The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 64: A heavenly protest, part three
by Steven C. Day
Worshiping cruelty is sacrilege.
(Message posted on an abandoned hot dog stand next to The Wall of Damnation.)
Horace has a problem. His conscience demands that he protest the injustice he sees everywhere around him in heaven, and particularly what he regards as the morally indefensible decision to condemn his friends, Tom and Winston, to hell. Yet, how do you engage in meaningful civil disobedience against omnipotence? And how do you take a moral stand against the moral arbiter of the universe?
Above all else, how can you ask others to join you in a protest when the price may be the loss of paradise in exchange for eternal suffering?
Can justice really be worth that much?
* * *
When you’re a blob floating weightless, formless and invisible above paradise, the first thing you notice is heaven’s astonishing beauty: the constantly changing colors of the sky, with every hue that’s ever existed or ever could exist taking its turn. Sometimes they come one at a time, and the sky becomes the pure gold of a new wedding band or the enchanting blue of a newborn child’s eyes; at other times the colors mix, with blues, reds, yellows and more dancing together, perfectly choreographed, across the ever changing sky.
Then there’s the rest of the scenery, which, at least at first, is also in flux: a spectacular rose garden at one moment, a breathtaking sunset over calm waters in the next and a bright new morning as the sun cracks its first thin smile over the Rocky Mountains in yet another.
You could spend an eternity floating above heaven just watching the show around you.
But, instead, as you float there, you notice other happy things — the luscious amenities: the five-star restaurants, with no reservation (or money) required, the superb wines and spirits and the endless diversions, from theater to music to comedy shows to athletic contests.
Lacking self-awareness, you feel no jealously in being excluded from this banquet as you float above it, just astonishment that any place so fine could actually exist.
But then, very slowly something else begins to seep into to your consciousness, something troubling and unwanted. Not a sight this time, but a sensation — a community of feelings welling up from below. At first it’s just a discordant note, something that isn’t quite right, but hard to put your finger on. But bit by bit, it settles in, surrounds you, and leaves you numb. Until, at last, you recognize it clearly.
It’s fear, of course — cold, raw and unthinking. And it’s everywhere in heaven — as thick and ugly as black mold growing in a leaky basement.
Horace, who’d now been in heaven for seven months, had sensed it from the start. His first overt exposure came on that awful first day when he railed against the unfairness of Tom and Winston being sent to hell. This display, as I’ve described before, frightened a man standing near him, who warned Horace not to say such things lest he get into trouble.
He encountered the fear in an even bigger way nine weeks later, as he spent a leisurely morning sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris with a superb view of the Eiffel Tower. The coffee was magnificent, of course, and the small pastries served with it were to die for (heavenly humor). The place was packed and most of the people were in a festive mood, with laughter, songs and joyous conversation spreading from table to table the way a winter flu bug spreads through a kindergarten class.
Then everything changed, as two security officers — they’re called White Robes because of the long white robes they wear — materialized in the café. Gasps spread across the tables.
“We bring you the love of Him,” the male White Robe said, his long white hair blowing in the wind. Everywhere else the air was still. You can do that in heaven — order personal wind for dramatic effect.
“Praise be to Him,” responded the crowd. It sounded more like a chant than a solemn prayer: worship by rote.
“Everyone line up,” shouted the female White Robe, a thin woman of about 30, her broad toothy smile undiminished. Everyone complied quickly and without question.
The two White Robes walked up and down the line of horrified café visitors, staring into each patron’s eyes, pausing occasionally for a second glare before moving on to the next. Sometimes they nodded knowingly, as though they could read the contents of the person’s inner soul. They couldn’t, but the message came through clearly: Watch out, we know everything about you.
You could almost hear the silent prayers: Not me, Lord. Take one of them. Please don’t let it be me.
“That one,” barked the male White Robe, pointing to a balding man of about 70. (People are free to pick what age they will look like in heaven; most choose to appear young or middle-aged, but some, like this man, feel more comfortable staying the way they were when they departed the world). To me, he seemed small and frail — no more of a threat than a leaf falling from an oak tree. His eyes were clenched shut, his body trembling in terror. The two White Robes pulled him out of the line.
“No please,” he whimpered. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m a good Christian.”
“Be silent,” growled the female White Robe. “You have nothing to fear if you’re innocent. He will judge you.”
“Nooo . . . !” the balding man cried out in anguish as he tried to break free, struggling against the grip the two had on him. The male White Robe pulled a small flashlight looking device from a pocket. SMACK came the sound and the man fell limp.
“Be strong and ever vigilant, brothers and sisters,” the female White Robe said to the crowd. “Satan’s agents are everywhere. There have been two disappearances in just the last three days in this area alone, innocent souls seized and carried off to hell by people looking no different from this one. So beware, for the devil’s servants hide their faces well and the lamb to your eyes is often the lion in disguise.”
Then the three were gone, swallowed whole by the air.
Although Horace, who was deeply shaken by the experience, had never seen an arrest in heaven before, they were actually quite common. Sometimes the people taken would later return, sometimes they wouldn’t.
The male White Robe had told the truth about one thing, though: there had been other disappearances: souls supposedly snatched by the devil’s agents and carried off to hell. But from my vantage point, floating unseen in the sky above, it was far from clear who was actually behind these takings. The devil, you see, wasn’t the only one who benefited.
Fear served the interests of heaven. It made for “better” citizens.
* * *
Back at The Oddball Bar and Grill, sipping a cold beer with Herb, Horace replayed these experiences in his mind. It was now clear beyond debate, or so it seemed to Horace, whose mind I could still read, that heaven was infested with injustice. Paradise had been corrupted to the core.
But, realistically, what could Horace do? Everything that then existed, had ever existed or would ever exist came from the One. Could He still be reached? Would nonviolent protest move Him to change, or just condemn whoever was fool enough to follow Horace to eternal damnation? Horace slammed his fist on the bar. He was angry at himself, questioning his own courage: was it really the others he was worrying about, or had he become a victim of his own fears? Had he been played like all of rest of them?
Herb caused another beer to materialize by Horace’s right hand. “Drink hearty, me matey,” he laughed loudly, “for tomorrow we burn in hell!”
Horace smiled weakly. Herb was a good friend, one of the few he’d made since coming to heaven. And although he’d been joking in what he just said, Horace knew that Herb would stand with him to the bitter end if need be. But did he have the right to ask for such a sacrifice? In the four months since Horace had made his bold — arrogant, really — announcement that the time had come to start raising a little hell in heaven, nothing had changed.
He had tried to reach out to some of the other regulars at the Oddball, but the reaction had been mixed. Debbie, a red-haired, 100 pound dynamo of a former history professor from Houston, Texas, had said, “Yes, of course, you’re right. Something should be done. But what? And what good would it do?”
She told Horace that while she’d happily run any risk if there was a reasonable chance it would make things better, she wasn’t inclined to drink the Kool-Aid of a meaningless gesture of defiance. “History’s unmarked graves are filled with the remains of men and women who died fighting for hopeless causes. Real Don Quijotes are quickly forgotten.”
Horace had no answer for her.
Still, Debbie helped out bravely when Horace and Herb published the first and only edition of the Heavenly Gazette. A small five-page pamphlet, it laid out the case against sending someone like Mahatma Gandhi to hell simply because he’d been born into the “wrong” religion. “Why Not Mercy,” was the name of the piece. A second article was titled, “Heaven Without Fear.”
It had been late in the night (there is nighttime in heaven, but sleeping is optional), when Horace and Herb headed out to secretly deliver stacks of the Gazette to various well-trafficked points around heaven. Moving quietly through darkened streets, constantly on the lookout for prying eyes, they managed to pull it off, delivering their load undiscovered in less than two hours.
But it became quickly apparent the next day that no one would be reading their words. As soon as people realized it wasn’t an authorized publication, they threw it down and hurried away.
Good citizens all.
Yet, despite this, the rate of arrests increased in response to this one microscopic act of rebellion. More innocents thrown to the fire. More fear all around. And something else for Horace to feel guilty about.
No, Horace decided, as he drained the last few drops of what he assumed would be the last beer he’d ever taste, no one else would suffer for his cause. But neither would he remain silent. No, he would speak the truth — and as he had done so many times in his life, he would speak it to power. He made a solemn vow: I will speak truth to Him.
It was settled. He would make his stand alone. He would do it tomorrow.
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When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 27 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001