Here is the last of Anthony Horvath’s ghastly morality tales. This one is the easiest to summarize, because there isn’t much to say about it: Richard Dawkins dies, goes to heaven, is judged, and sent to hell. It’s short, only seven pages long, and five of them are spent in loving description of the disintegration of Dawkins. It’s nothing but a horror story for Christians in which the bad guy meets a grisly end.
The blurb for the book declares that “these stories draw from what is known publicly to imagine what would happen in this most private of moments.” Yet there is essentially nothing informed about these stories; the author is either completely ignorant of the personalities of his subjects, or is utterly lacking in the ability to portray a personality as something more than cardboard. Mother Teresa is simply weak and tearful; Antony Flew is slow and confused; and now Richard Dawkins is portrayed as rude and arrogant, and nothing more. Reading the story and actually knowing something about Dawkins’ personality, this person was jarringly non-Dawkins-like; Horvath is instead marching Colonel Blimp to his doom.
Then there’s the dishonesty. This story is about Dawkins going to heaven, but it isn’t — it’s about sending him to hell. And Horvath isn’t even honest enough to say it outright. He plays word games. Here’s the opening:
“You know what sounds like ‘hell’ to me?” Richard asked the accompanying angel, a current of sarcasm carrying the question along.
“I know you’ll tell me,” the angel replied serenely.
“Heaven. Heaven sounds like hell.”
You can see the gimmick coming from a mile away. Horvath is going to use this as an excuse to invert the meanings of the words, so he can innocently pretend his story is about giving Dawkins exactly what he wants, but as you’ll see, there’s no ambiguity at all — he’s going to torture Dawkins in hell. And he’s clearly going to relish it.
In the beginning of the story, we’re back to the mode of operation of heaven described in the Teresa story — unlike philosophers, evolutionary biologists aren’t cut any slack — with a great tribunal that will judge Dawkins’ life. There’s next to nothing said here; I get the impression Horvath is anxious to get to the hell part, so all we learn is that the details of his life are discussed, and Dawkins argues, but all of his arguments are ignored. There is one funny bit.
A great, booming question had gone out: “You are all guilty; yet you have your choice of advocate: your self, or the One.” The One seemed immediate to him as well, distinct from the Presence but not. He could see the nail holes from where he stood. Indeed, he could have reached out and put his fingers in those holes if he had wanted. In fact, it was as if he was being invited to do so. He declined. He wasn’t going along with this kangaroo court.
Again with Jesus and his perpetually perforated appendages! How about a little wound healing? Or maybe Jesus could be walking around with bandages? Or how about just a flashy scar or something? You’d almost think he was intentionally showing off.
But let’s get on to the torture porn. This is just part of it; after Dawkins is judged and the mob mocks and laughs at him, he gets an angel who escorts him down a long, darkening tunnel lined with comments from other damned souls. The tunnel gets narrower and darker, and the angel helpfully explains.
“You are getting your wish,” the angel explained.
“Your heaven: existence apart from God.”
“Why should it get darker, then?” Richard asked.
“God is Light. You are moving out of his presence. The deduction is easy.”
“How will I go about my studies in the dark?” — for it was getting darker by the step, now — “Writing books? Giving speeches? How shall I eat and gather my food and drink my beer or meet my friends for lunch?”
“You were told. It was written: ‘Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.’ All the things you said are ‘good gifts’ but you have requested life shut out from the Presence of the giver of those gifts. The deduction is easy. You cannot have them without Him. It is not possible.”
“That’s extortion!” Richard cried out. “See what I mean? What a bastard! Depriving me of human society in a lame attempt to make me serve Him. Why does he have to be such a tyrant? What’s it to him if me and Dennett want to sit around and shoot the breeze at lunch but don’t want God to be a part of it?”
“The thing is not possible,” the angel repeated.
A lesser man would here have been frightened or dismayed or terrified upon learning he was going to be shut out from all the little enjoyments that he had heretofore taken for granted. Not Richard Dawkins.
“You mean to throw me into a dark cell, then,” he sneered. “With every breath I take I will cling to freedom. You mean to break me with scraps of bread and polluted water but you watch, I will still stand. You can put that down as my effective last words!”
“Your breath is a good thing. Freedom is a good thing. Scraps of bread, good. Water, good. Standing, good. All good things come from God. They exist by his powerful sustaining Word and not by any other means. You have chosen to be separated from all things God. The deduction is easy. Your choice is now being honored — in totality.”
A lesser man would have quibbled. Perhaps he had been told this during his life, the lesser man would say, but still the full extent of the matter had not been explained. He had been unaware of the full implications. But Richard Dawkins was not a lesser man.
Even the presence of the angel had dwindled away and its words had begun to sound as though they came from far off. Richard attempted to extend his arms in a groping gesture to see if the angel was still here but not only did his hand not touch anything, he couldn’t even be sure if he had a hand at all. Then he became aware of the fact that the air had grown incredibly thin. He opened his mouth to suck in as much of it as he could but the cold, dark, ether poured inside, rushing to fill the void in his lungs. He willed his arms to reach out and pull himself above the black waves and he instinctively kicked upwards to hasten his ascent. He labored to keep his head above the emptines but he could not prevent it from washing over him over and over again, drenching him, suffocating him.
There was no logical sense to it. And then he realized…he had no arms. He had reached out with nothing. He had no mouth. He had opened nothing. He had no lungs. The coldness he had felt had actually been the feeling of absolutely nothing. He had no legs. His kicking had been imagined. His head…
His mind labored to make sense of what was going on. With great effort he realized that on the logic that hand just been laid out by the angel, his arms were good. Therefore, he had no arms. Mouths were good, therefore he did not have one. Lungs were good, therefore he didn’t have them. Legs were good, therefore he had none to kick. Logic was good, therefore it was failing, and would soon be gone. There was a flash of despair as a cogent thought pushed itself up out of the abyss, formless and empty, flailing like a drowning man: “What will be left, then?” He repressed it, however, in defiance. A lesser man would have been infuriated at this great trick on him, but Richard Dawkins was no such man.
“So it is solitary confinement, then! Hit me with your best shot! I can handle it!” Richard scoffed. As he did, he laughed in his heart at the absurdity of it. He spoke with no mouth and heard with no ears and comprehended with no brain — impossible! As impossible as the report in the ancient scribbles that God had made light on day two but only got around to creating an actual source for the light on day four! That is the inanity of religion, Richard knew. Yet even now as he coped with the self-evident fact that he had no physical members that he was aware of and yet was communicating without them…without even a physical brain to coordinate it all…even this began to fizzle out, like an ember suddenly snapping in the coals, long after the mighty flames had died down.
“‘I’? ‘I’ is a good thing…” the angel reached him from a great distance.
“Oh bloody hell,” Richard snapped. “If not ‘I’ then what is left?”
“From your perspective? Stripped of all things ‘good’? The severest metaphors will not do it justice. Yet this is what you asked for, and this is what you will receive: the worm that will not die and a fire that will not be quenched.”
“And from your perspective?” Richard bit back.
“Skubala, I suppose.”
“I do not know that word.”
“Soon you will know nothing but yourself, stripped from all good gifts.”
“I can live with that,” Richard muttered triumphantly.
“Live? Can or not, you will.”
Richard meant to retort with something brilliant, but no words came out. Mouths and words, good. The presence of the angel, a good thing, seemed to have been completely blotted out. Richard Dawkins was alone. Completely and absolutely alone. Richard Dawkins had gone to heaven.
In case you’re wondering what “skubala” means, it’s Greek for “shit”. So Horvath not only dwells on drowning Dawkins in nothingness and stripping him of body and mind, but he also calls the essence of who he is “shit”. And then, lest we accuse him of being small-minded and vicious in his imagery, he hypocritically turns about and calls this the Dawkins version of heaven.
It’s a wonderfully Christian fantasy, isn’t it?
Here’s what Horvath says about his stories.
“Let’s face it,” Horvath says, “People are moved as much by Story as they are by Evidence. And we’ve got the best Story in town.”
The “best Story in town.”
I don’t think I need to say anything more.