“Thanks for the birthday dinner, Mark. The prime rib roast was excellent,” Joseph said to his brother as he entered his bright yellow car for the thirty-mile ride home.
“No problem, Joseph. Makes up for me for forgetting your birthday last year. Pity Mae did not come. Still problems with her back?” A distant flash of lightning reminded them of the severe thunderstorm warning issued for that night.
“Yeah, the physical therapy helped, but it was only a twenty percent solution—well maybe a twenty-five percent solution,” Joseph responded.
“Well, looks like this cold front is coming through in big style. It will be one heck of a storm I will be driving into. At least this damn two-week heat wave will end! Can you believe it? Ten straight days of ninety-eight degrees or higher! It was one hundred four degrees on my actual birthday! Thanks a lot for the present, Mother Nature.”
Mark laughed. “You and your numbers and stats, Jos! Not that I was counting, but in less than fifteen seconds, you mentioned six stats.” Sobering, Mark asked, “So what is next with Mae? Surgery?”
“Possibly. But you know how American doctors frequently use surgery only as a last resort. We are going to the neurology center next week to see what the next step is.” Smiling, Joseph said, “As for my stat fixation, heck, I learned my times tables at the age of three, so it has always been as essential part of me, as you well know. Remember when you went through the papers on my computer desk and showed me virtually every paper consisted of numbers in little squares? That was before Excel. Now I have tens of millions of numbers in tens of millions of little squares! Heavenly.”
Joseph decided that this was the time to get his suspicions about who Cathy had been on Earth answered. So before Cathy could start with what she had to say to them, Joseph asked Cathy a question.
“Cathy, before we start on the reason for this private meeting, can you do me a favor?” Joseph asked.
“Sure, Joseph. Go ahead,” Cathy answered, almost sure of what Joseph was going to ask about.
Can you put your right arm in such a position so that the right palm is on the back of your head and then lift your head in the manner that a teenage girl would when posing for a photograph?” Joseph asked, his heart starting to pump harder.
Christine looked at Joseph, confused but curious.
“Yes. Perfect.” Joseph looked carefully at Angel Cathy’s pose and compared it to the memory he had of his only photograph of Cathy Osuna. The images were identical, except that Angel Cathy looked to be twenty-five years old, while Cathy Osuna had been thirteen in the photograph.
“It is you, Cathy—Cathy Osuna, isn’t it?” Joseph asked, trembling. “Yes. That was my name on Earth. And I remember you, Joseph. You were a great friend. So was Theresa Peters.” Cathy approached Joseph, knowing what was about to happen next.
Tears started flowing from Joseph’s eyes, and he started sobbing, crying uncontrollably. Cathy went to him, sat down, and put her arm around him to comfort him. Christine, remembering what Joseph had told her about his friend Cathy on Earth, took hold of his left hand with a firm but gentle and loving grip.
For the third time in about fourteen hours, Joseph had been swept away by such a huge tide of conflicting emotions that he had lost control of them and fallen into tearful sobbing. He thought back to having bull sessions in the library with most of the girls of his seventh-grade class but feeling especially close to Theresa and Cathy. He remembered inviting his classmates over to his house for a farewell party, as he had thought that his family was leaving for Ecuador in a few days, and dancing with Cathy. He remembered Cathy and Theresa giving him that pennant with his name on it and the beautiful message on the back. He remembered the terrible day one month later when his classmate Arnoldo had told him of Cathy’s death, and how he had fallen into such a deep pit of despair that tears had flowed from his eyes nonstop for a week. But he also remembered how his mother, seeing the depth of his despair, had rescued him by gently coaxing him to let her introduce him to the Swedenborgian religion, which he had known nothing about till then, by reading to him from a Portuguese translation of a Swedenborgian novel, The Invisible Police, which had been written in the 1930s and translated by his grandfather. He remembered the relief and joy of knowing that Cathy had not died in any real sense of the word and that she was guaranteed a life in Heaven and would become an angel. He remembered that he had put that pennant in a prominent and easily visible position in his room so that he could see it every day and, even if only for a second or two, remember Cathy. And now here he was, in the spiritual world, a world that he had tried to learn about as much as he could, and wonder of wonders, his angel guide was to be that Cathy. Too many emotions flooded him, and they were of such intensity that to hold them in was impossible.
Cathy let Joseph pour out his emotions for a while before she started to try to stabilize his emotions.
“It’s okay, Joseph. As you can see and have known ever since your mother read you that novel, I did not die, and I have had a truly wonderful life growing up in Heaven and becoming an angel. I am deeply touched that you have always thought of me, but you are in a wonderful new world and must learn to embrace this world and forget the sad moments you went through on Earth whenever a death of a loved one happened in your life. You know that death is a myth. I was told by your welcoming nurse that it took you about two minutes to figure out what had happened. That is close to a record. Hang on to that thought, and remember how joyous you became when you realized where you were. Crying is a useful, productive emotional reaction to strong emotions, but it has to be replaced by a sense of peace after a short while. Grab on to the joy of being here, to the joy of so quickly finding a person in this world who could very possibly be your soul mate.” Cathy looked at Christine for confirmation of that statement and got it. “And if necessary, find joy that your Cathy will be here to guide you in your journeys in this world.”
As those tender, comforting words entered Joseph’s consciousness, he slowly regained control. Christine watched in wonder as Cathy slowly coaxed Joseph to a semblance of emotional control. Christine had known this person, this man, for about eight hours, and already he had aff ected her emotionally more deeply than any man on Earth ever had. Joseph was such a strange but somehow wonderful collection of contrasts. He could be cool, even ruthlessly logical at times, so much so that she had detected his sense of impatience with irrationality. Yet he was capable of pouring out his emotions with great force when the circumstances called for it, or maybe when they forced him to. He was completely ignorant about romance and repelled by the idea of sexual intercourse, yet she sensed that he deeply yearned to love a woman completely but had no idea how to do it. She sensed Joseph’s sincere attempts to control the inevitable snobbery that he felt as a Swedenborgian newly arrived in the spiritual world, but she had seen him fail a couple of times already. She could not help herself, nor did she want to. She realized that she loved him, and she sensed that if they made it to Heaven, they would be together. She felt that he would be the one who would most help her in the regeneration process and that she would be the one who would help him the most also. It was time to help him, even though she still felt the fear of being hurt again by a man.
“Cathy’s right, Joseph. She was right in everything she said, including about me. Do you remember when you first held my hand and how you felt? Well, I am holding your hand now and draw strength and joy from it because of what it means,” Christine tenderly told Joseph.
Christine’s words made Joseph regain full control of his emotions. After wiping his face with a handkerchief that Cathy had given him, he calmly said, “Thanks. Thanks to both of you. Okay, Cathy, what did you want to tell the both of us?”
The second event happened while Joseph was studying in Bryn Athyn and was taking a comparative religion course and had to write a term paper on a religion of his choice. Joseph chose the Baptist religion to see if his suspicions about the interior rottenness of that religion were true. To his surprise, he discovered that he had underestimated the cruelties, machinations, and lies Baptists would resort to in order to convert people. His assignment required that he attend two Baptist services, and in the first one, he introduced himself as a member of the New Church, whose headquarters, Bryn Athyn, was just up the hill, and said he was attending their service as a research project for school. At first, the members of the Baptist church received him warmly. But the pastor, during his sermon, went out of his way to point him out. He called Joseph’s religion a work of the devil and said that if Joseph did not repent and convert to the Baptist church, he was going to the depths of hell. It took all of Joseph’s self-control to not leave the service in a rage. But it got worse. A few days later, using the excuse that they wanted to give Joseph information about the Baptist church for his paper, three members of that Baptist church spent three hours in the living room of his dorm, in the headquarters of his religion, trying to convert him and telling him that he was living in a den of a church of the devil. Joseph, like many Swedenborgians, paid a lot more attention to the Writings of Swedenborg than to the Bible itself, so he was at a big disadvantage in his discussion with them, since they recognized the Bible as the only legitimate source of God’s Truth. Still, Joseph knew better; and in an increasingly heated argument, barely controlling his rage at this group of judgmental, irrational, lying Baptists, he said in parting to them, “Before you three came here, I thought that my beliefs were set in stone. After our talk, I know that my beliefs are set in reinforced concrete! Good-bye!” It took all his powers of logic and self-control to write the research paper for his course as objectively as possible. Still, it was impossible for him not to end the paper with the following conclusion: “Some Baptists do make it to Heaven, but they do so despite their religious beliefs and not because of them.” He ended up getting an A on his paper from the professor. In a small, anonymous way, he had gotten his revenge on that hateful religion and their insane members.
These memories flashed through Joseph’s mind as he went over to talk to Jane. He was scared—scared by what this externally detestable woman who was still denying that they were in the spiritual world would say and scared by the way he would react to what she had to say. But Christine and, through her, God were right. It was time that he faced one of his biggest evils and learned to find some way to accept irrationality from other persons and control his strong desire to humiliate such a person by using logic ruthlessly, with little consideration to universal human frailties. Jane was quiet as Joseph approached her, and she seemed in some ways diminished. Leonard had not told Joseph about the malicious comments
Jane had made when he and Chris were having their first kiss or the threat he had used to get her to shut up.
“Hello, Jane,” Joseph started. “Look, we have not had a chance to really talk since”—Joseph thought it better not to use the term spiritual world—“we woke up in that hospital four days ago. You are part of a traveling group now, and I have noticed that you tend to isolate yourself. That is not good for you and not good for the group if we are to complete this trip successfully.”
Jane looked up at Joseph with a combination of fear and hatred—fear because she didn’t want to be tongue-lashed again and hatred because she sa w Joseph as the main creator of this insanity she was now in, as he constantly preached about how his Sweden-something religion was right and always had a logical answer for the admittedly strange things that had happened in the last four days. That his religion had beliefs that were diametrically opposite to hers did not seem to matter to Joseph. All he cared for was logic. Her feelings and fears did not seem to matter to him.
“Look, Mr. Sconce, if you have come to preach to me that we are no longer on Earth and that we have to travel to this Eastport to get a chance to go to Heaven, you are wasting your time. I don’t believe in you or your so-called logical religion. I am on Earth, and you are the one that has caused the rest of this so-called traveling group to go insane. Go back to your girlfriend and atheist friend, and let me be!”
Oh boy, Joseph thought, no wonder I avoided close contact with this Baptist. She is as loony as the rest of the members of that crazy religion.
He sat down on her bench. “Jane, first of all, Leonard is no longer an atheist—never was really. He only said he was to protect himself from the poisonous teachings of his Presbyterian parents.” Joseph felt that criticizing a religion that was similar to but not the same as Jane’s might give him an opening.
Jane snorted in disgust. “Presbyterians! And you guys feel that we Baptists are judgmental and evil! At least we give a chance to anybody to be saved by converting to our true faith. The Presbs say that everyone’s destiny is predetermined at birth no matter what you do! How is that for insanity, Mr. Sconce?”
“So you would agree that Leonard had a reason to first fear and then hate the religion he lived under as a child?” Joseph asked.
“Yes, I guess he had his motives. But to convert to atheism was doing an evil to get rid of another evil,” Jane commented acidly.
“I agree. That is, if he had really converted to atheism, that would have been insane. But you saw how quickly he got rid of his so-called atheism when our angel guide Cathy showed him who God really was. I think you would agree that a true atheist would not turn into a full believer after a short discussion with an angel.” Joseph deliberately brought in the issue of where they really were.
“Ah, yes! Your angel Cathy. Supposedly you two were best friends in grade school, and she died thirty-some years ago. Tell me, do you lie because you can’t help it or because it is fun? If we were in the afterlife, what would be the chances that you and this Cathy would meet among the hundreds of billions of people that have died and come to the afterlife?” Jane asked sarcastically.
“If there is a spiritual reason for Cathy to be my guide angel, the chances are quite high. I know there is a spiritual reason for this being the case. I just have not figured it out yet. But she is the Cathy I knew thirtyfive years ago in Costa Rica. As for my lying, I think that you realize that lying effectively has become quite difficult of late. Honestly, do you feel I am lying?” Joseph rejoined.
Jane looked long and hard at Joseph and said, “Frankly, no, I don’t think you are lying. But that does not omit the possibility that you are deluded or insane,” Jane responded.
“Okay, but if I am deluded, what about you? Really, Jane. Before four days ago, had you ever gone to a restaurant that gave everybody a diff erent menu with only that person’s favorite foods? Or had picnic containers in a car in which great food just appears when we are hungry? Or been able to go to a store and not pay a cent for thousands of dollars’ worth of jewels? Or maybe, most importantly, woken up every morning and noticed that you were five or ten years younger than the day before? Isn’t denying the obvious source of these wonderful events a delusion?” Joseph asked, getting irritated slightly.
Jane was taken aback by this brief but comprehensive exposé of the new reality. She asked, “And what would be the source of these wonders?”
“God, of course,” Joseph said laconically.
“Look, Joseph, I am the one that knows about God. Not you and your Sweden-something—”
Joseph interrupted Jane. “Swedenborgian. Please show me the respect of at least calling my religion by its proper name. Do you want me to start calling you a Baps?” Joseph said, irritated.
“Okay, Swe-den-bor-gian, Joseph. As I was saying, I know about God, not you or anyone else in this insane group. And these weird happenings are all part of a Communist takeover of the government. They stole my money, my house—everything!”
Joseph was getting really angry now. “And how do you suppose Communists make you thirty years younger in four days? Or let you go into a store and just grab twenty thousand dollars’ worth of jewels? If I were you, I would vote for the Communist Party in the next election, lady! With political enemies like that, who needs friends? You really are totally crazy like all the Bible-thumping idiots I have met from your crazy religion and that my father had the misfortune to grow up under!”
Joseph knew that he was doing it again. What he was saying was logical, but his intention now was to destroy the morale of this infuriating woman. That was his test, and he was starting to fail.
“If I am totally crazy, then why bother talking to me? What, you think you will get closer to your version of Heaven by trying to be nice to me? If that is the case, Mr. Sconce, using your logic, you just took a few steps closer to your hell!” Jane said, hitting right on the mark.
Joseph took several deep breaths to try to control himself. She had hit the nail right on the head. But how to help this woman shake off her delusion that they were still on Earth? Maybe by sharing a secret with her? A secret he had not even told Christine? It was risky, but-
“Jane, I’m sorry. Look, one of the main doctrines of my religion is that every religion has something good to offer for our salvation— even your Baptist religion and the Presbs also. And I just violated that doctrine. A scientist founded my religion, and his Writings consist of about thirty volumes—over eighteen thousand pages—and more than ninety-five percent makes logical sense. But—”
Jane cut him off . “But what, Mr. Sconce?” Jane asked, irritated but curious.
“Look, Jane, can you be trusted to keep a secret?” Joseph asked.
“I don’t know. Do I look like a person you can trust?” Jane asked.
Joseph looked carefully at Jane’s face and decided that he could. “Okay, I will trust you. As I was saying, over ninety-five percent of what Swedenborg has to say is logical. But there is a little seventypage book in the Writings that, if taken literally, is beyond insane. It is without a doubt the craziest divine revelation from any religion. The name of this book is The Earths in the Universe,” Joseph informed Jane.
“And what does this book say that is so crazy?” Jane asked, curious.
Joseph summarized what the book said in a few sentences. No more information was necessary to show the insanity of the book.
Jane first looked aghast and then started laughing. “And you Swedenborgians believe that?”
“The hard-core ‘You shall always take what is said in the Writings literally’ believers do. Most Swedenborgians don’t believe what it literally says but prefer not to be reminded that that book exists. A few, like me, say that if the book is not taken literally, it gives quite useful and innovative information,” Joseph informed Jane.
“And your point for revealing this secret of your religion to me?” Jane asked.
“For two reasons: One, every religion contains items in their holy books that are simply completely unbelievable on any level that is not insane if taken literally—that includes my religion and yours too. Two, believing in something when all evidence points to the contrary is a type of insanity. For you to believe that you are still on Earth is coming close to insanity,” Joseph bluntly told her.
Jane thought about that. Joseph’s revelation of his religion’s weak spot showed courage; she could not deny that. Maybe she should show the same courage and admit to him that, yes, her denial that she was in another world was approaching the level of insanity that this book in his doctrines demonstrated. She made a decision.
“Joseph, I admire your courage in revealing to me this insane book in your doctrines. And I will keep your secret. Okay, you are right; the only explanation for what has happened in the last four days is that we are no longer on Earth. Now what happens?” Jane asked, getting excited by the possibilities.
Joseph almost whooped in joy. He had done it! Jane was finally on board, and he, after coming close to failing to control his temper in front of irrationality, had been able to recover and perform an act of charity. He had to thank Chris for making him talk with Jane, and God for giving him the strength to start getting rid of this evil.
“Great, Jane. Welcome to the spiritual world. What happens now? Well, if I were you, I first would pray and thank God for making me look thirty years younger in four days, for starters, and anything else you feel thankful for. Then try to accept this principle: God is Love, and only Love. Once you accept that, you will be able to get rid of your rather bad external behavior. We all want you to be an asset to this group, but you need to treat people like you want them to treat you before you can become useful to the group,” Joseph advised.
The Golden Rule, in other words?” Jane asked.
“Yes. A cornerstone of almost any religion, and for good reason. It is the beginning of the road to Heaven,” Joseph told Jane.
“Thanks, Joseph. You have helped me a lot today. I will follow your advice and do some prayers of thanks at the first opportunity. Anything else I should know?”
“Yes. First, you have also helped me a lot today, and I thank you. Second, Chris is not my girlfriend. That implies a sexual relationship, which has not happened. We are deeply in love with each other, but that kiss you saw was our first kiss. We are potential soul mates and will become real soul mates if both of us make it to Heaven,” Joseph responded.
“Sorry. I truly apologize for misunderstanding the relationship between you two and saying malicious things about it,” Jane said humbly.
“Apology accepted, Jane. Now, how about joining part of the group, for real this time?” Joseph asked.
“I would love to, Joseph.” Jane and Joseph went back to Christine and Leonard.
When Cathy and Albert reached Dorothy, a dome of angelic light formed around Dorothy. The three angels let their light and warmth emanate from them, and the ray of sunshine from God slowly started to lift Dorothy from the depths of her despair. She became aware of three beautiful people around her and realized that her last prayer had been answered in the most beautiful way possible.
“Everything is all right now, Dorothy. You finally asked for unconditional help from God, and we are to get you out of this place,” Alvaro said, starting the healing process.
“You have done well, Dorothy. All that you went through in the last three days had a reason to be. There were lessons you had to learn, and you did so. Now it is time for you to start collecting the fruits of your eff orts,” Albert encouraged her.
“You will no longer be alone, Dorothy. We will be your guide angels in the next phase of your journey, which will end up in Heaven if you wish it so. You will also have as companions nine newcomers like yourself that are traveling in this spiritual world. They will give you friendship and companionship, and you will learn a lot from them, and they from you,” Cathy informed Dorothy gently.
Dorothy looked at the beautiful beings around her and, with a voice still shaken from her emotional ordeal, asked, “Are you three angels? The people that in my dream live in beautiful cities in Heaven and love most of all to help other people?”
“Yes,” Cathy answered for all of them in her laconic way.
“Rise up, Dorothy, and come with us to meet your traveling companions and new friends,” Albert suggested, gently grabbing her arm to help her up.
Dorothy got up and first checked the landscape in front of her. The lava fields were gone. Because this place was quite close to Hell, the lava field had not been replaced by a beautiful or even average landscape. But still, anything was better than the lava field that had signified to Dorothy the complete loss of hope for a while.
She went with the angels to the SUV, where all the travelers were waiting to meet the person they had heard so much about and for whom they had undergone some ordeals themselves to help rescue.
Cathy introduced Dorothy to each member of the group, and each of them received her warmly. When it was Leonard’s turn, Dorothy and he looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds without speaking, and both of them felt a special kind of kinship flow between them.
“I am Leonard McCoy, and I have been anxious to meet you, Dorothy. And something is telling me that in some ways, I already have.”
Smiling for the first time since seeing the lava field, Dorothy answered, “Yes. Somehow I feel the same about you, Leonard. Isn’t that funny?”
“Not in this world, Dorothy,” Joseph said, looking at Christine and then taking hold of her hand. Christine smiled at him and then at Dorothy.
Dorothy was surprised at the obviously romantic words and gesture from Joseph and Christine. Does sex actually exist here? Fancy that. Maybe angels are even married. Cathy and Albert gave indications of being a couple in all senses of the word.
Seeing the warning glance from Cathy, Bill greeted Dorothy warmly. But it was warmth he really did not share with the rest of the group.
“Cathy, mission accomplished. How about if you guide us out of this awful place?” Randy asked.
“No problem, Randy. Leaving the Badlands is much easier than going this deep into them. Leonard, now go eastward. In a short while, you will see a fork in the road. Take the right one. From then, everybody will notice a gradual but rapid change in our surroundings for the better. Joseph, your spiritual meter numbers will start zooming up. Instruct Leonard to stop when it reads a +35 .”
“Will do, Cathy,” Joseph answered.
The travelers, with their new member, entered the SUV. Cathy and Albert sat in the back row with Dorothy, just in case she showed some remnants of fear or panic from her ordeal.
Leonard started the SUV and soon saw the fork in the road and veered right. From there, in about twenty WoS Sun minutes, they were in positive spiritual-meter territory, and all the travelers breathed sighs of relief at seeing a nice landscape again.
The trip to the Badlands had been scary and troublesome, but most of the travelers knew it had been worth it. They had helped to do a great deed of charity, and they felt a sense of pride for doing so. Not being angels yet, these newcomers could not help having this sense of pride, and they felt it was not a sin to feel that way for a short while. They were right. It had been a job well done.
He thought back to the event that had started this whole process, which was going to reach a climatic resolution that morning—not the instance when he had told Jane about TEITU, and then, through a slight gaffe by Cathy, Bill had learned about the book. No, he was thinking of that long-ago past when, as a twenty-year-old in Bryn Athyn, he had, quite by accident, stumbled across the book and, after believing in Swedenborg’s logic system since Cathy’s transition, had been shocked that something so insane could be part of the logical and scientific Writings. He remembered going to his best friend and having that infuriating, frustrating discussion in which his friend stubbornly held on to the belief that what was said in that book had to be taken literally. But that discussion had been just the start of it. Joseph had thought he could count on his minister professors to clarify the matter, but none of them would talk about the book, and they bluntly told him to forget about it too. Of course, that just made Joseph more curious and started the process in which he began to look first at Bryn Athyn and then at the entire New Church in a different light.
He truly had loved the two years he spent in Bryn Athyn, and the quality of education he’d gotten there was much better than in any of the other universities he’d attended later. But after the TEITU episodes, the charm and charisma of the place had started fading, and he’d viewed things that had vaguely disturbed him in his first year there as serious structural problems in his second year. First, there was the politics of the place. To say that the political views of the vast majority of the residents of Bryn Athyn were ultra–right wing was a massive understatement. The people there only voted Republican because they saw the Republican Party as the Socialist Party, which was a slightly better choice than the obviously Communist Democratic Party. The housemaster of his dorm, a person who had seemed sane otherwise, had told him that he knew that the Democratic Party was a Communist front organization being directed from Moscow. There was no answer to such insanity, so Joseph had said nothing. Before, he had seen this political extremism of the place as vaguely irritating; but after his TEITU discovery, he had seen how this political insanity affected the headquarters of his religion in very serious, corrupting ways. He had talked to many of his dorm mates about politics then, and the majority had quite openly told him that they intended to get as rich as possible and had no intention of helping the needy. As far as they were concerned, the poor were poor because they were lazy. That, in Joseph’s view, completely violated Swedenborg’s Doctrine of Charity and encouraged the evil of “love of the world,” which was greed. Then there was the matter of the sermons that the minister gave in the Pitcairn Hall Chapel and in the cathedral. Again, in his first year there, he had found what was sometimes said in those sermons and the manner of the delivery slightly annoying; but after TEITU, he had seen the hypocrisy and institutional self-pride that oozed from those sermons. The ministers giving a sermon would mockingly refer to the other Christian denominations as “the Christians” (as if the New Church were not a Christian denomination!) and quite openly make fun of how irrational the Christians were, while claiming the New Churchmen were completely logical. Yeah, right! Joseph had thought to himself after discovering TEITU. Then why does everybody in this place avoid talking about The Earths in the Universe? The answer, of course, was that that book, if taken literally, invalidated Swedenborg’s logic everywhere and made the New Church look like a truly insane religion.
However, portions of all religions’ Holy Scriptures were highly irrational to the logical mind. That the New Church had the most irrational piece of Divine Revelation was just a matter of degree, and Joseph, while not approving of the way the New Church handled the issue of that book, grudgingly understood why they hid that book under seven keys. By ignoring the existence of TEITU, the New Church could hold on to its claim of being a logic-based religion whose scientist prophet had received from God by far the largest Divine Revelation of any religion. The New Church claimed, as all other religions did, that their holy scriptures were the complete truth that the human race was ever going to get from God—in other words, the New Church and all other religious organizations were guilty of committing the institutional sin of the belief in their permanent spiritual relevance. It was a sign of great arrogance for any religion to believe that God would limit His Infinite Wisdom to hundreds—or, in the case of the New Church, eighteen thousand—pages or so of information. Humans would surely need God’s Infinite Wisdom on Earth many more times as humans evolved socially and technologically at an increasingly rapid pace. That was patently obvious. But again, Joseph could forgive the New Church for falling into the trap that all other religions did. To be fair to the New Church, the church strictly followed two highly enlightened central beliefs in its doctrine that most other religions did not have. One was that nobody could judge someone else in the spiritual sense. The shorthand of this dogma was “Even Hitler might be in Heaven.” Second, what got a person to Heaven was the quality of life that person led on Earth; the religion, if any, the person belonged to on Earth was almost inconsequential. Still, Joseph had left Bryn Athyn with a very different view of the place than when he’d arrived wearing rose-colored glasses. Bryn Athyn and its people were a representation of the interior of an individual: a mixture of good and evil. Therefore, by the time he left Bryn Athyn, he had, in his innermost being, not yet knowing it consciously, ceased to be a New Churchman and thought of himself as a Swedenborgian instead. That was why Joseph could count on two hands the number of times he had attended New Church services in the remaining twenty-eight years of his natural life. He felt loyalty toward his prophet and what God had given humans through him, not to a religious organization that spent its time glorifying its logical way of thinking while encouraging its members to become money-obsessed political reactionaries.
As the pleasant memories of his stay in Bryn Athyn faded somewhat, Joseph began to remember the not-so-pleasant moments there, especially the great debate that had occurred in Bryn Athyn in the mid-1980s. Incredibly, this debate had been about whether the New Church should evangelize in any form. Joseph had been flabbergasted that a majority of the people in Bryn Athyn were against any form of evangelization. All other religions evangelized for the same reason that people breathed: to continue existing! He had not been able to believe his ears as most of his dorm mates had adamantly claimed that evangelization was unnecessary or even wrong. This was a religious organization that had in its holy scriptures two things that would bring hundreds of millions of new members into the church: first, the concept that science and religion complemented rather than competed with one another, and second, and most importantly, the glorious vision of what the afterlife was really like, including the notion that death did not really exist.
For fifteen days, Joseph and the rest of his group had experienced the truly great wonders of this afterlife; and the church he was baptized under not only refused to spread this wonderful message but also went out of its way to keep this view of the afterlife available for only its members, which, when he had transitioned, was a pathetic 5,562 worldwide. That was unforgivable. The New Church, through horrific leadership since moving its headquarters to Bryn Athyn, had isolated itself from the world, turned completely insular, developed an insanely reactionary political point of view, and become highly suspicious of any potential new members. By refusing to evangelize, it had ceased to be a religion and turned itself into a cult, and the general public did not look upon cults kindly. That was why, when Joseph had walked in the towns surrounding Bryn Athyn, whenever he’d mentioned he was from the New Church, many times a person’s reaction had been to say, with a good amount of hostility, “Oh! You are a member of that weird cult!” At the time, Joseph had been hurt and surprised by such hostility, but later he’d understood the reason for it. The people of Huntingdon Valley and Bethayres were right. The New Church had turned itself into a cult. The New Church had committed the greatest spiritual crime a religious organization was capable of: to selfishly keep to themselves their vision of what awaited all humans after death. And the Swedenborgian vision was by far the most wondrous, beautiful, and believable of them all. Of the five billion or so adults on Earth in the second decade of the twenty-first century, what percentage regarded death as one of the greatest fears, if not the greatest fear, in their lives? Ninety percent or maybe 99 percent? And the religious organization that had the evidence that such a fear was unfounded refused to go out into the world to give all those billions of people relief from this greatest of fears. Instead, the ministers in the ivory towers of Bryn Athyn debated among themselves the fi ne points of Swedenborgian philosophy and proudly believed that they were performing a use! Considering the kind of view of the afterlife the New Church had in its hands, refusing to divulge the information at all was unpardonable, inexcusable, and a good way for the New Church to commit institutional suicide. If the New Church ceased to function completely at some point, over 99 percent of the population of Earth would not notice, so insignificant the New Church actually was, and the ones who noticed would say, “Good riddance to that nasty cult.” The bottom line was that, sadly, the New Church had done nothing to benefit the world, even on the local level. The world had over two billion agnostics, and the Swedenborgian belief system was perfectly suited for most of them. But how could such a belief system benefit this vast number of agnostics when the religious organization that had it kept it hidden from the world for motives of extreme institutional selfishness?
As these thoughts crossed Joseph’s mind, and the snow fell thickly around him, he lamented to what degree the religion he had been born into had degenerated in such a short period of time. He sincerely wished that some Swedenborgian on Earth, whether a member of the New Church or not, would someday have not only the money and power but also the will and courage to spread Swedenborg’s message of what the afterlife was really like to the billions in the world who hungered for such a vision. But such a potential evangelizer would have to be honest with the potential new members of whatever religious organization would emerge from this evangelizer’s eff orts and not try to hide the highly irrational parts of the Writings, which, besides TEITU, also included the myth of The Most Ancient Church. That would be a first in the history of religious organizations. Openly admitting that certain parts of the Writings were rationally unacceptable in the literal sense would mean that God gave us those irrational revelations as an indication that further revelations would be forthcoming. A religious organization that believed in that notion would accept that it was an organization that had a limited span of time in which it would be spiritually relevant, and it would be fi ne with that destiny—which had been the destiny of all religions that had ever been The Lord’s church on Earth before, after all. In this scenario, the religious organization could then concentrate on its reason for existence—to help as many people as possible get the wondrous truth of what the afterlife waslike and what a person needed to do to reach Heaven—instead of wasting its energy and money fighting for the institution’s earthly survival.
Joseph sighed. He had always been an optimist about human nature and believed that most people, most of the time, meant well. But when humans organized themselves into a large organization, the few who were corrupt eventually took over such an organization and sent the organization into decline until it eventually disappeared. The New Church, Joseph realized, might already be too corrupted by its insularity and the moneyof the controlling families’ to avoid “spiritual death.” But Joseph was confident that someone somewhere was reading Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and had the power to spread its wondrous message.
Since speed was of the essence, Leonard was the driver. The group was relaxed for the most part, but slightly anxious. Would they be able to enter Eastport, or would the SUV break down, telling the group they were not quite ready for stage three of the regenerative process? They would soon know.
Soon, the SUV passed a sign saying Eastport City Limits, 20 Miles.
“So far so good, gang!” Randy said excitedly. “The low-battery light is not on, right, Leonard?”
“Nope. Everything is fi ne. I wonder what we will see if we make it in? Does your map give us any hints, Mr. Chekov?” Leonard asked Joseph.
“I don’t know exactly, Bones, except that the spiritual Eastport is much bigger than the Earth version. On Earth, Eastport is a small town of less than four thousand. By my map, the spiritual Eastport is a good-sized city, maybe 250,000 or more, by far the largest city we’ve stopped in on our travels.”
“Interesting,” Christine intoned. “Well, there is a reason why this was our goal. It could be one of the cities in this world with a heavenly academy. Considering how many people transition from Earth each year, these academies could be quite big.”
“That is almost certainly correct. If we make it in, we are no longer newcomers or travelers, but we enter a new stage, kind of novitiate good spirits,” Jane said with confidence and hope.
“Hope you are right, Jane. Somehow I have a feeling you are,” Alice said, also confident. “Just saw a sign—ten miles to go.” Nine miles, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one—and they saw a sign that said Entering Eastport City Limits.
“We did it! Gang, we did it! Glory be to God! Stop the SUV. I want to see how our new home looks from a distance!” Randy exulted. Leonard stopped on the top of a hill overlooking their new home. The travelers got out, admiring the spiritual Eastport.
Like its earthly version, part of the spiritual Eastport had been built on the islands just off shore, but the mainland part of the city was much larger, and its architecture was totally different. The prevailing colors of the buildings were beautiful, either a blue-white, light yellow, pastel green, or soft peach. The Heavenly Academy building was the largest one in the city; it was ten stories high, located on a hill, and its architectural design vaguely resembled the modern style on Earth—a lot of glass held together by thin steel beams—but was much more beautiful. The glass reflected its surroundings in a kaleidoscope of shifting colors, and the beams were actually made of gold, not steel. A vast campus of manicured lawns and pathways with occasional flower beds of all colors surrounded the academy. Smaller five-story buildings served as dormitories for the students. The city surrounding the academy campus was a beautifully organized city with generally straight streets and square blocks, but it had some diagonal streets, creating triangular blocks that broke up the monotony in the city’s organization. Every street had a transparent tube in the middle, which was part of the city’s ultra efficient mass transit system, but there were apparently no roads for motor vehicles—just bike lanes and sidewalks. Small- and medium-sized parks dotted the city, each one beautifully manicured and decorated with fountains and ornamental architecture. There was a large commercial center and a smaller governmental center. The residences of the semi permanent inhabitants of the city were organized into neighborhoods, and the residences of each neighborhood were of one of the colors that made up the city as a whole.
The climate was mild but not static. Almost all days were sunny or partly cloudy, with the clouds being mostly the small or medium cumulus variety, which made shapes impossible by Earth meteorology. It could get as warm as eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit or as cool as thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit. It rained in the city, but almost always at night. The inhabitants generally enjoyed fi ne weather during the days, which were long, and the nights were no longer than seven or eight hours. There were innumerable trees in the city, most of them of the deciduous type, and as in the Rutherford forest, some were in the peak of spring bloom, and others at the peak of the fall colors. Some distance from the city, a ridge of mountains was clearly visible, with the highest peaks reaching over nine thousand feet. The vegetation of these mountains was made of deciduous forests at the lower levels and pine forests at the higher ones. These mountains were covered in snow, with the snow line going as low as the upper parts of the deciduous forests, at about four thousand feet. There were several ski resorts in the mountains, with trails of all types for ski lovers. The shoreline, while still like the famous rocky coasts of Maine in some places, also had beaches of snow-white sand, and the water was at ideal temperatures for beachgoers. So the landscape and climate of the city and its surroundings spiritually reflected good emotional states of its inhabitants, with small variations from time to time.