As an alum of the Baptist Church, I don’t like thinking about Hell. The older I get, the more unsettling the prospect of reaping what I’ve sown. I’ve always taken what comfort I can from Mark Twain’s notion that the really interesting people will be down there with me.
“It’s Heaven for climate,” he said in his guise as a cosmic travel agent, “and Hell for society.”
But ever since I read the Journal-Star survey of what readers think Hell might be, I’ve lost confidence in Twain’s cheery forecast.
Some readers conjured up really scary scenesan unending reading of bad poetry; marching in a parade wearing a scratchy band uniform, eternally right behind the horses, eternally playing the school song.
But the one that gave me the fantods was the view that Hell is “your personal nightmare” happening “over and over again for all eternity.”
I have this recurring personal nightmare, and if Hell’s anything like it, I can’t share Twain’s optimism. My personal nightmare is really ugly, man. If you’ve got bad nerves, stop here.
It’s about TV preachers who populate the same district of Hell I’m in.
They’re even more chipper and more self-righteous in my dream than in real life because they don’t know they’ve gone to Hell. They’re surrounded by other TV preachers so they assume they’re in Heaven.
“And thus you see,” a smiling guy who looks a lot like Pat Robertson tells me, “I was right about gays. There aren’t any here so they must be in the other placeas anyone would know who read in Chapter 18 of Leviticus that thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind.”
“But,” I say, “Chapter 19 of Leviticus says thou shalt not allow a garment mingled of linen and woolen to come upon thee. Yet I see the label on your necktie says ‘mingled of linen and woollen.’ So why aren’t you in the other place too?”
“Don’t be silly,” he says, all a-chuckle. “TV preachers get to decide which Bible parts are serious. I like ties made of mingled linen and woollen. I don’t like gays. So Chapter 18 is serious. Chapter 19 isn’t.”
“But,” I say, “you tell us the whole Bible is divinely inspired.”
“Don’t dispute a TV preacher,” he says with a beatific smile, “or you’ll be subject to hurricanes, terrorists, earthquakes, meteors, and plagues of locusts. How’d you get to Heaven anyway?”
“I don’t think this is Heaven,” I say.
“Of course it’s Heaven,” he says. “I’m here. And unless I’m mistakenand I never amthere’s Jimmy Swaggert, Jerry Falwell, and Jim Bakker.”
He introduces me to them, then affably adds “Leon is a willing dupe for the dirty rotten secular humanists’ satanic hidden agenda: babykilling, special rights for perverts, and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. He doesn’t believe that Bill murdered Vince for sleeping with Monica, and he opposes school prayer and heterosexual marriage. He wants America to treat Christians the way Hitler treated Jews.”
The Truth, Mainly
“Wait a minute,” I say. “I’ve spent most of my life in a heterosexual marriage, and I don’t want anyone treated the way Hitler treated Jews.”
“You say that,” the Jimmy Swaggart lookalike says, grinning, “but dirty rotten secular humanists speak with forked tongues. Like serpents.”
Then all four of them, all smiling ministerially, begin to close in.
In my recurring nightmare, I’m always issued a TV remote control. It doesn’t work, but I can never remember that.
So like Peter Sellers‘ Chauncey Gardner in “Being There,” I always point my remote control at the four TV preachers and click it and click it and click it. I’ll watch World Championship Wrestling. I’ll watch Rush Limbaugh. I’ll watch tobacco industry ads. Anything but TV preachers.
But they don’t go away. They move in closer, always smiling. The one who looks like Bakker asks everyone out there in televisionland to send more money to continue God’s work. Then all four lay hands on me and tell me to pray with them.
I break into a cold sweat. I quote the Sermon on the Mount: we shouldn’t pray like hypocrites on national TV where we may be seen of men, but we should go into our closets and shut the door when we pray.
“There’s no profit in that, now is there?” the guy who looks a lot like Falwell says in his good-old-boy voice. “Right here, right now, with the whole world watching and every head bowed, every eye closed, we’re going to hold you down and we’re going to pray for you, boy.”
Then they’re upon me. I say, “Aaaaaiiiiieeeeee!”
And that’s when I wake up, thrashing and whimpering and moaning and groaning and weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.