Monday, February 16, 2009

An Infernal Problem

If death is the most potent manifestation of gravity on earth, then the general resurrection at the end of time is the most potent manifestation of Antigravity. Here is one portrayal of that resurrection by Hieronymus Bosch, as painted in the year 1485:

Of course, the story of the last judgment continues to develop from the moment captured by Bosch, for the reanimated bodies that are here seen rising from their graves have yet to be assigned to their eternal dwelling places in either heaven or hell.

Heaven, as we know, represents the great goal and ultimate reward of all spiritual striving. But what about hell? Isn't it enough that we have to age and die? Do some of us really have to face the prospect of ceaseless damnation?

Alas, in the cruel vision of almost all world religions, some of us do. Yes, hell waits for unrepentant sinners, and for them gravity will carry a force far more malignant than any ever experienced on earth. Down, down, down (it is said) they will go, and from hell there is no exit or return. Thus Hans Memling's painting of the year 1472:

The social psychology behind hell is pretty obvious. Once certain kinds of organized religion gets their hooks into you, they count on your fear of hell to keep you where you are -- in a weak, fearful, and submissive faith. And that's why you should never trust anyone who aims to gain control over your life by exploiting your fear of eternal punishment.

The fact is, our great concern in this lifetime should be to ameliorate earthly hells, not to become obsessed with visions of postmortem infernos.

But doesn't the very existence of earthly hells suggest that visions of Satan's realm represent something very real? I would answer that question by echoing a bit of medieval Christian mystical wisdom: "Nothing burns in hell but the ego."

And when the illusory nature of the ego is finally and universally realized, hell will just have to close up shop. It and all its horrors will -- poof! -- be gone forever.

Now that, by my lights, is the real true faith.

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