Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hell and Heaven

Have you ever wondered about Hell? Frequently we – or at least some of us – are told to “go to Hell”, but precisely where is it? How do you get there? Well – of course we all know how you get there – you do bad things like stealing someone’s lunch, or accusing your sibling of taking the cookies, or even voting for some idiot, and for these crimes you are condemned to Hell. It is worth noting that you don’t have to devote your life to doing bad, you just have to slip once and – boom – there you are surrounded by fire and a bunch of not very nice people with tails and fangs – and pitchforks. Heaven on the other hand is a little more difficult to get into. Outside of your mother you generally don’t hear anyone tell you that you are heaven bound, and even your mother will sometimes tell you that you are Hell bound, “if you do that again!”. To get to heaven you have to spend your whole life being painfully good and all it takes is one little slip and – bang – there you are Hell bound. In fact, this problem led the Catholics to create Limbo and Purgatory as sort of way stations on your way to greet the Great Satan (who may or may not be George Bush or Hillary Clinton). But where in Hell is Hell?

As it turns out Hell goes back a long way – maybe not back to the big bang but if God did indeed create the Heavens and Earth (aka Big Bang) then when did he create Heaven and Hell? As it turns out these creations seem to have coincided with the advent of man and not only are these man made, they appear to have evolved over time. We know that primitive man provided flowers and implements to the deceased, so presumably even Neanderthal considered that there was an afterlife. But the first documentation we have relative to the dark side of the afterlife comes from ancient Egypt, but it seems clear that these concepts came from even earlier people. But even the Egyptians took time to polish and improve the afterlife. The new and improved version had the Egyptians going immediately to Taut (precise meaning and location unknown), but this was not a place of punishment reserved for the evil, but it was a place where everyone went -- sort of like Fl;orida, but only the evil were made to suffer -- exactly like Florida in the summer. Probably by being forced to listen to Rap Music, politically correct lectures, or having to watch senior citizens in Speedos and thongs, but the specific tortures are not specified so they could be worse.

Eventually Taut gave way to other forms of Hell and the term itself seems to be rooted in the concept of a hole or cavern or a dark and unpleasant place. This view of "helan" or "behalian", morphed into the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Ghenna. Eventually these dark and dismal places came to viewed as a place where a person’s moral qualities were measured with the good being rewarded and the evil punished. However, the location of(the upgraded and improved) Hades or Hell remained a little vague, but generally Hell was viewed as being far away on the other side of the Earth – like San Francisco or Los Angeles(very likely candidates), but as the world was explored and the unknown became known-- Hell had to be relocated and eventually landing “somewhere down there” meaning below the surface. Of course Heaven was never in doubt – it was always “up there” precisely where no one actually knew but it was generally acknowledged that Heaven was not anywhere on Earth, perhaps housed in a large puffy cloud. However, with the invention of air power, Heaven too had to be relocated to somewhere other than a cloud, but precisely where is also rather vague, but San Francisco and Los Angeles were definitely eliminated.

So Hell languished for a long time, gradually taking on more and more details reaching a climax with Dante, who very neatly constructed a Hell that everyone could relate to, but whether this was with God’s blessing is unclear. However, the precise location of Hell continued to elude everyone and the Catholic Church prudently took no position although it was generally considered by theologians at the time that according to Christian scripture Hell was “within the Earth”. Of course this is really not as precise as it first appears but the Bible states that the wicked “descended” into Hell which automatically defined Hell as a place that was within the Earth. An alternate interpretation might be that life on Earth is in fact Hell and any attempt to converse with a Frenchman in French is evidence of this, but then so is dealing with any government bureau.

It seems clear at this point that Hell may or may not be real, but whatever and wherever it is, it is certainly a creation of Man and God’s involvement seems miniscule if He was involved at all. So what about eternal suffering? The Christian God is a forgiving God but the architects of Hell condemn the wicked to eternal suffering, but does this reconcile with the “forgiveness” position of God? According to the Christian Bible the joys of heaven are ever lasting but Jesus said “go into the Hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched”. Apparently this is interpreted to mean that once you go into the fire you are there to be tortured for eternity, but the actual statement indicates that it is the fire that is eternal and nothing is said about the occupants remaining there for eternity. Of course this eternal fire is special, since it is unquenchable and has no requirement for fuel, so Hell-Fire is not governed by the laws of physics but is limited only by man's imagination. But religion by its nature is not logical and its tenets not necessarily subject to empirical proof – sort of like modern day liberalism.

Heaven, which is “up there” someplace, is a place of ever lasting joy, apparently an eternal Disneyland. Somehow spending eternity with a group of eternally happy saints, who are not just happy, but eternally and perpetually good, doesn’t see like a prospect that is something to look forward to and a better prospect than spending eternity being toasted. Since Heaven, like Hell, is largely a creation of Man one would think that they would have put a little more thought into it. Maybe a little sin -- here and there -- not big ones, but a little tintillation would be good, something to gossip about. Sort of like who is sleeping with which Archangel. At least on Earth there is some belief in diversity but once dead – the good are separated from the wicked, which seems rather odd because here on Earth it is the wicked who seem to be having all of the fun, while the good people are nice but --- well dull. Perhaps a new and improved version of Heaven is needed, where a few of the more interesting people might be allowed in, if no other reason than to provide something to talk about other than the weather, which in Heaven it is probably like Los Angeles – nice.

So in the final analysis the precise location of Heaven and Hell remain a mystery even though they appear to be man made and each appears to be in need of a makeover.

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