Sunday, May 30, 2004


What Is Hell?

Everyone has his own idea of hell. To Sartre it's "other people," whereas to poet Charles Bukowski it's the opposite ("hell is a lonely place"). General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, "War is hell," and St. Theresa called hell "the place that stinks and where no one loves."

The Baltimore Catechism, from which I was taught in my boyhood and to which I still go for guidance, answers the question "What is Hell?" as follows (Part 3, Lesson 7, Question 1379):
Hell is a state to which the wicked are condemned, and in which they are deprived of the sight of God for all eternity, and are in dreadful torments.
Dante devoted a third of his Divine Comedy to a description of the place.

Some have tried to narrow hell down to a particular spot. A film by R. Zane Rutledge is entitled Hell is Texas, and the October 13, 2003, cover of The National Review had a picture of a bucolic Vermont landscape with the word "Hell" scrawled over it, to illustrate the lead story by Jonah Goldberg. The Moon is Hell according to an article with that title by Stephen Baxter published in Astronomy Now (September, 1998), but I think it's a little closer to us than that.

Matt Groening wrote two books on the topic, one called Work Is Hell, the other called School Is Hell. If I had my druthers, I'd choose school over work any day. Pop singer Ryan Adams put out a couple of albums called Love Is Hell, but his music will forever remain unknown to me, to whom listening to any kind of rock 'n roll is hell on earth.

Milton (Paradise Lost, 1.254-255) sums it up best:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

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