Pearly Gates, etc.

The rule of three suggests that there ought to be a joke. It all but requires that there be a joke.

“So Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il are standing at the Pearly Gates. And St. Peter says …”

I’m afraid I can’t figure out how the rest of it goes. Part of my problem is that I don’t much care for the set-up. It’s a standard trope, and we should honor the classics, but the whole Pearly Gates thing still bugs me.

It’s not that I don’t find some jokes with this set-up funny. I do — “… Fanny, I think we’re in trouble,” “… but while he drove, people prayed,” “I just have to gargle with it,” etc. All well and good.

But when I try to imagine creating such a joke myself, some literal-minded, evangelical chapter-and-verse part of my brain kicks in. I start thinking about how the biblical idea of “pearly gates” isn’t about Heaven. That bit is from the end of Revelation, from John’s description of the New Jerusalem — which comes down from Heaven to here on Earth. And in that city “each of the gates is a single pearl” and those gates “will never be shut.”

And then that gets me thinking about how the otherworldliness of American soterians (thank you, Scot McKnight, for that word) distorts the essential substance of our faith, which in turn gets me thinking about how that otherworldliness became ascendant in the context of slavery and a deliberate blindness — a choice to neglect the this-worldly fate of so many of our neighbors. Then that, of course, gets me thinking about how our focus on the powerful and famous keeps us from seeing the very “powerless” about whom Havel wrote so beautifully and whom Jesus loved (and St. Peter, too, eventually). And then I start to think that maybe this set-up isn’t actually all that funny, since it requires us to pretend that these three would be all alone there at the Pearly Gates instead of being surrounded by the thousands of others who also died this past week, unmentioned and mostly — but not entirely — unmourned, most of them dying due to easily preventable causes arising from unjust patterns of distribution that persist not because we are unable to correct them but only because we are unwilling to do so.

And then, again, I’m back to chapter-and-verse, back to the eschatological hope of John’s revealing, and to those scenes he describes of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” and of the promise that:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

And clearly by that point I’m just not in the proper frame of mind for figuring out how our narcissist/hero/madman Pearly Gates joke is supposed to go.

I’m still pretty sure there’s a joke there somewhere, but somebody else is going to have to write it.

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  • Lori

    Did you just “duh”, Charity? If so this might be a good time for you to consider quitting while you’re (not) ahead.

  • Anonymous

    Huh? What I do?

  • Anonymous

    No.  I’m just making a comment about those particular words, and how they relate to what I thought was a common stereotype.  I’m not saying anyone should pretend he was an excellent person.

  • Lori

    At least when I was in elementary school, replying to someone with any
    version of “duh” implied that what s/he had said was stupid by virtue
    of being too obvious to need saying.  That was many, many years ago so
    perhaps the usage has changed.

  • I’m not sure what you mean. Helena took the fact that Fred implied that Hitchens was a narcissist and jumped to the conclusion that Fred was saying that because Hitchens was an atheist. In order to reach this conclusion, you would have to know almost nothing about either Fred or Hitchens, but it might have been comprehensible if she had stopped there instead of launching into a bizarre diatribe in which she speculated about his psychological state and insulted his religious beliefs. You don’t find that startling.

  • Anonymous

    In my experience “duh” may be used this way, or it may also be used as a casual indicator of agreement without insult being intended. Nevertheless I was being rude and I apologize to Charity.

  • konrad_arflane

    Yeah, I can play that game: Hitchens was never Head of State anywhere.

    Or how about this: Kim Jong Il was the only one of the bunch who was a murderous tyrant? Seriously, are you saying that Hitchens had more in common with Kim Jong Il than with Havel? In that case, I think you need to read up on North Korea a bit.

    (oh yeah, another one: Unlike the others, Kim Jong Il didn’t support the Iraq war.)

  • While “duh” can be used as a sarcastic quip about another person’s failure to grasp the obvious, I have most commonly seen it used as a self-deprecating kind of apology one makes when one has missed the obvious.  For example, saying “Oh, duh, I knew that,” after someone has pointed out an omitted detail.  Kind of an expression of a “I should have realized that,” moment.  

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure what to say.  Helena’s post was unacceptable (and probably mere trolling based on what chris the cynic said), but her supposed motivation was an emotion I understood.

  • Sorry, I was just confused by your post! (You would think that a three-word long post would be hard to misinterpret, but I can work wonders!)

  • I don’t think Kim Jong-Il gave much of a damn about anyone or anything except Kim Jong-Il.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart


  • For what it’s worth — and I say this as an atheist that has spent the last three days getting pissed off by some of the least pleasant things Texas Christian culture has to offer — I’ve never been aware of “narcissist” as an accusation or dogwhistly against atheists. Selfish, self-centered, arrogant, maybe proud, even, but not really “narcissistic.” I dunno, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a subtle difference that makes it not really sound right as an atheist slur.

    Obviously, that’s just my experience, though. Has anyone else experienced differently?

    EDIT: A Google search for “atheist narcissist” only got a couple of relevant results, all of which were jackasses who thought they were the cleverest person in the world for thinking up the “someone with different views from me is just like someone who has a personality disorder!” bit.

    I’m looking at you, Dawkins.

  • …And St. Peter said, “The three of you have each earned the right to enter Heaven. Come and be blessed.”

    And Kim Jong-il said, “Heaven can offer nothing compared the glory of North Korea!” and he turned and walked away.

    And Christopher Hitchens said, “Hey, I spent my whole life saying that I didn’t believe in God or Heaven. I’d look like a real asshole if I took this deal now.” And so he turned around and walked off.

    And Vaclav Havel looked around, narrowed his eyes at St. Peter, and said, “You’re telling me you keep some people out? This place needs new management.” And he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

  • Anonymous

    I always chalked it up to This Is The Way Things Are.  John of Patmos had never seen a large city without walls, so a New Jerusalem would need walls around it because That’s What Cities Are Like.

  • Anonymous

    I believe he was calling Hitchens a narcissist because he was as much of a dick about the whole religion thing as you’re acting like in your post.

    You’re an atheist.  Fine, more power to you!  However, it’s none of my business what religious beliefs and practices other people do or do not engage in, so please do not make it my business by going on and on about how irrational it is to believe in anything supernatural.  It honestly starts sounding like the lady doth protest too much after a while.

  • Lori

    I say this as an atheist that has spent the last three days getting pissed off by some of the least pleasant things Texas Christian culture has to offer 

    Yeah, as an atheist I’m a touch more bothered by the death threats than I am by “narcissist”.

  • Lonespark

    Although, for the last one, could be Havel, also sounds like Jesus, as I was raised to know him.

  • Helena

    its in the second to last line of the post.

    Defending the truth is not an appeal to privilege. And the truth is, the supernatural doesn’t exist.

  • Helena

    Some people think the earth is flat. it is perfectly acceptable to point that they are wrong, even though they do so on the basis of the bible saying it is.

    It is just as acceptable to say that there is no life-after-death, no god, etc. Because they are simple statements of the truth.

  • Yes.  If you check her account you’ll find that, between when she called herself Helena Constantine and when she decided to go with just plain Helena, she went through a period of calling herself Dea Syria.  I have no objections to people changing names, but I do find it confusing to keep track of.

    Especially since it’s not even indicated in one’s profile.  It doesn’t say a given thing is “posted as [whatever]” it just says where it was posted.  You have to actually go to the thread she posted in, and see what the name on the post is to find out what name she was using.  If you don’t do that then you’d probably think the only name she ever used was the one she’s using now.

    If I hadn’t tried to figure out the context of one of her previous posts (one where she makes a Godzilla reference) I wouldn’t have known she had used more than one name.

  • Anonymous

    Helena, people are still perplexed by your immediate jump to the conclusion that Fred was labeling Hitchens a narcissist solely (or even at all) because of his atheism. It might possibly be a reasonable leap (or even a short step) to take in the case of a number of other writers, but Fred? Fred Clark, who has consistently, over the many years of this blog’s existence here and at the original slacktivist site, demonstrated a complete willingness to engage with atheists, take their criticisms seriously, and acknowledge and try to push back against the failings, intolerance and sloppy reasoning of many of his co-religionists? That Fred? That’s a startlingly unfair reading of his intent behind that one single word.

    (Not to mention that there’s no shortage of agnostics and atheists who also think Hitchens was a narcissist, though most of the ones I know find Fred’s wording inadequate, and over the past week I’ve heard and read them loading on adjectives like “raging,” “smug” and “bilious.”)

    Other commenters have asked you how you can square your rage with (a) Fred’s past writings, (b) the fact that people all across the —theist spectrum have thought he was a narcissist, and (c) your own past comments on this blog, which are hard to reconcile with “Fred has never made me angry before.” But you haven’t responded, or acknowledged their questions at all. What gives, please?

  • Anonymous

    (And by “he was a narcissist” I obviously mean Hitchens, not Fred–I could probably chase around the Internet and find twenty tributes, from writers who genuinely admire Hitchens and feel indebted to his writing in shaping their own voices, that bluntly admit the man could be arrogant, self-important, smug and in love with his own voice as all hell. For Fred, I could probably find… well, you, I guess.)

  • vsm

    Helena is what we in the business call an obvious troll. There’s very little point in feeding her.

  • Anonymous

    Sometime ago a youngster asked me why would the ‘new’ Jerusalem have gates?  I told her it was so people could pass thru the city walls that surround it.  ‘Why would it be surrounded by a wall?’ she asked.  It was then I realized that she had never seen a city protected by walls. All the cities she knew were modern and had no walls to keep invaders out.  I had no answer for her.  Why would the ‘new’ Jerusalem have, or need, walls?  In the world that ‘new’ Jerusalem comes to walls to keep things out is a sign of paranoia, not of prudent caution it was 2000 years ago.

    Obviously, it’s because New Jerusalem is actually an arcology of sorts – one giant city-structure.

    Fred’s never made me mad before, but who the hell is he to call Hitchens a narcissist because he doesn’t believe in Fred’s fairy tales?needs to get over it.

    The fuck?  He didn’t call Hitchens a narcissist because he was an atheist.  He called him a narcissist because he’s (apparently) a self-obsessed and short-sightied individual.Now go away.

  • Joshua

    But you haven’t responded, or acknowledged their questions at all. What gives, please?

    Helena is a troll. Trolls do not post in good faith, and typically do not respond to questions unless they see a way to provoke people by doing so.

    Best practice on the internet is to ignore them, as the only other way to deal with them is to ban them, which is not fully effective and which Fred doesn’t choose to do often.

  • If anyone’s still trying to think of jokes, it might help to know that Vaclav Havel was a huge fan of rock music and “In January 1990, Mr. Havel appointed Mr. Zappa as Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism, and cited Mr. Zappa as one of his many sources of inspiration.”  See articles like this one:

    Havel also wrote absurdist plays, so an absurdist welcome at the Pearly Gates would make as much sense as anything.

  • Anonymous

    At least it’s not a hive.

  • Nick Franco

    It may be pertinent that Hitchens a) went to N. Korea and b) was once arrested alongside Mr. Havel. Maybe someone could use that to tie together a joke about three dead human beings.

  • Hm. Here’s my one penny to add at the tail end of all of this; I found that I had an immediate anger-reaction to seeing a Christian joke about Hitchens, even Fred, one of the most liberal of the liberal. There are a lot of reasons to conclude that Hitchens was a douche, but his behavior lined up enough with old-as-dirt stereotypes about the strident arrogant narcissistic only-in-it-for-me atheists that one could, if one felt like being evil capital E, conflate the two and say ‘Hitchens, being an atheist, was of course a douche.’ If he was a douche, it was because of him as a person, not because he was an atheist (not saying Fred or anybody actually said that, but that was the instant gut reaction.)

    Assuming the person wasn’t just an outright troll, it’s possible a similar line of thought made them lash out. It doesn’t make them right, but maybe this will help spread a little bit of understanding. A lot of people still have unfortunate, and false, impressions of Christianity as a whole built up from personal experiences and observation about people using that religion as a smokescreen for their own sin and evil. Fred is one of the best people that you could point to in order to prove that point of view wrong, though; he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they aren’t all bad.

    I hate conservatives because they’re wrong and often quite blatant and unapologetic in their evil, and the ones who try to pretend otherwise are doing so for very specific agendas. If Republicans agreed to stop being evil tomorrow and turned over a new leaf, I don’t know if I could ever forgive them for what’s already happened. I can’t hate Christians the same way, though, because there’s so many different types of them, good and bad and all mixed up with humanity and stuff.

  • Do you know if you are being controlled by a Narcissist?