I’m reviewing a series of three fundagelical short stories about famous people entering a Christian afterlife. Anthony Horvath is going to pretend that his dogma is true, and in the first story place the dead Teresa in his version of heaven to play out events as his puppet. It’s not a pretty story at all; the main lesson I took away from it is that Horvath is a proponent of a vile doctrine that cheapens our lives and turns an imaginary afterlife into an exercise in servility. Later in this series, he’s going to send Richard Dawkins to hell in an explicit and horrible way, but it says something about Horvath’s religion that I still find his hell more appealing than his ghastly heaven.
Warning: there will be lots of spoilers.
Mother Teresa Goes to Heaven starts with a fearful Teresa waiting with a crowd of other dead people outside of heaven, a place with gigantic wooden gates and angelic guards made of lightning. Individuals are led through the gates one by one and interrogated, loudly, so everyone gets to hear. This gives Horvath the opportunity to browbeat random individuals other than Teresa for most of the story. For instance, a priest goes in to give an accounting.
“You did not marry, but you did not give up women. Here is the record of every lustful thought that you have had. You’ll note that here is where you became a priest, and yet a record of such thoughts continues until your death.”
“But those…what man can control his thoughts with such skill? You’re being unreasonable. I did not act on those thoughts, did I?” the man asserted with all confidence. The man had taken the tone of a defense attorney, expecting the rhetoric to take effect.
“Of course you acted on those thoughts. Here are seventy thousand, six hundred and fifty two times recorded where you turned your head to gaze on a woman,” the other returned.
Heaven is apparently a land of petty accountants and full-time voyeurs. Everything is logged, and even thoughts the celestial autocrats disapprove of will count against your record. And before you are allowed admission, you will be excoriated for every trivial ‘offense’ — and what is the example of a horrible damning offense Horvath gives? Looking at a woman. Just looking at one of those evil creatures.
These stories, by the way, take misogyny for granted. All of the guards are awe-inspiring male non-humans, all of the interviewers are handsome young men—one might infer a bit of an obsession on the part of the author in placing beautiful young men in positions of authority everywhere—and these men are always smiling benignly on people who give the right answers.
The message throughout is the standard Christian horror: every one is inherently wicked and evil, your thoughts are filthy, and their god is fully justified in treating you like poisoned dirt over arbitrary and perfectly normal behaviors. Their god is anti-human, anti-woman, anti-thought, anti-evidence…everything is an exercise in futility, from your actions on earth to the booming-voiced judge who reviews your life. Nothing matters. Face it, you’re damned.
It’s a theology of despair. I don’t like it at all, but of course, whether we like something isn’t a criterion for whether something is true. Is there any reason to believe that the petty tyrant deity of Horvath is real? No, and he even undercuts his own claims, not that he seems to notice. This priest victim tries to defend himself:
“I was a professor of theology. I taught thousands the pure doctrine of the church,” the man cried out, gaining new strength.
“Your doctrine was not pure. See, here is the record of your errors, some deliberate and defiant, others sincere but mistaken, and some wrong though you did not know it.”
So theology is pointless; the magic man in the sky hasn’t told you the whole story, and if you get any of it wrong, even the stuff you couldn’t possibly know about, you’re going to hell. Has Horvath considered that maybe his theology, this wretched nonsense on display in his story, therefore contains “deliberate and defiant” and unknowingly wrong errors throughout? Why should any reader believe his peculiar and frustratingly impotent theology over that of any other confused, misled, or arrogant preacher?
Maybe Horvath believes he isn’t babbling about a peculiar theology, but he is.
It’s also inconsistent. Six of the ten pages of the story are taken up with a couple of sinners being confronted publicly with their perfidy, and sent off to contemplate their error or dragged off to meet Jesus, and then Teresa gets her turn…but no, she doesn’t get pilloried, and there is no review of all the times she urged dying people to suffer more, or her jetting off to rich countries for the medical treatment she denied her victims. Apparently, this god is a capricious god who will evaluate you any ol’ random way he wants, and Mother Teresa gets special treatment.
Teresa gets summoned through the big wooden gates, goes through, and finds herself greeted warmly by the standard generic handsome young man, who then has a pleasant and reassuring conversation with her. She’ll eventually get judged, he tells her, and her naughtiness will be considered, and that’s about it. Apparently, Teresa responds in exactly the right way to this threat.
“I fear that if you sift me, there will be nothing left,” she wept. Her face was buried in her ancient hands.
“So you can give me no reason why you should be saved?” the young man replied tenderly, and yet there was a hint in his voice that the question was important.
“No. I see now that all my works and deeds were not enough. I still wonder how I offended Him that he withheld himself from me, but I can do nothing but rely on his mercy,” and then she cried uncontrollably. After she was spent, she lifted her head to see what was going to happen.”
See? Works and deeds and sins and woman-gazing don’t matter, ultimately. All that matters is that you grovel enough; lots of tears and contrition help, and of course, accepting Jesus as your advocate before the throne of heaven is essential. It all makes living rather superfluous. It also means the afterlife has got to be an awful nightmare, lorded over by a condescending god who relishes your tears and weakness over any strength and wisdom, and your fate is to beg for mercy for your multitude of sins, and if you beg hard enough and sincerely enough, you might get to spend the rest of eternity feeling insignificant as a dutiful servant of the deity.
So the conclusion is that Teresa will get to go to heaven. The handsome young man™ waves her on to the next step in the admissions process, where Attorney Jesus will certainly get her excused from her failings on the grounds that she’s adequately weepy and servile. She also gets to stop being so damned old.
Her eyes caught her reflection in the pool that she had noticed earlier. She saw that she was much younger. She looked much stronger. Yet, she still looked weak. Perplexed, she asked the young man, “Whose body is that?”
“Why, it is His, of course.”
“What…am I wearing?”
“Have you not realized?”
“Will I see him today?”
“This is the Day. But you will not yet be able to stand. You will see him soon, but not too soon. You will see him when you are ready. And then you will stand before the seat of judgment. Your Defender will Rise. You will know what to do.”
At this the young man swept his hand in the direction of some hills.
“Further up and further in,” he smiled at her.
And Teresa took her first faltering steps towards the high peaks, breathing in the refreshing but chill air, and pulling her clothing as tight as she could. She struggled to put one foot ahead of the other. Still, after every step she thought it was getting easier. Her heart steadied. Though she felt him not, she knew that when at last she arrived, God would see what she was wearing, and not her, and it would be enough.
Camouflage! You all suck, so your only hope for admission into heaven is to make sure you’re cloaked in enough Jesus to get past his judgmental gaze. If Horvath’s theology were correct, and he’s already admitted that theology is accidental and erroneous and built on assumptions that we can’t possibly know, then “PZ Myers goes to heaven” would be an apathetic story. If I found myself in that celestial waiting room, any interest in truckling to the big man in power would be lost at the thought of having to spend an eternity toadying up to a capricious jerk who doesn’t actually care about me. Whatevs, dude. It’s all lose-lose.
And wait…people have hearts in heaven? I think the author is a man of no imagination and no depth who is simply shuffling puppets through the impoverished theater of his mind. Like all of those pious Christians with definite ideas about how you should live your life.