Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.
It’s Halloween… people will dressing up as Devils, but what of hell? Does it exist? Is just some clever marketing to keep people in check, a menace to keep people from doing “bad’ things.
Traditionally Catholics believed that if you die in a state of mortal sin you go to Hell. So for example if your spouse killed you in the act of adultery you go to hell. If you died after having homosexual sex you go to Hell. If you commit suicide you go to hell. In ”The Inferno,” Dante tells of his imagined journey into hell, his entry into a ”kingdom of eternal night” where he hears the voices of the damned rise ”in a bestial moan” and sees sinners stung by wasps, burnt by falling fire and frozen in a sheet of ice.
The most recent Catholic interpretation “hell is best understood as the condition of total alienation from all that is good, hopeful and loving in the world. What’s more, this condition is chosen by the damned themselves, the ultimate exercise of free will, not a punishment engineered by God, so our creator wipes his hands of any responsibility. In this latest interpretation Hell ”is not a ‘place’ but a ‘state,’ a person’s ‘state of being,’ in which a person suffers from the deprivation of God,” declared La Civilta Cattolica, an influential Jesuit magazine based in Rome and closely tied to the Vatican. The magazine insists that it is not God who inflicts pain ”through angels or demons as is illustrated in many paintings or is read in the ‘Divine Comedy,’ ” but the sinner who masochistically brings about his own punishment by deliberately rejecting God’s grace, thereby entering a great state of pain. Has Hell become too unbelievable for the church in this day and age…that they needed to revise their point of view. The magazine still insists that hell is real.
My own interpretation of hell is somewhat prosaic. It appears at the beginning of one of my short stories called “Cast from Hell” a story about a middle aged man who is rejected from hell, who comes back in the body of a women, who goes on to wreak havoc on earth.
Existing in hell amidst the fallen angels, some of the sickest souls
who ever existed in Christendom, had been grueling, to say the least.
Lucifer, the so-called Prince of Darkness, had proved to be a letdown.
The centuries had worn him down, and he had an irritating habit of
droning on and on about the “good old days.” He didn’t possess the
charm I had anticipated, or command the fear for which he was
notorious. Okay, he was still trying to mess up the world to get back at
God, but he had become generally bereft of ideas to the point of
lacking any originality. Lucifer’s mind dwelled constantly on religious
wars. He was still pinning his hopes on igniting religious hatred,
polarizing nations, waiting to the perfect moment when total chaos
would reign and he could step in. I had imagined him in strict control
of all his minions, sending them about on virulently destructive
missions, infiltrating them into positions of power and influence, as
heads of huge multi-national corporations, for example, but, no, he’d
given up on this strategy, he couldn’t be bothered.
The Middle Ages had been his peak time, his heyday, slugging it
out with God for souls. In those days he warranted respect. He was
feared. He kept society in check. He actually served a function. You
couldn’t afford to be sent to that correctional place known as “Hell”
because you’d pay for your sins with eternal damnation, cast into a pit
of fire, brimstone to agonize through endless inventive tortures. These
days, the world’s leaders had usurped his job with their ineptness, lies
and monetarily-advantageous wars. This, allied with natural disasters,
hurricanes, earthquakes, food shortages and environmental degradation
resulting in increasingly destructive world epidemics had created Hell
on earth. Lucifer had grown lazy in his ways. He’d become insipid. He
no longer had to conjure up evil, that task being performed daily for
him by literally millions of mortals. The world, at the same time, had
become more informed, more educated, more pragmatic. There were
so many disgruntled disbelievers, some even dared to call him a sham,
and Hell just another cock-and-bull story no less.
Hell’s merchandise still went up for sale every year around the
thirty-first of October, but Satan himself had been trivialized,
cheapened, and was no longer to be taken seriously. Even the churches
were detaching themselves from him. Whereas in the past, he’d been
used as a rod to beat people back into their places, now he was largely
ignored. As you can tell, my expectations of hell were quickly dashed.
It was far removed from William Blake’s famed illustrations of Dante’s
Inferno, and it didn’t even remotely resemble a Brueghel painting.
To my surprise, there was no evidence in Hell of people being
grievously punished. The slothful were not being goaded with burning
coals. The gluttons were not being tormented with thirst and hunger.
There were no hedonists being bathed in burning pitch and stinking
brimstone, or envious individuals howling with grief over that which
they could never possess. The proud were not being brought down.
The covetous were not being denied. In fact, the damned seemed to be
living in a modicum of comfort. I never detected any weeping, wailing
or gnashing of teeth. The place, called by some gehenna, the
bottomless pit, was admittedly no holiday camp, but things there had
grown shoddy and dysfunctional. It would require major rehabilitation
to scare even a child. Being lodged with fellow rejects was sobering
experience, not unlike being in a holding center for suspected
criminals, refugees or illegal immigrants. And despite all this, the sad
truth was that I hadn’t made the grade. I was simply one of the
unwanted, a fence sitter, between the two divides.
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