The American Reporter
St. Simons Island, Ga.
WHO'S IN HEAVEN?
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Who's in Heaven? I think that's a very good question considering what evangelist Jerry Falwell said last month. I can't imagine his issuing a statement claiming Jews won't get into Heaven unless they accept Christianity. He had the good grace to say: "In my view." But when someone leads a congregation of 22,000, it almost becomes dogma.
It's absolutely mind boggling that he would consider saying such a thing. Not that it matters here, but let me identify myself as a Roman Catholic and, for most of us, speaking about our religion is something we keep close to our own hearts. We know who we are and we know what we believe. We try to do the right thing.
Abortion and murder are crimes against humanity, albeit the former is legal in this country, but among ourselves in our personal settings, we would say they are mortal sins.
We also know that this is a free country where speaking out about anything and everything is our right and happens every day. There are times citizens test the waters, so to speak, just to see if we really are free. And at those times, laws have frequently been enacted that brought about changes: Changes not exactly popular but legal, regardless of majority opinion. One person spoke and there is no longer prayer in school; another person spoke and God's out of the Pledge of Allegiance. It's a free country.
Good manners are bred into us at home or by society if we're fortunate enough to be raised where examples of consideration of others are the norm and etiquette is as important as say, cleanliness. We would never say something as sweeping as Reverend Falwell's claims about what it takes to cross through the Pearly Gates. (I don't mean to assume that there really are Hollywood-style pearly gates leading into the rapturous mist.)
Falwell spoke "as a theologian" when he made his statement, and I wonder if in his Christian (follower of Christ) religion, he has paid attention to the Biblical references to the sign Pontius Pilate had soldiers place on Jesus' cross saying, "Jesus Christ, King of the Jews."
There: that's one Jew we know for sure is in Heaven. He said so. Christ's last words on the cross were not extemporaneous wailings, they were from the Psalms. He was speaking Hebrew Scriptures.
Nailed to crosses on either side of the crucified Christ were thieves. They were not named then but later referred to as Dismas and Gesmes. And, Jesus said to them: "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
And that is all we know for sure about the population in Heaven. Everything else is conjecture. Jesus and two thieves are in Heaven because He told us he was going there, to Paradise. I believe that.
I believe in all the angels and saints but have no historical evidence. It pleases me to believe in a life hereafter. But that's me. And, I firmly believe my sainted mother is there waiting for me. Who does it hurt that I have such beliefs? I would like proof but I don't need it.
Miracles suggest intercession by hundreds whose holy lives have brought about happenings that can only be attributed to the petitions requesting the Saint "ask God for me." I feel they are in Heaven, I hope they are in Heaven, but that is based on faith and appreciation of the mystery of it all.
I've heard people say "When you're dead, you're dead." That's okay for them to believe that - I offer no arguments. But I can still see and hear my mother as she spoke words that transformed her face into an expression of bliss. "Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard what wonders are prepared for us," she'd say softly - as if she were letting me in on a secret.
So, I'm perplexed about Reverend Falwell believing he can get away with such a comment since it was issued publicly, not just in private conversation where he might have preceded the line with: "It's my guess... ." I'm surprised there weren't more outcries.
I'm also surprised that so many people don't "get it." The Pilgrims made that arduous journey with their eyes raised to God for protection in seeking a land where they could worship (or not) as they wished. They sought a place where nobody could say anything to them about their spirituality. Well, that was the plan.
More and more of us suffer from the foot-in-mouth disease. Falwell's fellow Evangelist Pat Robertson has more than once been called to apologize. I recall that he suggested gays or lesbians, feminists and pagans caused the World Trade Center disaster.
When no one can figure out why something happens, they blame God. Or, rather, they accept the tragedy as retribution for what we sinners have done. How can he decide what constitutes a sin? Why does he concern himself with others' lifestyles? If no one is marching on his lawn, what does he care who passes by?
William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, tripped over himself trying to explain why he said "African-Americans are less intelligent than Caucasians." His statistics were based on culture and environment.
However, a black baby adopted by White parents thrives and tests the same way as his White counterpart, given the cultural advantages. That never came out right when he tried to undo his original remarks.
If I were not a Catholic, I would be a Jew. My religion is built upon Judaism, the religion Jesus himself followed. Since I believe Jesus fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament outlining the circumstances of the coming of the Messiah, I follow Him as I believe he directed us to go.
It's my understanding Jews still believe the Messiah is coming, it's just that Jesus was not him. Since all the predictions are evident to me, I explain by understanding: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown." I can just hear the Rabbi saying: "What, him? Jesus? The son of Mary and Joseph the Carpenter? The Messiah? Naaah!" And so it has been understood since the year 33 A.D.
It's a cliche to say "Some of my best friends are Jews," but in New York, it's not a cliche, it's a fact. And, if one day I find myself at the Pearly Gates and I'm asked my ethnic origin, I will speak up. (God forbid I get in and Frieda doesn't.)
"Are you excluding Jews?" I'll ask. And if they say yes, then I'll say, "Oh, no, I don't want to go through until you change your policy. I'll just go over to Limbo and wait. I saw an empty seat next to Jerry Falwell."