“Pearly Gates” by Andy Hares

I’ve never been much of a churchgoer, but I once beat up an atheist which I figure pretty much squares me with God.

I imagine myself standing in front of the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter is frowning down at a scroll listing the details of my life. Me being me, he is not happy with what he sees. Then he looks up from the scroll.

“Wait,” he says. “You’re the one who gave that atheist so and so Harold Blankenship a good shellacking?”

“Yes,” I say guiltily. “That was me. But he swung at me first.”

“I can’t stand that guy!” he snickers pushing open the gate. “You’re in.”

Full disclosure: His real name was not Harold Blankenship. It was Steve Something or Other. He was a friend of a friend.

Fuller disclosure: I didn’t beat him up because he was an atheist. We fought because we were in our early twenties, we were drunk, we were stupid and we wanted to fight. Besides, he was a jerk and he pushed me.

It was only after the fight that I found out he was an atheist. My friend Tommy said, “He called me stupid because I told him I believed in God.”

I told Tommy not to worry. He was stupid whether he believed in God or not.

I have no idea why Tommy argued religion with the guy. I never argue religion with anyone. Seems kind of pointless considering no one has any proof and no one ever changes anyone else’s mind.

My mother loves to discuss religion with other folks. She joins chat rooms on the internet and debates religion with the fundamentalists and other believers. She tells me everyone is polite to each other even though they disagree on all sorts of things. I asked her if anybody ever changes anybody else’s mind?

“Never,” she tells me.

Now and then an atheist logs on to the chat room. Most are looking for friendly debate, just like everyone else. Mom and her friends are fine with them. What they aren’t fine with is the occasional jerk who wants to feel intellectually superior to a bunch of yokels who believe in God by calling them names and making fun of their beliefs.

My fighting days are long past, but I would love to come out of retirement long enough to thump him until he sings “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” I think my mom would like to thump him, too. Of course, I am kidding. Sure, she might smack him around a bit, but I don’t think she would deliver a whole-scale thumping. She is a Christian after all.

My dad wasn’t anything like my mom when it came to religion. Weddings and funerals were the only time I ever saw him in church. Like everyone else, he had his opinions on religion, but he never discussed them with anyone. He never whooped an atheist, either, but he did once lay a smackdown on a Moonie.

Younger folks probably don’t know what a Moonie is, but there used to be a bunch of bald headed, robe wearing, finger bell clanging folks who believed their leader, a Korean guy named Myung Moon (hence ‘Moonies’), was the second coming of Christ. (No kidding). Their ‘second coming’ wound up doing a stint for tax evasion, but that is another story.

Moonies gathered in malls and airports where they sang and chanted relentlessly for hours on end about “Krishna,” which was their name for God, I think. When they weren’t singing or chanting (which was never), they accosted every passerby for money. Mainly, they tried to sell you flowers.

My dad and I passed a group of them in a mall. One ran up to Dad to beg for money. He latched on to Dad’s arm. Dad shook him off and told him to not to touch him again. The Moonie ignored him. He took to pulling on Dad’s arm grinning a big, stupid grin.

Dad pushed him away. He put his finger in the Moonie’s face. He told him the next time he touched him he was going to knock him out.

The Moonie grabbed Dad’s arm again.

I would have just as soon poked a rattlesnake with a tooth pick.

It happened so fast that to this day I am not entirely sure what I saw. There was motion. I heard a godawful smacking sound. The Moonie rocked several steps backward into a wall. He slid most ways to the floor then flopped over on his side.

It was like something out of the movies.

Dad grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “C’mon, boy.”

The last I saw the Moonie, his friends were trying to help him up, but the guy’s legs were still Jell-O.

Like me with the atheists, Dad didn’t smack the Moonie because he was a Moonie. Had my atheist or his Moonie kept their hands to themselves, neither would have wound up like they did. I guess neither me or my dad was ever any good at turning the other cheek.

Dad passed away a few years ago. I imagine him standing at the Pearly Gates. “Wait a minute,” Saint Peters says. “You’re the one who cracked that Moonie a good one?” He kicks open the door. “You’re in!”