Thanks to Christopher Hitchens’ final book, Mortality, I’ve been thinking about the end. The great essayist has helped me accept that death is probably inevitable if by some long shot my plan to transfer my consciousness into this Roomba fails. (Note to my descendants: When I spin in three tight circles, that means I want to play Xbox.)
But rather than indulge in some whiny, why-me, take-anyone-but-me, for-instance-that-guy-TAKE-THAT-GUY-OVER-THERE! lament about my eventual date with Death, I’m instead obsessed with discovering—and believing in—the best case scenario for an afterlife. Alas, I’m not wild about the options I’m finding. Let’s take a closer look.
Heaven. What’s not to like, right? An eternal paradise. Unending happiness. Perky angels eating Philly cream-cheese bagels. Except: what exactly are we supposed to do for the next eleventy squillion eons? Are there charades? Chips and dip? When I was a young boy being dragged to church every Sunday morning, this whole concept blew my mind. Everlasting life? I couldn’t even bring myself to commit to the Columbia Record and Tape Club—and that was for only three years.
I guess part of my anxiety stems from not knowing all the details. Would we have bodies up there? Would we wear clothes? Would we just float around pretending not to recognize the souls we got to second base with but never called again in high school? Sorry, Marsha’s soul.
Which reminds me: if I’m going to be honest, there are a number of people I’d just rather not run into again, even in a boundless nirvana. Don’t get me wrong—the first few minutes would be fine, but it would quickly get weird. “Hey, we’re in heaven!” “I know, isn’t it crazy?” “So, so great to be in heaven.” [Awkward silence] “So how’s work?”
I kid you not—when the time came for the Resurrection of the Dead, I’d be the guy whispering to St. Peter: “See this obnoxious hockey dad here on your list? Here’s $50 to make sure his soul gets ‘lost’ on the way down.”
Purgatory. In Sunday school, I was taught about/threatened with (mostly threatened with) tales of a vast limbo—a middle ground between Earth and heaven where one’s soul goes to be purified because, yeah, that apparently makes sense. I became obsessed with, and confused by, the process. Exactly how does a soul get purified? Is it painful? Does it require one of those Mr. Thirsty things like at the dentist? My irritation was enhanced by the fact that my Sunday school actually took place on Saturdays. Saturdays. I remember thinking: what kind of God demands this level of commitment? I could be watching Grape Ape.
Hell. Are you kidding? I already sweat at anything above room temperature.
Reincarnation. I’ll admit it: this one has some appeal. We die but we never really die, you know? We just keep coming back in different ways, in different incarnations, until eventually we’re all Kardashians and existence collapses under the weight of its own shamelessness. Belief in reincarnation takes many forms: for instance, Scientologists reckon that that the soul of a dead person is literally born again in “the flesh of another.” Then that new flesh has to get in line to marry Tom Cruise. SO IT IS WRITTEN.
The Void. Those who eschew religion and reject the existence of God say death brings nothingness: no bright light to walk toward, no deep voice beckoning you forth, no 4,895-hour Jimi Hendrix/Liberace mega-jams—just endless, endless black. FYI, this is why no one likes you, atheists: your marketing is terrible. Put yourselves in our shoes—we’ve just muddled through 70 or 80 years of drab human existence and finally learned to make a decent smoothie. And now you’re telling us this skill is useless? Not cool, atheists.
The search for a desirable afterlife is further hindered by the manner in which we ourselves regard with amusement the death-based beliefs of ancient people. Haha, those stupid Egyptians thought they could bring their treasure and combs to the next world! THEY PROBABLY COULDN’T! How do we know that a wiser and more enlightened version of humanity won’t look on us in the same way while worshipping at the Church of the Eternal Roomba?