I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith: Escape from Heaven
BRAD LINAWEAVER: So, Neil. I don’t believe you have ever had any major experience in your life that you didn’t find a way of working into your fiction writing — either a novel or a short story or a script — at some point or other. Therefore I guess none of us should be surprised, with the experiences you were going through, that your latest novel is Escape from Heaven. So, why don’t you tell us about the genesis of Escape from Heaven, as an artist, as well as with your experiences?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, where I have to start off with are the experiences, because we’re doing this book so I can finally — in one comprehensive way — document the reality of my experience and tell people why it might worth paying attention to. That I have, in fact, learned some things from the experiences that are worth my sharing with other people.
Escape from Heaven started, again, with a dream. We’ve talked about the important dream I had in 1988, following my incident where I had God’s hand on my heart, and then the follow-up dream where I was told that in my previous incarnation I had been murdered as a baby and that the trauma of that had gone with me into the current life and that’s why I was phobic of death. And that dream ended that phobia.
So, I had already had the experience of at least one dream significantly changing something essential in my life.
Let’s go through a few things that have happened to me in the mean time.
Thanksgiving of 1991, I’m going to be divorced. Expectations of raising my daughter in a marriage, suddenly that’s shattered.
Shortly after that, I start getting a reputation on Second Amendment issues, first being published in some publications of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, then doing an interview with Professor Roy Copperud on the linguistic analysis of the Second Amendment, which got me a wide reputation.
Then, on January 1, 1992, the first of my Los Angeles Times Op Ed articles appears, and really puts me on the map in the Second-Amendment community. It puts me on the map so much that it leads to three more L.A. Times Op Eds, and eventually my book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns.
So that’s what’s going on overtly in my life during that period. That’s when I meet Dennis Prager. As a consequence of my L.A. Times Op Eds, he invites me on his show. The relationship with him starts with my being invited over to his house for a Friday night Shabbat dinner, and I brought my parents along. I met his wife Fran and I met Fran’s daughter, Anya, and she became a fan of my writing and we ended up in a lot of interesting conversations.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And I met some of them through you.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. Anya was very, very bright. I haven’t seen her in a few years.
And I liked Dennis a whole lot. I had not been a fan of talk radio at that point, I didn’t know about Rush Limbaugh. So my going on Dennis Prager really started me paying attention to talk radio. And so these are some of the things that are going on in my life.
Now, we go back to, I believe it was February, 1991. I have my first dream in which I go to Heaven. And I’ll describe the dream to you.
I find myself in Heaven and I’m going along and I pass an outside café where John F. Kennedy is having coffee with Jackie. Now at that time Jackie was still alive and JFK, of course had been dead since November 22, 1963. And, of course, JFK meant something to me because I had written the “Profile in Silver” episode. So, he was in my consciousness.
But I found it significant, even during the dream, that he’s back together with Jackie. Because, after all, Jackie had remarried Onassis and lived many years after 1963 and I had no idea that she would be dead within a couple of years after that. So that again could almost be considered slightly precognitive. Because there was no reason to think that Jackie Kennedy didn’t have another 20 years in her, unless you were in the inner circle, which I wasn’t. I certainly knew nothing.
So I have this dream and Heaven falls under attack, while I’m there. And I remember flying out of Heaven, flying like Superman.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Under attack by what or whom?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I don’t recall but I do know that it was sort of like a civil war. It was war going on in Heaven.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Well, was it the fallen angels, the demons trying to take it back?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I don’t know. Heaven falls under a military attack. I need to escape and I jump through a portal, a time portal or something like that. And remember, I’d written time travel before in “Profile in Silver.” So, I mean, there are elements of “Profile in Silver” there, with JFK being there.
And I jump through, and I’m trying to get back to my own time. Because Heaven is in the distant future — this part I know — that Heaven is in the future.
I’m trying to get back to my own time and I overshoot and find myself on a corn field or a wheat field of a farm in the 1940’s, in Midwestern America — in Iowa or Kansas or something like that. I’m back there trying to figure out if I’m stranded there or if I can I get back to my own time.
So this is the sequence of the dream I had. Now this was a significant enough dream for me that I wrote it down at the time. I made notes of it. And I started playing around with it.
Now I’ve been asked in previous interviews on the radio where I came up with the name Duj Pepperman. I did not come up with that name for Escape from Heave.
I didn’t know why I came up with that name. It was just by sound and who knows where that came from in terms of psychology, why I did that. I didn’t know. Duj Pepperman arose in another novel, which I was outlining.
It was going to be set in a world in which nobody slept, in which everybody was awake 24 hours a day. The consequence of that is that it is a world which is psychological entirely different from our world. For one thing, because nobody sleeps, nobody has a concept of dreams. Nobody has a concept of fantasy or imagination or anything like that. It is as prosaic, practical a society as you could possibly have.
It is also a society which doesn’t have bedrooms, because you don’t need to sleep. And really, if you think about it, having your own house is so you have a place to go to be safe while you are sleeping, while you are vulnerable.
So in other words, that world which I’m outlining, in this novel which I never wrote, is a world in which you really don’t have private houses, you really don’t have bedrooms. There are places where you can keep your stuff, but more or less you are active 24–hours–a–day and so it’s not like you need to go home and rest. There is no need for rest.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: No need for sustained privacy.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And so it is a much more communal society, in the sense that there are bath houses for cleaning up and public facilities and rooms which you rent for a few hours at a time or something like that. The entire social structure is different because of that. Duj Pepperman was going to be the freak who was thought to be a medical defective, somebody with a disease.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Because he slept.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Because he sleeps and he dreams. He is trying to tell this society of non–dreamers about his dreams, and they consider it to be a defect of some sort.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I hope you write that sometime.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s one of those ideas, which, again I’ve had since the 1980’s and haven’t written yet.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: At least a short story.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I used part of it in Escape from Heaven, because, as you recall, I describe the angels in those psychological terms. I took that idea and transplanted it into Escape from Heaven in my description of the angels. I made them the non–dreamers who never had to sleep, the ones without the imaginations. And I give the description about how they write beautiful, elegant verse and encyclopedias, but they have no sense of fantasy. An angel could not be a Walt Disney. An angel could not be an Albert Einstein. These require the ability to imagine. What angels lack in Escape from Heaven — because I took this model here — is God’s creative power, the power of fantasy, the power of philosophical “what if.”
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And we have this as humans largely through the gate of dreams?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. This is where I started the entire thing — which I developed really in discussion with Jack Landman on CyberCity — about how dreams are a medium.
That dreams are, in essence, part of the same imagination mechanism that I was using as an artist.
That, in fact, dreams are the universal art.
That dreams are a universal medium, and a medium in the same sense that we talk about newspapers as a medium, television as a medium, movies as a medium.
That dreams are, in fact, a medium, and there are critical
rules that you could apply to dr ams in the same way that you have critical rules for these other media.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: By the way, I’m pretty sure that’s original.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Thank you. But more than that, what it started leading to was the idea that we have always talked about: what is the sixth sense?
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Normally people say E.S.P.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. But it came to me what the sixth sense really is, is imagination.
Now this is so significant because it was the power of imagination which led me to the experiment of praying in the first place.
Let’s realize that “imagination” starts with the word “image,” which is a very significant word when you start getting into theology, when God says he created men in His image.
We have image, form, all of these things have to do with Creation, this entire Logos idea which I use in my “Logorights” article having to do with the spirit which enters into the book. That it’s all pattern, its all array, form, all of these essential, crucial concepts all come down to us in dreams. Dreams are the medium in which we learn imagination.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: When you say, “God created Man in His own Image,” one of the points you’re making is that unlike the angels, but like God, we can dream. A very good point, but secondarily –
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And I use that in Escape from Heaven as saying that angels cannot become gods until they’ve gone through the stage of being human beings so they can learn to dream.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And could it also be that this is part of the rage Satan — or Lucifer — felt against God and his opposition to God creating these lowly material creatures – us — and giving us all these advantages over what he viewed to be higher spiritual beings? The devil’s rebellion against God, which is admittedly first really articulated well by the Puritan Milton in Paradise Lost, seems to be logically derivable from an awful lot of religious text preceding it.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right, except — Yes, I agree. But the point is that I’m being a revisionist mythologist here and I’m coming up with my own version, and in my case I’m not going with Milton’s mythology of Satan with the pride of sin and “It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven” and all that. I’m not doing any of that.
In my novel, in my approach, I’m giving Satan her own motivation and that is: she has an actual artistic criticism of Creation. She thinks that God screwed up.
And notice I make Satan a “she.”
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right. The Adam and Eve thing.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And again, the paradigm I’m developing here is that in the existence before the creation of Earth you have angels, and you could argue whether they are created by God or spin–offs of God. I use the phrase spin–offs, the same way that they talk about spin–offs of TV shows. That God, in essence, spins off parts of himself into individual souls.
And again, it’s not Creation out of nothingness. It’s creation out of that which existed. It starts out where everything that exists is God. So the main part of Creation is not merely creating the universe to encapsulate these new souls, but the spin–offs from God. So we all originate as God stuff. As God mind.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Instead of star stuff from the suns, God stuff spiritually speaking.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. But the point is that we’re not trying to be absorbed back into this big blob. The whole point is that God did this so that we would be separate, so we would be individuated. So we would be something that he can relate to other than Himself. In other words the way I phrase it most eloquently in Escape from Heave is that in the Creation specifically, the spinning off of Minds and Souls and Wills other than His own, God trades or sacrifices — it’s a trade because he gets something back — His Omnipresence, His Omnipotence — because these other Souls have powers of their own which matter — and His Omniscience, because they now know things which He doesn’t know — it’s a trade because what He gets in exchange is the possibility of love.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: This is another area where you are not like a New Age Mystic, though just as many critics will accuse you of various Gnostic Heresies, other critics will accuse you of being some kind of New Age Mystic. Yet the New Age Mystics, almost without exception, are always trying to merge in “The Great Primordial Cosmic One” or “The God Soup,” I call it. They want everybody back in the original “God Soup.” And you’re making the opposite argument. You saying that the last thing God wants is a merging into this pantheistic ultimate “Oneness”. That God wants differentiation and basically God wants individuals?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: That is your central tenet?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And you certainly express it well in many different ways dramatically in Escape from Heaven.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And I give His motivation, I say that it’s not a sacrifice because God is trading his aloneness for love.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And that’s a powerful imperative for God to create in the first place. Because in doing so God is inventing love.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And he takes the hate as the price tag.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. The consequence of Free Will is that there is going to be a down side. There is going to be dissonance as well as the consonance. But what does he get out of it? He gets a higher artistic tension, a higher emotional tension, and a higher thrill than ever before. I identify God as creating because he’s a thrill seeker, in the literal sense. He’s seeking new thrills.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I think that’s original, too.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That Creation is God, as an artist, being driven by esthetics.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: What I think is fascinating about Escape from Heaven is you’ve got Duj Pepperman, who is an extremely interesting character. And by the way you have never ever had your, at least for me as a reader, I have never identified with any Neil Schulman character faster than you made me identify with Duj Pepperman. Chapter One, I love that guy, you had me totally identifying with him. I think it’s also, you’ve done something no writer has ever done, to my knowledge, which is make this loveable identifiable radio talk show host character and every radio talk show host in America’s got to have you on and say; “hey making your hero a radio talk show host seems like a good idea to us.”
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: That all works.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: If only it had gotten me on Dennis Prager and Rush Limbaugh.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But it got you on a lot of radio shows.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It got me on some radio shows.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And the thing is the whole opening gag, for want of a better phrase, which is just as powerful a hook as I’ve ever read, you know, “I’m God and your biggest fan, I can’t believe I got through.” The fact that trying to get through to one of these talk radio hosts, God would have trouble too…
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And by the way, I need to interrupt you at this point, because that particular line “this is God calling, I’m your biggest fan,” that itself was given to me directly by God, explicitly, on February 18, 1997. He said, “I’ve got a gag for you; you have to use this in your book.”
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I’m glad you used it.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: You remember how I talked about being a fan of God, wanting basically be God’s fan being able to just hang out with Him?
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: You know, get that all–access backstage pass? Okay, but also it struck me that God is our biggest fan because — having given us free will — God is no longer a direct manipulator of us. We could argue about the Old Testament times, but as it is today, God prays that we will do something but He has no way of making us do it because of the free will. God is powerless when it comes to us because He has given us the power over our own lives and all He can do is be our fan and applaud when we do it and go “Awww!” when we don’t.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: In other words now the show is up to us and what you’re going to suggest is maybe God is bored with the regular traditional religious play and likes it better when we go off on our own and try to do something new. Avante garde theater at least means you don’t know the ending of those particular individuals Free Will choices?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, my concept of God is an addict of reality TV.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I said avante garde theater but if you’re going say that because the whole universe becomes reality TV. Anyway the only reason I don’t agree with that is –
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: –because reality TV is too contrived.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I think there’s nothing more fake than reality TV.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: God is really a fan of reality TV.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: There is some really good writing going on in the actual real universe, I’m not quite sure how to square that with the free-will concept but I just know that the universe is better written than reality TV.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Let’s just say that God is a better producer of reality TV than Mark Burnett.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: That is a true statement!
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Now, having said that we then come up with the multiplicity of souls, first as angels, and the differentia is angels are all intellect and no imagination. And in coming down to Earth, God creates Earth as a kindergarten. Because the angels, being eternal and not having gone through the experience that God did of creating, they don’t know what their place in existence is. They don’t know their purpose. They can’t find meaning, and when you’re eternal, not having purpose or meaning is profoundly destructive and chaotic. What I’m really talking about is the spiritual progress here of going from angel, the idea is you come to Eden –
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Earth? To the Edenic earth?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, yes you come to this and the whole point is that it is a physical existence that encapsulates, where the physical body, in essence, imposes rules and limitations, which didn’t previously exist, on the angel and that the angelic spirit takes on the human body and is now subject to gravity, is now subject to force, to be able to push. It is now within a body, which has physiology and a specific anatomy and sees through eyes restricted to certain waves of light and hears sound and touch, all these physical things. The whole point is to become physical rather than merely spiritual, that the journey is exactly the opposite of what everybody seems to be saying in the New Age movement, that we’re trying to become more spiritual. No! they come here specifically to be physical. Pure spiritual wasn’t working. There was nothing to push against. There was nothing to form a personality.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Is it that pleasures grow out of the limitations?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, because there can be no release if there is no tension. And physicality, physical materialism, provides the tension to allow a unification and a direction, to be able to grow in a particular direction, to be able to align yourself, to be able to center yourself.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yes, I’ve got that. Was that in your head when you wrote Escape from Heaven, the novel, or did writing the novel Escape from Heaven help coalesce this in your head?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It helped coalesce it in my head. A lot of this came out of the writing of Escape from Heaven, itself. The writing of Escape from Heaven was a revelation to me.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: So, writing the novel as a piece of fiction, or as a work of fiction, helped you understand some of these actual new beliefs that were colliding in you in the same sense that you know that Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a novel but her beliefs, and her understanding of what she thinks, is also worked out in the course of writing the novel. Is that how we should view Escape from Heaven?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, but you need to be aware of the timetable, the timeline of the actual writing of the book itself. Because I have the dream in 1991.
By 1992 I have written an outline of the book and have written excerpts, various different scenes, as samples of what the writing of the book itself is going to be and that’s around 60 pages worth of material.
I submitted it to John Douglas, who had been my editor at Avon Books, and he had bought the paperback rights to my first two novels. So naturally, I submitted it to John there. Then John moved over to Harper Prism, when Harper Collins started its science fiction and fantasy line — one of the major media publishers — and I submitted it to him there again.
But the outline I wrote for Escape from Heaven back in 1992 was very, very different than what the book finally became and the differences were significant enough that it’s worth me noting them.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Okay, by the way, was the outline back then for a full-length novel also?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. But I had not written a full–length novel. I had written around 60 pages, which consisted of a plot outline and samples of various different scenes, a lot of them being dialog, including particularly, a dialog between Duj Pepperman, whom I have now transplanted into this novel from that other thing. I’ve taken him whole, and I’ve put him into being brought to Heaven, where God is calling upon him.
Now the situation that I created in that novel, I could almost write a second novel from that original outline, it’s so different from what I ended up writing. Because in that version, Lucifer is making a fundamental challenge against God, and by the way — in that novel — Lucifer is male, Lucifer is not a female, Lucifer is not Eve, none of that is in the first outline.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And there’s no Adam either.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right, exactly.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And no Jesus?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: You know I don’t even remember whether Jesus is a major part of it, I think it’s mostly God, and Lucifer, Lucifer being a male.
Here’s the distinction that I made in that novel. I have all sorts of time loops and time paradoxes going on. It’s much more of a science-fiction feeling book, than the novel as it turned out to be.
Understand the difference.
Nineteen-ninety-two is when I’m writing this. That is five years before my “Mind Meld.” I’ve had the frightening encounter with God. I’ve had the dream with God as a woman as my lawyer. But I haven’t had my “Mind Meld,” which doesn’t happen until February 18, 1997. This is back in 1992.
And so I’m not as far along, and remember that the actual writing of the novel itself, as it finally got published, happened almost all of it, except for maybe the first few chapters, in the three-and-a-half or so weeks following 9/11 – September 11, 2001.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now, I remember the intensity, because I came back a week after the attack, because my flight had been delayed in Atlanta. When I returned I remembered very vividly you during the creative process of writing the novel.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And, again, it was the most intensive experience I’d ever had in my life, and certainly I had had nothing that intense. Remember, I mentioned in one of the earlier discussions, that something happened to me during the last month of writing Rainbow Cadenza? It’s coming back to me now.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yes, refresh my memory.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I just refreshed my memory. Because again, that happened in 1981. I just remembered it was the writing of the argument between Joan Darris and Hill Bromley, on precisely the theological argument, was when I think that I first apprehended that God was inside my head talking to me.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But don’t forget that in an earlier section of these interviews that we are doing, I talked to you about the fact that I first sensed a huge sea change in you when I read that in Rainbow Cadenza, which I had to read that section over and over in order to do my afterword.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But there is a significant difference that I have to note now.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Okay.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It scared the Hell out of me.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Because?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Because God was inside me and was, in essence, feeding me this stuff, and I wasn’t ready for it.
And I found myself one night sitting in a chair and shaking violently because of what had just happened to me.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: In other words you could never be a happy atheist again?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. In other words, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was not prepared for it. It was not a pleasant experience. But God was in essence collaborating with me and it was shaking me, physically. And of course, 1981, that’s even before I’d had the hand-on-my-heart experience. That’s the first time, now that I think about it, that I have God really touching me.
So we have that in November or December of 1981. Then we have the hand on my heart in April, 1988, and the dream where I learn what causes my fear of death a few weeks after that.
The dream of Heaven, which leads to Escape from Heaven in its first version, in 1991, and then the “Mind Meld,” in February 1997. Those are the sequences here.
We’re getting these jumps. It’s not just one experience. It’s a series of evolving experiences, with me being better and better prepared to deal with them, without being confronted.
By the time we get to 1997, which we haven’t gotten to yet, it’s an entirely thrilling and pleasurable experience, as opposed to these frightening experiences that I’ve had before. The first contacts with God shake me up. This one I’m in ecstasy.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: It goes from pain to pleasure, I had to say that.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, it goes from pain to pleasure.
Now, we’re back when I’m writing my first outline of , the outline which is so different it could actually be a different novel.
And in many ways it has more of the sense, in terms of style of something like Dogma, than it does Escape from Heaven. Escape from Heaven does not have the sharpness, the sort of anti-religious sharpness. I have Duj Pepperman, in dialog in the first outline of Escape from Heaven, really lipping off in a major way to God. He’s being very, very accusatory, and God comes across as a lot more cynical and defensive in the first version of Escape from Heaven that I’m doing back in 1992, the one that I submitted.
Here are some of the differences. Okay, first of all, Lucifer in that one is male, but Lucifer is not one character. I have Lucifer making the charge against God that God is not a Trinity, that there is a fourth personality — one that we haven’t heard about — and the fourth one has gone insane.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Oh, I like that!
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Then I have God arguing back and saying, “Well, here’s the problem. Lucifer doesn’t realize that it’s he who’s insane.”
What has happened, you have had a time loop in which you have two of them, one who calls himself Lucifer, the other one who calls himself Satan, and they are at war with each other.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I like that. You should write this sometime. It’s not necessarily contradictory to the Escape from Heaven world and it could be done as kind of a subcreation or even as an alternate –
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s a totally different novel. It is fundamentally different because all of the characters are different except for maybe Duj who’s pretty much the same, except that Duj is not so accepting of God. Duj is really a militant atheist in the first version.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Does he change?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, yes. But he changes because in essence he is given the responsibility of trying to find out the truth — which paradigm is correct? Again, it goes back to this tension, which I’m always talking about, which I had as an agnostic, of here you are presented with multiple paradigms, different people are telling you different things — which one is true? And you’re the one who has to figure it out,
and everything depends on you choosing right.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: You know what happened to you esthetically? Because I have an idea about this.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Go ahead.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: The earlier book would have been an easier sale to a commercial publisher and the older Neil Schulman fans would have preferred it precisely because it was before the experiences you had that did not so much soften you as awaken you to a different universe. In other words instead of being on the attack — which was what they wanted — you’re writing a book that’s more of a revelation, of, “Look what I found out.”
Actually, on a purely literary level, this book you’ve written Escape from Heaven, is more interesting, because a revelation or “look what I found out” is more interesting than just one more programmatic attack.
But the fan base that we’ve all built as libertarian science fiction writers, and Prometheus Award winners, our fan base is happiest when we’re on the attack, not when we’re putting forward something that we’ve learned from just being around awhile, and if not gaining in wisdom at least expanding our database. You’ve got a lot more thought inEscape from Heaven than the first book would have had.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right, because I’d had another mind collaborating with me, which wasn’t fully there in 1992.
In other words, the first version I really wrote as a human being. I had some ideas which had been given to me, but it wasn’t inspired the same way that what became the final novel was inspired. Most of the inspiration happened during the actual writing in September, 2001.
And here is the March 27, 1993 proposal for Escape from Heaven that I sent to my editor, John Douglas.
A Novel Proposal
J. Neil Schulman
Proposed Length: 70,000 – 90,000 words
Settings: Current day America, Heaven, A Suburban Universe, Hell-
Logline: A man dies and goes to Heaven, only to find himself not
at peace but back on Earth as a partisan in the ultimate War.
Duj Pepperman, a dead radio talk-show host. Saviour of
humankind, the universe, and God Almighty.
Caulinn Helms, lead singer of the rock group Seminal Lunch, whom
Duj falls in love with when he returns to earth after his death.
“Manchu” Ellins, homicide detective with the Culver City,
California, police department.
Myron Kaplowitz, a boyhood friend of Duj’s who died when Duj was
Sally Pepperman, Duj’s daughter. She was two-years-old when Duj
died; when he meets her in Heaven, she’s a grown woman.
God (Jesus H. Christ, Cineman Hulls). Creator of the universe
and the smartest, nicest, and all-around best person you ever
want to meet.
Satan (Sun Amen Chill, Uncle Nimlash, Iceman Shnull). A
rebellious angel. As smart as God but not nearly as nice.
Lucifer, Satan’s alter ego. An unfallen angel, still on God’s
side. Go figure.
Duj Pepperman, our first-person narrator for this story, is
not the sort of guy you think of as a hero. He’s in his middle
forties and looks it. He’s less than a year out of a bad
marriage, has one two-year-old daughter, and lives in Southern
California, where he makes a decent living as a talk radio
personality, fifteen hours a week.
It’s not a bad life. But it is, by most of our standards,
too short. On his way home from the studio, one night, Duj is
walking to his car when out of the blue, something hits him in
the head, fast. It could be anything from a small meteor to a
bullet. Duj never finds out what it is. But suddenly, he’s
floating slightly above his body, which is now lying face down on
the concrete, with blood oozing out of his head.
It takes Duj a few moments to figure out that this isn’t a
dream, then a bright light appears above him, and he realizes he
has a choice: to climb back into his body and continue living on
earth, or to follow the light. He realizes that, for him — now
that he knows there is continued consciousness after the body
dies — he is more interested in finding out what happens next
than hanging around on Earth.
He floats up toward the light.
It is, as reported, an ecstatic experience. And when he
gets to the end, he finds a welcoming committee made up of an old
friend of his from school, Myron Kaplowitz, and a young woman
whom he doesn’t know right off but looks familiar. He soon
learns that the young woman is his daughter, Sally, who was two-
years-old when Duj died.
The source of the light is an immense, luminescent-crystal
palace off in the distance but immediately before him are the
streets of what looks to be the commercial district of a great
city at night.
Myron and Sally help reorient Duj to his new existence. He
learns that his new body has many more “options” than his old
body, and he delights in exploring them: the ability to change
hair or skin colors, body type — even gender — metabolism, and
resist or repair damage by drawing on an unlimited supply of
power. Going to Heaven is a lot like being from Krypton and
finding yourself on Earth.
He starts by morphing his body into better shape, then
learns that his new brain has a direct access to the Tree of
Knowledge, giving him virtual-reality access to almost all the
knowledge of the universes — just a question away. He works a
bit on smoothing out the interface parameters, so that he can ask
a question and decide in what form he wants it answered:
holographically, visually, a spoken answer, or even text display.
But the new power that delights him most is his ability to
fly like a superhero, which he’s dreamt of his entire life. He
gets the grand tour of the heavenly city. Unlike the Heaven in
Heinlein’s Job, there are no angels handing out traffic tickets
to unlicensed humans.
From his bird’s eye view, Duj has a panoramic view of the
city. It’s an island, but surrounded not by ocean but by empty
space, unbroken even by stars. Duj finds he has the ability to
see distant things at different magnifications at will. He can
see the palace, glowing incandescently in the blackness
Duj lands for some closer-up sightseeing, and learns what
Heaven is. It’s essentially a multidimensional port city. It
functions much as cities do on Earth for people who live in the
suburbs: it’s where eternal souls come to meet each other, share
public entertainments, debate politics, engage in commerce.
It’s also the capital of the many universes, where God
lives, and is the home of the all-knowing universal library,
known by mystics as the Akashic Records or the Tree of Knowledge.
Hardly anybody except for some angels live there; everybody else
is off in their own universes, and only come into town to meet,
or if they need to see God, or need to do extended direct
research in the downtown branch of the Tree of Knowledge.
The city design isn’t completely different from cities as we
know them, but this city makes Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue look
like slums by comparison. The use of precious metals,
crystalline structures, and ornamental jewels as ordinary
construction materials is overwhelming. Special effects of the
sort you’d see in theme parks — only done with a three-
dimensional reality we’ve encountered in our lives only as flat
images on movie screens — are routine. Duj’s first thoughts are
that what Heaven resembles more than anything else is Disneyland
done for real.
Duj learns that it’s mostly angels on God’s payroll who live
in the heavenly city itself; most everybody else goes into their
own time-space continuum to create their own universes. Being
able to create your own universe — design and furnish it as you
please — is private property with a big bang.
But Duj does see some celebrities in Heaven. He passes a
cafe where JFK is having lunch with Jackie. Duj is surprised
because Jackie was still alive when he died; Sally explains that
time loops — like the one that has her a live two-year-old on
Earth when Duj leaves, and a grown up eternal soul when he
arrives — are routine in Heaven, so he just might as well get
used to them.
They pass a Heavenly Hyde Park with a heated debate between
Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon, and another between Martin
Luther and C.S. Lewis, and pass a panel discussion on philosophy
with Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and Emmanuel Kant, in time to see Ayn
Rand leap at Aristotle’s throat after Aristotle casually mentions
his opinion that all women are good for is slavery.
There’s also a wild discussion going on among angels, who
are charging that God’s not a Trinity, but has a crazy fourth
personality, and that God is suffering from Multiple Personality
Disorder. This, they claim, explains God’s bizarre behavior with
regard to Earth. The angels also have a bunch of complaints
regarding God having limited their security level in the Tree of
Knowledge, and there’s some wild talk about storming the Heavenly
Palace and subjecting God to a sanity hearing. In another
seemingly bizarre time paradox, the two angels who are the most
antagonistic debaters are Lucifer — who is arguing that God is
sane — and Satan, who’s actually Lucifer at a different age,
who’s the one arguing for putting God on trial. Which one of the
two is the older soul is something we don’t know.
Sick of political discourse, Duj and Sally stop off for a
movie, written by Woody Allen, directed by George Lucas, music by
Beethoven, and starring Woody himself, “Slick Willie”
Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Donna Reed, Robin
Williams, Sarah Bernhardt, and the Marx Brothers.
Duj and Sally also take a trip to visit Duj’s parents in
their own universe. Sally’s visited before. Unlike most married
couples, Duj’s parents found they had enough in common to want to
team up again, and have collaborated on building a universe
together. It’s a small and brand-new universe, but well-along
because it wasn’t created from scratch; it’s based on a lot of
build-a-universe shareware downloaded from the Tree, with only
one Earth-like planet inhabited by humans. On this particular
planet, it’s day all the time and nobody ever sleeps; all the
cultural institutions and customs are strange to us because of
that one difference. For example, there’s hardly any imagination
– no concept of lying or fiction — no sense of “home” or
privacy. Duj finds out that his parents, as gods, are a lot more
interesting now than he ever thought they were when they were
As Duj and Sally return to the Heavenly City after the
visit, they stumble into the middle of an angelic riot, led by
Satan, and triggered off by God — having heard Satan’s remarks
– deciding to drop the angels’ security access level to the Tree
even further — far below that of human beings. Satan has told
his troops to round up as many human souls as they can get their
hands on, both as shields against attacks God might make on them,
and also to try using humans to hack their way back into the Tree
again, the secrets of which they need to stand a chance of
Escaping from the rioters, Duj and Sally meet up with Myron,
and the three make plans to escape from Heaven by jumping back
into Earth’s time line at various points. Even on Earth they can
uplink to the Tree, and by leaving messages for each other in
T-mail, they can figure out a way to rendezvous and figure out
further plans later. But they’ll all have to be careful and keep
their uplinks short and untraceable; if the rebels jack into the
Tree, any of their uplinks could be instant capture.
With Satan’s angels hot on their trails, Duj, Sally, and
Myron each dive back down toward Earth. Of course, since Duj is
our narrator, we stick with his point of view.
Duj dives out of Heaven back to the moment of his death. We
replay his death scene, only this time, when the women trips over
Duj’s body and screams, Duj slips back into his body, gets up,
and tells her he was just stunned; he’s okay.
As soon as he’s gotten rid of her, he steps behind a truck,
exits his damaged body again, and lets it fall to the ground.
Then he rematerializes next to it in his new body, says, “Save,”
and zaps his old body, so it instantly disappears.
Outwardly, Duj resumes his life on Earth as if he’d never
left it. But his perspective is different, and sometimes he
lends us his heavenly perspective. He tells us about watching an
AIDS benefit on MTV, only to have it transform before his eyes
into Stars Against Death on TV. (“Over two million Americans die
every year,” says Cher. “Few of us haven’t lost someone near and
dear to us. It’s a disease that hits young and old alike, and we
all know it’s in store for us. Yet, what has the President done
to stop this awful plague?”)
Until Duj can rendezvous safely with Myron and Sally, his
main problem is simply keeping a low profile. Which isn’t all
that easy, when you’re a young god resuming your old life on
earth. The misery we take for granted seems stupid and wasteful;
yet, for Duj to fix things too visibly leaves the possibility of
his being detected. Even a short flight is out of the question;
he can make himself invisible to living people easily, but not
from hostile angels.
Also, he realizes how much unseen goings on there are on
Earth, enemy territory held by Satan’s angels. Obviously,
Satan’s angels have entered earth’s timestream far into our past,
and now treat it as occupied turf. There are entire cities of
fallen angels on Earth, visible to him but invisible to us. Duj
has to pretend that he doesn’t see them; masquerading as human,
Duj has to avoid reacting to the devilish cruelty that invisible
angels routinely impose on humans.
Duj realizes that most of human history starts to make sense
when you realize it’s a several-millennia’s old hostage crisis.
It comes time for the uplink, and Duj learns that both Myron
and Sally have been captured by the enemy. However, Myron has
left him a message: God wants to meet with him.
The rendezvous instructions are included in the message.
The City of the Angels, Souplantation Restaurant, the next
afternoon at two.
It is only by very careful blending in that Duj avoids being
detected by enemy angels when he uplinks to get this information.
Duj has trepidations about meeting with God. He was an
atheist most of his life, and even when he decided that he
believed in God before his death, he wasn’t sure what kind of God
he believed in. Reading the Old Testament, in particular, has
given him doubts. If the Bible is at all accurate, then as far
as Duj is concerned, the spirit inside the Ark of the Covenant,
talking to Moses, couldn’t have been any worse to the ancient
Jews if it were Adolf Hitler traveling back in time.
But when the meeting happens, God puts Duj at ease by
treating him as an equal, and discussing all of Duj’s doubts
rationally and calmly.
After God recruits Duj to his army, Duj is given his
mission. He needs to recruit some living humans as a commando
squad, and pull a raid on an earthbound concentration camp, where
fallen angels are keeping immortal humans and loyalist angels
prisoner. There is one prisoner in particular that Duj must get
out: Lucifer. Not Satan, but Lucifer. Lucifer and Satan are two
time segments of one being, but which one will prevail in
eternity is in doubt, the result of a time loop the two of them
are locked in. If Lucifer is freed and defeats Satan, then
Lucifer the Lightbringer will be the aftergod of the two. If
Satan wins, then Satan will be the aftergod. And which one
prevails is the crucial linch pin of this entire war — and that
job is now a young god’s who when on earth was called Duj
Pepperman. If Duj can’t get Lucifer out of Satan’s prison,
that’s it for the human race, the loyal angels including Lucifer,
and God Himself.
God explains that He, Himself, is in fact vulnerable. He
can lose. The outcome of this war isn’t a sure thing, much as
human writers would like to think so. God had to allow himself
to be vulnerable as a condition of setting the events in motion
that created the possibility of His victory in the first place.
God had to die on Earth as a man in order to make resurrection of
embodied humans possible; but when He did so, God was
incapacitated for three Celestial Days. During these three Days,
He is completely vulnerable to attack — and if the angelic guard
fails, God can be captured and imprisoned forever, just like a
There is one minor catch, from Duj’s point of view. Every
human Duj recruits for the mission must be a willing volunteer
whom Duj is convinced will be both effective and loyal. Then Duj
must kill them, and resurrect them a few days later.
This is bound to draw attention, both from the enemy angels,
and from earthbound police authorities.
Duj goes to work, looking for recruits. One of his first
recruits is a living woman he falls in love with, lead singer of
the rock band, Seminal Lunch. Her name is Caulinn Helms.
After getting to know her, Duj reveals himself to her at a hotel
in Culver City, California, asks her if she wants to join God’s
army, and when she says yes, he makes love to her tenderly then
smothers her to death with a pillow.
Duj’s next recruit is the Culver City police detective who’s
investigating the murder, “Manchu” Ellins. Duj recruits and
kills him, too.
As the TV news starts reporting on a new serial killer
operating in Los Angeles, Satan — who’s better known on Earth as
evangelist Sun Amen Chill — detects what Duj is up to, and Duj’s
only chance is to play double agent, convincing Satan that he’s
really on his side and that he’s really spying out God for Satan.
Satan might believe this, because Duj is right on the margin
between whom he believes. And God’s troops aren’t supposed to go
around murdering living people anyway — even the bad ones, much
less the good ones.
The real danger is that this silver-tongued Satan just might
convince Duj that Satan’s side is telling the truth, that God is
At just the right moment, Duj makes his way into the morgue
at the medical examiner’s, and pulls a resurrection.
The clock is now ticking. The beginning of celestial Easter
has begun — the three days God is out of action. Duj can’t
uplink to the Tree of Knowledge without revealing his whereabouts
to the enemy. And now that he’s resurrected the people he’s
killed, Satan can probably guess which side Duj is fighting for.
Even if Satan’s not sure, he’s not likely to trust Duj with
Duj gives his commandos a short course on their new powers,
then takes them onto the raid. The concentration camp where
Lucifer is being held prisoner is both well-hidden and well-
defended, but through courage, logic, and more imagination than I
have writing this at four o’clock in the morning, Duj and his
commandos make it into the prison, liberate Lucifer, and help in
the final mano y mano duel between Lucifer and Satan.
Return to Heaven. Sweet victory. All heroes reunited.
John Williams music here. Thank you all very, very much for
They all live happily forever after.
ESCAPE FROM HEAVEN
There’s an old saying that everybody wants to go to Heaven,
but nobody wants to die.
That’s how it was for me, anyway.
I drove a Volvo because I was told it was the safest car
around. And it was a smart choice. I was killed by something
I owned a gun so I wouldn’t die at the hands of a burglar.
I was right about that, too. The burglar who broke into my
bedroom ran like hell when he saw the .45 I was pointing at
him … and I was killed by someone else.
I quit smoking, lost weight, worked out three times a week,
ate a low cholesterol diet, and practiced safe sex, because I
didn’t want to die of cancer, heart disease, AIDS, or emphysema,
and it paid off: I died of something else.
You see, that’s the part they forget to mention. No matter
what nasty ways of dying you avoid, there’s always another one
waiting for you. If one thing doesn’t get you, another thing
will. Sooner or later, you die of something else.
Everybody could have saved an awful lot of thought that went
into bumper stickers and public service messages. All they would
have had to say is, “Don’t do that. Die of something else.”
It would have saved me a lot of trouble, too. I was a
coward most of my life, because I was afraid of dying.
My story begins the day I died.
WHEN DUJ JUST DIES
I used to have an infallible way of knowing when I was awake
and when I was dreaming. In dreams, I could levitate myself off
the floor at will; when I was awake, I couldn’t. This worked
even when I was asleep and dreaming. If I could levitate, I was
dreaming. There were plenty of times in dreams when I told
people that I knew I was dreaming — they didn’t exist and were
merely part of my solipsistic fantasy — because I was
levitating. And since I could only do that while dreaming, this
was just another dream.
So right after my death, when I found myself levitating a
few feet over my body, I thought at first I was alive and
But somehow I knew that wasn’t the right answer. In the
remake of Heaven Can Wait, James Mason is an angel, trying to
convince Warren Beatty, who’s walking around the clouds confused,
that he’s dead. Mason asks Beatty something like, where do you
think you are, anyway? And Beatty answers something like, I’m
asleep and dreaming. What James Mason says next is so true, I
wonder how the screenwriter knew about it without having died
himself. Mason says, in effect, that dreams are a part of life,
and if you just think for a minute, you’ll know that this is
That’s exactly how it is. Dreams are a part of life, and
when you die and leave your body, you just know that however
bizarre this experience is, it’s not a dream.
The thing I felt most when I realized I was dead was utter
joy at discovering that I still was. I existed! I hadn’t been
snuffed out. My memory was intact. I still knew who I was and
who I had been. I’d always wondered how you could have
consciousness and memory without a physical brain to put them in.
Well, my RAM was being saved to that big Hard Disk in the sky.
It looked as if I still had a chance to discover meaning for my
existence. Death wasn’t the ultimate banality. Maybe there was
a point to it all, after all.
They say that your life passes before you right when you
die. Well, for me it wasn’t literal, like watching my life in a
movie or anything, but when it happened something told me that
you sometimes have a choice about whether or not you can stay or
go. Obviously, if your body is damaged beyond repair, you’re
going and that’s that. But I had a sense that I was being given
a choice. If I really wanted to stay, I could climb back into my
body and hang on.
So I thought about my life.
I’d always thought of myself as an underachiever. I was
never able to do schoolwork that didn’t interest me. I got A’s
in subjects I cared about and F’s in ones I didn’t. I was the
kid in the back row who was reading comic books and science-
fiction novels behind the textbook I wasn’t interested in.
I quit college to become a writer, and became one for a
while. Some of my stuff was damned good if I say so myself, but
it was never a real living. The occasional sale I got in
Hollywood was option money on projects that never got into
development; my books never earned out an advance. This didn’t
encourage agents or publishers to want the next one. I was broke
a lot of the time.
I tried starting a lot of businesses, and never made a dime
out of any of them. All were harebrained schemes, disastrously
executed. Finally, I stumbled into a job as a talk radio host,
and that’s what I’d been doing for the last eight years.
I married late, had one wonderful child, and divorced early.
My ex-wife had remarried and moved cross country; I had to wedge
my time with my daughter into phone calls and occasional
weekends. I was lonely a lot of the time, and tried to handle it
When I considered the thought that my life was over, I felt
unfinished. What was the point of my life on Earth anyway? To
reproduce? Okay, I’d done that. But that merely pushes the
necessity of finding a meaning for life onto someone else. What
was the meaning of my life? What was its purpose? Why had I
lived and what was I supposed to do with my life now that I was
Right about the time that some lady came along, tripped over
my body, and screamed, I saw the night sky blaze into a brilliant
light, and I had an overwhelming sense of being drawn into the
I was being given a choice. I thought that above all I had
always felt out of place during my life, as if I was in a foreign
country, and now I was being given a chance to go home. I also
thought that the mystery that had always puzzled me — the
question of why we live in the first place — might be answered
for me in a few minutes.
Life is a suspense story, and what makes it suspenseful is
not knowing how it comes out. The biggest mystery — the one
that has you lying in bed awake at night — is whether or not you
die when your body dies.
All you know when you’re on Earth is life within your body.
You can’t imagine living without it. For all your life you’re in
the dark about what you are. You read that you’re a biochemical
reaction trapped in a piece of meat, and when you die, the
reaction fizzles and the meat rots. And, so, most of the scary
images of death have to do with dead bodies in various states of
disintegration: skulls, bones, meat lockers, graves, and the
paraphernalia of the undertaker.
If that isn’t enough, horror stories try to make it worse
with three awful ideas: first that this rotting meat is all
that’s left of you when you die; second and worse: that after you
die you’re a disembodied ghost trapped in post-life impotence; or
third and worst: that you’re still conscious inside the rotting
meat, and can experience the slow rotting. All the Halloween
death images, ghosts, and goblins, are a conspiracy by people who
don’t believe in an afterlife anyway to scare the shit out of us.
It works. In that fear is a con game — and you’re the
mark. If we knew down deep — really knew, without fear of doubt
– that we were going to continue living once we separate from
the meat — and not as ghosts, either — our fear couldn’t be
used to stampede us.
I’d made my decision. I didn’t even bother looking back to
see what was happening to my body. As far as I was concerned, I
cared about it about as much as clothes you leave for the
Salvation Army truck.
I floated up toward the light. You hear about the light,
and how it overwhelms you with a sense of joy. Let me tell you,
it’s better than anything. In specific terms, it’ll be different
for you. But for me, flying into the light was like making it
with Sophia Loren in zero-gravity while eating a pralines-and-
cream sundae and listening to Brahms’ Third Symphony and cracking
up at Sam Kinnison and getting that final piece in the puzzle and
crossing the finish line. All satisfaction circuits on full,
There is a dreamy quality in flying toward the light. Then
you get to it, and your eyes — or whatever sight organs have
replaced them — adjust, and things come into focus, becoming
Religions make a lot of promises about what you win if you
make it to Heaven. You’re supposed to be reunited with your
loved ones. You meet God. Some suggest that you yourself become
a god. Some promise you rest, or peace. Some promise you a
bigger playground to play in, and all the time you want to do it.
Yeah, that’s what’s on the contract.
RETURNING TO A HEAVEN UNDER ATTACK
I was startled by a voice that sounded as if it was right
next to my ear: //Duj, can you hear me? It’s Myron.\\
“Myron?” I said aloud, looking around frantically. I didn’t
see anyone. “Where are you?”
//Shhh!\\ I heard Myron say. //If you talk aloud the angels
will hear you! And believe me, you don’t want that. Just think
clearly and I’ll hear you — we’ve got a private channel.\\
I thought hard, //Can you hear me now?\\
//Perfect. Listen, I can’t come to you so you’re going to
have to come to me.\\
//How?\\ I asked.
//I’ll make a tunnel right in front of you. Fly into it and
follow it to the end. Hurry! They’ve spotted you!\\
I saw a glowing hole in the blackness iris open a few yards
in front of me almost at the same time I heard the shouts getting
closer. I dove into the hole just in time; it irised closed
behind me, just as I saw a glowing hand reach for my foot.
The glow was up ahead of me now. //Myron, you still
//Just fly forward. I’ll be at the end.\\
The tunnel wasn’t straight; it twisted around like a snake.
But I managed to navigate through until I saw the proverbial
light at the end of the tunnel. A few seconds later, I emerged
into what looked to be a palatial hall, with a couch, a coffee
table, and some upholstered chairs sitting in the center. Myron,
dressed in jeans and a dark blue sweater, was standing next to
the coffee table.
I floated over near to him and landed.
Myron put out his hand and we shook. “Duj, glad you could
make it. You can talk again, now — we’re safe here.”
I looked around the room for the first time. It was sort of
a mixture of Buckingham Palace and Superman’s Fortress of
Solitude. “Nice place. Yours?”
“Yep. Be it ever so humble. Listen, take a load off. We
have a lot to talk about.”
“That’s the understatement of … of eternity,” I said. We
sat down. “Myron, where are we? What’s going on? What the
hell’s going on out there?”
“Short answers?” Myron said. “We’re in my personal
apartments inside the walls of the Heavenly Palace. Outside the
walls are what’s left of Heaven, a city in the middle of what you
in the broadcasting business like to call ‘civil unrest.’ And
that was a gang of angels who were sent to capture you.”
“Why would they want to capture me?”
“Because they knew that if they didn’t stop you first, you’d
end up here.”
“And why should they care about that?”
“Because God needs you to defeat them.”
DUJ CONTEMPLATES HIS UPCOMING MEETING WITH GOD
You know, it’s hard to read the Bible and not get really
pissed off at God.
Take the Book of Genesis. Adam and Eve, practically born
yesterday — and with no knowledge of good or evil — disobey
their father as any child might, talked into it by a playmate.
God curses them for it. They’re run out of Eden because they
might eat off the Tree of Life and become immortals, and are
sentenced to a life at hard labor, followed by death.
Their son, Cain — a farmer — brings God some of his crops
as an offering. Well, he’s a farmer — what would you expect to
get as an offering? God rejects it in favor of some barbecued
lamb from Cain’s brother Abel, a sheepherder. Then God lectures
Cain on how he has no reason to be sullen for being rejected.
Cain kills his brother in anger at God’s unfair rejection; and
God curses Cain.
There’s no mention of God raising Abel from the dead,
either. I guess God didn’t learn that technique till later. Or
maybe He didn’t think all that much of Abel to begin with.
Even with these curses from God, the budding human race
prevails. The angels think our women are beautiful and marry
them. God disapproves. Does He impose sanctions on the angels?
Nope. He cuts our lifespan from eight or nine hundred years, to
a maximum of one-hundred-twenty — to make us less attractive to
But God isn’t finished with us. Except for one human
family, He floods the Earth and drowns the human race; then tries
to make up for it with a promise that He won’t do it again.
We’re just getting on our feet again, and figuring out how
to build a city with a tower — and God figures that if we’re
building skyscrapers in our racial infancy, nothing will be
beyond us when we grow up. So does He praise us for our
initiative? Maybe even lend us a helping hand? No, He does
not. He curses us so we can’t all speak the same language
anymore, to set us at war with each other so we can’t try it
He suckers Abraham into thinking that he has to kill his
beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice to God — then sends a messenger
to stop him at the last instant, with the lame excuse that He was
just trying his faith.
Then there’s Job, a good man who worships the very dust God
kicks in his face. God turns him over to the devil on a bet, and
lets the devil kill his children, take all his wealth, and plague
him with illness. And when Job is tormented by his friends for
not admitting that his cruel fate is the result of his own sins,
and Job cries out to God for any relief at all — even immediate
death — God gives Job a lecture about how much smarter he is
than Job and how dare Job put his judgment up against God’s on
You can almost see God’s guilt on that one: he does what any
child-beater does the next morning — goes on a shopping spree
and tries to make it up. The maximum human life span is supposed
to be one-hundred-twenty years? God breaks his own limit and
gives Job, already an old man, another one-hundred forty, and
restores his property double. God even gives him replacement
But you’re left wondering whether Job ever cries at night
over the loss of his first kids.
Reading through the first five books of the Bible in one
sitting is enough to convince any objective person that this God
whom Moses is working for is a manic-depressive nut case. God
frees the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians only to prove
Himself a slavedriver so awful that afterwards the Israelites,
almost to a man, wish God had left them in Egypt. And the
feeling is mutual: there is so little love and respect between
God and the Israelites that God tells Moses that He should just
kill everyone He’s liberated, except for Moses, and make Moses’s
offspring his chosen people. For some perverse reason, Moses
talks God out of it, and the two of them subject the Israelites
to police-state regulations that even Orwell couldn’t have
invented. Talking wrong or thinking wrong is punished by death
– burning to death if God is particularly miffed. Women’s
periods are lumped in with leprosy as “unclean.” The rules for
sacrifices, punishments, diet, and sex make the IRS code seem
lucid and benevolent by comparison. And God’s rules about how
anyone who isn’t physically perfect is to be kept out of his
sight — any disability, even a scar or a broken leg — is enough
to have the ACLU set up permanent picket lines.
We jump forward to the New Testament, when God incarnates
himself as a Man. It seems God has decided He doesn’t want us to
be deaders after all, after taunting us for the first few
thousand years about how we’re going to return to dust. He’s
going to give us immortality after all. Okay, human beings get
convinced that this Man really is God — and we strike. We’ve
had enough of this drunken, pompous, bullying child-torturer of
an abusive father — this cosmic Adolf Hitler on a coke binge.
His battered children nail Him on the cross as fast as we can.
Speaking for the battered children of God — could you blame
us? With a God like this, who needs a Devil?
This was the God I was being summoned by. I knew why the
churches always talked about fear of God. This God was supposed
to be all-powerful, and whenever He started talking about how
much He loves us, it’s always looked like a good time to duck and
Our race had good reason to be scared shitless. So did I.
Of course there was another possibility: that all these
stories about God were a crock. If the Bible was a pack of lies,
then God might have got a bum rap.
But I was going to have to ask. And if God didn’t give me
answers to convince me that he was not only powerful and smart,
but more importantly loving, kind, sane, and just, then I wasn’t
going to enlist.
On behalf of the human race, it was nice to be in the
driver’s seat, for once.
DUJ’S INTERVIEW WITH GOD
“You have some questions,” God said. “Ask them.”
“When was the last time you spoke to anyone on Earth?
Directly, I mean; not through dreams or revelations.”
“As myself? A couple hundred years after I died on the
Cross, more or less.”
“That was the last time you visited Earth?”
“Oh, no. I’m there right now. In disguise, of course. Got
to keep my eye on things.”
“Why have you been so secretive?”
“You get nailed up on a Cross, you wouldn’t be so anxious to
let people know who you were, either.”
“That seems a particularly selfish answer, for a God who
claims to be a loving father.”
“From the way you were thinking about it before you came in
here, I would think I”d be doing you a favor by staying away
“Well, was what I was thinking true? Did you do all those
things the Bible says you did?”
“Let me ask you a question,” God said. “The Book of Job” –
He pronounced it “Eyob” — “it recounts a conversation I
supposedly had with my adversary — the leader of the loyal
opposition. ‘Satan,’ in the King James translation. So tell me.
How is it that a conversation up here in Heaven gets reported on
“You tell me,” I said.
“It doesn’t. Never happened. Hogwash from a political
“Adam and Eve?”
“These first ancestors of yours — bad-ass kids. You still
have the type in your century — phone phreaks, computer jackers,
credit-card scam artists. Young Lex Luthors. Hacked their way
into the Tree of Knowledge on a bet. Once they were augmented by
the Tree, there could have been no stopping them. You’ve heard
that knowledge is power? The Tree has a record of everything.
How to genetically engineer a virus. How to make a sun go
supernova. How to create a self-destroying time loop. I was
easy on them, just kicking them out of Eden — taking away their
powers. I thought about killing them on the spot. Sometimes I
still think I should have. If I had, though, you and I wouldn’t
be having this conversation.”
A chill went up my spine. It’s one thing to contemplate
never having been born. It’s another to contemplate your race’s
having been stillborn.
“Cain and Abel?”
I wasn’t even around when this punk kid murders his brother.
This business about my getting turned on by burnt offerings –
barbecue smoke. Does that make any sense to you?”
“Never happened. Next.”
“Abraham and Isaac?”
“Old man had Alzheimer’s disease, starts thinking that I
want him to sacrifice his son to me. Would’ve done it if I
hadn’t sent an angel to stop him.”
“Noah and the flood.”
“That story couldn’t have been written any other way,
because only the survivors lived to tell the tale. I told
everybody on Earth about the upcoming flood. Earth’s axis was
going to have to be realigned — polar ice caps were going to
melt. It was either that or lose the entire planetary ecology,
anyway. Take my word — or consult the Tree to bone up on
cosmological economics. Anybody who believed me built ships,
took animals and family aboard. Those who didn’t drowned.
Hardly anybody believed me, except a few families. And for the
record, there were eight arks, not one. Noah’s the only captain
who kept a ship’s log.”
“You could have saved everyone, if you wanted to.”
“I didn’t want to. I played fair. Gave a warning to those
who’d listen. Evil and stupid go hand in hand. I can’t see
anything wrong with letting evildoers get blown up on their own
petards. Be happy you aren’t descended from the ones who died.
You can’t imagine what bastards they were.”
“Their babies, too?”
“Those kids never had a fair chance. Their parents would
have made them go bad, and after the flood, there was barely
enough to go around for the ones who lived. We’re talking post-
disaster times. Evolution has its own built-in logic. You show
sympathy when you have to let weeding happen, all you do is make
more misery later.”
“You do sound like Hitler.”
“Difference between me and Hitler is that he was a moronic
lunatic with no knowledge of science, and I’m God. When I weed,
I don’t do it on the basis of national borders, or ethnic
alliances, or religious beliefs. I don’t even do it on the basis
of sexual preference, much as your religious right would like to
pin AIDS on me. When I kill a bloodline, it’s to improve the
overall breed. The job has to be done and I’m the only one with
enough knowledge to do it. If I hadn’t, your race would have
murdered itself a hundred times over already, or died weakened by
another thousand ills.”
“I apologize,” I said. “My comparison was uncalled for.”
“No apology needed. You do a thorough interview. Next
“Cutting our lifespan because of the angels marrying our
“That’s exactly backwards. Only reason your race continued
living that long was because of angelic cross-breeding. Once I
forbid them from raping your women, your race reverted to its
“Why weren’t we offered immortality until your incarnation?”
“You were supposed to have it from the start — and would
have if Adam and Eve hadn’t pulled their little stunt. Remember,
the Tree of Life was already planted in Eden. Think it was there
for fun? Took me a few millennia to reengineer around the
problems Adam and Eve caused by trying to steal what they weren’t
ready for. Evolutionary ecology is a tricky business.”
“Tower of Babel? The curse of languages?”
“Come on, get real. You people invent jargon and dialects
to set yourselves apart. Amazing you understand each other at
“No curse except being cut off from the Tree of Knowledge.
A Berlitz course comes free with every uplink.”
“The sexism in Leviticus?”
“Male chauvinist priesthood. Not my doing.”
“How about the endless laws, rules, and regulations?
Reading Leviticus and Numbers on the regulations for sacrificing
animals, ritual purification, dietary laws — it’s like reading
Orwell and Kafka at their darkest. The least infraction is
punished by death — sometimes burning to death. Death penalties
for blasphemy, cursing, homosexuality. The list is endless. The
ancient Israelites sound like the worst police state I can
imagine, all centered around a homicidal religious cult.”
“That’s a fairly accurate description. I could point out,
however, that most everyone else around them was even worse.”
“And you approved of all this?”
“I did not. It was all done in my name, which makes me come
across as an Oriental Potentate to any sane person who reads
these accounts. But this is not accurate history of what went
on, much less of what I said or did. It’s part tribal myth, part
rules set up by a fanatic priesthood to gain control of people’s
minds. Look, try to analyze this logically. Do you think I’m
going to hang around in a box inside a tribal tent? And that if
an animal isn’t slaughtered in precisely the correct way, I’m
going to throw a tantrum? Or that I’m so addicted to the smell
of burning flesh that I have to have an army of priests just to
keep whomping up batches of the stuff? Please.”
“Then why didn’t you make corrections to the Bible?
Separate out the lies from the truth?”
“Why should I? It’s human literature. Some myth, some bits
of real history, some poetry, some genealogy, some how-to stuff,
and a lot of political speechmaking. Anybody who wants to know
what really happened can read the truth for themselves, once
they’re here, by doing an historical search in the Tree of
“Then the Bible wasn’t supposed to give us the Word? Teach
“Listen, nothing can teach you morality. I know from
experience, having tried and failed numerous times.”
“Well then how do you expect us to act rightly?” I asked.
“Trial and error, just like I did.”
“You want to be gods? You’re gods. I made you to be gods.
And the first thing a god needs to figure out is what to do with
immortality. Immortality cuts out all the imperatives caused by
striving for survival. You jump right off the end of the Maslow
scale. So what’s left?”
“You tell me.”
“No, I tell Me. You tell yourself. As an immortal being, I
am faced with a choice more fundamental than Hamlet’s. Not ‘to
be or not to be’ but ‘to do or not to do.’ Why do anything? I
can lay back and watch for eternity, if I felt like it.”
“Then why do you do anything?”
“Because no matter how good any vacation is, sooner or later
any intelligent person gets bored. And if nothing is forcing you
to do anything, then you learn to come up with reasons of your
own to justify doing things. There’s the beginning of all
imperatives — the beginning of morality. The purpose of life –
immortal or otherwise — is to avoid going insane, turning
towards yourself and away from reality. Solipsism is the final
boredom. Everybody should try it at least once, just to get past
it. After a good dose of a universe with nobody but yourself as
a thinking companion, you’ll find out what loneliness is.”
“That’s why you create intelligent beings?”
“That’s why. I started out solo. It worked for a while.
Then I got to a point when I wasn’t sure what was real and what
was hallucination. That’s a trap you can’t imagine, if you’ve
never been the only god in a universe.
“I thought you were a trinity. Didn’t that give you someone
to talk to?”
“Whether you want to think of my three parts as one person
or three, it’s still an internal dialogue. Given a set of facts,
we’d reach one conclusion — no disagreements, no reality check.
No different than you talking to yourself. I created other
intelligent beings so I could have someone to talk with who
didn’t always agree with me.”
“You seem to have more disagreements than you care for right
“So I do. I want others who can think for themselves. I
don’t want people who decide that they dislike me so much that
they want to lock me up forever. I’m still the Eternal. I was
here first and I’ll be here last. I don’t have to put up with
that and I won’t.”
I thought for a long moment.
“Why should I fight for you?” I asked. “I don’t mean what
would you pay me — I’m sure it would be more than I can imagine.
I don’t mean gratitude for your having created me because I can’t
evaluate the worth of my own life to me or to you until I know
what it’s being used for.”
“You don’t have the perspective needed to value your own
“Then you’re going to have to lend me your perspective, so I
can understand. I have to know before I can make a right choice.
If you’ll forgive me for saying so, this is too important for me
to take it on faith.”
“You would have to be Me to understand a full answer of
what’s at stake.”
“I don’t need a full answer. Just an adequate one.”
“All right. Would it be an adequate answer if I convinced
you that I, personally, am worth fighting for? That I’m perfect
and have the perfection of all other conscious beings as my goal?
That I have your race’s best interests at the center of my
“That would do it,” I said.
“All right. Tell me if any of this is over your head. The
question you have to ask yourself is how you can know that I am
perfect. Well, there’s no such thing as a static perfection, but
there is such thing as a process of perfection that can continue
infinitely. For a conscious being, unlimited by disintegration,
continued existence is an ever-increasing perfection of one’s
self and of one’s surroundings. Every action you take is a risk
and a test. The more you risk, the more you learn. If you
believe anything of what I’ve said to you, then you can’t avoid
the logical conclusion that I’m the most perfect of all beings
that exist merely by fact that I’m the only being with no
beginning. You and others may join me in never ending; you can
never join me in not having a beginning. By the nature of what I
am, I have been tested infinitely more and perfected infinitely
more. To all other conscious beings, I am an indispensable
“You admit making mistakes?”
“If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know so much. Because I’ve made
more mistakes than anyone else, I know what works and doesn’t
work more than anyone else. My mistakes perfect me.”
“And you share all of this knowledge without limits?”
“There are logical limits. I share all that I may without
doing more harm than good.”
“But you decide.”
“No one else can.”
“You’ve got yourself a boy,” I said, extending my hand to
“I knew that already,” said God, shaking it.
DUJ GOES ON A DATE
I made plans to meet Caulinn that night for dinner.
Frankly, I was more than a little nervous. Not only was this my
first date since my divorce, it was also my first date since I’d
died. If things went the way I intended them to, I was going to
be doing something with my new body that I’d only done with my
old body … and I didn’t have the luxury of uplinking to the
Tree to find out if there was anything I’d better be careful
about. I recalled a science fiction story called “Man of Steel,
Woman of Kleenex” — which speculated fancifully on coupling
problems between Kryptonese men and Earth women — and hoped Mr.
Niven didn’t know something about supermen that I didn’t.
Well, there was only one way to find out for sure. I hopped
into my Volvo, took a short drive over to a magazine store on
Motor Avenue, and picked up a copy of a small digest magazine
called Kinky Letters. Then I returned to my apartment, drew the
drapes, and read through what purported to be genuine accounts of
the correspondents’ carnal experiences, letting nature — or
should I say supernature — take its course.
It turns out that because I’d never got around to changing
the defaults for sexual performance on my new body, I found no
major differences between the experience of arousal and
completion from that which I’d known in my old body.
Okay, yes, it felt better. Much better. And there was none
of the lassitude that followed such an experience when I was
human; I felt a priapic energy that would have allowed me to
continue at will. It’s good to be a god.
But my point is, the Kleenex was more or less intact at the
end of the experiment.
Caulinn Helms was drop-dead gorgeous when I picked her up at
her hotel that evening, and yes, that was the first thing I told
her and she never tires of hearing it. There was nothing about
her of the blatant sexual symbolism she used on stage, to create
an impact reaching to the upper bleachers of a stadium: no
exaggerated make-up, bustier, micromini, leather, chains, or
spike heels. She merely wore a basic black cocktail dress that
emphasized by its design that she was soft and curvy where men
like women to be, and lean and muscular where men like women to
be. She was also wearing a seductive perfume with a name like
Heroin or Crack, or some other illicit drug.
Also, I’ve never understood what it is about long blond hair
flowing silkily over pale, naked shoulders and black fabric that
looks so sensational, and I don’t think I’ll ask the Tree to
analyze it for me, either. You don’t have to tell me that other
color combinations of skin, hair, and fabric produce spectacular
results, because I don’t want to know how it works until I start
designing my own species and have to know. There are some
mysteries too enjoyable to end by explaining them away, if you
don’t have to.
Souplantation might have been a good enough place to meet
God for dinner, but from the way she was dressed, it wasn’t going
to be good enough for Caulinn. Given the casual sportswear I was
sporting, I was glad that even the fanciest Los Angeles
restaurants didn’t have much more of a dress code than, “No
shoes, no shirt, no service.” Nor did I think I’d impress
Caulinn by pulling out my Entertainment Membership Card to get a
“significant discount at the restaurants located in the Fine
Dining Section of your book.” This was definitely going to be a
night for the old American Express card.
Maybe you wonder why, as a god, I just didn’t wave a magic
wand and materialize a few hundred gold Krugerrands, cashing them
in as necessary. The first reason is that I didn’t know how to
do that without uplinking to the Tree, and I couldn’t uplink
without blowing my cover. The second was that even if I had a
way to uplink, it might have tipped off the ever-watchful enemy
that there was something different about Duj Pepperman, and maybe
they’d better keep an eye on him.
“I didn’t want to make reservations until I knew what you
were in the mood for,” I told Caulinn. “Sushi, Sicilian, or
“Sicilian seafood,” she said.
I headed over to the lobby pay phones and made a reservation
for a private room at the Mobster Grotto on Sunset.
The earliest I could get was 9:15, a couple of hours hence,
so I suggested to Caulinn that we drive up to Griffith Park
Observatory. She’d never been there before so she wasn’t hard to
I’ve always enjoyed playing tour guide. “The observatory
has always been one of my favorite places,” I told Caulinn.
“It’s always looked to me like a temple devoted to the worship of
science. Its placement high above Los Angeles offers spectacular
views of the light-dotted cityscape on nights like this when the
absence of smog allows it. Also, it has that magical quality of
dramatic deja vu you get from frequent movie locations around
L.A. The observatory was used as Jor-El’s laboratory in the
first episode of the Superman TV series, and in the scenes of
James Dean mooing and knife-fighting in Rebel Without a Cause.”
“Shut up, you wonk, and kiss me,” Caulinn said, exasperated.
I’ve often suspected that women are less romantic than men.
SATAN HAS A DIFFERENT OPINION
The red Corvette pulled up to the curb. Satan was behind
the wheel. He was wearing the white tuxedo he wore on TV that
night as Sun Amen Chill. He motioned me into the passenger seat,
then took off like a shot.
Satan didn’t waste any time. “He sounded perfectly
Satan shook his head. “He has His good days and His bad
days. You caught Him on one of His good days.”
I fastened my seat belt, out of habit, I supposed. Satan
The Sepulveda entrance to the 405 was up ahead. Satan
turned into it, taking the diamond lane.
“Everything He said made perfect sense to me.”
“Look, He’s still God, even if He is crazy at times. What
did he tell you, point by point?”
“The story about his bet with you about Eyob. He said it
“It happened. If anyone knows, I know.”
“He said things that get talked about in Heaven aren’t
reported on Earth.”
“Maybe He’d like to think so. My challenge to Him was in
public — an open criticism session. You can’t keep stuff like
that a secret. Angels go down to Earth, they talk to people. It
“Well, if you knew He was crazy, why did you bring up the
“To show everyone what He was, how He really felt about his
“That’s pretty mean-spirited of you.”
“That’s why I got the job as his Adversary. I never allow
sentimentality to interfere with what needs to be done.”
“Let’s look at another case. Adam and Eve.”
“You ever take the keys to your old man’s car without his
permission? Or go into his stuff when he wasn’t home?”
“I can see why He likes you. Well, you have a daughter.
Let’s say when she’s a teenager she did that. You going to curse
her for life?”
“From what I hear about the Tree of Knowledge, it’s more
like going into dad’s gun case and taking his elephant rifle out
for a joyride. Not exactly a teenage prank.”
“Depends on what the youngsters did with it. Did they take
the Weatherby out to the desert for a test, or to the city zoo
for a slaughter? Sure, they disobeyed his rules and had to be
punished. But you need a little perspective here. God had lost
His. Adam and Eve weren’t bad kids. Just inexperienced. They
showed poor judgment. God gave you his standard speech about how
He’s been perfected through eons of trial and error? Well, how
were Adam and Eve supposed to learn if the first time they made a
mistake, He expelled them from school? What else did He say?”
“The sacrifices, the rules for the Israelites. He said it
was all the priests doing. He dismissed the idea that he would
hang around in a box in a desert tent as crazy.”
“Yes. Crazy. Exactly. During His sane periods even He can
see that. Just look at the design specs for the Ark of the
Covenant, if you need proof it was built for Him. It’s a Faraday
cage to prevent His electrical charge from leaking out and frying
everybody. Even so, a couple of Moses’s brothers bought it that
way, going in unexpectedly. Look, God’s a trinity, right?”
“Wrong. There are four personalities, not three. He,
Himself, only knows about Three — a painstaking craftsman, a
creative genius, and a loving spirit. The fourth is a homicidal
maniac, jockeying to be dominant. Number four is also a creative
genius, but is an unstable manic-depressive artist.”
I got really scared. Satan was making sense, and I was
biased in favor of my race in the first place. On some level it
was easier to believe that a crazy God was behind our ills than
that we were doing it to ourselves. It’s always nice to shove
the blame off on someone else.
“Look,” I said. “I have no doubt that you could sell
refrigerators to Eskimos — you have that reputation. But I need
“You asked Him for proof. What proof did He gave you?”
I thought back on the conversation. “A metaphysical proof.
Logically, since He has no beginning, He has to be the most
perfected being in existence.”
“That would be true if God didn’t go crazy occasionally.
Did he talk about solipsism at all? How He created other beings
to avoid going crazy?”
“Yes. He made a point of it.”
“Well, He did that in one of His lucid periods. He’s smart.
I keep on telling you, crazy or not, He’s still God. It worked.
He created other beings to give Himself a reality check. Well,
here we are. The diagnosis is in.”
GOD MEETS DUJ AT A 7-11
God was waiting for me, per previous arrangement, inside the
7-11 at the corner of Washington and Lincoln in Marina del Rey.
He was black and wearing a Seminal Lunch T-shirt with a Dodgers
cap on backwards, Nikes, and wrap-around shades.
God didn’t bother with any preliminaries; He knew what was
on my mind. “They don’t call Satan the Prince of Lies for
nothing,” he said, pouring Himself a cherry Slurpee.
I shoved a red-hot bean burrito into the microwave and set
it for two minutes. “You say you know about this charge that you
have a fourth personality?”
“It’s an old heresy — that both good and evil are within
me. Well, for a God who has to act as a hunter occasionally –
thin out the herd to improve it — it’s an easy charge to
“You deny it.”
He took a draw off His Slurpee. “Of course I deny it.”
“Satan said the design specs of the Ark of the Covenant were
proof of what he was saying. That it’s a Faraday Cage to contain
your electrical charge.”
“The Arc of the Covenant was a giant capacitor — a storage
battery. The Israelite priests used it for special effects
during their ceremonies … and an occasional electrocution to
send a message to troublemakers.”
I shook my head. “How am I supposed to figure out what’s
true and what’s not? I’m just a man.”
“Not any more, you aren’t. You’re a god. Consult the
“Satan said you control the Tree, that you can rewrite it at
will. That I can’t trust it.”
“Then there’s the proof you need that he’s lying. If the
Tree isn’t to be trusted because I’ve adulterated it — if its
information is unreliable — then Satan wouldn’t be working so
hard to get back into it.”
I laughed. “You know, I was sure that when it came right
down to it, you were going to tell me that I was going to have to
take your word on faith.”
The microwave beeped. God took my burrito out, peeled it
open, and handed it to me. “I don’t demand faith, but you’re
going to find that you can’t get along without it. I’ll tell you
when you’re going to need faith. There’s going to come a moment
when you’re in the middle of a battle, and you’re going to have
second thoughts about everything we’ve talked about. Satan’s
going to be at your elbow with a plausible reason to discount
everything you think is true. And you won’t have me there to
counter his lies, because I’m going to be out of action –
vulnerable. That’s when you’ll have to grit your teeth and go
on, out of sheer faith.”
God plunked some cash down on the counter for His Slurpee
and my burrito. “My treat,” He said.
WHAT DUJ HAS LEARNED BY THE END OF THE STORY
All things end. I remember when I learned this lesson. I
was thirty-five years old, and it was one of three times — I
know now — that God spoke to me when I was alive. It required a
certain warping of consciousness for me to come to this
realization, that all things end. I understand some people can
get new understandings from drugs — hallucinogenic drugs in
particular. But I was always too afraid of drugs to alter my
consciousness deliberately. I craved control too strongly. So
for me, the warped consciousness came upon me unexpectedly.
I had been a moderate coffee drinker, even though coffee
acid gave me severe indigestion. The caffeine high was a
necessary part of my writing at that time; I needed the rush to
write. Then I got a mild chest cold and suddenly the indigestion
was creating gas that was constricting my breathing, at the same
time the coffee was quickening my pulse and making me breathe
faster. The result was a threshold hyperventilation that kept
going over the edge — and the more I hyperventilated
uncontrollably, the more I became scared and hyperventilated even
In an instant, it stripped me of a lifetime of carefully
built-up defense mechanisms. I was completely vulnerable –
completely emotionally defenseless — to everything around me.
First of all, I thought I was going to die that night. That
scared me senseless to begin with.
I tried watching TV. The thirty-second drama of a
commercial was too much for me to take, in my emotionally labile
Finally, as I lay in bed, thinking I was dying, God came to
me and laughed at me.
“Why are you laughing at me?” I asked.
“Because you’re afraid of death.”
“Why is that so funny?”
“That you should be afraid of death.”
It sounded like a compliment, but it was a compliment that I
couldn’t understand. Was I so brave that the idea of my being
afraid of death was funny to God? I just didn’t understand. Not
until later anyway. God knew how I would think about it later
before I did.
Then God asked me if I wanted to die. I felt God’s hand on
my heart, squeezing. I knew He could take me, that it was His
choice, not mine.
I said “No, I want to live.”
God said. “If you live, it will be without any promises.
You have no claims on life. You will take what comes to you.”
“I understand,” I said. “Let me live.”
“You understand. If you live long enough, you will see
everything you love end.”
“Yes, I understand.”
And I did. But this understanding made me old that day.
Today I know that even for an immortal, all things end.
Even if you go on forever, you die every moment and are reborn as
something else. Every thought you have — every act you take –
makes you into something different — and that which you were is
left behind, dead.
The child who grows into an adult has died: that adult takes
over the body and continues.
When we leave our bodies, we die as human beings. The human
is dead while a new god is born.
The friend or loved one we see tomorrow has continuity only
with our friend or loved one of yesterday: they are different,
even if only incrementally different. If we are lucky, we find
that which we love still alive in the new; but the old is surely
dead by virtue of having been changed out of existence.
I realized that all my life I had both worshiped change and
feared it. It was this dilemma — this paradox — that made
romanticism wistful. Romanticism in intellect is the thought
that we are growing and becoming better. Romanticism in emotion
is nostalgia for every loved moment we leave behind.
In the name of all of us, we know it hurts.
But from such pain and paradoxes, we grow wise.
Such is the meaning, and the price, of eternal life and its
Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter VI: Mind Meld
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.
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