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'A Man Don't Have To Die To Go To Hell'

"A Man Don't Have To Die To Go To Hell"

....... according to a song of cowboy singer Brad Paisley.

After a bout with cancer and the encroaching infirmities of age (I’m 82) my thoughts have recently turned to mortality. Though I’m an agnostic, I realize I could be wrong, and have started to raise questions about an afterlife.

I assume there must be a wall around heaven and regular patrols to shoot or capture undocumented souls ("takers"? non-Christians? teenagers in hoodies? abortion-rights advocates?) trying to sneak in. But wouldn’t there also be angels trying to help the poor? Isn’t that what angels do?

Will there be handguns in heaven? Surveillance cameras? Will we have to take off our shoes at the Pearly Gates?

But wait! Even if there is a heaven, I can’t assume I’m going there. If my fate is hell, will I find souls there armed with assault weapons? Will there be phalanxes of George Zimmermans patrolling the streets? Though that would be hell for me, it presumably wouldn’t be hell for them -- unless they had to register their guns.

Terrorists who use bombs presumably go to hell, but what about mass killers who use assault weapons? If they have the right to own assault weapons, why should they go to hell? Doesn’t the Second Amendment apply in an afterlife?

Come to think of it, what is the difference between bombers and shooters? And what about drones? Shouldn’t they go to hell? (Or do they just come from there?) Isn’t the advantage of drones that they have no moral dimension, and can’t be held responsible.?


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What about purgatory? Is it full of children – "collateral damage" from drones and cluster bombs? Drones operating there? But then where would the pieces of souls end up? Or is purgatory just the place where Anthony Weiner exposes himself repeatedly?

We have been living in the hell of being spied on by commercial interests for 20 years or more, ignoring signs that the private sector is collecting data on our purchases, incomes, habits, interests, contacts and using it sell us more goods.

Consider the hell we’ve created with the NSA, and Presidents Bush and Obama. Last week the Akron Beacon Journal ran a full page ad on A5 offering free cell phones It shows two faux "news" articles datelined "Ohio", one of which is headlined "U.S. Dept. of Interior urges citizens to carry cell phones" (See the page). Of course the Dept. of Interior wants citizens to carry cell phones – it will make targeting them for advertising, surveillance or drone attacks much easier.

John Naughton in the Guardian writes that the Internet is finished as a global network because US cloud services can’t be trusted. "Without [Snowden] we would not know how the National Security Agency (NSA) had been able to access the emails, Facebook accounts and videos ...; or how it had secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; or how, through a secret court, it has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users' data. ...Similarly, without Snowden, we would not be debating whether the US government should have turned surveillance into a huge, privatised business, offering data-mining contracts to private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton and, in the process, high-level security clearance to thousands of people who shouldn't have it."

In my 2002 "Entrusting the World to Supermen" I quoted then Senator John Kerry: "How does it happen that to be anticommunist we become undemocratic, as if we have to subvert our society in order to save it? Because the powers claimed by presidents in national security have become the controlling wheel of government, driving everything else. Secrecy then makes it possible for the president to pose as the sole competent judge of what will best protect our security. Secrecy permits the White House to control what others know. How many times have we heard a president say, "If you only knew what I know, you would understand why I'm doing what I'm doing.".... As Lord Acton said, "Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice." So in the bunker of the White House, the men who serve the president put loyalty above analysis. Judgment yields to obedience. Just salute and follow orders. (from "The Secret Government: The Constititution in Crisis" – Bill Moyers 1988)

Then there is the hell of US health care. Even before I die I face the hell of seeing my life-savings – the house I have owned since 1968 – drained by my health insurer because I chose a cancer surgeon outside their approved list. I had hoped the house would finance college for my granddaughter, but it needs repairs (new furnace, new siding) that I cannot afford, and it is overvalued in the local housing market. But I am luckier than many – I can at least choose this hell in exchange for excellent care. Millions of Americans don’t have that choice.

You don’t have to die to go to hell, you just need a Congress and a couple of presidents to get you there.

Or maybe, as Will Rogers once quipped: "If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us [by politicians] there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven."

Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail:

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