mentality of the Indian and especially of the Indian ascetic, must be taken into account. One of the most able students of the history of Indian literature says decidedly: 'Indians have never made any distinction between Saga, legend, and history.' This applies particularly to ascetics, who for days at a time are quite alone among the magnificent mountains of the Himalayas, and who give themselves up exclusively to the contemplation of Nature, to inward concentration, and supernatural ecstasy [exactly as Sundar did, who spent much time traveling alone in his beloved Himalayas, and who admitted that he slipped into and out of "spiritual ecstasy" (or, as the Hindus call it, "samadhi;" or as we would call it today, "altered states of consciousness") spontaneously and frequently, which included seeing visions and hearing voices -- E.T.B.]. In their experience the inner vision becomes developed to such an extent that the usual difference between subjective and objective truth disappears entirely. [Even Sundar's supporters and personal friends admitted that he had difficulty at times in distinguishing between vision and empirical reality. See Andrews' and Appasamy's books mentioned below. -- E.T.B.] All this suggests that some of the Sadhu's stories of the miraculous need not be considered as historical facts, but as legends; doubtless they have some solid foundation, but, in the form in which they are told, they have been worked up by a creative miracle-fantasy. Even scholars who admit the possibility of the miraculous cannot refuse to consider such a suggestion...Those who are familiar with the problems of biblical and hagiographical miracle find, to their astonishment, in the anecdotes which the Sadhu tells over and over again, certain clear principles, which show how legends are formed: repetition of the same motif, doublets, and variants. It is a striking and significant fact that we can thus confirm these principles of the growth of legends in people belonging to our own day, for the Sadhu's stories deal exclusively with experiences of his own and of his contemporaries. So we see that legends do not necessarily arise after the death of a saint, and within the inner circle of his disciples, but during his own lifetime, and perhaps even in his own mind."


Sundar Singh was quite independent of outward Church authority in all his religious life, thought, and work. He dropped out of a Christian seminary that he briefly attended. Neither did he attach much importance to public worship because in his experience the heart prays better in solitude than in a congregation. He was also highly displeased with what he found when he toured western nations that for centuries had the benefit of the Bible and whose central figure of worship was Jesus. Sundar proclaimed almost prophetic denunciations upon Western Christianity, and laughed at the way the West looked down upon religious men of the East as mere "pagans" and "heathens." "People call us heathens," he said in a conversation with the Archbishop of Upsala. "Just fancy! My mother a heathen! If she were alive now she would certainly be a Christian. But even while she followed her ancestral faith she was so religious that the term 'heathen' makes me smile. She prayed to God, she served God, she loved God, far more warmly and deeply than many Christians." On another occasion, Sundar said, "I have seen many Christian women, but none of them came up to my mother." And, conversing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sundar said: "If I do not see my mother in heaven, I shall ask God to send me to hell so that I may be with her." Sundar also made plain his view that, "There are many more people among us in India who lead a spiritual life than in the West, although they do not know or confess Christ. It is of course true that people who live in India worship idols; but here in England people worship themselves, and that is still worse. Idol-worshippers seek the truth, but people over here, so far as I can see, seek pleasure and comfort. The people of the West understand how to use electricity and how to fly in the air. The men of the East have sought the truth. Of the three Wise Men who went to Palestine to see Jesus not one was from the West.'"


Neither was Sundar afraid to raise his voice in favor of "universalism." He could never deny to all non-Christians the possibility of entering heaven. In 1925 Sundar wrote, "If the Divine spark in the soul cannot be destroyed, then we need despair of no sinner... Since God created men to have fellowship with Himself, they cannot for ever be separated from Him... After long wandering, and by devious paths, sinful man will at last return to Him in whose Image he was created; for this is his final destiny."


In February, 1929, the year Sundar disappeared on his final missionary trip to Tibet, he was interviewed by several theology students in Calcutta, India, where he answered their questions: "(Question #1) What did the Sadhu think should be our attitude towards non-Christian religions? -- The old habit of calling them 'heathen' should go. The worst 'heathen' were among us [Christians]... (Question #2) Who were right, Christian Fundamentalists or Christian Liberals? -- Both were wrong. The Fundamentalists were uncharitable to those who differed from them. That is, they were unchristian. The Liberals sometimes went to the extent of denying the divinity of Christ, which they had no business to do. [Belief in the "divinity of Christ" came relatively easy to Sundar because he was raised to believe spiritual teachers ("gurus") were "divine." In fact in India today, there are thousands who believe Sai Baba is "God." -- E.T.B.] If they can believe that, then maybe it helps explain how such a belief arose concerning Jesus. -- E.T.B.]... (Question #3) Did the Sadhu think there was eternal punishment? -- There was punishment, but it was not eternal...Everyone after this life would be given a fair chance of making good, and attaining to the measure of fullness the soul was capable of. This might sometimes take ages." Hidden from the eyes of the Christian world at large, and McDowell's eyes in particular, is the fact that Sundar considered himself to be a disciple of the Swedish theologian, scientist and mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), whose visions of the afterlife as told in Heaven and Hell (1758), resembled Sundar's in Visions of the Spiritual World (1926), and who both shared a universalistic spiritual viewpoint. Sundar may have read his first book by Swedenborg during his brief stay at seminary, and certainly had been reading him regularly since his 1922 visit to Sweden, where Sundar visited Swedenborg's tomb. Evangelical Christians regard Swedenborg at best as an "unorthodox Christian" with unsound views, and at worst as a demon-inspired false prophet. For instance, Swedenborg wrote about "seeing" the Fathers of Protestantism like Luther and Calvin (and Calvin's friend, Melanchthon) residing in lower, darker levels of the spiritual realm. Melanchthon had even degenerated so far as to have become "a kind of servant of demons." As Swedenborg saw things, the pride those men took in judging others and their approval of torture and killing in the name of Christ, had inadequately prepared them spiritually. So, they had many difficult lessons left to learn. A few months before Sundar vanished on his last trip to Tibet he spoke with warmth of Swedenborg: "Having read his books and having come in close personal contact with him in the spirit world, I can thoroughly recommend him as a great seer."
- E.T.B.


[SOURCES: C. F. Andrews, Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Personal Memoir (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1934), p. 121, 152ff, 226; A. J. Appasamy, Sundar Singh: A Biography (London: Lutterworth, 1958) (also Madras: CLS, 1966) p. 224f, 238; Friedrich Heiler, The Gospel of Sadhu Sundar Singh, abridged trans. by Olive Wyon (New York : Oxford University Press, American Branch, 1927), p. 38, 39, 40, 45, 46, 171, 175, 177, 178, 179, 217; Eric J. Sharpe, "The Legacy of Sadhu Sundar Singh," International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October, 1990; Sundar Singh, Meditations on Various Aspects of the Spiritual Life (London, Macmillan, 1925); Emmanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia (1794), "A Theologian in Death" (a vision of Melanchthon in the afterlife)]




A WORD TO THE ELECT
(EXCERPT FROM A LITTLE KNOWN UNIVERSALIST POEM BY ANNE BRONTE)
And oh! there lives within my heart
A hope, long nursed by me;
(And should its cheering ray depart,
How dark my soul would be!)
That as in Adam all have died,
In Christ shall all men live;
And ever round His throne abide,
Eternal praise to give.
That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.
I ask not how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners' woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know
That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They'll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.
- Anne Bronte (1843)


PASCAL'S WAGER
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having, neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is. [So] you must wager. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that he is.
- Blaise Pascal (Catholic philosopher)




I have a personal hope or "wager" that God, or a higher power, exists, and that an afterlife remains a possibility, but that does not make me a Catholic like Pascal. Pascal simply ignored the possibility that God could have criteria for "salvation and damnation" different than those proposed by his Roman Catholic faith (or God could have no criteria).


Secondly, Pascal's argument can be used equally by all religions that promise "bliss" to those who accept only their particular doctrines and practices.


Thirdly, even Pascal acknowledged that evidence of "God" was questionable, apparently even indeterminate, because he wrote, "We are incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is." Pascal even added that no one can tell the difference between a world "with a God" and a world "without one." But would any intelligent and compassionate Being hide their existence in the bushes so well that no one could tell if the bushes were occupied or not, and then jump out and say "Ah ha! You're going to hell, you couldn't find me!" To put it another way, would it be both an "intelligent and a compassionate" act to damn those who had used the very brains God have given them, and who had determined CORRECTLY AND HONESTLY that the question was "indeterminate?"


Fourthly, Pascal's own church never officially accepted his approach to the question of the existence of God. Instead, the Catholic Church favored attempts to prove rationally the existence of God rather than requiring people to "gamble" or "bet" on the matter.
- E.T.B. (See Pickover, The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience)




I have always considered "Pascal's Wager" a questionable bet to place. Any God worth "believing in" would surely prefer an honest agnostic to a calculating hypocrite.
- Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer




"Belief" is not something you can turn on and off like a spigot. No person can truly "believe in God" unless the evidence convinces his or her mind. If you don't believe me, try believing that the stars are holes punched into a heavenly dome, with the light of heaven shining through. Pascal's recommendation is inherently impractical.
- Dave Matson, "Pascal's Wager," The Bauble Box: A Collection of Short Gems Written for the Freethought Exchange




In the tradition of Pascal, perhaps a new wager can be posed. If mortal life is all that exists for individuals, we lose nothing by seeking to make that life as meaningful and rewarding as possible. But if eternal life exists, we have lost nothing by seeking a fulfilling existence here on Earth. Thus, one might wager on the richness of life here and now.


Like Pascal's original bet this evolutionary-genetic wager involves some questionable assumptions. It assumes that nothing is to be lost by a mistaken belief in the absence of a god or of an eternal existence for the individual's soul. Many religions posit that only through complete faith can final redemption be attained. A far less severe philosophy holds that no deity would damn a soul for a lack of faith on matters unresolved to an open an reasonable, yet finite, human mind.
- John C. Avise, "An Evolutionary-Genetic Wager," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 25, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2001


THE AFTERLIFE
I believe in an afterlife. Because the combined royalties of everything I've ever had published in this life, aren't worth living for.
- E.T.B.




If you live right, death is a joke to you as far as fear is concerned.
- Will Rogers




He deserves paradise who can make his companions laugh.
- The Koran


HELL
God recently remodeled hell. He replaced the flames of eternal damnation with a microwave. Now, instead of taking forever, His revenge is complete in seconds. The only hard part is hanging on while the plate rotates.
- E.T.B.




According to Christianity eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God's infinite love. That's the message we're brought up with, believe or die. "Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options."
- Bill Hicks, Rant in E-minor, CD




As a tot I was given the usual terrifying mixed message: a) God is love; and b) If you don't believe how much he loves you, you will stand in the corner for eternity.
- James Lileks, "God Has Call Waiting," Notes of a Nervous Man




God says do what you wish, but make the wrong choice and you will be tortured for eternity in hell. That's not free will. It's like a man telling his girlfriend, do what you wish, but if you choose to leave me, I will track you down and blow your brains out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath. When god says the same we call him "loving" and build churches in his honor.
- William C. Easttom II




I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian. Love is not self-denial. Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your ego or disobeyed your rules. Love is not obedience, conformity, or submission. It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority, punishment or reward. True love is respect and admiration, compassion and kindness, freely given by a healthy, unafraid human being.
- Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist




I read in the Gospels that Jesus forgave the men who nailed him to the cross. He even promised "this day you shall be with me in paradise" to a thief crucified next to him -- a thief who addressed Jesus simply as a "man" rather than as "the son of God."


Yet, today, this same Jesus cannot forgive my kindly old aunt and allow her to dwell in paradise, simply because her "beliefs" do not match Reverend So-and-So's?
- Arthur Silver [Christian universalist]




They say that when god was in Jerusalem he forgave his murderers, but now he will not forgive an honest man for differing with him on the subject of the Trinity.


They say that God says to me, "Forgive your enemies." I say, "I do;" but he says, "I will damn mine." God should be consistent. If he wants me to forgive my enemies he should forgive his. I am asked to forgive enemies who can hurt me. God is only asked to forgive enemies who cannot hurt him. He certainly ought to be as generous as he asks us to be.
- Robert Ingersoll




Any religion that teaches there is only heaven or hell is gonna be a haven for manic-depressives.
- E.T.B.




Some conservative Christians argue in favor of hell by calling it "God's great compliment." "Compliment?" If hell is such a "compliment" then what does God do when he wants to "insult" somebody?
- E.T.B.




It is strange to me that people can consign others to hell without a scruple. One only has to remember a toothache, not to wish it eternally on anyone.
- Lucy Daugalis (daugalis@arcom.com.au)




When I was a boy I heard tell of an old farmer in Vermont. He was dying. The minister was at his bedside -- asked him if he was a Christian, if he was prepared to die. The old man answered that he had made no preparation, that he was not a Christian, that he had never done anything but work. The preacher said that he could give him no hope unless he had faith in Christ, and that if he had no faith his soul would certainly be lost.


The old man was not frightened. He was perfectly calm. In a weak and broken voice he said, "Mr. Preacher, I suppose you noticed my farm. My wife and I came here more than fifty years ago. We were just married. It was a forest then and the land was covered with stones. I cut down the trees, burned the logs, picked up the stones, and laid the walls. My wife spun and wove and worked every moment. We raised and educated our children -- denied ourselves. During all these years my wife never had a good dress, or a decent bonnet. I never had a good suit of clothes. We lived on the plainest food. Our hands, our bodies are deformed by toil. We never had a vacation. We loved each other and the children. That is the only luxury we ever had. Now I am about to die and you ask me if I am prepared. Mr. Preacher, I have no fear of the future, no terror of any other world. There may be such a place as hell -- but if there is, you never can make me believe that it's any worse than old Vermont."
- Robert Ingersoll, "Why I Am An Agnostic"




How can anybody be "judged" based on their "beliefs" when God has made damn sure that everybody's got way more to do in this life than spend it trying to figure out what's best to "believe" about the next one.
- E.T.B.




Given headaches, backaches, toothaches, strains, scrapes, breaks, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, yeast, parasites, viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness, paralysis, mental illness, ugliness, ignorance, miscommunications, embarrassments, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom, hard labor, repetitious labor, accidents, old age, senility, fires, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes, I can not see how anyone, after they are dead, deserves "eternal punishment" as well.
- E.T.B.




When all has been considered, it seems to me to be the irresistible intuition that infinite punishment for finite sin would be unjust, and therefore wrong. We feel that even weak and erring Man would shrink from such an act. And we cannot conceive of God as acting on a lower standard of right and wrong.
- Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland), "Eternal Punishment," Diversions and Digressions of Lewis Carroll




Do I believe in eternal punishment? Hell no. I always believed God could get his revenge in far less time.
- Robert Ingersoll




An idea, which has terrified millions, claims that some of us will go to a place called Hell, where we will suffer eternal torture. This does not scare me because, when I try to imagine a Mind behind this universe, I cannot conceive that Mind, usually called "God," as totally mad. I mean, guys, compare that "God" with the worst monsters you can think of -- Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, that sort of guy. None of them ever inflicted more than finite pain on their victims. Even de Sade, in his sado-masochistic fantasy novels, never devised an unlimited torture. The idea that the Mind of Creation (if such exists) wants to torture some of its critters for endless infinities of infinities seems too absurd to take seriously. Such a deranged Mind could not create a mud hut, much less the exquisitely mathematical universe around us.


If such a monster-God did exist, the sane attitude would consist of practicing the Buddhist virtue of compassion. Don't give way to hatred: try to understand and forgive him. Maybe He will recover his wits some day.
- Robert Anton Wilson, "Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying," Gnoware, February 1999




There are in fact so many strong Biblical, doctrinal, and logical arguments against the existence of a literal hell that this question naturally arises: Why do the churches teach it and why do people often believe it?... The churches tend to believe that fear, rather than love conquers all.
- Robert Short, Methodist clergyman, U.S. Catholic, April 1980




Primates often have trouble imagining a universe not run by an angry alpha male.
- Source unknown




Any infinite Being who feels it is their duty to torture me for eternity, should switch to decaf.
- E.T.B.


HEAVEN
Christians believe that the most wonderful thing that can happen to them is to go to heaven, but few of them are in a hurry to make the trip.
- Source unknown




According to the book of Revelation, Heaven is an eternal praise service; a service of compliment or flattery. God sits on his throne, attended by twenty-four harp-playing elders (Rev. 5:8) and some other dignitaries pertaining to his court, and looks out over his miles and miles of tempestuous worshippers, and smiles, and purrs, and nods his satisfaction northward, eastward, southwards; as quaint and naive a spectacle as has yet been imagined in this universe, I take it. It is easy to see that the inventor of this image of heaven did not originate the idea, but copied it from the show-ceremonies of some sorry little sovereign state up in the back settlements of the Middle East somewhere.
- Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth




Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling place of slaves and serfs? Simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians? That he did a few miracles to astonish a few of them? That all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum filled with Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians and Methodist mummies?
- Robert Ingersoll




Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.
- Mark Twain, "Etiquette for the Afterlife: Advice to Paine"




My friend Dorothy and I spent a weekend at Heritage USA, the born-again Christian resort and amusement park created by television evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker. Dorothy and I came to scoff -- but went away converted.


Unfortunately, we were converted to Satanism. Now we're up half the night going to witch's sabbaths and have to spend our free time reciting the Lord's Prayer backward and scouring the neighborhood for black dogs to sacrifice. Frankly, it's a nuisance, but if it keeps us from going to the Heritage USA part of heaven, it will be worth it.
- P. J. O'Rourke, Holidays in Hell




Have you ever been awakened early in the morning by a Jehovah's Witness? Maybe you've been accosted by a crazy street preacher with a megaphone? You turn on your TV, and there's Tammy Bakker, Jerry Falwell, that Reverend Scott guy who never sleeps. Has it ever dawned on you that heaven might be a very annoying place?


My brother Mike has always been -- and still is -- the most annoying religious person I've ever known. He thinks homosexuality is a sickness. He believes that all Jews will burn in hell. He thinks women belong in the home. Mike's one of those people who has to talk to God, because nobody else can stand him.


One Thanksgiving Mike told me, "You know, Ricky, I'm really worried about you! I'm beginning to think that you might not go to heaven!" I leaned toward him very calmly and said, "Mike, I don't want to go to heaven. You know why? You're gonna be there!"
- Rick Reynolds, Only the Truth is Funny




Remember the movie The Last Temptation of Christ? There were people outside with signs that said, "This movie's not real." Come here, Sparky. No movie's real. And they had other signs that said, "You will not get into the Kingdom of Heaven." I looked at these people and said, "Are you going to be there? If so, then I'm not going."
- Robin Williams




The experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of religious believers will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group. An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me.
- Robert Anton Wilson, "Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying," Gnoware, February 1999




THE REVEREND REPLIED.
Reporter: What will we do in heaven for eternity? Won't we get bored?


Rev. Spurgeon: Nonsense. We will joyously sing and meditate on the sufferings of Christ that made the miracle of our salvation possible. As for myself, I could sing and meditate on the wounds round Jesus' head for a billion years. Then focus on the wounds on his scourged back for the next billion. Then the wound in his right hand for a billion more, the wound in his left hand for a billion, the wound in his side for a billion. Then the wounds in his feet, each foot for a billion years.


Reporter: So, you're saying there's nothing worthy of a Christian's time and devotion, nothing worth looking at, or singing about, for all eternity, except Jesus and his wounds?


Rev. Spurgeon: That's exactly what I'm saying.


Reporter: So, ah... What's hell going to be like?
- E.T.B. (based on actual replies of Rev. Spurgeon)




When Robert Ingersoll heard how Rev. Spurgeon planned to spend billions of years in heaven just staring at Jesus' wounds, Ingersoll said, "I bet he even takes great delight in reading the genealogies of the Old Testament."
- The Best of Robert Ingersoll, Robert E. Greeley, Ed.




The last stop on my guided tour of heaven by Saint Peter was a cloud filled with people singing hymns loudly with bags over their heads.


"Make sure to keep quiet as we pass this cloud," Peter said, "Those are the born-again Christians, and they think they're the only ones up here."
- Source unknown


KISSING HANK'S ASS
(A PARABLE BY REVEREND JIM HUBER)
This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first:


John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."


Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."


Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"


John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the shit out of you."


Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"


John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever he wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss his ass."


Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why... "


Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"


Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but... "


John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."


Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"


Mary: "Oh yes, all the time... "


Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"


John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."


Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"


Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the shit out of you."


Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"


John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."


Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"


John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."


Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"


Mary: "Well, he gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."


Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"


John: "Hank has certain 'connections.'"


Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."


John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the shit of you."


Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from him..."


Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."


Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"


John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."


Me: "Who's Karl?"


Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."


Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"


John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."


From the desk of Karl


1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
2. Drink only in moderation.
3. Kick the shit out of people who aren't like you.
4. Eat right.
5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
6. The moon is made of green cheese.
7. Everything Hank says is right.
8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
9. Don't use alcohol.
10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the shit out of you.


Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."


Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."


Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."


John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."


Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"


Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."


Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the shit out of people just because they're different?"


Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."


Me: "How do you figure that?"


Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"


Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."


John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."


Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."


John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."


Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock... "


Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."


Me: "I'm not really an expert, but I think the theory that the Moon was somehow 'captured' by the Earth has been discounted. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it cheese."


John: "Aha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!"


Me: "We do?"


Mary: "Of course we do, Item 5 says so."


Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"


John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."


Me: "But... oh, never mind. What's the deal with wieners?"


Mary: (She blushes.)


John: "Wieners, in buns, no condiments. It's Hank's way. Anything else is wrong."


Me: "What if I don't have a bun?"


John: "No bun, no wiener. A wiener without a bun is wrong."


Me: "No relish? No Mustard?"


Mary: (She looks positively stricken.)


John: (He's shouting.) "There's no need for such language! Condiments of any kind are wrong!"


Me: "So a big pile of sauerkraut with some wieners chopped up in it would be out of the question?"


Mary: (Sticks her fingers in her ears.) "I am not listening to this. La la la la la la la la."


John: "That's disgusting. Only some sort of evil deviant would eat that..."


Me: "It's good! I eat it all the time."


Mary: (She faints.)


John: (He catches Mary.) "Well, if I'd known you were one of those I wouldn't have wasted my time. When Hank kicks the shit out of you I'll be there, counting my money and laughing. I'll kiss Hank's ass for you, you bunless cut-wienered kraut-eater."


With this, John dragged Mary to their waiting car, and sped off.


SIGNS AND VISIONS OF THE END
There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end: Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.
- Message found on a clay table from Assyria, written approximately 2800 B.C.




A VISION OF HOW THE WORLD WILL TRULY END
It is the year 2 billion A.D. Our sun is a slowly dying star. But our technology is so advanced we can move our planet wherever we wish.


We head for the Andromeda galaxy and spot a planet headed in the opposite direction.


We play chicken.


- E.T.B.


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