What If You Had to Dance the Polka to Get to Heaven?

“Honey, please, don’t worry about grandma. She’s in heaven with the angels now. Grandpa is with her and Aunt Rosie and even little Fido. Grandma is happy and someday we’ll see her again.” 

Such beautiful words that on the surface seem harmless enough. 

Of course, to tell anyone, especially our children, such a fantastical story is a big fat lie. I can understand why people love this story. It’s comforting even to an adult to believe that those who have passed on are reunited with family and waiting happily for us to join them some day. Who wouldn’t love for that to be true, especially when you consider how terrifying life can be. We’d all like to believe that we have something better to look forward to someday.
I’m continually perplexed by the human capacity to invent explanations for things out of thin air. 

Even in this day and age, there is no end to the unbelievable fantasy stories that permeate society. The Mormons believe, for example, that the faithful will inherit their own planet when they die. The Muslims believe that they’ll be given a harem of virgins. The evangelicals believe that heaven is like a gated community where the streets are paved with gold and everyone inherits a mansion. Some cults have convinced people that their followers will be beamed up by aliens on a spaceship. Other cultures hang on to the ancient belief of many lives. New agers believe in soul packs and lives between lives. There is no question in my mind that humans are a highly creative species and their storytelling abilities are outstanding.

 Of course, not all stories of the afterlife are fun or comforting.

Humans are just as likely to make up horror stories as those of eternal bliss. The duality in our very natures produces the grim reaper as well as the rapture, one bearing a bill that must be paid and the other promising a cosmic orgasm. So, we also fill our children’s minds with Freddie Kruger stories, hack and slash terror that can last forever no less. How we end up in this cosmic torture chamber as opposed to the heavenly gated community varies from one belief system to another. Some of the faithful have lowered the membership bar to a generic love fest where god is love and we are love and heaven is practically free.

Hell is reserved for Hitler and the like. 

Others are much more exacting in their demands upon the faithful calling for specific dress codes, eating habits, restrictions on pleasurable pastimes, inflexible rituals and more nos than yeses from God. It’s a slippery slope to hell for even the devout who must constantly keep up their guard against temptation.

Whatever the belief in an afterlife, the idea of punishment is central to many people of faith. 

With absolutely no proof of a never dying soul or a life after life of any kind, they speak of it with such authority as to create a kind of awe in me. I’m not in awe of the story, but rather their complete audacity to pretend to know the mysteries of the universe when it is quite clear that they can barely maneuver this life successfully. We all spend a good bit of life in a state of utter confusion. After all, we weren’t given a road map. Trial and error is often the only way to figure things out. Yet, there are many humans who can barely get through the obstacle course of life who are perfectly comfortable pretending to know, even offer advice about what happens after this life.

So much so that they pass these fantastical myths on to their children and thus perpetuate cultural constructs that are embraced by whole societies as divine truth.

Believers from all walks of life claim to hear the voice of a God but maintain vastly conflicting stories about the afterlife, what God's expectations are for his creation before we can receive either a reward or a punishment and what either system involves. These believers have no trouble whatsoever pooh poohing one another's revelations of an afterlife, even going so far as to disqualify various groups as false prophets, but as soon as someone like myself, an atheist, pipes up, they all join forces against me. Suddenly, any belief in any kind of afterlife is better than no belief  at all. And, no one, not even the most liberal Christian among them comes to my defense. The need to cling to their fantasies is too strong to overcome no matter how sensible an argument I might offer.

To say we don’t know seems to be unthinkable to the vast majority of humans. 

It takes a certain amount of courage to face death not knowing. It takes an equal amount of courage to face life admitting we don’t know. The majority of people seem to lack that courage. So, they can’t say they don’t know. They just can’t.

Every time a fervent believer begins to expound upon the glories or the terrors of the next life, however, they can easily assume that no one will come back from the dead to vouch for their story. 

That fact alone provides them with a kind of safe zone where they can make all manner of wild and outlandish claims without being held accountable. Wouldn’t it be just grand if the next time a believer started yammering about the details of life after death, a ghoul would immediately appear discrediting their erroneous tale.

 “You’re wrong and furthermore, you’re an idiot,” says the ghoul. “Life after death isn’t anything like the senseless shit that you’ve been spewing. It’s a great black hole where once entered, you dance the polka forever and only those who love the polka can join us. The rest of the polka deniers are forced to listen to polka music while picking up all the dog poop they refused to pick up while walking their dogs in their own damn neighborhoods. Such thoughtlessness will not go unpunished.” From the looks of many neighborhoods, a lot of people won’t be dancing the polka after they die.

Yeah, bring on the ghouls, I say. People would be more careful about making big proclamations if there were more plain talking ghouls.

Teresa Roberts is an author, world traveler and dedicated myth buster. Her recent book - Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales - can be purchased on Amazon.