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Heaven Only Knows What the Truth Is

As I thought it might, my recent column questioning the existence of heaven has brought me a great many hostile letters and several religious tracts.

This makes me wonder why I bother to express such doubts when it only gets me into trouble.

As for the religious tracts, I have a great many of them already and am not likely to be rehabilitated by any more.

A letter from Chuck Sorrentino of Santa Clarita is as curious for its grammar as for its message: “It is appalling to me that there is many things in this world to write about and there are many who write, available and are in need of a good paying job and a paper such as the L.A. Times allows these type of items published--'Freedom of Speech'--I don’t think so--just plain ignorant.”

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All I said, you may remember, is that I doubted heaven exists, and if it does, I wouldn’t want to live there. Too boring.

“I had stopped reading your column a while back because of your anti-God beliefs,” writes Mrs. Frank C. Schacht of Pacific Palisades. “Today a friend told me to read what you have to say about heaven. To say I’m sorry for you is putting it mildly. If I didn’t believe in heaven and life hereafter, plus the fact that I have a mother, grandparents and husband there, I wouldn’t hang around in this rotten world. And I have a Lord there who loves me more than words can say--who gave his life for me.”

“Your column,” writes Hazel Crouch, “is such a downer. No hope. No future. Nothing. . . . Just what, Jack, if you might be wrong in all your suppositions about God and eternity? As a respected writer, don’t you think it would be only fair to look at the other side--the Christian side--and read what they have to say, along with what God, the creator of everything, has to say?”

I have indeed read the pertinent verses in the Bible--at least, many of them, and I have read dozens of tracts attesting to the existence of God and heaven.

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I don’t believe I have ever identified myself in this column as an atheist. No one can prove there is a God. No one can prove there isn’t. I did say that if there is a heaven, I don’t want to go there. I’ll take my chances with the alternative.

I did speak once at a meeting of an atheist group. But what the heck. I got a free dinner for it.

Not all my mail was hostile. “I am 76 years old and was over 70 before I discovered you,” writes Quentin C. Stodola of Redondo Beach. “For some dumb reason beyond recall, I had gotten the mistaken impression that your writing was too genteel and trivial for my tastes. Thank goodness I discovered my mistake while I was still alive.

“About a week ago my wife was reading your column on heaven. She was chuckling and paid me one of the nicest compliments that I’ve ever received. She said, ‘Why, you’re just like Jack Smith, bullheaded, and you say what you want to say.’ ”

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That’s one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received, too.

“I share your thoughts about any hereafter,” writes Dick Cole of Seal Beach. “An eternity of anything would indeed be hell itself. . . . In a more practical mode, each of us had best do our utmost to make the current trip one of pleasure and satisfaction. . . . Sorry you didn’t take up lawn bowling when you were more mobile.”

Yes, I wish I had become adept at that noble sport. Now if I tried to roll that heavy ball, I’d go right along with it.

In her letter, Liz Newman tells a story she thinks is pertinent:

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A man dies and meets St. Peter at the pearly gates. Soon angels come and carry him to a beautiful place where they attend to his every need.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” the man asks, growing restless in his idleness.

“No, thank you,” the angel says. “It’s our job to take care of your every need.”

After a while the man says again, “Isn’t there anything I can do around here? Help with the cooking or something?”

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“Sorry,” the angel says. “There’s nothing you can do.”

The man grumbles: “If I’d known how boring this place gets, I’d rather have gone to hell.”

“And just where do you think you are?” the angel responds.

I think Dick Cole is right. The thing to do is to quit worrying about the hereafter and do what we can to make the present trip more pleasant.

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Maybe take up lawn bowling.

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* Jack Smith’s column is published Mondays.

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More Jack Smith

* For a collection of recent columns by Jack Smith, sign on to the TimesLink on-line service and “jump” to keyword “Jack Smith.”

Details on Times electronic services, A4


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