Peregrine flight

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hell's Bells

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. ” Charles Darwin

We had a very nice New Years Eve celebration with several of our closest friends. A feast of food with an emphasis on New Mexico, we made tamales on the spot, pumpkin flan, great baby backs, a wonderful meal. One of the couples had bought some industrial strength fireworks in Nevada, so loud and grand that I was slightly freaked by their scale. Another year down the hopper and one more spin around the sun to look forward to.

One of the couples, that I don't believe that I had ever met before, are both Wesleyan ministers. Very nice and considerate people. We got to talking. Worked through original sin, Luther and finally wandered over to hell. Not to visit, a brief conversation.

I have a casual acquaintance who is a doctor and bio ethics professor at a serious university. I think he may have undergone a late life religious conversion. I recounted him once telling me that hell may not exist but was still a necessary construction so that people would understand that their moral choices had consequences.

This type of malthusian thinking and programming is one of the things I hate the most about gullible humanity and their faith in belief systems. We know that no humans could be this easily manipulated, could they? Kills me the way supposedly rational people can pull a precept out of a hat when it serves their purpose and convince themselves of its existence.

Which reminds me of the famous quote by Seneca the Younger (5 b.c.e - 65 c.e). Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

This conversation led us to a brief talk about the nature of evil. What is evil? A satanic bent (another construction), an outgrowth of selfishness? Mental illness or insanity, a failure to observe proper hive dynamics? Got me? Like Casey Stengel said, I knows it when I sees it. But I got to thinking. When man was fighting sabre tooths and neighboring tribes and happened to kill or be killed, were his or their atavistic actions actually evil? Or is this the way our dog eat dog universe is constructed? At what point does our present day concept of morality enter the equation?

Devil's popcorn - early Hell fresco - St. Nicholas Church - Raduil, Bulgaria

I started doing a little research on hell this morning, very scant. There was no conception in the Hebrew bible, but apparently it was later adapted from hellenistic influences. The Hebrews did have a concept of a place called Gehenna, a sort of waiting room where one is judged on one's life's deeds, or rather, where one becomes fully aware of one's own shortcomings and negative actions during one's life.

This may have been lifted from earlier mesopotamian doctrine of an under or netherworld although the Hebrew version was not necessarily a physical place. Interestingly though, with the ancient Jews limited  knowledge of real estate, Gehenna was supposed to take place in the Valley of Hinnon, which was a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. People burned their garbage and thus there was always a fire burning so it was a convenient place to locate Gehenna. Convenient. Hell is located in the garbage dump just outside of town.

There were hell regions in both Tibetan and Norse/Germanic cosmologies. Hel was a being who ruled the underworld in the Prose Edda. Buddhism teaches that hell is not permanent but still not a very comfortable place. Buddhism teaches that there are five or six realms of rebirth, which can then be further subdivided into degrees of agony or pleasure. The bodhisattva Ksitigarbha travels to hell to secure the liberation of all sentient beings before she seeks her own place in Nirvana.

Early hinduism had no concept of hell but the later rig vedas found a need to introduce the subject, Naraka, a place where souls are judges between incarnations.

In Christianity, hell was known as Hades or Tartarus. A fiery place, inhabited by demons. Other traditions say it is a very cold place. Pick your poison.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost

According to the Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg in his Second Coming revelation, hell exists because evil people want it. They, not God, introduced evil to the human race.

I do not know about this hell business but I think if I had to pick I would throw in with Manny Swedenborg. It is hard to see how anyone takes such pick and choose cosmology as gospel and not anything beyond a manifestation of a deep human psychological need to try to make some sense of the indiscernible. Once again, I am speaking way above my pay grade.

I seem to remember an early Twilight Zone episode (could have been Night Gallery) where hell was watching the neighbor's home slide show of their cheesy vacation in Tijuana. Now that I can get behind.


Anonymous said...

Your doctor friend is right.......

Anonymous said...

"do you know where hell is? Hell is in hello.
Good is in goodbye and now it's time for me to go.
When I get to heaven tie me to a tree, for I'll begin to roam
And soon you know where I will be."
Paint your wagon.
Deli guy.

Ken Seals said...

I love the Darwin quote!!!

North County Film Club said...

Let's have a "hell" day someday. I'd love to dig deeper into this subject.
This was one of my favorite of your posts!