There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Descending into lower hell, the correlation between The Seven Deadly Sins and Dante’s Inferno stops. Because I set out to investigate the Seven Deadly sins, I’ll continue it until I’m finished. But I ended up delving into Dante’s famous poem and want to bring closure to that portion. So, I’ll summarize Dante’s Lower hell before continuing with Sloth in another post.
I highly recommend further reading of Dante’s Divine Comedy. His ordered view of hell can help us conduct an ordered inventory of ourselves. What are we lacking? How should we seek divine help? His arrangement of hell causes us to wonder if the way we see the unseen world is correct? Do we bear cultural “blind spots.” Do we overlook or diminish sins that we shouldn’t?
Moreover, talk of hell has gone out of fashion. Growing up, sermons on hell were plentiful. Many an uncomfortable night I spent pondering what would become of me. Although such sermons may have interrupted my sleep, they did produce a healthy fear of that austere, hideous place and a piercing investigation of my life. Twenty years later and I would likely be laughed at for believing in demons and a place for punishment. It is difficult to find so-called “Christians” who really believe. But it is because our reasoning is now faulty. We no longer live by logical, rational thought. People want spiritual ideas a la carte. They resort to comforting cliches about a “better place” when faced with death of a loved one but produce nothing in their lives to get there themselves. Is that ticket so easily obtained? A western businessman who has no intentions of fasting or meditating or giving away any of his money will nonetheless have a statue of Buddha on his mantle piece. A regular Joe may awaken from a one-night-stand Saturday night and sing in church on Sunday. A Jane may lie, or cheat, to get what she wants, but if it did no harm, what does it matter?
A good reading of a detailed depiction of hell might bring our inconsistencies to trial.
In reading about ancient Egypt, I was struck with the idea that tomb raiders were the brave, new souls who didn’t believe. Only by doubting the existence of their gods would they have dared to cross into the realm of the dead and take what they wanted.
We are a culture of tomb raiders. Nothing is sacred. Nobody is scared. All of our ideologies are plundered.
And I think, to a certain extent, this is good. We keep setting up our own ideas of what God is.
And these ideas keep getting knocked down by tomb raiders.
We must allow our pyramids to be plundered, our gods to be discovered deaf and dumb, and our prayers to be ineffective. But out of the ashes, we must search again for the Reality we know exists but are afraid to meet. Because if Matter is the Alpha and Omega, we are an Escher creation. We are creating and eating ourselves.
I used to sing Jesus loves me, this I know. Now, I say there is something Other. I know there is Evil — a real, malevolent force at work in the world. And there is Good, too. And from this knowledge, one can reason the whole thing out.
Like a geometric proof, there is more than one way to reach it. For me, it is the recognizing of Evil that is the first step. For others, it may be the call of Good that brings them to sense. Yet, in this age, everyone claims to be good and there is rarely any quality to the claim. “Good” needs no sacrifice; just a general, benevolent feeling toward the world and a desire not to hurt anybody unless it would inconvenience us on our roads to self-actualization.
Evil, will bring us down a more direct course.
The unthinking say,
If there is a God, why is there so much evil in the world?
They should say,
If there is evil in the world, then there is a God.
For evil to be evil, there has to be a code that is beyond us. Outside of us. Other.
If we are all there is, then sexual trafficking or child abuse is not inherently evil, it’s just not in vogue right now. Cheating on or beating your wife is a cultural decision. It isn’t inherently wrong.
But I digress. Read about hell and tremble. It’s good for us in this present hour. We could use a hint of sulfur to bring some gravity to our bloated (almost imploding) self-images.
Lower hell consists of three more rings of punishment: violence, fraud, and treachery.
Violence – The Seventh Circle: The ring of violence is subdivided according to the one violated: one’s neighbor, oneself, or God.
Outer circle — violence against one’s neighbor: centaurs shoot arrows at murderers standing in a boiling stream.
Middle circle — violence against oneself: suicides are imprisoned in thorn trees and torn at by Harpies and profligates or spoilers of one’s resources are hunted by dogs in the forest. I think this circle pertains especially to my generation. We’ve been given much. We tend to depressed, dissipated, and apathetic. Sorry, guys. I’m just sayin’.
Inner circle — violence against God and God’s handmaiden, Nature: under a rain of fire, reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah, blasphemers lie flat on the desert sand, sodomites run in groups through the hailing fire, and usurers sit in the burning, kindled sand. I sort of believed homosexuality would be punished in the second circle, Lust. Sodomy was seen as a sin against nature. It included anal intercourse and bestiality. Why usury? Because it is an attempt to reap where we do not sow. God intended us to live by our work. Making money from money was contrary to nature — a sin against God.
Fraud – The Eighth Circle: This circle is divided into ten ditches or pockets:
seducers and panderers are whipped by demons,
flatterers are plunged in excrement,
simonists (those who use church offices for profit) are plunged headfirst into holes and their feet set afire,
diviners have their heads wrenched backward on their shoulders (I thought this punishment very clever),
corrupt politicians are cooked in boiling tar while demons poke them under with hooks,
hypocrites wear gilded, lead cloaks,
thieves are bitten by snakes and lizards and morphed into other (sometimes monstrous) identities,
evil counselors are swathed in tongues of flames,
schismatics (sowers of discord) are slashed open by demons, and
falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and imposters) suffer nauseating and detestable diseases (to represent the disease they are to society).
I’m going to have to tackle the tenth circle in another post and then return to the Deadly Sins. Until then, sleep sweetly, but not ignorantly.
And all this talk of hell would be no good unless it helped to usher us into Something Else.
This Presence that made himself a child and grew into a man and died for me awakens me to the loose words I speak and write, the small manipulations, the petty actions, the whispered gossip, the mocking laughter, and the wink of an eye.
But that cannot be the focus for long. Instead, if the Presence is allowed to stay, all of it is burned up. What is left is … it is hard to explain. Awe. Gratitude. Admiration. Love.