The Ecstasy of the All Bright

My winsome chum Sarah Skwire expertly skewers former Secretary of State (and current shapeshifting Reptilian American) Maddy Albright for her sacrilegious claim that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” in reference to supporting craggy, aged socialist Bernard Sanders over craggy, aged crypto-socialist Hillary R. Clinton. I have little to add to Sarah’s objections. I am, however curious about the theological and literary claims implied in the petulant little threat.

Please recall, dear friends, that the red letters in the New Testament contain very little reference to damnation. In the Gospels, there is some mention of an otherwise-unspecified “outer darkness” away from the light of God, but that’s about it. Even in fire-and-brimstone Revelation of St. John the Divine, no mention is made of the details of the Infernal afterlife: neither what earns the living a spot, nor what torments might await. No, gentlefolk, the Halls of the Damned and the entry requirements thereof are chiefly the product of multiple traditions reinforced by memorable literature and bolstered by the iron tests of practical proselytizing.

Greek literature abounds with references to the realm of Hades, where dwell the dead. Virgil and Ovid both offered their own takes on one of the most famous: the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld. And this story was already pretty hoary by the time they got their mitts on it. It should be trivially obvious how popular, long-lived stories like this can be swiftly cannibalized by missionaries seeking to retcon domestic barbarian traditions to fit with foreign theology. Sure, sure. Jesus was born right about the time you celebrate the winter solstice, guys. You don’t have to change your habits that much. But you do have to believe in Him or else you, um… or else you get punished forever in this giant gross cave filled with like demons or whatever (paraphrased).

delight
Demons or whatever

Enter the modern concept of H-E-double-hockey-sticks. None of the horned, winged beasties of torment have to have scriptural support to be consistent with the Scholastic traditions that have their roots in pre-Christian philosophy.

I offer you the suggestion that when I mention hell, the image you most likely conjure comes from a 13th century Florentine satirist named Dante degli Alighieri. I cement this claim by noting that the organization of Dante’s Inferno was strongly geographical: his hellscape was marked by concentric, descending rings. The narrator proceeded downward to the Beast trapped in ice at the center. In the Divine Comedy, the type of sin committed by the living determined his physical location after judgement was rendered. If you violated prohibitions against lust, you ended up the ward of Minos in the midst of a maelstrom. If you were a heretic, you ended up in a fiery boneyard just inside the gates of Dis. And so on and so forth. The inner circles are reserved for traitors, with sinners against benefactors entombed in hell ice right under Satan’s butthole.

Presumably, this is where lich lord Madeleine Albright wishes to place traitorous women who dare support a candidate sporting twig and berries. From her point of view gripping flotsam in the middle of the Phlegethon, this notion is quite flattering. Her mortal sin is wrath and her punishment is reserved for the violent (though I will also accept claims that she might qualify for punishment next to Guido da Montelfeltro or Bertram de Bornio). Either way, traitors have it worse off. She’s seventh or maybe eighth circle. She’s relatively better off by boosting the population of the ninth circle. It’s the peacock dilemma, only with a bit more eternal torture.

I confess that I’m somewhat fascinated when I hear a political elite make a theological claim. Theology is a discipline, much like medicine, social science, or engineering. It takes many years of rigorous study to get it right, and even then there are irreconcilable differences in doctrinal opinion over key issues. Making off-the-cuff claims about eternal damnation should strike the ear of the devout the way that spurious claims about trade policy strikes the ear of the economically literate.

At any rate, I sort of enjoy that the party elites have dropped the pretense that there was ever any meaningful division between religious and secular authority. In winner-take-all contests, nothing can be sacred. Not the honor of the candidate, not the dignity of the process, not even the sanctity of God Almighty. Anything to win. All costs. Spill the blood of the innocent if that’s what it takes to slake the unending lust for power.

What shall we sacrifice upon the altar of vanity to achieve victory?

Hell, at least according to Dante, does indeed accept reservations. I urge you to consider who might be on the guest list before taking seriously the theological claims of bloodthirsty secular lords.

Dictated but not read 2/11/2016. All rights reserved.

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