Now that Osama Bin Laden has been killed and flung into the sea, it may be appropriate to speculate on the disposition of his immortal soul. I'm sure that most of Bin Laden's loyal followers think that he is now enjoying his allotment of 72 virgins, although just why they think the primary attraction of Heaven is the despoiling of virgins is beyond my understanding. Bin Laden's detractors on the other hand, especially those who are Christian, are no doubt comforted by visions of him roasting in Hell and begging for a drop of water to soothe his parched tongue.
Those who do not believe in Hell and those who may have been persuaded by Pastor Rob Bell's controversial new best seller, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, that Hell may not exist, will be left scratching their heads. It is easy for most of us to imagine that Bin Laden ranks in the company of Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin, Pol Pot and sundry other murderous despots when it comes to people we would not expect to be roaming the streets of Heaven, whether or not he has an entourage of virgins in tow. Most of us just don't want to believe that he could get himself admitted, no matter what we profess to believe are the entrance requirements.
An excellent piece in Time magazine about Bell's book starts like this:
As part of a series on peacemaking, in late 2007, Pastor Rob Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church put on an art exhibit about the search for peace in a broken world. It was just the kind of avant-garde project that had helped power Mars Hill's growth (the Michigan church attracts 7,000 people each Sunday) as a nontraditional congregation that emphasizes discussion rather than dogmatic teaching. An artist in the show had included a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi. Hardly a controversial touch, one would have thought. But one would have been wrong.
Apparently someone doesn't want to find Ghandi in Heaven either. I'm as baffled by attitudes like this as Bell. I think Ghandi has a legitimate claim to a certain moral purity, and regardless of his sins and his faults, he left the world a way better place than he found it, and he paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.
There's no doubt in my mind that Ghandi should rank higher than Bin Laden on a list of people we would like to see in Heaven, but I realize that there are many others who believe otherwise. This is precisely why judgment is best left to the Lord who, after all, reserves it for Himself.
We are not up to the task. We can't agree on the most basic things. In my own family, where everybody loves everybody else and disagreements are kept to a minimum, there is a raging debate on whether or not brownies ought to contain nuts. My personal opinion is, hell yes, brownies ought to contain nuts, and plenty of them. Hell is where they serve brownies without nuts. When you enter the gates of Heaven, though, they give you a brownie with nuts just so you'll know where you are.
Now if my family cannot agree on something as basic and inconsequential as nuts in brownies, how in the world can we humans agree on who should get into Heaven and who shouldn't? The closest we come is the agreement, in principle at least, that whoever disagrees with us on this particular issue ought to go to Hell. This seems to me to summarize the position of whoever wrote the note at Mars Hill Bible Church about Ghandi. If we're all right about this, then Hell is going to be a bustling community while Heaven is going to be hard pressed to find 72 reasonably attractive women, let alone virgins.
On the other hand, if we're all wrong, then Heaven is going to be full up with people we don't think deserve to be there. Just so we're all clear where I stand, I'll be happy to see Ghandi in Heaven. I'll even rejoice to see Christopher Hitchens there, although, since he is an avowed, un-cowed and unrepentant athiest, I am probably in a minority in that regard. Still, Hitchens has done more to improve intelligent discourse on our planet than most of the true believers that I know, so I think he at least deserves a shot. He probably wouldn't agree, at least not if it meant he had to give up his unbelief, but I don't think that ought to be held against him.
Bin Laden is another matter for me. I'm pretty egalitarian and even forgiving by nature, but I don't want to rub elbows with anyone in Heaven who thought it was good policy to murder innocents in order to make a point. If, by some quirk of logic in the dispensing of Divine Justice, Bin Laden does make it into Heaven, my sincere hope is that, at a minimum, all his virgins look like Danny DeVito in drag...or, even better, like James Garfield, the stunning, miraculous, and probably virginal bit of taxidermy who may be seen in a wedding veil over at The Bloggess.