The Archangel Gabriel was lying on a chaise lounge listening to an incredible piece of music that Mozart and Cobain had just composed for steel drums. He looked at his watch. He had to meet Leonardo for drinks in half an hour; just time for another one of these amazing cocktails…
“There's a man at the gates who won't come in.”
Gabriel lowered his sunglasses to look at the figure who had just hurried towards him. “What do you mean he won't come in?” he asked in a languid tone.
“He says he doesn't want to.” St Peter said in a nervous tone.
“What do you mean he doesn't want to, Peter?” Gabriel sat up.
“Just that. He says he won't come in unless some basic questions are answered first.” Peter was running the hem of his robe through his fingers. Gabriel had frequently suggested that Peter get Versace to run him off a suit, but Peter said the robe was important; people always expected the robe.
“What sort of questions?” Gabriel asked.
“Well, that's it. They're sort of complex.”
Gabriel raised a perfectly formed eyebrow at this. “Really, Peter? How complex can they be? You have access to the knowledge of the ages.”
“Look, you'd better just come and see for yourself.” With that St Peter hurried back to the gate with his funny little shuffle that had become a favourite of Chaplin's to impersonate.
The two of them walked back towards the gate, opened it slightly and Gabriel walked outside while Peter pulled the gate closed.
“Can I help you at all?” Gabriel asked, taking his sunglasses off to stare into two of the sternest eyes he'd ever seen, which baring in mind he'd had breakfast with George Washington, was saying something. The man was a taller gentleman, wearing a fine black suit, with a touch of grey in his hair that gave him the distinguished look of an Oxbridge professor.
“I'm an Atheist,” The Atheist replied.
“No you're not,” Gabriel said. “You might have been before but, here in this place,” he extended his arms in a gesture that took in the giant pearly gates and the cloud-like substance they were standing on, “you cannot be.”
“None of that!” the Atheist interjected. “The existence of jolly bearded fat men isn't in doubt, but there definitely isn't a Santa. Just because this is all here doesn't prove any of the major faiths correct.” The Atheist’s tone was that of man who wasn't going to arrive at any conclusions until he'd examined all of the available data.
Gabriel had encountered non-believers before; Darwin still maintained he was an atheist. “Fair enough,” he said.
“Anyway,” the Atheist continued, “if this place did adhere to any of the major religious texts then I wouldn't be here.” Gabriel had to admit this was fairly iron clad logic that was, unfortunately, based on bad information.
“That is incorrect. The words of God were corrupted by men in search of power. You have lived a good life and that was all that was required. So, if you'll just sign the forms, you can come in,” Gabriel replied with the level calm of someone who has been through this explanation more times than could possibly be imagined.
“I don't want to.” The Atheist said in a simple monotone.
“I don't think you understand. Through these gates lies an eternity of pleasures you couldn't possibly even begin to conceive.” Gabriel delivered this line with a hint of used car salesman about him which reminded the Atheist that Lucifer was supposedly an angel as well.
“I don't think you understand. I want no part of this.” The Atheist replied, again keeping his voice calm and flat.
“Look you can't just stay out here forever, you're holding up the queue.” Gabriel motioned to a queue that seemed to go on for an eternity and well might.
“I don't care. I don't want any part of this.” Now the Atheist seemed to be losing his patience. This was new to Gabriel; he normally spent the vast majority of his time trying not to be impatient with mortals.
“Look it's not up to you, you have been judged worthy and as such you are welcome to enter heaven.” Gabriel was now getting a touch impatient himself and was completely forgetting everything from the customer service seminar they'd attended last week.
“Make me.” the Atheist responded with the firmness of a man who is used to getting his own way.
“Sir I don't understand why you are being so difficult about this. What exactly is the problem?” As Gabriel said this, a little jolt of electricity sparked between his teeth.
The Atheist noticed this but seemed to take it entirely in his stride. Being dead really took the edge off of any worries that you might have; it can't get any worse can it? “Let me put it this way, when I was a kid there was another boy who lived in the neighbourhood, he wasn't nice. On more than one occasion he beat up...” the Atheist started.
“Billy Jones,” Gabriel impatiently interrupted.
“That's the one... Just out of interest, he in there?” the Atheist inquired.
“No, he hasn’t died yet. Plus he's a priest now so he's probably headed the other way,” Gabriel replied with a smirk.
“Well at least you got that right,” the Atheist laughed. “Well one day he had a birthday party at his house, which was really nice. I mean he had a pool and everything.” The Atheist gestured around him as he spoke.
“Yes and you didn't go even though he invited you.” Gabriel responded.
“Exactly!” The Atheist said this as if the Angel had made some huge logical breakthrough.
“What the hell has that got to do with this, sir?” Gabriel asked clearly not having made the mental connection the Atheist had hoped for.
“Just because your clubhouse has the best toys doesn't mean I want to join the club.” The Atheist stated in a slow and deliberate manner.
“Join the... sir you really must get over this kind of thinking, I mean here and now it really doesn't matter,” Gabriel said as he began to polish his shades with the corner of his jacket.
“Yes it does! My beliefs may have been wrong but my values weren't.” The Atheist seemed to be trying exceptionally hard not to shout.
“Listen, I understand your point of view but look, everything you heard on earth isn't completely true is it? Or we wouldn't even be having this discussion,” Gabriel said with a weary tone. “You’d be downstairs right now, having a far less pleasant conversation.”
“It's not about what I've heard. It's about what I've observed,” the Atheist responded.
“And what exactly might that be?” Gabriel asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
“When I was thirteen my friend Jenny had rocks thrown at her because she was different from the other kids. And by different I mean that she was Jewish. I told the boys to stop and when they wouldn't I had to step between her and the other boys. I got hit in the face by a stone and it knocked my two front teeth out. Where was God?” the Atheist angrily asked.
“He was watching and he judged that it was good,” Gabriel answered smugly.
“When I was eighteen my friend Dave came out to his parents, he was kicked out of his house. He could've wound up living on the streets and died in a gutter. I invited him to come live with my family. Was God watching then?” The Atheist was shaking with anger.
“Yes he was, and he judged that it was good.” Gabriel was now growing concerned that he was going to get punched.
“After university I became a human rights activist. Every day I saw terrible things and I worked my hardest to help those in need.” As the Atheist said this, spittle flew from his mouth and landed on Gabriel's face.
“God saw and he judged that it was good,” Gabriel said taking a step back and wiping his face.
“So here is my question: If I had seen all of those things and just noted that they were bad - done nothing - would I be here now?” the Atheist asked, taking a step forward.
“No. For without action, thought counts for nothing.” Gabriel started to see the shape of where this was going.
“So what gives God, an individual who sat idly by and let all of those things happen, any right to judge me who actually stepped up to stop them.” The Atheist crossed his arms and stood back with a triumphant smile on his face.
“God cannot interfere with free will,” Gabriel said, with the slightest hint of uncertainty in his voice.
“Sorry. Is this the omnipotent creator of the universe we are talking about here? An omniscient, omnipresent, supreme being?” the Atheist asked sarcastically.
“Yes, of course,” Gabriel replied now firmly on the back foot.
“So, when those boys decided to throw the stones, he could've quite easily created another universe - an exact copy of my own but with all the individuals therein actually puppets - and let the event in question play out without Jenny getting hurt or me losing my teeth.” The Atheist now took another step back as if to let his logic dazzle the Archangel.
“Well, I suppose there's no reason why he couldn't.” Gabriel was finding this entire conversation very unnerving by this point.
“So there, without the need to subvert free will, the innocent are protected,” the Atheist stated matter-of-factly.
“But without that incident you wouldn't have been tested. You may never have found your calling.” Gabriel said with a hint of desperation in his voice.
“My calling was only necessary because I'm morally superior to the guy who created the universe. And while we're on the subject of free will; what about natural disasters? Why doesn't God help the people hurt by those?” the Atheist demanded.
“God cannot intervene in the world.” Gabriel replied with the dejected tone of a child who's been caught out in a lie by his parents.
“He intervened by causing the fucking disasters in the first place!” the Atheist yelled.
“He doesn't do stuff like that.” Gabriel replied, but his heart wasn't in it.
“Look, he's omniscient. That means the minute he lit the fuse on the big bang, he knew everything that was going to happen. And anyway, isn't it interfering with free will to leave a big list of rules and threaten people with eternal damnation?” the Atheist pointed out.
“Lucifer is responsible for the eternal damnation side of things.” Gabriel was on safer footing here and felt a little more comfortable.
“Only because God is a coward and wants a scapegoat,” the Atheist scoffed.
“No. That's not it at all...” Gabriel started.
“God is omnipotent Lucifer isn't. That means God could destroy Lucifer with a thought,” the Atheist stated.
“No, he couldn't. Lucifer is almost as powerful as God,” Gabriel replied.
“What do you mean nearly as powerful? What, he's omnipotent but he can't make toast?” the Atheist quipped sarcastically.
“Look, this isn't getting us anywhere is it?” Gabriel sighed.
“I just want to know what gives God the right to judge me and decide whether or not I'm worthy,” the Atheist demanded.
“Well, he created you didn't he? Or at least set in motion the events that would lead to your creation.” Gabriel said this in the same way your mother would call you ungrateful when you had an argument in your teens.
“Is that it? Is that your best answer? I'm a sentient being! My origin has no place in a discussion of my worth. I am who I am and I stand alone,” the Atheist said with the assured calm of a man on solid philosophical ground.
“Look, what do you want instead of coming in? You can't stay here forever,” the Archangel asked sounding like a man who is just desperate for a conversation to end.
“Oblivion,” replied the Atheist with an absolute calmness.
“What?” This took Gabriel by surprise! Not once in the nearly fourteen billion years since the universe had begun had anyone asked this.
“I had no intention of coming anywhere after I died. I made my peace; now oblivion please,” the Atheist requested with a smile.
“Look, I'm going to have to talk to my superiors; can you move to one side in the mean time and let the rest through?” Gabriel motioned to the infinite queue.
“Fine I'll be sitting over here.” The Atheist indicated to the right of the gate and went to sit down. Gabriel nervously went back inside and hurried off to call a meeting.
Aeons passed. The Atheist sat there waiting for an answer to his simple request. In that time literally billions of people passed by. Many stopped to ask the Atheist what he was doing, but no-one ever joined him. Finally, after the last person had entered, the Archangel returned. The Atheist got up and walked back towards the gate.
“I don't suppose there is any chance that you've changed your mind is there?” Gabriel asked.
“None whatsoever. I refuse to give your boss the satisfaction,” the Atheist replied.
“Well, I'm afraid that we will be unable to fulfil your request,” Gabriel replied.
“Why the hell not?” the Atheist demanded.
“Well, it's a bit complicated so bare with me,” Gabriel began. “Basically, the point of heaven is to reward all the good people by allowing them unbridled happiness. Unfortunately, that means that if even one person is unhappy it has knock-on effects that ripple out to everyone and it ruins the whole thing.” The Archangel seemed a bit awkward as he said this. “Now, there are people in there who like you and they want to talk to you. The fact that you're not there is causing unhappiness which is really screwing up the balance.”
“What do you do when they want to talk to people in Hell?” The Atheist inquired
“Hmm, well... you won't like this but we, sort of, let those people into heaven,” the Archangel responded.
“What the fuck!” the stunned Atheist replied. “So, if the mother of a paedophile wants to see him, then the paedophile is allowed into heaven?”
“Well, yes... we've tried to find a few work-rounds over the years but unfortunately we promised eternal happiness and we have to deliver,” Gabriel said quietly looking at his feet.
“So is there anyone in Hell at all?” the Atheist asked.
“Well, yes. There are two thousand nine hundred and forty eight people in Hell. The ones no-one wants to talk to.” Here Gabriel took a deep breath. “But I do have to admit over five hundred of those are senior members of the Nazi party.”
“Well, you can't make me come in” The Atheist replied.
“No, of course not, Sir. My employer has offered a compromise,” the Archangel responded as he pulled out a key “The universe has ended and we therefore have no need to use the gate any more. You may remain outside and have complete control over who comes to visit you.”
“I will also want a laptop computer with access to all the knowledge in the universe.” The Atheist replied with a glint in his eye.
“Fair enough, Sir.” Gabriel replied and produced one from thin air. “If you do ever change your mind please understand that you may enter at any time.” Gabriel walked back to the gate, opened it and walked through. Almost instantly he poked his head back around the gate. “It seems you have your first visitor, Sir.” With that the archangel disappeared and a small old man in a Hawaiian Shirt, cut-off jeans and sandals walked out. He walked over to the Atheist and fixed him with a powerful gaze. He reached behind him and pulled a chair out of thin air. He gestured at a table and another chair, which sprang into existence as he did so. The Atheist took a seat and sat the laptop on the new table.
“Who are you?” he asked the Old Man.
“I have many names,” the Old Man responded with a gently powerful voice.
“Oh, you’re him aren't you?” the Atheist enquired.
“Yes... So, what are you planning to do with that?” the old man asked gesturing at the laptop.
“Well, I've got an eternity to sit here and go through all the knowledge in the universe and when I'm done, I should have worked out how to end my existence,” the Atheist answered smugly.
“Excellent, should present quiet a challenge” The old man stood up. “Well, if you work that one out... Please let me know how.”
With that the old man was gone.