Y’all have to forgive me for getting the Friday post up late. I thought all day long it was Thursday. We continue our look at Eschatology. If you missed the previous posts, click here
Shelby told me about the dog rescuer. I don’t know how my daughter first heard about him but she called me one night not long after I arrived back in Oregon.
“Mama, did you hear about the fellow who rescues dogs after the rapture?” she asked.
Shelby doesn’t drink so I knew she was sober. I wasn’t sure about my own mental acuity, however, after spending four months on the road and driving 23,000 miles, all but about 3,000 of it alone, not even a dog to keep me company.
“What did you say?” I asked. “Not sure I heard you right.”
“There’s a man who runs a pet rapture business,” she said
“What are you talking about?” I said, still confused. I was making the bed, trying to multi-task, but clearly I needed to listen better. I let the pillow drop and sat down in the denim-covered chair, near the bed.
“This man, he comes to your house and gets your pets after you’ve been raptured. That way Poe wouldn’t starve to death after you’re gone.”
Oh. My. Word.
I’d traveled all the way across country, interviewed dozens of people about their thoughts on End Times and never once did I consider what would happen to Poe if Tim and I were raptured. But I realized then, in that moment, that I don’t really believe in the Premillennialists view of the rapture. I’d like to. I want to. But I don’t. And none of the conversations I’d had up to that point had convinced me otherwise.
Isn’t it selfish to think that if we put into practice all the right spiritual disciplines, we’ll be one of those snatched out of my shoes before times get really tough? Too bad for the rest of you suckers who weren’t as enlightened.
Such a view seems contrary to all that Christ embodied. What I find unsettling is this notion that somehow the return of Christ is going to be like Alabama winning the SEC Championship – crazed fans rushing to tear down pulpits, chest-bumping one another, and holllering “We are Number One!”.
Maybe I’m mistaken but I’ve long thought that the return of Christ is going to be like that day when Mama saw my eight-year-old self crawling up out of a manhole in front of the neighborhood grocers.
“Get home now,” she said, pointing at me from the car window as she and Daddy drove past. My girlfriend and I had spent hours underground that day, winding our way through the neighborhood via a brand spanking newly constructed sewer system. It was like the tubing at McDonald’s playland, only danker and not as colorful, but we had it all to ourselves and that was awesome.
Until that moment when my head popped up the manhole like Punxsutawney Phil checking the weather and Mama spotted me. I suspect she had been looking for me for hours. I went straight home and got out the big family Bible, the gold one the size of a boot box with the picture of Jesus, Hairdresser to the Stars, embedded on the cover. Lugging it to my bedroom, I put in on the bed, then knelt down next to it and began crying, praying and begging Jesus to protect me from the whupping that was surely coming my way.
When Mama got home she didn’t say a word to me about where I’d been all afternoon. That incident taught me that the prayer of the truly repentant does indeed ensure salvation and reprieve from a wrath deserved.
Jesus saves those who seek redemption but scriptures clearly warn us that his return is going to be an Uh.Oh. Uh. Oh. moment: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn.” Matt. 24: 30 NIV. I’m not sure if nations of the earth in that context includes all living creatures or only humans. But I know one thing – Tim’s counting on Poe going to heaven with him.
“Haven’t you seen All Dogs Go to Heaven?” I asked Shelby. “Daddy thinks Poe’s going to be raptured with him.”
“Right,” Shelby said. “But you might want to look up this guy just in case. He says he’s an atheist so he doesn’t plan on being raptured.”
At age 55, Bart Centre said Good Riddance to New York City and moved to a log house deep in the New Hampshire woods where he’s started up a company of his own. For the very reasonable sum of $110 Eternal Earth-Bound Pets (http://eternal-earthbound-pets.com) will provide rescue care for the pets of the raptured.
I tracked down Bart, per Miz Shelby’s suggestion, and we arranged an interview via Skype. I don’t know if sitting in Oregon and being able to see someone in New Hampshire is a sign of the End Times or not, but if we could Skype with Jesus I bet more people would talk to him more often.
A self-proclaimed atheist, Centre does not anticipate being raptured himself. Nor do any of the other 29 rescuers spread out over 22 states.
“We don’t think the Rapture is going to happen but if you feel your pet is in danger of dying a slow, hideous death after you leave your clothes and are beamed up to heaven, we are here to provide for your pet,” Centre says.
The fee provides for the basic rescue of domesticated pets. In certain states, provision is made for llamas and horses but exotic animals will have to rely on their primitive instincts for survival. The Atheist is not going to monkey around.
Once rescued, Fido and Felix will adopted into a forever family. That’s the promise Centre and his merry band of rescurers offer – never again will your pet be left behind.
The Atheist has received thousands of inquires since kicking off his rapture rescue service but so far only a couple of hundred people have actually purchased a contract.
“I’m a little disappointed,” the Atheist says. “There are a reported 40 million rapture believers in this country. That’s our target clientele.”
Hold up. Perhaps a lot of Believers are assuming their pets will be raptured along with them and don’t need the sort of services he is providing. What kind of God would send somebody’s pet to hell? Don’t all dogs go to heaven?
“There’s something wrong with getting one’s theology from an animated movie,” says the Atheist. “I get my scripture from the Bible. You get yours from a cartoon. There’s nothing in the Bible about your dog going to heaven.”
There’s nothing like the notion of hell to fire up an atheist. Bart scoots to the edge of a leather couch, elbows resting on his knees. He assumes the position of a coach frustrated over a recent loss. You get the feeling that he wants to slap you but he can’t because deep down he knows and you know it’s not nice to slap stupid people. So instead he voice grows deeper, more stern, and everything he says is accentuated with that broken, halting brogue common to New Yorkers.
“How much more hideous a theology can you make? Anne Frank, Ghandi and Enistein are all burning in a fictional hell, yet, your dog Fluffy and your cat Mitten is going to join you in heaven? Could there be a more obscene doctrine than that? Anne Frank burns in hell but gerbels get to hob-knob in heaven? I don’t think Christians understand how offensive that doctrine can be.”
He grew up in a home void of religion.
“My parents were non-practicing Ultra-Reformed Jews,” he says. “If they went to Temple ever in five years time that would have been a lot.”
He considers God more myth than anything. “I identified with Jewish traditions and Jewish people but I never held any real religious beliefs. I never saw God, the Bible or the Torah as being anything other than a mythlogical account, having to do with the socialization of a civilization.”
While he rejected religion in any form, he didn’t consider himself an atheist until he joined the Army in 1968. Yep. 1968. During the height of the Vietnam War, Bart Centre was studying psychology and religion at Long Island University. He left his Botany class, drove over to the nearest draft board and enlisted for two years. He did not discuss his decision with anyone other than the recruiter. He’s not even sure himself what possessed him to do it.
“It was a total shock to my parents. Nobody in my social circle would even consider going to Vietnam – upperclass Jewish kids don’t go to Vietnam. But at that point I felt out of my element. I did not feel like I belonged in college. I was 19 and felt I needed to do my part.”
His mother collapsed into tears when he broke the news. His father, a combat veteran of World War II, implored, “What’s going through your head? They were inconsolable.”
And rightly so. Nearly half the names of the fallen inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall occurred in 1967 and 1968. Bart was aware that the Tet Offensive had just ended but, he says, “It never occurred to me that I could actually be killed.”
He only thought of war’s glory – not its sacrifice.
It was while he was in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, that Bart first began to refer to himself as The Atheist.
“That first week at Fort Jackson my Drill Sargent said, ‘I want 100 percent in church this Sunday. I don’t want anyone missing.’”
Bart spoke up and said, “I won’t be attending church, sir.”
“Why not?” Sarge asked.
“I don’t believe in God, sir,” Bart replied.
“What are you? A f–g atheist?” the Drill Seargent yelled.
“Guess I am, sir,” he replied.
When the newbies arrived back at the barracks, Bart was jumped by three guys. “I guess they were trying to convince me that attending church would be a good thing to do. It didn’t work out well for them or for me.”
The Atheist just didn’t get it. Wasn’t the whole point of fighting so that people could have individual freedoms?
Prior to his experiences at Fort Jackson, Bart says, “I didn’t even know I was an atheist. My dog tags said I was Jewish. But that’s when I started to become an atheist activist. Before that, I never thought in those terms.”
It was during that commercial flight in-country that the Atheist says he came to realize, far too late, that he may have made a very, very big mistake enlisting the way he did.
“The first time I saw my father cry was when he drove me to the airport and said good-bye to me at JFK,” he says. “I think if I had to do it all over again, I might be speaking to you from Canada right now.”
The flight was very quiet. Nobody was in the mood for mindless chatter. Hours into the trip, the Atheist wondered how much longer the flight would last and hoped the plane would never land.
Upon arrival at Ton Son Nhut airport, the troops were notified that back home the nation was in an uproar – Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
“Everyone was astonished. All the African-American soldiers were very upset, as you can imagine. It was a doubly-sad day for everyone.”
Initially, the Atheist thought he’d arrived in some exotic paradise but that impression didn’t last long.
“My first thought was wow! Isn’t this beautiful? That lasted all of three days. All that remarkable landscape goes from being awe-inspiring to being your enemy. It was hideously uncomfortable.”
He would earn a Combat Infantry Badge, an Army Commendation and a Bronze Star before his tour was complete. When the Army asked him to re-up for another tour, he turned down their offer, gracious as it was.
He’s offended by those who claim there are no atheists in foxholes. You can count him as one. War did not compel him to seek the face of a God he doe not believe exists. The Atheist witnessed all the hell he needed during his tour in ‘Nam and he has no desire to live an eternal life.
“My worst nightmare would be living forever. If I didn’t get any older and all my kids lived forever, Earth would become even more overpopulated. The world would become a living hell. When I pass on I’ll make room for the next generation. I didn’t miss not being born, I don’t expect I’ll miss being dead.”
Atheists and Fundamentalists bug me. I don’t know how it is they can be so certain in their knowing. When we become so sure of everything, life loses all mystery, there is no reason to pause and marvel over matters.
Isn’t a world without wonder hell?