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"An attack on an American city by terrorists armed with a small nuclear device is an even bet within a decade, some experts say"
-- San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 2004

"Measurements of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, taken from the Mauna Loa Observatory suggest atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen sharply and inexplicably in the past two years, prompting fears of runaway global warming. "
-- The Guardian (London), October 14, 2004


Recent global events have forced consumers the world over to take a good hard look at the benefits of their afterlife plan. Many have been surprised when they actually read the fine print of their good books.

Is your version of heaven all it's cracked up to be?

In a quest to help you maximize your eternity, The Black Table presents a consumer's guide to the afterlife of the world's major religions. We've rated each religion based on the following criteria:

Conversion Process: The cost of membership. Let's say a religion has the best sounding heaven ever: conscious control over matter, energy, space, time, thought, life and all the free apps and booze you can stomach. Sounds perfect, right? Well, wait until you find out the conversion process requires $500,000, or worse, studying for some sort of holy test for eight months. We don't want to have to forsake the pleasures of this life just for a little fun in the next one.

Judgment Day: That velvet rope in the sky. No one likes to get all gussied up for a night out only to be turned away at the door. For each religion we rate how easy it is to get past the Eternal Bouncer.

The Afterlife: A brief description of the holiest of holies. This is what you actually get for your soul. Does heaven consist only of prayer five times a day? Yawn. Where's the Dave Chappelle DVDs?

Bells and Whistles: The little things that might make a big difference in your choice.

Overall Rating: The final verdict on a scale from one to 10: 10 being best value for your soul, one being a complete waist of prayer.



Conversion Process: No real formal conversion process. You become a Buddhist when you say you are. What could be easier, right? Wait…

Judgment Day: Harder than the SATs on acid. Basically your whole damn life needs to be perfectly lived, then you qualify as someone who needs to live the next few thousand lifetimes perfectly, then you enter Nirvana.

Afterlife: Unless you are the Buddha, the afterlife is nothing more than this life again and again and again. We don't know about you, but we've pretty much seen what we needed to see. You're born, you suffer with only a couple fleeting moments of happiness or sexual release or drug-induced numbness, then you die. If you're a bad person it gets even worse: Do you want to spend your next life as one of KFC's penned hens?

Bells and Whistles: In this life, limitless supply of easy hippie chicks. In the next, maybe you'll be reincarnated as a Beastie Boy.

Overall: 3. Stop telling me to breathe and get me the hell out of here already!



Conversion Process: Boring and nerdy. Six months to a year of classes, followed by an appearance before a religious court for a test of your knowledge, followed by circumcision for men, sometimes followed by a ritual immersion in water. Or you can take an online class at Phoenix University and finish in as little as three weeks!

Judgment Day: Not entirely clear. See below.

Afterlife: Judaism tries to downplay the whole afterlife thing. For Ancient Hebrews, the dead went to a netherworld called sheol that was a pale shadow of this life. The concept of sheol has evolved over the centuries, but no one can agree on exactly what it is or when and how we get there. Sounds like a pretty fucking raw deal to us.

Bells and Whistles: Global Persecution.

Overall: 3. Despite the beauty of the rituals, songs and intellectual tradition, we're having trouble understanding the point of a religion that doesn't clearly promise to reward us with eternal paradise in the afterlife.



Conversion Process: For quacks only. Through a lengthy process called "auditing" (a.k.a. "brainwashing"), a convert recovers and transcends lost memories of trillions of years worth of traumatic experiences (something about dinosaurs, a really bad space alien named Xenu and nuclear war), thereby eventually escaping human limitations.

Judgment Day: Expensive. Each auditing session costs serious dough, and you need to have years worth before you can attain the status of "Operating Thetan" -- the highest level of existence, according to Scientologist founder and pill-popper L Ron Hubbard -- running up a tab of approximately $300,000 to $500,000 in the process.

Afterlife: Once you sell your house, your car, and your children to become a "Serious Loon" -- oh sorry I mean "Operating Thetan" -- you become free of attachments to the body and can consciously control matter, energy, space, time, thought and life. Or you can do like L. Ron Hubbard did when he created the religion's upper levels while trapped on a small boat floating across the pacific:

"I'm drinking lots of rum and popping pinks and greys."
-- L. Ron Hubbard in a 1967 letter to his wife.

Bells and Whistles: Members get to sleep with Tom Cruise (if male), with Beck (if young female), or with John Travolta (if young male).

Overall Rating: 1.



Conversion Process: Needlessly Arduous. You must accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, which might be hard to stomach, and you have to read and agree with page after page of boring Mormon texts (The Thirteen Articles of Faith, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl Necklace, whatever, and on and on). You will also be expected to give one-tenth of all your income to the church.

Judgment Day: Mormons believe that the physical body is sacred and shouldn't be contaminated. This means to get passed the guards on the big day, you must have consumed no alcohol, no tobacco, in any form, no caffeine (e.g. tea or coffee) and no recreational drugs in this life. What the hell's left?

Afterlife: Unfortunately, since the source text for the religion's holy book turned out to be a recipe for beef stew when translated by independent scholars, no one can be exactly sure what you'll find in the great hereafter.

Bells and Whistles: Ever have a crush on your cousin? No problem.

Overall: 2. Gets low score for humorlessness and rampant sexism in this life.



Conversion Process: Not for the hydrophobic. You must be baptized. And then there's this small little thing about declaring Christ is your savior.

Judgment Day: Easy! No matter what you horrible things you've done in your life -- theft, rape, murder (or declaring a war against Iraq for personal profit that results in all three!) -- you just need to "repent," and you're sent up to the majors.

Afterlife: If you take Michelangelo's word for it, there are hot men and women scantily clad in only the most expensive drapery, and flying midgets. What's not to love?

Bells and Whistles: Never feel guilty about celebrating Christmas again.

Overall: 3. Despite the promise of easy conversion and the get-out-of-jail-free "repent" policy, the score was ultimately dragged down by all the fucking Christians you'd have to hang out with now and forever.



Conversion Process: Piece of cake. Essentially a one-sentence shout out (called Shahada) to the main-man Allah. Doesn't matter what has caused you to say this, just that you have. Like this formerly Christian woman from Alabama, you only have to wake up to find out that NASA has published new pictures of a dying solar system on its Web site, become convinced (despite your legal blindness) that the picture looks exactly like a description of the end of the universe you heard about from the Koran, use this as proof of the infallibility of the prophet Muhammed, look up the nearest mosque in a phone book, take the bus to it and utter your Shahada in front of an official witness, thereby pissing off your 80-year-old cracker husband. There's not even any hazing involved in becoming a Muslim, unless of course you're in U.S. custody.

Judgment Day: Confusing. In a trumped of version of "Let's Make a Deal," there are eight gates of paradise, through which you may or may not pass for certain good deeds, and from which it may or may not take 40 years to get to the great gig in the sky (ever hear of a valet? This is supposed to be eternal bliss). Only instead of Monty Hall you get the Prophet Mohammed MCing the whole thing.

Afterlife: Complicated: It depends on your level. Apparently Islamic heaven is more segregated than a New Jersey suburb. The highest levels have everything imaginable. The lower levels have to make due with fast food and public transportation.

Bells and Whistles: Would get to say things like "As a Muslim-American I believe…" at cocktail parties.

Overall Rating: 3. We have enough status envy in this life. Who wants to get to heaven only to wake up every morning and get ready for our crappy angel's assistant gig while slowly gnawing away at us is the knowledge that somewhere out there is some lucky, privileged fuck in a higher level of paradise doing exactly what we want to be doing?



Conversion Process: There is no centralized body of Rastafarianism, and therefore no strictly agreed upon rules of conversion exist. Becoming a Rastafarian is as simple as following the teachings of the late Emporer Haile Selassie. And no, you are not required to grow dreads or smoke grass to become a Rastafarian … but why the hell wouldn't you?

Judgment Day: Unfortunately, if you are white, you are probably a part of Babylon -- the white political power structure that has been holding down blacks for centuries -- and are probably not eligible for much forgiveness at any time. For everyone else, the question is if you really want to pass judgment day -- see below.

Afterlife: A disappointment. Rastas consider Ethiopia to be "Heaven on Earth" and don't believe in any eternal heaven or hell. For those of us who sang "We are the World" during elementary school graduation: we're not fooled.

Bells and Whistles: Did we mention the skunk weed?

Overall: 3. Although it combines the ease of Christianity with the fun of trying to speak in a Jamaican accent -- some-ting I and I jus' kyan resist! -- Rastafarianism's overall score was ultimately dragged down by the whole Ethiopia rip-off.


A Final Word

"You can't choose a religion out of self-interest."

A Greek Orthodox priest told us this when we were trying to decide between that religion (our fathers') and the Protestant church (our mothers'). Years later he was excommunicated for embezzling thousands of dollars donated to the church by little old Greek ladies.

Point is: Don't let anyone use scare tactics to dissuade you from getting the best value for your soul. Since no clear winner emerged from our analysis, however, we are forced to conclude with a question: Why not completely cover your ass on judgment day and convert to every major religion at least once in your life?