God fashioned the ship of the world carefully.
With the infinite skill of an All-Master
Made He the hull and the sails,
Held He the rudder
Ready for adjustment.
Erect stood He, scanning His work proudly.
Then-at fateful time-a wrong called,
And God turned, heeding.
Lo, the ship, at this opportunity,
Making cunning noiseless travel down the ways.
So that, forever rudderless, it went upon the seas
Going ridiculous voyages,
Making quaint progress,
Turning as with serious purpose
Before stupid winds.
And there were many in the sky
Who laughed at this thing.
Catholics have a very delineated definition and explanation of the
afterlife. They have Heaven and Hell, Purgatory and Limbo. There are
half a dozen other places, as I recall, but I lost interest midway
through my research just about the time I lost interest in the
Telestial and Celestial Kingdoms and starting my own planet.
Schoolyard games and fairy tales eventually begin to bore the adult intellect.
The Catholics believe that "good" souls are accepted into
Heaven, by St Peter (with either his famous balance scales or that
golden book titled "This Is Your Life"). The ones that were
baptized with holy water and confirmed Catholic by the bishop, that
received holy communion (the actual "body of Christ") and
the sacred oils of last rites. The ones that married, used neither
condoms or the pill, that confessed their sins and said prayers in
penance. The ones that raised their own children to do the same
(raising children that question the "living prophet" is
grounds for dismissal) are on their way to bliss. Do the promises of
such rituals seem bizarre and ridiculous to one not
"steeped" in their "tradition"? Of course another
word for traditions forcibly passed down from role models and based
upon fear, is "brainwashing", but that is a harsh word.
So Catholic elevators are going up for the good souls and down for
the bad. The nuns were able to delineate elaborate stories for us 10
year olds about what one could expect to find in each place. And just
like any snake oil salesman, they used open ended descriptions like
"a marvelous place of wonders... what would YOU find there?"
so that each person could mentally fill in the blank with a tangible
personal fantasy and attribute it (incorrectly) either to the nun,
the bible, or to God himself. Of course, equally open ended
descriptions of Hell were given of a place of "terrible
suffering and torture like ... what would YOU find there" so
that each person could mentally fill in that blank with their own
personal nightmare, and literally scare the hell out of themselves.
Such mental games are demented, especially when played upon the young.
But setting aside the self-finished "Fantasy Island" and
island of chained souls, leaves the middle ground of Purgatory. I was
taught that people neither "good enough" nor "bad
enough" were sent here. Is this a bizarre notion? I was told
that it was prayers from living souls on earth that would provide
these residence of nowhere-ville with the grace to enter heaven. Is
this not fantastic ridiculous Catholic fiction? Yes, I was told, I
should pray for my ancestors, my grand and great grand parents on the
off-hand chance that they are stuck in Purgatory and that my prayers
might lift their souls to the divine place that has all of those
things that I was told to conger up in my imagination. And at the age
of eight, I immediately instinctively tried to imagine this elaborate
hoax from the other side.
I was befuddled and I was disbelievant. Here is a dead ancestor,
stuck in God's waiting room, and me kneeling at by bedside in my
jammies, putting in a good word for somebody that was just a name on
a piece of paper (or even less) to me. And the nuns expected me to
believe that my pure childhood act would improve the outcome of the
divine status of these total strangers in the eyes of our
Yet Mormons believe something pathetically similar. Secret rituals,
sacred words, people invoking others names that they personally
neither know anything of or about. Souls lost in the ether released
by these silly carnival sideshow acts. Where are the chicken bones,
wizard hats and Masonic aprons?
What kind of God would do that? An all-knowing all-loving one? Are we
to believe that God, who suffered and died on the cross to forgive
our sins, is now leading some giant parlor game of "mother may
I" or "simon says"? That fantastic charade was taught
to both you and I as children. And it was the beginning of the doubt
that our all-loving God sowed into my head for the Catholic religion.
Why was it not the same for you and yours?
Imagine for a minute, that you find yourself in this eternal
"middle of nowhere". Suppose all the Catholics learn, upon
death, that the Mormons were right. Suppose instead that all the
Mormons learn that the Catholics were right. To keep things simple, I
will leave out the Jews and the Pagans and the Scientologists.
These billions of decent people; God fearing, trying to live a good
life, raising their children to worship their particular belief, just
happened to follow the "wrong" set of rituals. They zigged
when God actually wanted them to zag. And now there stuck like some
bug on flypaper.
Suddenly a voice comes over a loudspeaker. You hear an unknown soul,
your great-great offspring or your surrogate Mormon sponsor utter
your name and (depending) "please, God, let their souls out of
Purgatory" or "I accept Jesus in their name". And
suddenly a bell rings and flasher starts to swirl and an angel
appears and grabs your elbow. You are on your way to Heaven! You are
saved! You have had the "correct" earth-bound ritual
blindly performed in your name. You are free. You rolled doubles. You
drew God's "get out of jail free" card.
Would you really want to go to THAT heaven? I mean really.
You lead this good Mormon life only to find out that it was
Catholics with the "right" dogma. Or you lead this good
Catholic life only to find out that the Mormons had the
"right" dogma. You bought the wrong stock. You built your
house in the wrong neighborhood. You enrolled yourself in the wrong school.
And people that are EXACTLY like yourself. The same foibles and
fears, heroics and heartbreaks, are already in. They picked the right
horse. They bought Microsoft at 10 instead of Xerox at 100. And God,
it turns out, is little more than a chump change bookie or
stockbroker. Lead a good life? Yeah, sure. Do a set of rituals that
your parents taught you were biblically revealed? Whatever. Pick the
right horse, and YOU'RE A WINNER of eternal divine salvation! Is that
your vision of God?
And when you heard the soft earthly voice speak your name, saw the
siren, and the angel came to get you, would you really
want to go in?
It would be like having reservations at a restaurant, only to be
greeted by a surly maitre d' that says "I do not see your name,
please wait, I will try to squeeze you in". You might step aside
and complain, but would be aghast if you saw that same greeter begin
to seat people no less deserving than yourself because they did some
insignificant act. Maybe they slipped him a ten-spot. Maybe they said
"Joe sent me". Maybe they waived a certain business card,
or were dressed in a tuxedo while you were wearing a plaid sport
coat. You had made a reservation and believed that was enough. And
now some snivelly small man is playing favorites due to something
that has nothing to do with you? You did your part, held up your end
of the bargain as you understoodit, but now learn that there was some
other act, some "secret" ritual, that you did not know but
were supposed to perform? And suppose now that a total stranger comes
up and hands you something (even though they don't know you from
Adam) and says "show him this and he'll seat you". Do you really
want to go into that restaurant? Even if the food is said to be the
"best in the city"?
I would not. Like Huckleberry Finn, I expect fairness and decency out
of heaven, not third rate carnival tricks and banana-republic style
power plays. Heaven, in my book, is not a tree-house full of eight
If you stood in line to enter a popular dance club, only to be kept
behind the velvet rope. How long would you stand there if you had to
watch others, neither more nor less "deserving" of
entrance, be whisked inside because they arrived in a limo instead of
a taxi, or wore white instead of blue. How long until you said "I
want nothing to do with this place. This is a load of crap." I
know that I might stand for ten or twenty minutes, allow five or six
people to pass me by, before I would step out of line and just walk away.
And what about when that snotty little Maitre d' or that star-struck
bouncer turns to you and says "OK, buddy, its your turn. You can
go in"? No rhyme or reason. Nothing to do with what you are or
what you have done or not done. Just simply because some other person
in some other dimension went into a darkened room and read your name
off of a piece of paper. Would you go in or would there be some
greater principle at stake? Would the fact that some people were
arbitrarily bestowed riches where others that were equally committed
and equally deserving were arbitrarily denied them make a difference
to your intellect or conscience? Does your religion encourage you to
use your intellect and your conscience in matters of dogma about the
afterlife? The Catholics certainly did not. Cults do not. To my
knowledge, the LDS church does not. Each institution wishes to
dictate the details of the afterlife and then have unquestioning
acceptance and adherence by their followers. And in those
institutions, the less thinking done by us riffraff the better.
Be careful about rubbing your hands together anticipating your
eternal reward. You can't be sure if you are on the "inside
looking out" or the "outside looking in" ritual-wise.
You have only your own faith, and the words of YOUR "living
prophet" to guide you. You had better hope HE was right.