Tom had lost his faith. He felt a mild sense of euphoria at having rediscovered the freedom to think, to act, without fear of divine retribution and condemnation. He also felt apprehension that when he died, nothing would follow. There would be no heaven, no hell, no resurrection, no rapture — no life beyond the grave. When Tom breathed his last, he would be no more. At 25, when he’d first abandoned belief in God, death didn’t bother him. Lately, however, episodes of depression troubled him. His parents had died, first his father to a heart attack, and then his mother to an agonizing battle with breast cancer. A few years later he lost a good friend to a tragic automobile accident. Knowing he would never see any of them again, a sinking sense of hopelessness seeped into his psyche.
He understood the illogical nature of belief, especially belief in Christianity’s god, a god of “love” that threatened to roast all unbelievers in a torturous chamber of unimaginable horror throughout all eternity, not for any positive reason, but out of pure sadistic retribution. But, the prospect of never being united with his loved ones still ate at him. He knew it was all emotional, but, the depression… the depression.
So Tom went back to church.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!” thundered a portly preacher from behind a modern clear-acrylic podium. For 20 minutes the man expounded, quoting Bible verses, explaining the way of salvation, pleading, weeping, laughing, admonishing, attempting to weave a hypnotic spell over everyone in the mega-church’s multi-million-dollar auditorium. Finally it was time for the invitation to come forward for those seeking salvation and prayer. The organist and the choir, which until then had been softly singing in the background, raised its volume to a feverish pitch. Goose bumps rose up on even the most calloused arms.
“Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.”
Tears welling, Tom stumbled forward.
As the 3,000-member-strong congregation added their voices to the choir’s, a heightened feeling of urgency electrified the air. Hands reached skyward, “Praise the Lords” were heard, and many men and women openly wept.
At the altar, Tom bowed his head and repeated the sinner’s prayer, a prayer he’d known since he was five-years-old, a prayer he’d repeated dozens of times during his youth, especially in times of insecurity. These magical words, if said sincerely, comprised the mystical formula allowing mortals to gain entrance, and live forever, in heaven, after physical death.
And then Tom woke up.
“Holy shit,” said Tom, bolting upright in bed, his naked, sleep-heavy body drenched in sweat.
“What’s the matter honey?” his wife Sally groggily rasped without lifting her head from the pillow beside him.
“I just dreamt I went forward to be saved during an invitation at a church,” said Tom. “They were even singing ‘Just as I am.’”
As Tom’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, he noticed a deep red glow coming from outside the bedroom window.
“Sal, get up. Something’s going on outside.”
Something was going on all right — a raging inferno. Flames lapped at everything. People were running and screaming. Some appeared to be on fire.
“What the fu..?”
Tom could smell it now. An overpowering stench of smoke laced with a heavy, sickeningly sweet scent of something cooking. He couldn’t pinpoint the smell, but it reminded him vaguely of a pig roast he’d once attended. Meanwhile the flames seemed to be raging out of control, licking at his neighbor’s homes, climbing up the trees. Fire was fricken’ everywhere. The entire street was awash in a hellish conflagration.
“Sal, get up. Something bizarre is going on.”
“You’re in hell,” boomed a disembodied voice from somewhere in the room.
Hell? Did I die? And how come my wife is still asleep?
“Sal, did you hear that?”
“Come back to bed,” his wife complained. “It’s cold, and it’s the middle of the night.”
It must be 150 degrees in here, thought Tom.
Still naked, sweat dripping on the carpet, Tom found his way downstairs.
I must still be dreaming, thought Tom.
At the bottom of the stairs the world changed again.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” shouted some guy with long hair, a beard, and wearing a white toga.
“Okay, what the hell? Er, umm, I mean…, what’s going on?” asked Tom.
“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me.”
“Ahm, yeah… I’ve heard that before. So am I… dead? Or just crazy?”
“Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” continued the man.
“Okay, this is just nuts,” said Tom.
Suddenly the room was filled with dozens of androgynous figures in bathrobes singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”
Meanwhile, outside, Tom spotted his next-door neighbor’s distractingly attractive 22-year-old daughter streaking nude through the flame-filled street. Close on her heels, in hot pursuit, was what appeared to be an unclothed horned devil with an unreasonably long, thick, and apparently wart-encrusted, erection. The phallus seemed to have a mind of its own, twisting, bending, pointing, and dragging the demon toward the fleeing beauty, much like a divining rod drawing a dowser toward water.
“She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses,” said the Alpha-Omega character.
“Ah, yeah,” said Tom. “Listen, could someone please tell me what this is all about? If I’m going to have a heavenly vision, or whatever, could I least have a little explanation?”
“It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has put in his own power.”
“I should have known,” mumbled Tom.
A cacophonic alarm blared. Everything shook violently and the entire room blurred and dissolved into nothingness. Tom rolled over and hit the snooze button on his clock. This time he really woke up. The depression he’d been suffering was gone.
“Honey,” said Sally as she cuddled up to him. “You know what I like best about our lives since we left Christianity?”
“That we get to stay in bed and make love Sunday mornings?” said Tom.
“No silly. Well, yes, that too. But what I was thinking is that since I’ve gotten all that religious insanity out of my head, the world just makes a whole lot more sense. You know what I mean?”
“I couldn’t have said it better,” agreed Tom.