Religion is not a form of insanity, rather it is insanity itself, arguably the most severe affliction the human mind can ever know. And I am not referring only to Catholicism, or Islam, or even more New Age manifestations of faith, but the whole damn thing; I’m speaking of the very impulse that moves the fearful heart to embrace the absurd. So it makes sense, or about as much sense as one could expect when dealing with advanced psychosis, that an American writer would give us a book entitled A Travel Guide to Heaven. Perhaps it could have been called Heaven for Dummies, but I try at all costs to avoid being redundant. Author Anthony DeStafano, who admits that he is not a theologian or philosopher, believes it is best to approach the afterlife with the following outlook: “You see, if Heaven is anything at all, it’s fun.” Well that’s a relief. He gives us a dynamic, highly-charged Heaven; a place where we can inhabit our current form (including a skeleton, circulatory system, and skin), all the while chatting, running, shopping, and learning languages. And, because we enter the Kingdom as our “best being,” we will be thinner, more appealing, and dammit, sexy if necessary. God sees into our hearts and transforms our exteriors into magazine-ready visions, as if it is a sign of our worthiness that we go through this life fat and out of shape. With the idea that we enter a deathless Gold’s Gym where our muscles never atrophy, it is clear that DeStafano is trying to be a cross between Dr. Phil, Jesus, and Tony Little. And secularists are the ones supposedly destroying the country. [Ed Note: No, it turns out that it is actually these fucking asswipes. Be sure to read their FAQ]

Perhaps you also didn’t know that Heaven will remove our compulsions and unhealthy desires. And with our ethics restored, it might even be suitable for Republicans! But wait! Heaven is also a Technicolor paradise (God is, as the author states, a “sensualist”) where we will experience new tastes, foods, and music that are featured nowhere on Earth. Hey, anything to escape American Idol. And if we don’t care to jam to the tunes, we can visit the streets of Paris, check out the Sphinx, or view the Parthenon of 1000 years ago. Though we can move back and forth through history, God will ensure that we have a sense of Earthly time. We’ll even have a need for wristwatches! But the bestest, most neatest part of all, is that the kiddies can see dinosaurs! This of course means that the kids have to die before they reach adulthood, but who cares when little Jimmy can play around with a T-Rex until the end of time!

We’ll join all of our dead loved ones, which makes Heaven similar to a banquet, complete with hugs, tears, and stimulating conversation. But there’s no marriage in Heaven, which is a convenient out for those right-wing Christians who have abused the institution to no end. It could get sticky if we had to face eternity with several ex-wives who still feel cheated out of alimony. DeStafano seems to have everything covered, understanding that Heaven has no place for arguments and bitterness. As such, the afterlife will be all about love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I presume this round table of good cheer includes spouses we might have murdered, since the author firmly states that all it takes to enter this paradise is a firm belief in Jesus Christ. If I could see O.J. and Nicole chatting it up while kicking back on some cloud, even I’d be tempted to believe.

But wouldn’t you know it, Heaven is not a place for relaxation, no. The author even states that “you won’t rest in peace.” Books must be written, buildings constructed, and great art performed. After all, Heaven will look exactly like our own neighborhoods (God wants us to be comfortable in the familiar), and we must hold to the Big Guy’s exacting standards. Remember, the author states, “Christ was not sedate and easygoing,” but instead an energetic guru, running about saving souls and raising the dead. It also appears that old Jesus likes to laugh! But he won’t let you sit around cackling all day; you’re in the sky to punch the clock, mister. You cannot sleep or even catch a brief nap, but there is fun — from fishing with Hemingway to playing catch with DiMaggio. It’s good to know that a messy suicide isn’t enough to keep you out of the Kingdom after all. [Ed Note: Of course, Einstein, Oppenheimer and Feynman will not be there to teach you physics.] But what if you’d rather “do lunch” with Peter and Paul? Just be back in time for your labors, which might include learning to play piano or mastering Latin. Fucking God, there’s no escape even in death. And you still believe God is a merciful being?

DeStafano also hints that Heaven is like a “vacation that never ends,” which is far from comforting if you’ve ever taken a road trip with your family. The implication here is that we all take similar trips, which for the readers of this book begin and end with Disneyland. And why must everything — even the sacred eternity — be compared to a noisy, crowded, filthy amusement park? Is that the pinnacle of good times for imagination-starved Americans? But in case that doesn’t satisfy you, there is the matter of guardian angels, who not only exist, but desperately desire that we give them names! They help us, provide advice, and do everything but the dishes. And these angels are just like us — bodies and hair and all that Earthly good stuff — only we can’t see or hear them, unless we tune out the world and “just listen.” And to think that hearing voices was once considered schizophrenia… It’s good to know that the shrill voice in the night commanding me to slaughter my neighbors in fact stems from a Heavenly source.

The book ends with a plea to get straight and devote our lives to Christ, which makes a whole lotta sense after hearing about the endless rewards he gives us. Who wouldn’t want 100,000 centuries of steak dinners, strolls along the Seine, and rock-hard abs? And to think I’d dismissed the upper chamber as some dull waiting room stuffed with clouds, organ music, and endless lounging. Heaven is, he writes, a “shining city on a hill,” which if I’m not mistaken is exactly what Ronald Reagan said about America back in the 1980s. So Heaven is America and America is Heaven, which is exactly what Republicans have been telling us for decades. And now we can rest easy with the knowledge that we will live forever with our pets, our families, and the home of our choice, which is all any of us have wanted in this world, is it not? Amazing how these spiritual guides tap right into our deepest longings time after time.

And if you don’t believe me, try to deny the unimpeachable sources on the back cover — Quincy Jones, Regis Philbin, and God help me, Susan Lucci. It’s practically an endorsement from the New York Review of Books. But enough sarcasm, bite, and hateful criticism. It is now a time for sadness. Above all, A Travel Guide to Heaven is a terrifying book; not because of its “revelations” of course, but rather due to its very existence. Doubleday would not have signed this nutcase unless they believed there was a substantial market for such soothing thoughts. It’s bad enough that I live in a nation that still adheres to beliefs that were the height of sophistication in the 12th century, but why must it be comical to boot? At least the fire and brimstone version of religion makes sense, as even a cursory look at the world reveals a bankruptcy of humankind and at the very least a rotten, cocksucking deity who laughs like a chimp as the world burns (if you must have a Supreme Being, that is). If God must exist, he is clearly a murderous bastard who plays with humanity, rips apart their hopes and dreams, and makes up silly rules that change on a daily basis. It seems reasonable that the “angry God” will allow rapists and child killers into his Kingdom after a deathbed profession of faith, while damning law-abiding, generous atheists to hell, or licking his chops while Gandhi roasts over an open flame. But this lovey-dovey shit? Must everything be reduced to an episode of Oprah?

So take care, my friends, as religion upped the ante and just got a little more ridiculous. It’s gone from illogical and inane to laughably moronic, which takes some doing when you’re already on the outside looking in of sanity to begin with. A book like A Travel Guide to Heaven is the worst of our current Age of Self-Improvement; a seemingly endless era of banished fears, the elimination of conflict, and the elevation of fun and games over anything resembling gritty mind work. That we Americans continue to believe we have somehow won out over the Dark Ages that currently afflict the Middle East and other hellish corners of the globe is a greater tragedy than any writer of fiction could construct. We’re out of our fucking minds people, and we’d rather not be bothered.

For Fun

Be sure and read all the morons who weigh in with their own little reviews of A Travel Guide To Heaven on Amazon. The winner has to be, “The author doesn’t claim to have actually been to Heaven, but instead uses solid research to back up his vision of life after death.”